There’s a lot to be said about NOVA. It is the largest of the Big Four eikaiwa and has probably around 50% of the language school market share. It can be seen everywhere: on television, newspapers, as sponsors for movies and other shows, plus hundreds of train posters. Because of it’s size, there are many stories that have arisen from NOVA, many of which are controversial.
NOVA is of course primarily a language school. It focuses mainly on English, but Spanish, Chinese, Italian, French and German is also offered. NOVA also has a few minor business interests in travel services and technology, but these are mainly for the staff or students already with NOVA.
In terms of teaching English, NOVA follows the same format that many eikaiwa do: small classes of students with one instructor (but the option of 1 on 1 classes are available at the student’s request). There are also Kids classes which is the fastest growing business for the eikaiwa today.
NOVA also offers a Voice room in most branches which is basically a free conversation room with a group of students. Students can have lessons that prepare them for TOEIC and TOEFL tests (an official test to measure your English skills). Finally, the lessons can also be done via webcam at any time with the staff at the Multimedia Centre in Osaka.
NOVA has a mascot, a pink rabbit (with a beak, for some reason) known as Nova Usagi (Usagi means rabbit in Japanese). It is marketed heavily and has reached the same level of mainstram success as other company mascots like NHK’s Domo-kun and the DoCoMo Mushroom.
All of the instructors are English-speaking natives, ie: foreigners. They make up 70% of the company’s employees. NOVA itself has said that most of the instructors stay with the company for less than 2 years, but after speaking with friends that work for NOVA, they liken it to an outbound call centre. That is, a high turnover with many people staying only until they get themselves settled in Japan then moving on to other jobs.
NOVA has made the news on several occassions because of accusations of unlawful employment practice. Some have accused NOVA of preying on unsuspecting foreigners’ ignorance of Japan’s work laws, for example, over-charging instructors for the rent on optional NOVA accomodation. Friends working at NOVA have also told me of a culture where instructors are not allowed to speak to students about NOVA policies under any circumstances. This has caused clashes which have on occassion led to lawsuits because of some other contradictory practices.
The most notable of these is the anti-fraternisation policy. NOVA does not allow instructors to socialise with students outside or work and will terminate the employment of instructors who do. Again, my friends have complained that this can be difficult because they are expected to be very friendly and likable to the students at work but when approached by students outside, they cannot talk about the anti-fraternisation policy when excusing themselves. An Australian man had taken the eikaiwa to court over the policy because he claimed it interfered with his life, and reached an out-of-court settlement.
Other issues raised by instructors led to the formation of a NOVA union which has lobbied the company and the Japanese government to end what it says are unfair practices. The union has had some positive but also negative feedback – an editorial in the weekly English magazine Metropolis claimed that the union’s activities actually interfered with the ease with which foreigners could find work in Japan.
NOVA seems to be one of the very few eikaiwa that allow foreigners to work part-time but this is only available for a few countries with the appropriate visa (mainly Australia and New Zealand). There are rumours, however, that part-time teachers will no longer be hired in the near-future, due to a problem with these teachers not turning up to work.
Controversy aside, my NOVA friends have pointed out that the pay is considered normal for an eikaiwa, and that there are still a few instructors who stay with the company for years. If you are considering working for NOVA, check out some English teacher forums for the opinions of those who have worked or who are working for the company. NOVA will be different to different people. My only suggestion based on what I’ve researched is that I wouldn’t recommend taking NOVA accomodation.