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Assembling educational standards: following the
actors of the CEFR-J project
To cite this article: Oshie Nishimura-Sahi (2022): Assembling educational standards:
following the actors of the CEFR-J project, Globalisation, Societies and Education, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14767724.2022.2037071
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa
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Assembling educational standards: following the actors of the
Faculty of Education and Culture, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
This study deploys Actor-Network Theory (ANT) to understand how
educational standards take shape. To exemplify the inherently collective
nature of standards and contingency in the process of standardisation,
this study will present a case of the CEFR-J project launched by a group
of Japanese university academics to modify the Common European
Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for English-language
teaching and learning in Japan. Drawing on documentary materials and
in-depth interviews, I will describe how the CEFR has become a
standard for English-language teaching in Japan while various actors
were brought together through the CEFR-J project.
Received 12 May 2021
Accepted 29 January 2022
Actor-Network Theory (ANT);
policy transfer; CEFR; Japan
Educational standards and standardisation in education have been extensively studied in the ﬁeld of
comparative and international education (Grek 2009; Lawn 2011; Rizvi and Lingard 2010; Waldow
2012,2015). The literature often highlights standards and benchmarks developed by intergovern-
mental organisations (IGOs) –such as the OECD, the World Bank and the EU –and the aspects of
standards as the soft power of education governance. More precisely, IGOs steer national policy-
making by means of producing comparative numerical data (e.g., the OECD PISA tests) (e.g.,
Grek 2009; Lawn and Grek 2012; Rautalin 2013) and circulating particular educational discourses
and trends (e.g., Beech 2009; Jakobi 2012; Rinne, Kallo, and Hokka 2004). The existing approaches
to analysing the process of standardisation have provided eﬀective tools to explain the big picture of
globalisation in education and make sense of global education governance as an exercise of power
over the local (Ozga and Lingard 2007; Rizvi and Lingard 2010). On the other hand, in this concep-
tual framework, spaces have been hierarchically categorised into ‘global’and ‘local’in a way that
models how educational discourses and trends emerging on the global level exert inﬂuence on pol-
icymaking and practice on the local level, which is customarily interpreted as a country or a sub-
Many researchers have recently utilised alternative approaches –such as social network analysis
and bibliometric analysis –(e.g., Gulson et al. 2017; Menashy and Verger 2019; Verger, Fontdevila,
and Zancajo 2016) to go beyond methodological nationalism, where ‘policy processes are seen to
function only within the nation’, and methodological globalism, where ‘the emphasis is more on
global factors which aﬀect national policy making’(Takayama and Lingard 2021, 229). More hybrid
‘glocal’approaches are also used to shed light on local and global interactions in the diﬀusion of
reform ideas (Resnik 2007) and the development of international educational institutions in
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under theterms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
CONTACT Oshie Nishimura-Sahi oshie.nishimura-sahi@tuni.ﬁFaculty of Education and Culture, Tampere University,
EduKnow research group, Tampere, Finland
GLOBALISATION, SOCIETIES AND EDUCATION
diﬀerent locations (Resnik 2016). In so doing, researchers attempt to transcend the global-local
binary in the epistemological and ontological questions of standardisation, aiming to enhance
our understanding of how educational standards take shape. This study contributes to these aca-
demic ventures: Speciﬁcally, it attempts to increase our understanding of educational standards
and standardisation by using conceptual ‘insertion’from Actor-Network Theory (ANT) in
Standards and standardisation have been a central topic for ANT-inspired research in education
and beyond, although these are approached diﬀerently from in comparative education research (c.f.
Busch 2011; Fenwick and Edwards 2010; Landri 2017; Lampland and Star 2009). In ANT, there is
no a priori global-local scalar distinction but networks that ‘are more or less long and more or less
connected’(Latour 1993, 122). Scholars scrutinising standardisation through the lens of ANT do
not explain standards as a pre-existing entity that exercises a one-sided inﬂuence on (educational)
policies and practices. Instead, ANT-inspired studies attempt to ‘trace the ways that educational
standards achieve and maintain some durable form as a consequence of the relations’(Fenwick
and Edwards 2010, 86), and consequently, (momentarily) become an obligatory passage point (Cal-
lon 1986) that provides scientiﬁcally valid information and that creates problems and norms which
all actors must address (Carvalho 2012).
