My thoughts

November 24, 2007, 3:55 am
Filed under: Advanced, Intermediate


The subject of the English school Nova is a hot topic in Japan these days. In case you have been living under a rock, Nova (often referred to as the “McDonald’s of English Schools” in Japan) had been under severe economic strain after being sanctioned by the Japanese government for their business practices. The point of the legal dispute was how the students who left Nova were refunded. As a result, student enrollment fell sharply, and they were forced to shut their doors and file for bankruptcy protection. However more recently, it was announced that Nova was being bought by another company who would only be operating 30 schools.

Nova had a bad reputation amongst English teachers in Japan. When I lived in Japan, I knew several English teachers who worked at Nova. While the rest of us were given all the Japanese national holidays off, Nova did not. The teachers were not treated well, I even knew one who went around telling people not to study at Nova. The foreigners who did not work for Nova often poked fun at Nova, and referred to them as “No va!” (No go in Spanish) and “No Vacation.”

Nova was also not great for students. From what I understand, their system was, you had to pay large portions of the lesson fees in advance, and if you quit you could not get it back. The seemed to have employed the “bait and switch” business tactic. They would do the hard sell, telling potential students that if they sign up for a private lesson, they can choose a lesson that is convenient for them. They would sign up, fork over a large sum of cash, only to be told that their preferred times were not available. Their lesson fees were much more expensive than most of the other English schools, but they were well known, so they could get lots of students.

Another reason that Nova was not great for students is that the did not provide regular, consistent lessons. You might have a different teacher and be with different classmates each time. The instructors were not given the freedom to plan their own lessons, they had to follow a set lesson plan. If they deviated from the lesson at all, it was grounds for termination. How good could their lessons be if the teacher could not have the right to plan lessons and to bank on teachable moments? How could they teach fun lessons with so much structure?

I recall one time when I was socializing with some Nova teachers, and my coworker and I began talking about some funny things that our students from our kids classes had said. The Nova teachers said in surprise, “What! Your kids talk to you?” This really surprised us, and we replied that we have conversations with them all the time, we are teaching them English! While the Nova system consisted of no small talk before the lesson, just do the lesson and that is it, the system we used was to have conversation before, during, and at the end of the lesson.

Nova also forbid its teachers from socializing with students. I think that they were trying to prevent teachers and students dating, which I can understand. However, socializing is important for the students. The school I worked for actually WANTED us to socialize with our students and have relationships with them. Nova teachers did socialize with some students–I know because I have been to some secret, underground Nova parties.

The demise of Nova was not a bad thing in my opinion, but I feel bad for the teachers, staff, and students who have been affected. Many students now have to find other English schools, and may have lost large sums of cash. The employees of Nova suffer the loss of pay, a particularly bad situation for the foreigners who are very far from from home.