Relaxed education policy – failure or cut short while bearing fruit?

There are two views expressed below here – one that the cram-free education (i.e. relaxed education) policy was a failure, and the other is that the policy was bearing fruit and the problems were systemic and societal.


Panel says cram-free education a failure
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Cram-free education, a main plank of current teaching guidelines, is expected to be declared a failure in an report interim to be released shortly, it has been learned.
The report, which will be released by the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education, science and technology minister, is the first to publicly admit that cram-free education had failed to achieve the intended results.
The council has already decided to advise the minister to increase school hours at primary and middle schools.
Among its main points, the report will say that the cram-free policy led to an excessive reduction in school hours.
Such self-criticism is a rare move, but the council is believed to have concluded that it is necessary to win teachers’ understanding for the policy reversal.
In 1996, the council proposed encouraging children to develop a “zest for living,” including the development of self-expression and care for others.
As a result, the current official curriculum guidelines aim to increase the effectiveness of teaching by focusing on a narrower range of subject material. The content of primary and middle schools’ subjects was reduced by 30 percent, while school hours were cut by 10 percent.
Instead, the council introduced “integrated studies” featuring cross-subject studies to develop students’ thinking skills.
However, when the guidelines were introduced in 2002, the reduced hours and other changes were criticized for reducing children’s basic scholastic abilities. The new teaching guidelines were cited as one factor in the perceived gap among students in their motivation to learn.
The interim report will list five failures related to the guidelines. The first is the failure to tell teachers and parents what “zest for living” means, and why it is required.
The second is that because the development of children’s ability to study and think on their own initiative was mentioned as one of the guidelines’ aims, many teachers have accorded too much respect to students’ initiative, and become hesitant to take a firm line with them.
Third is the failure to explain the importance of integrated studies.
The fourth failure is that the excessive reduction in school hours actually impaired the development of thinking and self-expression among students.
Finally, the report will say the guidelines were drawn up without taking into account the decreasing ability of parents and communities to provide support for children’s education–a trend the council says has forced schools to play a bigger role in cultivating children’s habits and morals.
(Oct. 29, 2007) Yomiuri Shimbun

Return to rigid school system hit
Abe on wrong tack, advocate of relaxed approach says

Staff writer
When the final touches were being put on the more-relaxed education system in 2002 by reducing class hours and textbook content, Ken Terawaki, then known as “Mr. Education Ministry,” was busy publicizing the changes.

Ken Terawaki, a former senior official at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, is interviewed in Tokyo’s Ginza district in December. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO
2005, however, saw a policy shift and the start of a push to again reform the education system and bring back heavier coarse loads amid public criticism that the changed system wasn’t working. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in September, is championing this campaign.
But Terawaki, 54, who quit the ministry in November, is not buying into Abe’s reforms and still believes an unhurried approach is the best way to build a more mature society, even though parents and others have been complaining about what they see as declining student performance.
“The uniform education system was effective in producing people who could support Japan’s rapid economic growth,” Terawaki said. “But the times have changed. We need a system that helps children establish their individuality.”
In 1987, after three years of discussions, a government panel on reform proposed relaxing the education system, which for a century had placed emphasis on uniform rote learning.
The new system was deigned to motivate children to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and flexibility to live in Japan in the 21st century — a time of globalization, advanced high technology, widespread information networks and an aging society.
Class hours for core subjects — Japanese, mathematics, social studies, science and English — were gradually reduced. In 2002, Saturdays were dropped from the school week and textbook content was cut by 30 percent to round out the relaxed system. Schools introduced “comprehensive studies” courses that allowed students to carry out their own research projects.
“It’s natural that children in a rich society lose motivation to learn. So the comprehensive studies course is offered to stimulate children’s curiosity through academic projects,” Terawaki said, noting that because kids have no Saturday classes, they can have more time to spend with their families and friends and to engage in other pursuits, including sports, music and art.
The relaxed system bore other fruit — more youths got involved in volunteer activities, began actively expressing their opinions and started up businesses, he said.
“I realize parents want their children to have better academic foundations. But if children devote themselves only to studying, can they become attractive adults?” Terawaki asked.
“People used to feel they had a happy life if they went to a good school and landed a job at a good company. But that formula no longer works,” said Terawaki, himself of an elite background. The Fukuoka native went from the prestigious La Salle High School in Kagoshima to the University of Tokyo before he became a high-ranking education ministry bureaucrat.
In the relaxed system’s fall from favor, parents and business circles point to data showing deteriorating academic achievements. The 2003 Program for International Student Assessment test by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development showed Japanese 15-year-olds fell from the top spot for math in 2000 to sixth place and fell to 14th from eighth in reading.
To improve academic levels, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to introduce nationwide academic achievement exams in April, the first such tests in 40 years.
Local governments have meanwhile been trying to fuel competition by introducing a system under which children and their parents can select their school of choice.
But Terawaki feels excessive concerns over children’s academic performances are unnecessary because education has changed from merely requiring students to memorize history, kanji and English vocabulary into a system that encourages youths to think about pertinent issues and express their opinions logically.
But Abe is pursuing a different course. He formed the Education Rebuilding Council with the goal of improving students’ academic levels and the quality of teachers. He is also bent on restoring discipline in the classroom and instilling a notion of patriotism among the nation’s youth.
Terawaki is skeptical of Abe’s reform push.
“Abe wants to make Japan ‘a beautiful country’ that respects its culture, but it contradicts business circles’ demand for (young people) who will pursue economic development,” he said. “I wonder if those who criticize the relaxed education system have conservative, nationalistic views and yearn for (a return to) 20th century Japan?”
Last March, after reaching the limit of promotions, Terawaki was asked to leave the ministry in line with long-standing bureaucratic practice. The education minister asked him to stay on, which he did even though he had to take a demotion.
When he quit in November, after Bunmei Ibuki became education minister in September, Terawaki, not following usual bureaucrat practice, refused to take an “amakudari” job, or golden parachute post in the private sector or at a public organization.
“I loved working for the education ministry. I did not want to work anyplace else,” said Terawaki, who now accepts freelance jobs as an education and movie critic.
A frequent moviegoer, taking in than 10 films a month, Terawaki is an advocate of cultural power. While working as a bureaucrat, he often reviewed films for magazines and wrote books on cinema.
“I’ve always been interested in nurturing culture through education because cultural wealth, like economic indicators, can be an indicator to show (the maturity) of a society,” said the confessed aficionado of “manga” cartoons and “rakugo” traditional comic storytelling.

The Japan Times, Friday, Jan. 5, 2007  Retrieved from Online Source

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