This paper explores how a certain educational reform idea becomes a standard and how it conﬁ-
gures a web of various actors, using the notion of actor-network as an heuristic tool to move beyond
the hierarchical and binary global-local approach. It focuses on a Japanese case of educational trans-
fer of the Council of Europe Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (hereafter
CEFR), which has been widely used for facilitating educational reform projects and describing
language proﬁciency in Europe and beyond (Byram and Parmenter 2012). The CEFR in Japan is
an interesting case that opens up an empirical opportunity to study standardisation in terms of
how a European framework becomes a new educational standard in the country, even though
Japan is not a member country of the Council of Europe.
Although the CEFR authors and experts emphasise that the CEFR is not a standard but a
framework for facilitating educational reform projects in diﬀerent contexts (Council of Europe
2001; Byram and Parmenter 2012; Jones and Saville 2009), the CEFR has been used as the for-
mer for benchmarking language proﬁciency and promoting the outcome-oriented development
of curricula and language programmes in Europe and beyond. Many scholars point out that the
CEFR serves as a ‘common currency’(Figueras 2012, 478) shared extensively by government
oﬃcials, university administrators and educational practitioners across the world (Byram and
Parmenter 2012; Deygers et al. 2018; Shohamy 2019). Regarding the extensive inﬂuence of
the CEFR on teaching methods, materials, testing, certiﬁcation systems and learning, in and
out of classrooms, Shohamy (2019, 275) notes that ‘the CEFR is a ﬁnite system that has become
a form of identity, an ideology, a common “language”to deﬁne the world.’In Japan, the CEFR
was recently adapted as an ‘international standard’(MEXT 2017, 7) to the revision of the
national curricular guidelines (Course of Study). It was utilised to establish a national framework
of coherent and well-articulated attainment targets throughout the primary to lower/upper sec-
ondary schools (see Nishimura-Sahi 2020).
In what follows, this study attempts to understand practices of standardisation (Gorur,
Sørensen and Maddox 2019), shedding light on various actors –such as academics, policy-
makers, administrators, teachers, commercial actors, written guidelines and teaching materials
–and the constitution of an assemblage through the transfer of the CEFR to Japan. First, I
present an overview of ANT as a methodological tool, followed by a description of the
research materials and the process of data collection and analysis. In the next section, I
trace how the CEFR took shape in a new standard of English teaching in Japan as a conse-
quence of the relations and translating actors involved in standardisation. Finally, I reﬂect
on the empirical ﬁndings and discuss the implications of these for achieving a renewed under-
standing of what educational standards are and how standardisation occurs. In so doing, this
study aims to be of assistance to ‘opening the black box of the “globalization of education”’
(Beech and Artopoulos 2021, 443).
ANT sensitivity: laboratory, assemblage and translation
ANT was developed in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from the 1980s by sociologists such as
Bruno Latour, John Law, and Michel Callon. ANT-inspired concepts and ideas have been adapted
and elaborated in diverse academic ﬁelds including education (see Beech and Artopoulos 2021; Fen-
wick and Edwards 2010; Gorur et al. 2019; Piattoeva, Klutas, and Suominen 2019; Resnik 2006,
2016). One strand of ANT emerged through a case study of Louis Pasteur’s laboratory in Paris,
attempting to account for the power of science in the world (Latour 1983). In the case study, Latour
examined how Pasteur’s laboratory was able to gain support from non-scientists and become an
inﬂuential centre of science.
One interesting ﬁnding of the study was that scientists become ‘inﬂuential’if they succeed in
building and extending networks from scientiﬁc centres (i.e., laboratories) to the wider society
(i.e., farms). In other words, the key to success does not lie with scientists’properties or abilities,
but with the successful enrolment of various entities situated beyond the laboratory and building
networks that enable scientiﬁc facts and artefacts to travel far and wide (Latour 1983; Latour
1987; cf. Murdoch 2005). In recasting the question of how scientists gain their power in the
world, Latour articulates a need to explore how power emerges within the network, instead of
explaining how it is imposed from the outside based on the dichotomy of outside/inside, micro/
macro, lab/ﬁeld and science/society or the societal milieu (Latour 1983). This ANT understanding
of actors constituting a non-hierarchical network is an eﬀective tool to recast the taken-for-granted
tenet of global education governance that standards are imposed from the higher ‘global’to the
Given the emphasis on the symmetrical relation between various actors, the notion of assemblage
is often used in ANT-inspired studies. ANT acknowledges that non-human actors –as well as
human actors –are capable of changing and being changed by each other, and in so doing, conﬁ-
gure the world (Beech and Artopoulos 2021; Bueger and Stockbruegger 2018; Fenwick and Edwards
2010.) In light of assemblage, a material object is not just a passive artefact created and used by
human actors but also a proactive actor that interacts with other actors. These material objects
are, in terms of educational research, curricular guidelines, written curriculum and textbooks
that carry the ‘rationalities of rule’generated by the aspiring centre out to all the local components
enrolled in the assemblage (Murdoch 2005, 65). These materials or ‘delegates’are considered infor-
mation mobiles (Busch 2011) that enable the actors in diﬀerent locations to collaborate, delegate and
connect across vast distances, and consequently, standardise practices in educational activities.
