Photo/IllutrationEducation minister Koichi Hagiuda on Nov. 1 announces the postponement of the English portion of the university entrance exam initially planned for fiscal 2020. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Education minister Koichi Hagiuda, whose remark about students’ financial standing fueled criticism over an English exam for the university entrance process, said the new test would not be introduced in fiscal 2020 as planned.

“We are not fully confident that students can take the current test system on an equal basis and without worries,” Hagiuda said at a news conference on Nov. 1.

He said the education ministry would spend about a year looking into a new system for the English portion of university entrance exams and seek to use it from fiscal 2024.

Under the now-scrapped plan, the new uniform university entrance exam would first be given to senior high students now in their second year. The English section of the exam would be managed by seven private-sector organizations.

However, the plan came under fire because of differences in the English exam fees as well as the limited number of locations where the exams would be given.

Students and educators said the system would put lower-income students and those living in remote areas at a distinct disadvantage.

“I believe students could face limits in their preparations if they do not know, even now, where the exam they want to take will be given,” Hagiuda said in explaining the postponement.

He also apologized to senior high school students who had been studying on the belief that the new English testing system would be used.

The ministry on Nov. 1 had been scheduled to start accepting applications for ID numbers to be used by students who planned to take the university entrance exam next spring. That service was suspended.

Until fiscal 2024, the English exam will only test reading and listening skills, as is the case now.

Under the longer-term plan, the ministry will conduct a comprehensive review and decide on whether to even use a private-sector English exam.

Students now in their first year of junior high school would be the first to take that new English exam.

The ministry initially decided to allow private-sector organizations to manage the English exam because it would involve testing the four skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing.

The belief was that those organizations were the only ones capable of scoring the results in a short period, particularly the speaking portion involving hundreds of thousands of students being tested at around the same time.

Under the initial plan, students would have been able to take practice exams as many times as they wanted or could afford. But the results of only two exams taken in their final year of senior high school could be used when applying for university admissions.

Hagiuda at his news conference denied that a comment he made about the new English exam was a factor in deciding to postpone the test.

On an Oct. 24 TV program, Hagiuda appeared to accept disparities in education based on financial standing and geographic location, arguing that the English exam would be equal because all students would only be able to submit their scores from two exams when applying to universities.

“I hope the students will do their best while selecting the two occasions that are most befitting their financial standing,” he said.

Hagiuda later apologized and retracted the comment, but it stirred widespread criticism from students, educators and experts, as well as opposition calls for his resignation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga weighed in on the decision to call off the English exam at his own news conference on Nov. 1.

“It will be important to provide careful explanations to those who planned to take the exam and the test-organizing bodies, as well as to construct a framework that will allow students to take the exam without worry,” he said.

The private-sector organizations have been pushing ahead with preparations for the English exam, and the postponement could lead some to sue for compensation.

(This article was written by Daisuke Yajima and Ryo Miyazaki.)