Integrated curriculum: What is it and what are the major approaches by Japanese teachers to utilizing the autonomy of the integrated curriculum in public schools

What is the integrated curriculum?

Japan’s national curriculum reforms: Focus on integrated curriculum approach“, a study by Sarkar Arani, Mohammed Reza for adapting the Japanese experience to the Iranian context, provides the background to, the purpose and goals of the Integrated Curriculum of Japanese MEXT.

VIA THE INTEGRATED CURRICULUM“, MacDonald, Laurence Excerpt below from abstract of the case study.
In 2002, MEXT enacted the integrated curriculum (sogoteki na gakushu), a decentralization effort intended to empower teachers and schools with the autonomy to create and implement curriculum of their own choosing.
The purpose of multi-site case study is to discover if and how Japanese teachers are utilizing the autonomy provided by the integrated curriculum to provide students opportunities to interact with dimensions of difference based on Japan’s changing cultural landscape and global role.
This multi-site case study is based on seventeen months of field work in Japan, at which time I analyzed government and school documents; interviewed teachers, administrators, scholars, and leaders of NPO/NGOs; and observed integrated curriculum activities in 60 public schools.   Based on this data, I uncovered three approaches to the integrated curriculum that confront students with dimensions of difference: 1) the human rights education approach; 2) the cultural co-existence approach; and 3) the international understanding education approach.  In the context of the human rights approach, teachers implemented curriculum to help students: 1) develop self-esteem; 2) contend with issues of bullying and social exclusion; 3) and learn about the rights of minorities, the disabled, and the homeless.  Schools in ethnically diverse communities implement a cultural coexistence approach to the integrated curriculum, engaging students in the exploration of human migration and the growing ethnic diversity of their communities.  In the international understanding approach, teachers help students explore foreign cultural influences on Japanese culture; the nation’s relationship with its Asian neighbors; and the
role of the Japanese Government and NPO/NGOs in overseas development and volunteerism.


The paper Cultivating a Rich Humanity: The Challenge of Reform in Japanese Early Schooling, Yutaka Oda et al. noted the reform changes that occurred from 1997 were noted as follows:

Releasing New Guideline for Kindergarten Education

In 1997, the Minister of Education announced major reforms, including a dramatic reduction of the content of curriculum and the hours of instruction, the elimination of the high school entrance examination for some schools, and the eventual elimination of Saturday morning classes.
Among the many objectives of this reform effort was a strong emphasis on moral development from early childhood. A 1997 report, “Outline of the Educational Reform Program”, urged the formation of early schooling that would “encourage everyone to fully demonstrate their creativity and challenging spiritモ (Monbusho, 1997).
As part of the reform efforts specific attention has been paid to the kindergarten. A broad and coherent reform effort across schooling, from kindergarten through the university, is intended.
In response to the announcement of reform, the Central Council for Education issued a report entitled メThe Model for Japanese Education in the 21st Centuryモ on June 26, 1997. A further report was issued in April, 1998.
The 1997 report used two key phrases in its efforts to redirect kindergarten education: メzest for livingモ and メroom to grow for children.モ The underlying concern was that Japanese youth were losing their zest for life and, in school and elsewhere, no longer had the necessary room for growth.
The 1998 report has continued the reform efforts, specifying that schooling should help the child to:

1. Cultivate a rich humanity, sociality, and identity as a Japanese citizen living in an international community;
2. Develop the ability to learn and think independently.

The report specifies that the kindergarten should provide pleasant and playful circumstances. Kindergarten should also provide moral education suitable for young children. It states:

The kindergartenユs basic role is to give comprehensive guidance through playful hands-on learning activities that value highly childrenユs own desires, willingness, and interests. Kindergarten education aims at helping the child cultivate a rich heart and imagination — the foundations of a good human being.

The report later explains the purpose behind the reform efforts, defining what is meant by メrich humanityモ:

Rich humanity includes sympathy, a desire to respect each other and to live together in harmony, respect for life and human rights, a sensibility for appreciating beauty, a spirit of volunteering, and the like. It will place much value on moral education that helps a child acquire social rules and basic morality, a sense of norms, public morals, justice and fairness, sound judgment, strong will and the ability to take action, an awareness of responsibility, autonomy, and self-control.

In these statements, emphasis is placed on childrenユs social and emotional development. These points had been the central concern not only for Japanese early childhood educators, but also Japanese education in general, and kindergarten education is regarded as forming a basis for character building of individuals. These reports were proposed by consensus among Japanese educators on which direction educational reforms should go.

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