These materials are also able to translate other actors in such a way that diﬀerent entities –
human and non-human actors –come together and form relations, making others do unexpected
things. In this process, diﬀerent actors ‘inﬂuence and change one another, and create linkages that
eventually form a network of action and material’(Koyama 2013, 953). In ANT, the notion of trans-
lation is often used to describe this process –how diﬀerent actors become connected and start to
behave as part of an assemblage, changing one another and forming a chain or network of action
and materials. When the network created has become stable and durable, it assumes a particular
role, such as becoming a standard (Fenwick and Edwards 2010; Koyama 2013; Bueger and Stock-
bruegger 2018). Importantly, and consistent with ANT, all assemblages are ‘made up of uncertain,
fragile, controversial, and ever-shifting ties’(Latour 2005, 28). The fragile nature of assemblages
leads us to the understanding that a standard is not a robust tool governing educational practices
but temporally sustained with contingent and fragile linkages.
In this paper, I use the notion of assemblage to explore how various actors in diﬀerent locations –
such as academics, education administrators, teachers, guidelines and educational materials –cor-
roborated, delegated, connected and assembled a network of CEFR as a new standard for English
GLOBALISATION, SOCIETIES AND EDUCATION 3
teaching in Japan. I also draw on the notion of translation to understand how a research project and
its results translated certain actions of academics and administrators to mobilise them into a new
role through the CEFR transfer.
Data collection and analysis
Using ANT as a ‘sensitizing device’(Decuypere 2019, 137) that allows researchers to explore how
practices of standardisation are ‘done’and ‘being made’, I closely traced ‘the micro-movements
through which little humdrum bits, human and non-human, negotiate their joinings (or their
un-joinings) to assemble the messy things’that researchers often dismiss or explain away in our
everyday worlds of education (Fenwick and Edwards 2010, 46). Having said that, it is not feasible
to take all the potential actors into account due to considerations of space. Thus, I ﬁrst explored the
existing research on the CEFR in Japan (e.g., Nishimura-Sahi 2020; Rappleye, Imoto, and Horiguchi
2011; Sugitani and Tomita 2012; Sensui 2018) and identiﬁed a noteworthy player in terms of its vast
connections with various actors. That is how I focused on the CEFR-J project, which is composed of
a series of large-scale ministry-funded projects for modifying the CEFR for use in English teaching,
learning and assessment in Japan. As this study focuses on relationality in standardisation, I decided
to make this CEFR-J project the starting point of my analysis.
Aiming to understand how the CEFR became a new standard of English teaching in Japan, I
applied the notion of laboratory (Latour 1983) as an analytical tool to conceptualise how the
CEFR-J project (i.e., the laboratory) has ‘enrolled’or spread into the wider society, namely, Japanese
policymakers, commercial actors, and education administrators and teachers. Practically speaking, I
ﬁrst scrutinised project reports issued between 2007 and 2012 to outline the trajectory or pathways
of the development of the CEFR-J project. I examined how the CEFR-J project was launched, who
the project members were and what actual results the CEFR-J project has achieved. Secondly, I scru-
tinised policy documents, written curricula, and publications by the CEFR-J project members to
examine how human actors are connected through these documentary materials, how the materials
worked on human actors and inﬂuenced their activities, and how these changed the conﬁguration
of actors. Documentary materials were primarily collected from the website of the CEFR-J
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (hereafter MEXT).
These documentary materials are, however, constrained in terms of what they document. To
review the information presented in the documentary materials, I also examined events data and
conducted in-depth interviews. Events data was mainly collected from the CEFR-J symposium
2020 (webinar) held on 28 November 2020. Interviews (N = 10) were conducted in June 2018
and June/July 2019 in several prefectures in Japan –Tokyo among others –with academics, an edu-
cation administrator and teachers working in upper secondary schools.
