Now Reports

An Educational Experience…

It’s a struggle to keep focused on the big picture. I don’t have any real problems yet: I have a place to stay, enough money for a plane ticket home, and thanks to the generosity of my friends I will not, in fact, work for food. But this follows weeks of panic and anxiety after the crash of eikaiwa-giant Nova, the ekimae ryugyaku, my former employer. Like me, thousands of ex-Nova teachers are now scrambling for jobs, in a low-hiring season, and asking themselves some crucial questions: how long can I stay before I need my plane money for groceries? Should I pay the cell phone bill or the gas bill? Or worse: how do I support my family? Is repatriation the only solution?

Reactions to this disaster have been mixed. Few will mourn the passing of the scandal-laden corporation, yet Nova’s catastrophic derailment has been a huge cause of distress for thousands of students, Japanese staff, and foreign instructors. The students are unlikely to see their hard-earned cash again, and the Japanese staff and foreign English teachers have lost not only months of unpaid wages, but their livelihoods as well. It seems convenience, Nova’s ‘winning’ commodity, can only take you so far.

Anywhere, any time, students had access to English lessons taught by foreigners at the school’s ubiquitous branches, or 24 hours a day through their multi-media teaching network. Low fees, an easy booking system, and young, sexy foreign teachers promised a fun, if not flawless, teaching experience. Nova’s empire of convenience also offered teachers an easy ticket to Japan. Visa preparation was painless, my flight was discounted, I was picked up at the airport and escorted to an apartment. Life in Japan began with a well-paying job, decent hours, and no commitment beyond the classroom.

Nova, however, lacked follow-through, and the convenience was short-lived. I would have been happy to stay for a two-year tenure, even with the awareness that it was a dead-end job with no prospect for advancement and no career potential. Training was minimal (I had one day of training before I was thrown into kids’ classes, with no follow-ups or evaluations). With the absence of benefits and professional development, and contracts that could be canceled on a whim, Nova’s shocking staff-turnover rate was no surprise. This, coupled with the recent rapid expansion in the number of Nova branches, made it increasingly difficult for students to book lessons. A sharp increase in student cancellations ensued, and this brought Nova’s abnormal refund policies to light.

From February 2007, Nova became synonymous with bad news. Raids were conducted on its offices, Nova’s appeals over refunding policies were lost in supreme courts, and the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry prohibited the sales of large packages. Throughout, Nova`s President Nozomu Sahashi remained perfectly calm as he surveyed the damage from his now-infamous Penthouse office. Even on September 14th, after delaying payment of foreign instructors’ August wages and rent, and failing entirely to pay the Japanese staff’s wages, Mr. Sahashi’s fax to the branches betrayed not even the slightest hint of anxiety. It will be okay, he said in his most soothing shade of fax toner.

Late in October the ‘pink bunny’ finally gave in. I still kick myself for feeling a glimmer of hope as I read Sahashi’s last fax before he was ousted by the board of directors in a late-night Tokyo meeting, and the giant finally filed for bankruptcy protection. On October 26th, court-appointed solicitors began to look for sponsor companies to take over Nova, leaving an uncertain future for the legion of unpaid, unemployed, and now uninsured Nova instructors.

Corporations have an increasingly large influence in our lives, and it is up to consumers and employees to demand they act in a fair and responsible manner. Both students and instructors allowed themselves to be suckered in by Nova’s promises of convenience, and this at the expense of educational and professional integrity. The question we need to be asking ourselves when the next eikaiwa gakkou takes Nova’s place is this: are we, as teachers and students, employees and consumers, holding corporations accountable for their actions to the extent that we can avoid another such disaster? And who let a monkey drive the train for so long anyways?

by Alex Deacon,
Former Nova Teacher

Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn108 Dec. 2007)


Fukuoka City
Published: Dec 1, 2007 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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