Putting back the hours … will it be enough?

Classroom hours in schools were first cut in 1977. Then it seems students’ academic skills levels showed a corresponding decrease. It seems certain now, that the hours are being put back into the curriculum … class hours will increase for arithmetic, math and science from 2009, the rest by 2011 0r 2012.


Parents with kids already in local schools for the move, must think the measures come too late. Others against the move think the measures don’t address the root of the problem — the need for quality teaching, materials, and methods, the need for smaller teacher-student ratios.


Below are two press reports on the current government decision to put back the hours, and an editorial comment on the insufficiency of the measure.

Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008, Japan TimesYomiuri Shimbun

Class hours to increase in curriculum turnaround

Kyodo News

The education ministry unveiled revised education curriculum guidelines Friday that will keep pupils in class longer to learn more, marking a turnaround from its education-with-latitude policy in the wake of reported declines in Japanese students’ scholastic capabilities.

It represents the first increase in class hours and learning content in about 30 years and also marks a change from the current curriculum guidelines that were revised in 1998.


The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said it will formally publish the guidelines in late March after soliciting public comments.

The new curriculum guidelines propose reinforcing moral education but fall short of making ethics a formal classroom subject.

On Jan. 31, the Education Rebuilding Council, a Cabinet panel, proposed making ethics a formal school subject — a call that has been a focal point in the education ministry’s work to revise the curriculum guidelines.

The new guidelines also call for strengthening language, tradition and culture education in all school subjects, and for making foreign-language activities compulsory in elementary school.

The current five-day school week remains intact.

The education ministry plans to fully implement the guidelines in elementary schools in the 2011 school year that starts April 1 that year and in junior high schools in the 2012 school year.

Guidelines for high schools will be published during the 2008 school year and implemented in the 2013 school year, officials said.

The guidelines propose increasing class hours for key school subjects by 10 percent, in response to a report filed Jan. 17 by another government panel, the Central Council for Education, which called for teaching more basic knowledge.

In particular, class hours on arithmetic-mathematics and sciences will sharply increase, based on results of domestic and international surveys on students’ academic capabilities that suggested room for improvement.

According to a survey released in December by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese first-year high school students ranked lower than before not only in scientific literacy but also in reading and mathematical skills.

Education ministry officials denied that the new guidelines may lead to a return to “cramming” education, saying teaching contents would not increase much, compared with a boost in class hours.


Government eyes increase in class hours / General studies class would be cut under plan


The education ministry on Friday unveiled a draft of new teaching guidelines for primary and middle schools that would increase classroom hours for arithmetic and mathematics as well as science subjects by around 15 percent during the nine-year study period, in a departure from the current guidelines, which emphasize “education with latitude.”

The new guidelines, which were designed to respond to the criticism that children’s scholastic abilities have declined due to the education-with-latitude policy, are scheduled to be implemented from fiscal 2011 at primary schools and fiscal 2012 at middle schools, according to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

However, the ministry will invite members of the public to submit opinions on the draft before officially announcing the introduction of the new guidelines in late March, ministry officials said.

It is the first time in 10 years that the guidelines have been totally revised, and the increase in classroom hours would be the first since the ministry started to cut classroom hours in 1977.

Class hours allotted for arithmetic, mathematics and some science subjects will be increased from fiscal 2009, in advance of the implementation of the rest of the guidelines.

Some content cut in the current teaching guidelines will be revived.

The so-called general studies classes, symbolizing the education-with-latitude policy, will be cut in both primary and middle school, to two classes a week from the current three at the primary school level, for instance.

The guidelines for kindergartens, to be revised concurrently, will be fully implemented from fiscal 2009, while a draft on teaching guidelines for high schools will be announced around autumn, according to the officials.

The draft was formulated along with a report issued in January by the Central Education Council, an advisory body to the education minister.

As in the current guidelines, the new guidelines’ basic philosophy is “to foster the power to live.” To improve the ability to think, judge and express oneself, the new guidelines attach importance to activities such as observation, conducting experiments and writing reports.

At the same time, the ministry says the guidelines are minimum requirements, enabling schools to teach advanced content at their own discretion.

Under the draft guidelines, the number of 45-minute classes will be increased by two a week for first- and second-year primary school students and by one a week for third- to sixth-year students at primary school. This means that the number of classes during the six primary school years will rise by 278 to 5,645.

Meanwhile, the number of 50-minute classes for first- to third-grade middle school students will be increased by one a week, meaning that they will have 3,045 classes, up 105, during the three middle school years.

The number of classes will be increased by more than 10 percent for major subjects at primary and middle school, including Japanese, arithmetic (or mathematics at middle school), science and social studies.

Under the draft, hours allotted for arithmetic and science at primary school will return to almost the same level before the education-with-latitude policy was implemented.

At middle school, the number of mathematics and foreign-language lessons will return to a level similar to that set in the previous guidelines. The number of science classes will rise by 33 percent from the current level.

The draft stipulates that fifth- and sixth-year primary school students be taught English once a week as a compulsory subject.

Concerning the content of some subjects that was cut under the current teaching guidelines, the formula for calculating the area of a trapezoid and studies of the Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C.-ca 300 B.C.) will be reinstated in primary school arithmetic and Japanese history classes, respectively. At middle school, the quadratic formula will be back in mathematics textbooks.

A plan to make moral education a subject for grading under the teaching guidelines was shelved this time.

Under the banner of education with latitude, the current teaching guidelines, which were implemented in fiscal 2002, placed more importance on fostering students’ ability to think for themselves by slashing learning content by about 30 percent.

However, the guidelines drew criticism for causing students’ overall academic ability to decline.

(Feb. 16, 2008)


More class hours not the answer

EDITORIAL Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007 Japan Times


The Central Education Council, an advisory body for the education minister, has proposed increasing class hours by about 10 percent for key subjects like Japanese, arithmetic, math, science, social studies and gym at elementary and middle schools. As for electives and the so-called integrated-study classes — in which schools have leeway to decide what to teach — the council calls for fewer hours. The proposal represents a revision of the trend since 1977 of decreasing class hours.

The proposal comes as some people argue that the reduction of class hours under the “more relaxed” education policy has caused a decline in academic performance. But a correlation between class hours and academic performance has not been established. It is regrettable that the proposal has been made without a thorough assessment of the “more relaxed” education policy.


The council seems to think that increased class hours will automatically lead to improved academic performance. But various factors must be considered. One is how to motivate students. Others include teachers’ instructional skills, the ratio of teachers to students, and whether teachers can dedicate a proper amount of time to each student. The council is trying to improve academic performance without addressing these factors. The council upholds the goal of nurturing students’ ability to think and judge — an important goal under the “more relaxed” education embodied in the current course of study, which went into force in the spring of 2002. But its basic position and its proposal to reduce class hours for electives and integrated-study classes — important elements of “more relaxed” education — appear to contradict each other.

If the council is serious about nurturing students’ ability to think and judge, it needs to address such issues as increasing the education budget to reduce class size and add more teachers, lightening individual burdens for teachers, improving their teaching skills and reforming entrance exams.

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