I structured the following empirical section chronologically to describe the process of standard-
isation as assemblage, focusing on ‘the construction of the laboratory and its position in the societal
milieu’(Latour 1983, 143). First, I explore how a group of Japanese academics started up the CEFR-J
project in 2004, and second, I depict how the CEFR-J project expanded and enrolled in the arena of
policymaking and policy implementation. Finally, I examine how the CEFR (temporarily) achieved
a durable form as a standard, with a focus on how the CEFR-J project enrolled into the day-to-day
Becoming a standard through assemblage
Developing the ‘CEFRjapan’, the prototype of the CEFR-J
In 2004, a research group consisting of academics engaged in foreign language education and cor-
pus linguistics was launched under the leadership of Ikuo Koike, an eminent, reform-minded scho-
lar in second language acquisition. When the research group received the Grants-in-Aid for
Scientiﬁc Research (KAKENHI)
in 2004, their initial aim was not to modify the CEFR but to deter-
mine the learning objectives for Japanese learners of English at diﬀerent proﬁciency levels (Koike
2008; Tono 2016).
To achieve the aim, the project team conducted extensive surveys inside and outside Japan, and
during the project, the growing inﬂuence of the CEFR in Europe caught the attention of the project
members (Oka et al. 2008). The CEFR reference levels were particularly well-known as the common
reference scale of language proﬁciency grouped into six levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2) and used
as a common framework for validating language proﬁciency in entrance exams and ability group-
ings (Byram and Parmenter 2012; Shohamy 2019). Besides the reference levels, the CEFR level
descriptors –also known as can-do descriptors –which provide concrete examples of what learners
‘can do’in any language at each level of proﬁciency is extensively recognised and used for purposes
of comparison between language courses and assessments in diﬀerent learning contexts (Majima
2010;Oda2019; Rappleye, Imoto, and Horiguchi 2011).
In the course of their research, the Koike Project members started to consider the possibility of
adapting the CEFR to develop the CEFRjapan, a national framework for benchmarking attainment
targets for Japanese learners of English. The ‘CEFR subgroup’was formed ‘to discuss the possibility
of introducing the CEFR ideas into the Japanese context of teaching English’and ‘to provide a ten-
tative sample of how such standards might look’(Oka et al. 2008, 3). However, the Koike Project ran
into diﬃculties in combining the massive empirical data for producing the CEFRjapan. A member
of the project team recollects how a Finnish adaptation of the CEFR came to be considered as their
main reference in searching for a suitable model from which to develop the CEFRjapan:
We turned to Finland when much of the concrete plan was not made four years after the project started. The
Finnish adaptation drew our attention, giving a good impression as a country of education success that has
achieved excellent results in the OECD PISA test. Accordingly, we found the Finnish adaptation could be a
model which enabled us to summarise the results of each subgroup in the form of the CEFRjapan. (A member
of the project team, personal interview, 29 June 2018, translation by the author)
In April 2007, the project team decided to translate the Finnish adaptation into Japanese to ‘use as
a model for the development of the CEFRjapan’(Oka et al. 2008, 17). According to the project
report, the decisive factor was the well-reﬁned sublevels of the Finnish model –especially the
lower A and B levels –that seemed to the Japanese to be appropriate for young Japanese leaners
of English (Oka et al. 2008). In August 2007, a project member made a three-day visit to Finland
(Finnish National Agency for Education among others) to learn from the Language Proﬁciency
Scale adapted to the Finnish National Core Curriculum. That is, all the intensive work to learn
from Finland was conducted within the last eight months of the four-year project. This indicates
a possibility that the project team seised upon the Finnish model for a ‘fast’solution when run-
ning behind the schedule.
This ﬁnding shows that the existence of the Finland model played a key role in Japanese aca-
demics transferring the CEFR ideas to their context. Besides the technical element that the well-deli-
neated proﬁciency levels were considered suitable for Japanese learners, there were multiple factors
such as the project deadline and the ‘Finnish boom’in Japanese education (cf., Takayama 2010)in
the project team adapting the Finland model. While the global status of the CEFR attracted Japanese
academics and policymakers (Nishimura-Sahi 2020), pragmatic and contingent factors aﬀected the
initial phase of standardisation in which the CEFR gradually established a position as a framework
in reforming the teaching of English in Japan.
