Use of private English tests for university exams delayed after gaffe

The government decided Friday to put off the planned introduction of private-sector English proficiency tests as part of Japan's standardized university entrance exams due to start next April, the education minister said, following his gaffe over the matter.
"We cannot recommend the current (exam) system to students with confidence," education minister Koichi Hagiuda said at a press conference.
He said the ministry will review the system over a year, including whether the private-sector tests should be used at all, and aim to introduce a new scheme around the 2024 academic year.
The current English-language component of the standardized exam only assesses reading and listening comprehension, and the use of private-sector tests that also check writing and speaking skills was meant to evaluate students in a more comprehensive manner.
However, critics have said use of the private-sector tests would be problematic in terms of access to test locations and the relatively high examination fees.
Hagiuda triggered an outcry on Oct. 24 when he said on a TV program that students should compete for university places "in accordance with their (financial) standing" when asked about the fairness of using the tests.
The remark sparked criticism and calls for a postponement from members of the ruling as well as opposition parties and high school administrators. Hagiuda retracted the remark five days later.
However, Hagiuda maintained Friday that his controversial remark "did not affect the decision" to delay the exams, citing insufficient coordination with the private sector as an underlying factor.
In a statement posted on the ministry's website, the minister offered an apology to students, saying he was "very sorry" and pledging to "establish a system in which everyone can sit for exams with ease."
Opposition parties stepped up their criticism of the minister following the sidelining of the exams.
Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said opposition efforts to call for the postponement paid off to stop exams that "would have further widened the gap."
Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii demanded the education minister step down.
"He fails to comprehend (the concept of) equal opportunity in education," said Mizuho Fukushima, deputy head of the Social Democratic Party. "He's unfit to be the minister of education."
Applications for the IDs necessary to sit the exams were scheduled to open on Friday morning, but Hagiuda said they will no longer be issued.
Under the new system, six private-sector institutions would have provided seven kinds of tests, such as GTEC and TOEFL, aimed at measuring students' English skills in four areas -- reading, listening, writing and speaking -- from April next year.
Students would have been able to take the tests twice between April and December 2020. Universities would have required certain scores to apply for admission or added points to their independent entrance exams based on the private-sector test results.
The body that administers university entrance exams would have aggregated the test scores and provided them to universities.
The National Association of Upper Secondary School Principals had asked for a delay to the introduction of the private-sector tests, arguing they would discriminate against students living in remote areas or on islands, and support measures for disadvantaged households were limited.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology had previously said it would consider support measures such as exam subsidies for low-income households but decided on the postponement as the criticism did not subside.

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