Jul 27


JET Return on Investment (ROI) is a category on JetWit intended to highlight the various economic, diplomatic and other benefits to Japan resulting from its investment in the JET Program.  Why is this important right now?  Because the JET Program and JET Alumni Association may be cut by the Japanese government, as explained in this post by Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) titled “JET Program on the Chopping Block.”

The Japan Times just ran an article worth reading on the debate over the value of the JET Programme in the face of potential budget cuts titled Ex-students don’t want JET grounded:  Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura ask ‘children of JET’ whether the program deserves to be on the chopping block.” (Here’s the URL:  http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20100727zg.html)

The article does a nice job of highlighting the main schools of thought in the public discussion about the JET Programme (and by association, the JET Alumni Association).  But it also falls into the “he said/she said” trap by laying out anti-JET arguments that miss the bigger picture or are based on false assumptions.  That said, hearing these is helpful to understanding how JET is perceived by many people, including Japanese taxpayers.

The article is also the first I’ve seen (there may be others) that attempts to give voice to one of the primary constituents of the JET Programme:  students in Japan.

In attempting to analyze this situation, the first thing to be aware of is that JET has a dual purpose:

  1. Teach English and promote “internationalization” in Japan.
  2. Help Japan promote positive foreign relations, diplomacy, business and cultural exchange and outreach with the rest of the world.

1.  English Teaching

With regard to English teaching and “internationalization” in Japan, the article is correct that it’s a difficult thing to quantify.  However, making English test scores by Japanese students a basis for evaluating the benefit of JET is comparing apples and oranges.  JET never had the mandate to improve test scores.  If anything, we were there to teach “living English” which doesn’t get tested for.  And also to inspire students to connect with English and gain valuable experience interacting with people from other cultures.

In that vein, perhaps a more important aspect to track and focus on is the number of students who went on to gain greater proficiency in English or travel and work abroad over the past 22 years, giving Japan a stronger, more internationally-savvy workforce.  Japan doesn’t need every student to become proficient in English.  Just some percentage that will help lift Japan’s abilities over time and perhaps even become a source of more fluent-speaking English teachers over time.

I talk to a lot of JET alums, and I hear so many stories of students who have kept in touch, of students who have gone on to great achievements as a result of their access to JETs.  And also many JETs who have maintained relationships with their towns, have helped continued exchanges and given back to their communities in a variety of ways.  Just because you don’t hear all of the stories doesn’t mean they’re not happening, because they most certainly are.  (The most visible example, perhaps, is Anthony Bianchi (Aichi-ken, 1987-89) who is now a city councilman in Inuyama-shi, Aichi-ken where he previously taught on JET.)

2.  Foreign Relations and JET Alumni

On the second count, there’s not really a counter argument to even make.  JET alumni have provided (and continue to provide) a huge return on Japan’s initial investment in them as JETs.  JET alumni have written books about Japan and work for many Japanese companies and organizations, including Japanese Consulates and Japan-America socieites.  JET alumni are major feeders into Japan-oriented academic fields.  JET alumni invest in Japan and start Japan-related (and Japan-located) businesses.  And many JET alumni are now in major government and policy positions in their countries.

As an alumni organization, the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) is young at only 22 years old.  As the community matures, the value, influence and impact of JET alumni for Japan will continue to grow at an increasing rate as more and more JET alumni become experts and are established in their fields.

Additionally, with a population of over 50,000 worldwide, JET alumni help provide a sort of substitute ex-pat community that Japan has lacked in comparison to the United States and other countries.  Contrary to the assertion in the Japan Times article that JET alums are taking away jobs from Japanese people, JETs are providing huge economic benefits to Japan.  For example, after 9/11 when getting work visas became harder for ex-pats in the U.S., Japanese staffing agencies began seeking out more JET alums to fill positions, as they were the best alternative option to filling roles in Japanese offices in the U.S.  Additionally, JET alums constantly find themselves in facilitating roles, helping their companies navigate cross-cultural communication issues.  Bi-culturalism can be an extremely valuable skill.

JETAA is also perhaps the cheapest and most efficient and effective public relations arm the Japanese government could hope to have.  JETAA chapters everywhere are constantly organizing cultural outreach events and providing volunteers for Japan Days, Japan-related festivals and other cross-cultural events like the Japanamania event JETAA New York does with the local Big Brother/Big Sister chapter.  For a good sense of JETAA chapter activities around the globe, just read a few of the JETAA Chapter Beat posts by Jonathan Trace (Fukuoka-ken, 2005-08).  I saw a comment posted on a blog cynically suggesting that if Japan really wanted PR, it would hire a PR firm to place ads in the New York Times.  Believe me, a PR firm cannot produce the kind of grassroots positive publicity and loyalty that the JET Alumni Association continues to provide.

What I’ve written above is a small summary, the tip of the iceberg, of the kinds of things going on.  Thanks to JET and JETAA, Japan has an army of committed ex-pats around the world (including in Japan) who feel a strong connection to Japan and care deeply about the country and the people.  To cut this goodwill off at the roots would do far more harm to Japan than any benefit resulting from saving a few dollars.

To learn more, get in touch with your local JETAA chapter, read various posts on JetWit.com or do your own research.  (I’m always happy to use JetWit as a platform for reaching out to JET alums and gathering stories, anecdotes and other hard to gather information.)

I’m sure I’ve overlooked a number of additional good points and examples.  Please feel free to make them in the comments section below.

one comment so far...

Page Rank