Development of the CEFR-J project: capturing political interests
In 2008, Yukio Tono, professor of corpus linguistics at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, took
over the leadership of the project from Koike Ikuo and launched a new project called the CEFR-J to
further develop the CEFRjapan. The main objective of the CEFR-J project was to specify the A
GLOBALISATION, SOCIETIES AND EDUCATION 5
in greater detail and develop a new ‘Pre-A1 level’so that the CEFR-J could better describe the
English-language proﬁciency levels of the majority of Japanese learners
While developing the CEFR-J, the academics enrolled allies and tied the CEFR-J project into
broader networks so that policymakers, administrators and teachers could utilise their research
ﬁndings for ongoing educational reforms and everyday educational practices. The ﬁrst project lea-
der, Ikuo Koike, actively ‘advertised’the CEFR and their research project in his publications (Koike
2008,2009,2013), and at a Cabinet Oﬃce-assigned council held in 2008, he made a policy rec-
ommendation to policymakers as a consulting expert in the teaching of English. He suggested estab-
lishing a national framework by modifying or ‘de-Europeanising’the ‘international standard
CEFR’, aiming to improve Japanese students’English-language proﬁciency to the level of global
standards (see appendices MER2008). In addition, several project members –Yukio Tono among
others –attended ministry-assigned working groups and the Foreign Language Sub-committee
of the Central Council for Education (CCE) after 2012 (see appendices DFLP2010;
CANDO2012; ECEE2014; CC2015) to incorporate the CEFR ideas into the national curricular
guidelines, the Course of Study. These academics came to be considered as the reform experts in
the course of educational reform. Importantly, however, Tono Yukio emphasises that the project
was not driven by the political intention to support MEXT in advancing educational reforms by
collecting data and developing the CEFR-J:
I think MEXT found our CEFR-J project interesting and useful in consulting with some academics about the
current issues in the teaching and learning of English. In my opinion, the CEFR was adapted to the recent
reforms as it was just nicely timed with the revision of the Course of Study. We have been working on the
CEFR-J as an academic project, aiming to develop practical resources for those who are working at gemba
[the ﬁeld of education such as schools]. (Yukio Tono, personal interview, 5 June 2019, translation by the
Following the announcement of ‘Five Proposals and Speciﬁc Measures’in 2011, MEXT required
lower/upper secondary schools to set up a framework of attainment targets in the form of a
in accordance with the Course of Study (see appendices MEXT2011;
MEXT2013). To support teachers in assembling CAN-DO lists for their schools, MEXT announced
‘Guidelines for Establishing Learning Attainment Targets in the Form of a “CAN-DO list”’ in 2013
in which the CEFR was introduced as one of the main references (MEXT 2013). In response to the
announcement, several prefectural boards of education started to compile a practical model of a list
to help teachers working for prefectural schools. Osaka is one of those prefectures that made their
own CAN-DO list referring to the CEFR and CEFR-J, namely, ‘OSAKA CAN-DO list for English’
(see appendices NANIWA; OCD). In a personal interview, a former administrator of the Osaka
Prefectural Board of Education explained how he found the CEFR-J in developing Osaka CAN-
I got to know about the CEFR sometime after 2008, I think. At that point, I just thought there was such a thing
coming up. I started learning about the CEFR more seriously when I was asked to develop the Osaka CAN-DO
list. Because it was necessary. It was clear that the national CAN-DO guidelines were prepared based on the
CEFR and the prefectural guidelines should be following the national guideline. (…) I developed it regarding
the CEFR of course, but the CEFR reference levels seemed to me too ‘rough’or not precise enough [for Japa-
nese learners]. And I came across the Japanese version of the CEFR, namely the CEFR-J, in searching for
something other than the European standard that addresses the educational needs in Japan. It [CEFR-J]
was very useful and helpful in preparing our CAN-DO list. (A former administrator of Osaka Prefectural
Board of Education, 8 July 2019, translation by the author)
This administrator referred to the CEFR-J in preparing the prefectural CAN-DO lists because he
understood that the CEFR is the original reference of the national CAN-DO guidelines and the
CEFR-J seemed more adaptable than the original (and European) CEFR. The CEFR-J project
extended to the policymaking and administrative arena, serving as the ‘laboratory’providing
materials needed in society, such as the references with academic legitimacy for policymaking
and the applicable resource for the implementation of new curricula.
And remarkably in the research interview, the former administrator talked to me as an expert of
the CAN-DO list and the CEFR-J. Preparing for the interview, he generously downloaded and
printed out the CEFR-J to share it with me so that I could better understand what the CEFR and
the CEFR-J are and how the Osaka CAN-DO list was developed. The Osaka CAN-DO project
and the CEFR borrowing at the sub-national level translated an administrator into an expert on
the current reform through an activity of brokering or intermediating the external reform ideas.
