Nova collapse leaves schools without ALTs

As English conversation school chain operator Nova Corp. filed for court protection from creditors under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law last week, schools that have contracts with Nova to dispatch assistant language teachers are scrambling to find substitute teachers or resorting to the use of CDs recorded by native speakers.

“The children were very much looking forward to learning real English as it’s actually used through songs and games from them,” said Shin Naito, headmaster of Yoga Primary School in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.

English classes with ALTs, who are native English speakers, are increasingly popular among schools, which are eyeing the introduction of compulsory English education at primary schools in the future. About 11,000 ALTs were dispatched through education boards to schools nationwide in the 2006 academic year.

The Setagaya Ward Board of Education contracted with Osaka-based Nova to dispatch ALTs to 64 public primary schools in the ward from the 2006 academic year. According to the contract, six teachers from Nova make the rounds of the schools to teach English. The board set aside a budget of 20 million yen for fiscal 2007.

As Nova’s nonpayment of wages came to the fore, the board decided to terminate its contract with Nova on Oct. 23 and started talking with Nova about conditions for the termination. The announcement of Nova’s filing for protection under the law was made while the two sides were still in negotiations. A Nova employee who was in charge of the talks with the board later telephoned the board and said the matter was no longer up to him and that the board should contact the court-appointed administrator.

Currently the board is approaching another firm to dispatch teachers. However, the timing–the middle of an academic year–is not convenient for such an arrangement. The board has no prospect to resume English classes at its schools with native speakers.

“We are consulting with our lawyer about how to deal with Nova,” said an official of the board.


Unpaid salaries case probed

The Osaka Chuo Labor Standards Inspection Office questioned former Nova Corp. President Nozomu Sahashi on Monday on suspicion of having violated the Labor Standards Law by failing to pay salaries to Nova employees, including foreign teachers, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Thursday.

According to sources, Sahashi said he did his best to manage the firm’s cash flow, but failed as a result of a potential sponsor suddenly deciding against making a contribution.

Whether the firm had sufficient funds to pay salaries is expected to be the focal point of the bureau’s efforts to build a case against the school chain, Sahashi, or both.

The bureau plans to investigate the firm’s financial status from the time salary payments were delayed, with support from Nova administrators.

The bureau asked Sahashi several times in October to explain the circumstances behind the salary payment delays, and received a response Monday.