ALTs have become a regular part of the Japanese educational landscape—or perhaps I should say like a piece of educational furniture. Since the JET Program’s commencement in 1987, thousands of young teachers have made their way to Japan to teach at a variety of schools, peaking at 6,273 in 2002. However, since that peak, there has been a steady decline in the number of ALTs from the JET Program, the slack being taken up by non-JET ALTs (CLAIR 2009).Dispatch companies employ more than half of the approximately 10,000 foreign English instructors teaching at elementary and junior high schools in Japan. Interac, the largest dispatcher, now supplies more than 200 school boards across Japan with over 1,000 instructors (NHK Report on Problems, 2007).
Why the sudden drop-off in JET ALTs? The answer is simple—money (Crandall 2006). Maintaining one JET ALT costs about \6 million per year but, by outsourcing, the boards of education (BOE) can cut costs. Or can they?
In my research, I’ve found that the average ALT employed by a dispatch company works 29.5 hours per week and is paid \200,000-\245,000 a month. With JETs making \300,000, that’s about a 20-30% cut in salary. But how much is the BOE paying the middleman? It’s quite simple to find the answer. The Freedom of Information (FOI) window (Joho Kokai Madoguchi, 情報公開窓口) in any city/town office will furnish you with the contract between the BOE and the dispatch company, if you fill in a simple form. It usually takes ten minutes and costs about \10 per page.
Thirty contracts released from BOEs in Fukuoka Prefecture reveal some interesting findings. Firstly, the amount the BOEs are paying is surprising. On the upper end, one town pays \500,000 per month to the dispatch company, while the ALT gets \245,000, but no health, pension, or employment insurance (see Appendix 1). Fukuoka City paid dispatch companies an average of \345,000 per ALT in 2007, but generously increased this to \364,000 the following year (see Appendixes 2 and 3). Alas, the ALTs got no pay rise. On average the ALT got about 60% of what the BOE was paying—with the company taking 40%.
Other behind-the-scenes moves are revealed in the FOI documents. For example, one public school in Kitakyushu City refused their allocated ALT because he was a man. They demanded a woman, and were willing to go without any ALT until a woman could be employed (see Appendix 4).
Another worrying trend is that the tender bidding process drives offers from the bidding companies lower and lower. In 2008, Kanda Machi’s contractor changed, with a \126,000 per annum discount on the previous year (see Appendixes 5 and 6). Eventually, this discount will come out of the ALT’s salary. Worse, many teachers lose their jobs when the company loses the contract.
Looking more deeply into the contracts, there are discrepancies between what the dispatch company promises the BOE, and what the company gives the ALT in terms of work hours, duties, insurance, etc. For example, the BOE says the ALT’s duties include club activities, where the dispatch company says they are “voluntary” (see Appendix 7).
Under these poor work conditions, any decent teacher soon leaves, forcing the dispatch company to find a replacement. This system is definitely not conducive to providing quality education. ALTs are the only teaching staff subjected to a tendering process—just like the desks and chairs that are procured by the BOE. Perhaps it’s time to start treating them like educators and not like the furniture.
CLAIR. (2009). History of the JET Program. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from <jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/history.html>.
Crandall, E. (2006). Learning English to improve Japanese. Saga Shimbun. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from <www.saga-s.co.jp/view.php?pageId=1093&mode=0&classId=&blockId=132436&new....
NHK Report on problems with ALT dispatch companies. (2007). Retrieved March 3, 2009 from <www.letsjapan.org/nhk-report-on-problems-with-alt-dispatch-companies.html>.
The appendixes are available below