CEFR-J and educational materials
Referring to the citation of Tono above, one of the main objectives of the CEFR-J project was
‘to develop accompanying resources for the CEFR-J to facilitate its use for creating syllabi,
teaching materials or classroom tasks’(Tono 2016, 36) and to ‘provide end-users of the
CEFR-J with highly usable sets of materials to put the CEFR-J into practice’(Tono 2016,
49). Pursuing this objective, the CEFR-J team developed CEFR-oriented educational materials
and resources –such as CEFR-J Wordlists and CEFR-J CAN-DO Tests –and made them pub-
licly available on the website of the CEFR-J project (CEFR-J 2021). In addition, the project
team published ‘The CEFR-J Handbook’in 2013, aiming to share the results of the CEFR-J
project with researchers and teachers interested in the CEFR-J for the learning, teaching
and assessment of English in Japan (Tono 2013).
Through these additional materials and resources, the CEFR-J project has extended the network
to individual end-users from educational administrators of prefectural education boards to the edu-
cation industry and teachers in schools. For example, the CEFR-J Wordlists have been incorporated
into Ace Crown English-Japanese Dictionary
(Tono 2018), of which the editor-in-chief is the
CEFR-J’s project leader, Yukio Tono. Masashi Negishi, professor of English-language testing at
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, who shared the leadership of the CEFR-J project with
Tono, also published a teachers’guide on how to prepare a CAN-DO list with Sanseido
and Kudo 2012). In the teachers’guide, the authors introduce the CEFR-J as one of the main refer-
ences for preparing the CAN-DO list.
Involved in the development of educational materials, the project leaders commodiﬁed their
CEFR-J resources so that the outcomes of the research could be eﬀectively channelled into everyday
practices. Moreover, empirical data shows that it was worth the eﬀort in terms of diﬀusing an idea
or ‘atmosphere’that the CEFR is a new standard among Japanese teachers. Almost all the teachers
of English (6 out of 7 teachers) I interviewed were well-informed on the CEFR and shared a com-
mon understanding of the CEFR as an international and/or European standard for describing
diﬀerent language skills. Teachers in an upper secondary school explained how they came across
the CEFR as follows:
Teacher A: I don’t remember the exact time when I came across it (the CEFR), but I’ve known about it for a
Teacher B: Just before the CAN-DO list was brought up, some textbook companies started promoting their
products giving a sales pitch that ‘we have adapted the CEFR!’. Having heard that, ‘what on earth is the CEFR?’
I thought, and researched it, and ﬁgured out that it [the CEFR] is related to CAN-DO. (…) I heard about it in a
teacher training seminar as well. The lecturer was a university teacher. (Upper secondary school teachers, 8
July 2019, translation by the author)
Teacher C: I know the CEFR, of course. I think we have all heard about it at some point if one keeps up with
current issues in a newspaper and TV news programme. Coverage of the CEFR has been increasing in the
media. (Upper secondary school teacher, 17 May 2019, translation by the author)
As Teacher B mentioned, many textbook publishers developed their CAN-DO lists and attached
them to their products. Among all the English textbooks that MEXT authorised for use in lower/
upper secondary schools in the ﬁscal year 2021, 100% of textbooks for lower secondary schools
(6 out of 6 textbook publishers) and almost 80% of textbooks for upper secondary schools (10
GLOBALISATION, SOCIETIES AND EDUCATION 7
out of 13 textbook publishers) attached a CAN-DO list to their products (see appendices
MEXT2020-a; MEXT2020-b). Although not all CAN-DO lists state the relevance to the CEFR, it
is obvious that the CAN-DO list is closely related to the CEFR when teachers check the MEXT
CAN-DO guidelines and a prefectural CAN-DO list (see appendices MEXT 2013; NANIWA;
OCD). In addition, in the Course of Study, the CEFR is introduced as an ‘international standard’
that was referred to in setting out the attainment targets and assembling the content of learning
activities (see appendices MEXT2017; MEXT2018).
The article provides several new insights into the process of standardisation. First, through the lens
of ANT, this study shed light on the contingent nature of educational transfer and the messy prac-
tices of standardisation. While the global status of the CEFR attracted the Japanese academics and
policymakers (Nishimura-Sahi 2020), pragmatic factors –such as project delay and the Finnish
boom in Japanese education –aﬀected the initial phase of educational transfer in which the
CEFR gradually established a position as a standard in reforming the teaching of English.
