In a shift from cram-free education policies, the education ministry on Monday unveiled a draft version of new teaching guidelines for high schools, eliminating restrictions on teaching advanced content in science and mathematics and requiring English classes to be taught, in principle, in English.
The draft was the first compiled by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry since the guidelines were last revised in 1999, and was made in line with proposals drawn up in January by the Central Council for Education, an advisory body to the education minister.
Following a revision of teaching guidelines for primary and middle schools in March, the draft aims to move away from cram-free education.
According to the draft, the new high school curriculum guidelines will eliminate provisions that place restrictions on high schools teaching difficult content in mathematics and science. The draft also includes measures to improve English classes by increasing the number of English words studied to 1,800, from the current 1,300, and calling for English classes to be taught in English, in principle.
The ministry will accept opinions from the public on the changes before finalizing the new guidelines for announcement by March. The new guidelines are expected to take effect for students entering high school in the academic year starting in April 2013, while new guidelines for mathematics and science likely will be implemented in advance for those admitted for the 2012 academic year.
The current high school teaching guidelines, which were designed to realize cram free-education in which children have more free time by reducing class hours and also cutting curriculum content, were revised in 1999.
Under the current guidelines, the standard number of 50-minute classes per week for full-time high school students is 30. The new guidelines will allow high schools to teach more than 30 if necessary, and do not stipulate an upper limit. The draft also allows schools to schedule classes during summer and winter breaks.
The draft indicates a clear shift away from cram-free education in science, mathematics and English.
Under the current guidelines for science and mathematics, there are many provisions regulating the teaching of difficult content, such as a requirement that teachers do not teach complex factorization. Another stipulation states that teachers should only touch on the fact that studies of elemental particles have been connected to research on the origin of the universe.
The draft will completely abolish such provisions, allowing schools to cover advanced content at their discretion.
With a view to boosting English speaking and listening ability, the draft will create new categories: Communication English I, II and III. In addition, the guidelines stipulate that English classes should be used as a place for real English communication, indicating for the first time a policy of teaching English classes principally in English.
About half of high school teachers expect their workload to increase, according to a nationwide survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun on the education ministry’s proposed teaching guidelines that depart from the previous pressure-free educational environment.
Many of the 100 teachers polled had misgivings about student cell phone use at school, indicating strong frustration over the devices, which frequently ring even during lessons.
The interviews were conducted earlier this month via telephone and other methods. When asked about new government educational policy, 48 teachers said they expected their work responsibilities to increase.
One said, “As long as we have to spend time on club and other activities, teaching workloads will grow and lesson preparation will get tougher.”
On Dec. 22, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry announced draft changes in teaching guidelines for high schools mandating that English lessons be conducted in English, while providing students with opportunities to discuss themes during mathematics and science lessons.
Some teachers were asked to react toward the proposed curriculum changes. A male teacher from a public high school in the Chugoku region said: “Many advertising balloons [proposals] have been raised. I don’t know how far I can cope.”
A 53-year-old male teacher from a municipal high school in Saitama Prefecture said: “Up until now, English classes have usually been taught in Japanese. If we have to teach in English, most English teachers probably won’t be able to do so.”
Concern over the ubiquity of mobile phones in schools surfaced in the interviews.
When asked if they faced problems regarding cell phone use during lessons, teachers’ replies included:
— “[Cell phones] have become a hindrance during study.”
— “They have become a tool for bullying.”
— “Some students suffer from the effects of lack of sleep due to their constant use of e-mail.”
Twenty teachers said they had had problems with students who use mobile phone-based e-mail during lessons, as well as phones that rang in class.
A male teacher, 47, from a municipal high school in Kanagawa Prefecture said: “Even if I warned a student, the student will send a reply within five minutes. There are students who, despite repeated warnings, continue to send e-mail.”
Changes in children
During the interview, teachers were asked about differences between the students of today and those of a decade ago.
Eleven teachers described today’s students as “immature” or “childish.” Due to massive changes as a result of the information age, there is less need for face-to-face communication, resulting in many students having poor human relations skills. Many teachers cited this as the main problem facing today’s students.