Tokyo Metropolitan High School of Science and Technology (Koto ward, Tokyo) in the news

A draft version of a set of new teaching guidelines for high schools, unveiled last month by the education ministry, signifies an attempt to end the ministry’s continued emphasis on cram-free education.

The draft calls for the removal of restrictions on teaching advanced content in science and mathematics, and discourages teachers from using Japanese to teach English class.

The government’s envisioned course of study asks educators to make a major shift and is aimed at improving the nation’s academic standards.

“It’s outrageous that we can’t mention [Nobel Prize laureates] Hideki Yukawa and Shinichiro Tomonaga in a physics textbook,” said an employee of a textbook publishing firm in reference to provisions that ban schools from teaching advanced content. Such provisions prevail in the cram-free education system.

“It’s entirely natural for teachers to try to inspire students by telling them about Japan’s great forerunners. But it’s been impossible to do this satisfactorily because of the government’s course of study,” the employee added.

One of the company’s textbooks was rejected in Autumn 2005 by the Textbook Authorization Research Council–an Education, Science and Technology Ministry panel charged with textbook screening. The company had cited the achievements of Japanese Nobel laureates in physics in a chronology appended to its Physics I textbook. But the council reportedly asked the firm to revise the book, claiming the inclusion of the laureates’ names and achievements was irrelevant to its main content.

The council reportedly felt the chronological information went beyond the bounds of high school education and infringed educational provisions.

In the past decade, however, a considerable number of high schools have moved away from cram-free education.

Tokyo Metropolitan High School of Science and Technology in Koto Ward, which aims to train skilled scientists and engineers, has drawn up a curriculum that goes beyond the recommended course of study, such as by offering a special program with university professors as guest speakers.

Established in 2001, the school respects the provisions’ upper limit on a level of study, while offering “super high-school-level” education that inspires students, according to one of the school’s teachers.

In a class held on Dec. 22 titled “The Forefront of Physics: Get Closer to a Nobel Prize,” an elementary particle researcher was invited as a guest speaker. Students were given the opportunity to learn about the study of CP violation by Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa who won last year’s Nobel Prize in physics.

The school’s principal, Kimikazu Tatsumi, 56, welcomed the draft revisions to the teaching guidelines. “If students become interested, they’ll want to learn more than the textbooks can offer. It would be great to see the provisions go,” he said.

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Yomiuri Shimbun Jan 8, 2009

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