Second, the ﬁndings of this research indicate that accessibility may be an important feature of
global education standards in a new era of mobility. Owing to the rapid development of information
and communication technology, individuals can directly access materials compiled by IGOs such as
the Council of Europe’s CEFR and the CEFR-J when these are publicly available. No-one needs to
make an oﬃcial visit to Strasburg to learn in search of know-how and ‘borrow’education policy and
reform ideas. Regarding the Japanese case, accessibility is the key to the standardisation of the CEFR
in Japan rather than the strong initiative by the Council of Europe. In this process, the CEFR served
as an information mobile (Busch 2011)ora‘delegate’that disseminates the knowledge generated in
the centre of science to other components enrolled in the assemblage. Operating as an information
mobile, the CEFR induced actors in diﬀerent locations to collaborate in the reform implementation
of English teaching in Japan.
Third, the CEFR became a standard because it succeeded in assembling various actors –aca-
demics, policymakers, commercial actors, administrators and teachers –at a distance and connect-
ing through materials. Even though the CEFR was adapted to the new curriculum, it is hard to
achieve the status of a standard without educational resources that support administrators and tea-
chers in enacting the CEFR-oriented reform agenda. The key actors enrolled in assemblages are the
academics who place the fruits of their research project at the disposal of policymakers, adminis-
trators, the education industry and teachers in enacting educational reforms in their educational
practices. The CEFR-J project addresses educational practitioners’needs by providing information
about the new standard in teacher training seminars and educational resources that help them to
implement the new CEFR-oriented curriculum presented in the Course of Study. The perception
of the CEFR as a new standard has been established while academics, their research results, written
curriculum, teaching materials, commercial actors and teachers are assembled through the CEFR-J
project. This ﬁnding accords with those of an earlier study, which pointed out that the scholars and
experts work closely with international organisations as the ‘coproducers’of –rather than ‘vehicles’
for the diﬀusion of –the ‘world education culture’in deﬁning and shaping international educational
agendas (Resnik 2006, 178).
Moreover, educational standards are not a stable substance given from the ‘global’and borrowed
by the ‘local’attempting to equip themselves with a certain level of competence and ensure the
acquisition of this through globally well-recognized certiﬁcations to succeed in the global market-
place (Fujita 2005). Rather, an educational standard is a dynamic assemblage –a process of stan-
dardisation –consisting of human actors and various types of documentary materials that attract
and inﬂuence educational practitioners.
Regarding wide media coverage of the CEFR as Teacher C pointed out, there is also a possibility
that media discourse played an important role in making English teachers understand the CEFR as
something upcoming which they should know and learn about. It has become a ‘phenomenon’that
professionals can no longer ignore. Through the process of assemblage, the CEFR became an obli-
gatory point of passage (Callon 1986) that all the above-documented actors ‘must at least appear to
be aligned with’(Fenwick and Edwards 2010, 18) and gained the ability of delegation to act at a
distance through materials.
An ANT-oriented approach also made it possible to show that the standardisation of the CEFR
translated the leading academics into experts of the current education reforms and made adminis-
trators into local experts on the educational reform. The CEFR-J project translated the academics
into reform experts with scientiﬁc knowledge, ability and data whereby they can support reform-
minded policymakers and MEXT oﬃcials. The CAN-DO project translated an educational admin-
istrator into a local expert on the upcoming reform with knowledge of the CEFR and the CEFR-J,
the main references of CAN-DO, whereby he can support teachers in proceeding with educational
reforms and their educational practices.
Taken together, this study has shown that the CEFR became a standard, or more precisely, gave
birth to another standard –the national framework in the form of the CAN-DO list –, while various
actors –academics, education administrators, teachers, publishing houses and materials such as the
CEFR-J and related resources, written curriculum, guidelines and textbooks –were brought
together. The CEFR attained its lasting form as a standard through ‘everyday material practices
that combine and align wide-ranging objects, ideas and behaviours’(Fenwick and Edwards 2010,
137). That said, and bearing in mind the fact that the CEFR was not familiar to all the teachers inter-
viewed, nor widely used among teachers of English (see also Murakami 2016), the continuum is not
guaranteed, but has open seams. As the ANT literature indicates, the durability of standards is
achieved only in ‘a temporary and fragile stabilization’(Fenwick and Edwards 2010, 165).
Although the societal, political and temporal context was not in the scope of this study
, its role
in shaping the assemblage would be a fruitful area for further study. Earlier research has indicated
that the CEFR was adapted to the reform of English teaching, aiming to improve the communica-
tive English skills of Japanese people. Reform of English teaching has been a central national pol-
itical objective in Japan since the late 1980s, framed by the accountability of education to national
economic growth (Nishimura-Sahi 2020). Regarding the role of the political context fostering the
standardisation of the CEFR, we could ask how socio-political and historical contexts interact with
human and non-human actors in diﬀerent locations to collaborate and connect across time and
space. This question could be a fruitful avenue for further research bringing ANT-oriented edu-
cational studies into dialogue with the facilitative societal or political context (see Clegg 1989)
and emerging research on time and temporality in education governance (see e.g., Decuypere
and Vanden Broeck 2020; Lingard 2021).
