Cut Costs, Not The JET Programme

By Matt Nelson

Disclaimer: This article was written by a contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The Wide Island View, its staff. or the JET community at large.


(e.g. MEXT, local and prefectural boards of education, PTAs, parents, students, and teachers)

Recently, many boards of education have dropped JET Programme ALTs in favor of private company ALTs in order to save on the higher costs associated with JET. This is arguably reasonable, although rumors of mismanagement (reminiscent of the eikaiwa scandals) and general questions of reliability, quality, and consistency have made this a hazy issue. There has also been recent talk of stopping the MEXT and CLAIR-sponsored JET Programme all together to cut costs and save some yen. School districts far and wide are having similar problems of lower enrollment and higher costs.

Admittedly, JET ALTs earn more on average than non-JET ALTs, and administrative costs associated with procurement and training has put a burden on MEXT. But let’s assume The JET Programme is a good thing and, if possible, should be kept, and that potential better ways to cut costs before cutting JET should be examined.

Here are ten options that could be implemented in both the short and long term to save money. They are in no particular order and may have small or large dents on budgets.

Class organization (less types of classes, less books, less tests)

5 different English classes = AT LEAST 5 textbooks = more money.

Overabundance of unused equipment/facilities

Also a no-brainer. Schools buy stuff, either by request or due to pressure from higher-ups, and have no need for it or often don’t know how to use it. Most schools have thousands of dollars worth of equipment sitting in a box in a cabinet somewhere, unused for years and collecting dust, and yet they request more every year. Some areas are trying to bring in new technology, which is good, but they are training teachers how to use them.

Paper use

No-brainer. Computers seem vastly underused for communication and everyone is “handout crazy.”  The waste in Japanese society and schools can be appalling. Sure, there’s recycling, but you don’t need to recycle things you don’t need in the first place. I keep a box for handouts I never need or are duplicates/triplicates/quadruplicates, etc. It’s full.

Working hours

Less time at work = less energy costs, and less stressed workers = less health costs and less time needed off work. By the way, why do we go to school when students aren’t there and teachers just sleep? Many direct-hire or third-party ALTs do not have to go to work during times without students, just like other non-regular teachers.

Team teaching

ALTs & JTEs don’t need to be in the same class to coordinate teaching. In fact, they shouldn’t be. It’s inefficient and sometimes BAD for students. Allow ALTs (with training/certification) to solo teach classes in conjunction with JTE-only classes. This system is used in private high schools, universities, eikaiwa, and some other countries’ foreign language programs. Maybe it could work here, too?

The transfer system

Save on administrative costs and on time by transferring teachers less often (as was done in the past) and coordinate better with regards to the location of schools and teachers’ homes. This is especially important for BOEs that compensate teachers for their travel expenses to/from work and that need to provide housing for teachers that live too far away to commute everyday.

Fewer schools/unused facilities

There are way too many schools half-used. I know people don’t want to close schools, but workers and students will go somewhere else. Adapt, consolidate, and get stronger education because of it.

Inefficiency of work

This is related to topics 1-7 above, but more specifically, schools need to be willing to do what they do better, quicker, easier, and more reliably. Specialists should be hired and teachers should teach. Instead of 7 teachers doing student counseling in addition to their other work with not enough time, hire a specialist that is trained in that field and let the teachers teach. Efficiency will increase, stress will decrease, and the more help each staff member will be able to give to students. The teacher-student ratio in public upper-secondary schools (2004) is about 13 to 1. Yet, classes are often 30-40 students because teachers are too busy doing other work to teach more class periods. This may mean less staff in the long run, but why have several part-time teachers when one full-time teacher can do the job?

Building inefficiency

Thin, single-paned windows, concrete structures without insulation, and inefficient use of a/c and heating throw money away (literally right out the windows.) For example, I wrote this article in a small office of six teachers without a/c while the large auditorium-style classroom next to this room had a/c running for two students.

Spend less money on the JET Programme

Some features of the program have been cut over the years because of the outlandish costs involved (like the legendary, country-wide mid-year conference, all expenses paid!) You don’t need to impress the fresh college graduate with a fancy orientation and nice hotel, especially if he/she is only staying for one year and will hear much of the same information at his/her prefectural or city orientation (where they probably retain more of the information anyway.) Pay a first year ALT less and increase it every year they are here to reward better teachers and commitment.

I think most of these suggestions could be implemented easily, although Japan’s famous bureaucracy does tend to creep forward rather slowly, if not actually backwards. I have heard all of these suggestions echoed by Japanese people as well, so they are not simply some strange ramblings from an outsider’s point of view. It also doesn’t take an MBA in logistics and business management to figure these things out. Maybe what the Japanese educational community needs is to hire a company to downsize it, like Bert and Bert from “Office Space.”

What do you think?


  • I disagree with the idea of leaving an ALT alone in a classroom for several reasons.

    1) You’d need certification. Which would take time and cost money to the schools, and would probably require a high level of Japanese on the ALT’s part.
    2) Nearly all ALTs don’t have a lick of classroom training or experience and would not be prepared for such a situation.
    3) The ALT will, in nearly all cases, not speak enough Japanese to do a class by themselves.
    4) It would actually be a safety and legal hazard to leave an ALT alone in a classroom.
    5) It wouldn’t save the school time or money, because the JTE would probably just end up having a break during the ALT’s teaching time. Several of my schools only had a handful of students and classes, and the JTE had a rather light schedule to begin with.

    You do offer many good ideas, but most would require a complete retooling (e.g. the transfer system) of the entire Japanese education system. Which is never going to happen.

    The fact is that most areas of Japan are just plumb broke. No money. When an area drops JET in favor of a private company it’s usually not because they don’t like JET, it’s because JET is so darned expensive and private companies are getting darn cheap these days. For instance I worked for a private company for six months in a position that had been JET since day one of the program. The private company payed 1/3rd less, no housing, no plane ticket, and no extra health benefits. Instead of hiring 4 JETs they were able to hire 8 private ALTs. It’s hard to compete with those kind of numbers.

    What I do see happening is that a lot of places will drop JET and go private. JET will probably drop the Tokyo Conference and many areas will drop a lot of the side benefits such as free housing or reduced housing (Hiroshima BOE dropped subsidized housing 4 years ago).

  • Some interesting points, though perhaps not practical on all counts. I do agree with a lot of it, especially the unused equipment. In the beginning of the year here and at my visit school, we received several big fancy monitors for classrooms, to be used with laptops. Never seen any teacher use any of them.

    And it’s Bob and Bob from Office Space. The Bobs!