What is the National Curriculum?

MEXT(the Japanese government ministry of education) determines fundamental standards for schools from kindergarten to the upper secondary school in formulating their educational curricula so that a standardized education is available anywhere in Japan.

Specifically, the objective, goal, curricula, number of educational weeks and course subjects at each different stage of school are specified under the School Education Law, and furthermore, the objective and contents of each course are stipulated under the Courses of Study established pursuant to laws and ordinances.

In accordance with this, each school has been organizing and implementing its own distinctive curricula, taking into consideration the conditions of the local community and school itself, the stages of mental and physical growth and the characters of children, pupils or students.


Elementary schools and lower secondary schools since April 2002 and upper secondary schools since April 2003 have been nationally using the Courses of Study, which aim for the education of children, pupils and students to acquire rudiments and basics firmly as well as the cultivation of a “the zest for living,” which means the ability to learn and think independently by and for oneself. For that purpose, the following improvements are intended by the new Courses of Study:



  • root the rudiments and basics surely by enriched and elaborate instruction responding to an individual as well as the careful and strict selection of educational content;
  • enrich education to develop personalities by widening the scope of selective courses;
  • enrich the experiential and problem-solving learning of each course subject to cultivate the ability to learn and think voluntarily;
  • create a “Period of Integrated Study” to cultivate ways of learning and thinking and an attitude of trying to solve or pursue problems independently and creatively; and
  • upgrade ethical education to strongly equip children with the judgment of good and evil and norm consciousness.

For the National Curriculum Standards for Kindergartens* see this link and this link.


* National Curriculum Standards for elementary and above have not appeared online on the MEXT site at the time of researching, but try out the link below to an article that illustrates the implementation of national curriculum standards in elementary schools, how teaching is carried out, and touches upon Kumon and Soroban afterschool classes.For details on Courses of study, see this page.

For the Course of study for foreign languages, click here.


What is the integrated period of study?

Under the previous administration, it was aimed to make the national curriculum standards more generalized and flexible so that each school would be able to shw ingenuity (creativity?) in making a distinctive timetable. The integrated study period is designed to cultivate ways of learning and thinking and an attittude of trying to solve or pursue problems independently and creatively. 

What is MEXT’s initiative to improve the academic ability of students in schools?

Schools are making active efforts to provide the development of learning based on the needs of each student so as to deepen understanding further beyond the scope of the Courses of Study for those children who adequately understand the contents designated by the Courses of Study on the one hand, and on the other to repeat the instruction of the rudiments and basics for those children who do not adequately understand the contents designated by the Courses of Study through supplementary teaching or otherwise to utilize creativity and ingenuity while considering the conditions of the children’s mastery and full understanding.

As of now, MEXT has supported efforts in schools such as: an increase in the staffing number of teachers allowing a small group teaching in line with the degree of attainment; the “Frontier Project to Improve Scholastic Competence,” which is to designate a base school or more to research trial teaching practices for the improvement of the teaching in line with a child’s personality and to spread the results of the research to all other schools in Japan; and the announcement of “Exhortation toward Learning” in January 2002,and in April 2003 formed and has been implementing and promoting the “Action Plan for Improving Academic Ability,” a package of comprehensive measures aimed at securely improving academic ability, based on “the enhancement of individual oriented instruction,” “increasing the desire to learn and academic ability,” “the growth of character and ability,” and “the improvement of English and foreign language skills.”

The initiative is explained in greater detail here.

What are Kokoro notebooks?
 Some of you may noticed the introduction of the “kokoro no noto” in the current school year. The distribution of booklets to all entitled children and pupils entitled “Kokoro no Note” at the elementary and lower secondary schools is designed to “develop a child’s rich hearty mind”. The booklet plainly explains the morals to be acquired by children and gives them a chance to think and deepen their understanding of morals and values by themselves. MEXT’s website says “It is important to deploy moral education appealing to the child’s mind by utilizing the talents in the community or by experiencing activities so as to offer opportunities for rich experiential activities at school.”

6 thoughts on “What is the National Curriculum?”

    1. national curriculum is a common programme of study in schools that is designed to ensure nationwide uniformity of content and standards in education. It is usually legislated by the national government, and may involve coordination with state or other regional authorities which have administered school curriculum.

    1. There is no uniform or universal international curriculum. You have to check with individual international schools, or look up their websites which usually give you some sort of mission statement, school philosophy and indication of the kind of curriculum standard or model they are using.

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