Finally, it should be noted that the study at hand is also part of an assemblage. I may have given
interviewees (academics, administrators and teachers) the impression that the CEFR is becoming a
phenomenon of interest to researchers in education. By conducting a study on the CEFR transfer
and by publishing this paper, I became involved in the standardisation of the CEFR and in co-con-
structing the understanding that the CEFR is a new standard for foreign language teaching.
1. Japan is one of the observer states of the Council of Europe.
2. CEFR-J: Atarashii Nihon no eigokyōiku no tame no hanyōwaku [CEFR-J: A new framework for English-
language teaching in Japan] <http://www.cefr-j.org/research.html>
3. The KAKENHI grants are competitive funds provided by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
(JSPS) for creative and pioneering research projects in all ﬁelds. The JSPS is an independent administrative
institution to promote scientiﬁc advancement. The JSPS is a quasi-governmental organisation under the aus-
pices of MEXT.
4. The ‘Alevels’of the CEFR are a set of common reference points describing what ‘beginner users’of any languages
can do across ﬁve language skills: listening, reading, spoken interaction, spoken production, and writing.
GLOBALISATION, SOCIETIES AND EDUCATION 9
5. Approximately 80% of Japanese learners of English reach the A level after they have gone through 10 years of
learning English in lower/upper secondary schools (Tono 2016).
6. According to the MEXT’s guidelines (MEXT 2013), the CAN-DO lists is a framework for the development of
communicative language teaching by utilising the achievement targets with illustrative descriptors about what
their students ‘can do’.
7. Published by a widely known Japanese publishing company for publishing dictionaries and textbooks.
8. Negishi is one of the authors of the Sanseido textbook NEW CROWN for lower secondary schoolers.
9. These contexts were not in the scope in this paper because in my reading of ANT literature, structures (such as
the social structure) do not really interrelate with networks, but rather are made and temporarily sustained by
networks (c.f. Müller and Schurr 2016). In my analysis, following what Morrison (2018) explains, I do not see
the social structure as something that causes an action or a course of events, but rather, the outcome of existing
networks. In other words, a structure is, to this paper, one composed of actor-networks that need to be sus-
tained through practices connecting a myriad of humans and non-humans.
I warmly thank Nelli Piattoeva for her generous support and helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. My
deep appreciation also goes to anonymous reviewers for their constructive and inspirational comments.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
This work was supported by The Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation under the grant programme “SJSF Japa-
nese Studies PhD Research Grants”[grant number RG19-0003].
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Minutes of working groups and committee meetings of MEXT and the Cabinet Oﬃce
Dates of issue Titles of working groups and committee meetings
2008 May 16th –
Meetings on Education Rebuilding held by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (The 3rd meeting) (MER2008)
2010 Nov. –2011
Commission on the Development of Foreign Language Proﬁciency (DFLP2010)
2012 Aug. –2014
Working Group to Develop MEXT CAN-DO Lists (CANDO2012)
2014 Feb. –2014
Expert Committee on English Education and related small working groups (ECEE2014)
2015 Oct. –2016
Central Council for Education (CC2015)
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Dates of issue Titles of reports, announcements and proposals
MEXT 2011 Five Proposals and Speciﬁc Measures (MEXT2011)
MEXT 2013 Guidelines for Establishing Learning Attainment Targets in the Form of ‘CAN-DO list’(MEXT2013)
MEXT 2017 Course of Study for Primary School (eﬀective in 2020) (MEXT2017)
MEXT 2018 Course of Study for Upper Secondary School (eﬀective in 2022) (MEXT2018)
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MEXT 2020 Lists of MEXT-authorised textbooks for upper secondary schools (FY Reiwa 3) <https://www.mext.go.jp/a_
Municipal guidelines and CAN-DO list
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n.d. Tsukaeru eigo purojekuto jigyō[Programme to cultivate ‘Osakan kids with English abilities’]
n.d. Shiyōshobetten Osaka-ban eigo CAN-DO risuto [Osaka CAN-DO list for English] (OCD)
GLOBALISATION, SOCIETIES AND EDUCATION 13