Learning Chinese characters
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology prepares guidelines containing basic outlines of each subject taught in Japanese schools and the objectives and content of teaching in each grade. Revised every 10 years or so, these guidelines are followed by schools nationwide. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

All elementary, junior high, and high schools are obliged to use text books that have been evaluated and approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The purpose of the official authorization system, which has been in effect since 1886, is the standardization of education and the maintenance of objectivity and neutrality on political and religious issues. A system of free distribution of textbooks for compulsory education was established in 1963. The textbooks used in each public school district are chosen from among governmentauthorized candidates by the local board of education based on a review by the prefectural board of education. At private schools, the school principal is responsible for the choice. [Ibid]

The detailed curriculum in each school level, the general objectives of each subject, and aims and contents of each school year for each subject are precisely controlled by the National Course of Study. It may seem that the national government limits and controls the contents of education and its teaching methods; however, the Course of Study only presents the frame structure of the teaching and the classroom teacher has the liberty of the details presented. The Course of Study is revised once every decade or so. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 ++]

As in some other countries, the Ministry of Education provides a list of approved textbooks from which teachers select those to be used in their classes. It is true that sometimes court cases have arisen about the suitability of the national policy on textbooks, questioning whether the government is interfering with education, whether the examination/approval system conflicts with the Constitution, or whether the system infringes on the freedom of expression. However, so far the system is functioning well with individual schools and teachers free to choose classroom content and presentations aside from government approval of texts and teaching materials. ++

The elementary school curriculum covers Japanese, social studies, mathematics, science, music, arts and handicrafts, homemaking and physical education. At this stage, much time and emphasis is given to music, fine arts and physical education. Once-a-week moral education classes were re-introduced into the curriculum in 1959, but these classes together with the earlier emphasis on non-academic subjects are part of its "whole person" education which is seen as the main task of the elementary school system. Moral education is also seen as more effectively carried on through the school routine and daily interactions that go on during the class cleaning and school lunch activities. [Source: Education in Japan website **]

The middle curriculum includes Japanese, mathematics, social studies, science, English, music, art, physical education, field trips, clubs and homeroom time. Students now receive instruction from specialist subject teachers. The pace is quick and instruction is text-book bound because teachers have to cover a lot of ground in preparation for high-school entrance examinations. High schools adopt highly divergent high school curricula, the content may contain general or highly specialized subjects depending on the different types of high schools. **

Elementary school children spend a large share of their time in school learning how to write and read Japanese katagana, hiragana and kanji. Most students learn the English alphabet in the 4th grade. Some have a foreign native English speaker drop by their classroom for an hour once a month in the 6th grade. Schools often stop teaching modern history around 1930. Many students receive only a brief overview of 20th century history because teachers run out of time. New primary school textbooks issued in 2011 are noticeably thicker as extra pages have been added to cover all the material that has been deemed necessary to cover by new curriculum guidelines. Science-oriented high schools often don’t teach history. As requirements now stand, Japanese high school students are required to take two years of geography and history. One study found about 30 percent of students chose not to study Japanese history.

See Textbooks, World War II

Objectives of the Japanese High School Curriculums

In the late 1990s, an effort was made to make the curriculum less demanding and lessen the work load in public schools---by decreasing class hours and curriculum content’so slow students wouldn’t fall behind and all students would have more time for hobbies and family. The goal was to develop a “zest for living” and foster creativity and self-expression.

The result of this “cram-free” education was that more parents sent their children to cram schools because they didn’t want their children to lose an edge in passing school exams. In many cases this resulted in students studying material above their grade level in the cram schools. By the time the teachers introduced the same material in regular schools they already knew it.

The traditional emphasis of the curriculum has been on preparing students for tests. In the early 2000s, an effort was made to teach students “living skills” and the importance of self-motivation and emphasize reasoning and independent thinking rather than memorization. The only problem was that teachers were not prepared to deal with all the guidelines and demands thrown at them. Some of the changes asked of them required them to make major changes in their teaching styles.

In the mid 2000s, high schools were required to teach certain classes that many schools never did teach. In some cases the schools falsified reports given to the government that they did teach the classes, in one case even making up grades. When scam was revealed students were required to take the courses during New Year vacation, a time when many of them were cramming for their university entrance exams.

Elementary School, Junior High and High School Curriculums

“The elementary school curriculum includes the following subjects: Japanese language, social studies, arithmetic, science, life environmental studies, music, arts and crafts, physical education, and homemaking. Requirements also include extracurricular activities, a moral education course, and integrated study, which can cover a wide range of topics (international understanding, the environment, volunteer activities, etc.). Reading and writing are perhaps the most important parts of the elementary school curriculum; in addition to the two Japanese syllabaries, students are expected to learn at least 1006 Chinese characters by the end of the sixth grade.

“The standard curriculum for junior high school includes the following required subjects: Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, a foreign language elective (almost always English), music, fine arts, health and physical education, and industrial arts or homemaking. Requirements also include extracurricular activities, a moral education course, and integrated study.

The high school core curriculum includes the following required subjects: Japanese language, geography and history, civics, mathematics, science, health and physical education, art, foreign language, home economics, and information. Extracurricular activities and integrated study are also required. Students in special vocational programs also take courses in their area of study (business, industrial arts, agriculture, etc.) while spending less time on the core curriculum than regular students. [Ibid]

High School Texts Bulk up with 12 Percent More Pages

In March 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The average number of pages in high school textbooks to be used from next spring will increase by 11.9 percent compared to those being used now, according to the results of textbook screenings released by the education ministry. The increase results from the government's new curriculum guidelines, which expand the amount of academic content students must learn while also eliminating a clause that restricted the teaching of higher-level material. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2012]

“Compared with current textbooks, new ones in mathematics will have 27.2 percent more pages, and science books will have 16.5 percent more. The number of pages in English textbooks, in which the number of words to be learned has increased, rose by 25.2 percent. Descriptions of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake are included in textbooks for geography and some other subjects. [Ibid]

“Based on the new curriculum guidelines, which aim to depart from so-called cram-free education, all of the textbooks have more pages. Compared with textbooks screened under the cram-free policy for fiscal 2005, the new mathematics textbooks have 48, or 30.4 percent, more pages, and those of science have 124, or 23.6 percent, more pages. [Ibid]

“The new guidelines increase the number of English words to be learned in three years of high school from 1,300 to 1,800, and stipulate that English classes will have to be held in English in principle. Biology textbooks newly contain descriptions of methods for analyzing base sequences of DNA. Some of the English textbooks, such as one produced by Taishukan Publishing Co. for college preparatory schools, are written mostly in English except for a small number of Japanese words about proper nouns and grammar. [Ibid]

“Sixteen textbooks describe the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which began with the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Those for Contemporary Society discuss the incident in relation to "the danger and seriousness of damage if an accident occurs." Seven textbooks mentioned radiation from the crisis. One physics textbook contains a passage that reads, "Meltdowns occurred and radioactive substances from nuclear reactors were discharged to the outside." One Home Economics textbook introduces temporary limits on radioactive substances in food in a sidebar. [Ibid]

Foreign Language Education in Japan

Almost all students take six years of English in middle school and high school. Nevertheless, Japanese people have a reputation as poor English speakers. English language education emphasizes reading and writing, and underestimates the importance of spoken proficiency. Realizing the importance of conversational skills in international society, the government launched the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program in 1987 to invite native speakers of English as foreign language assistant teachers. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The JET Program has Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), Coordinators of International Relations (CIRs), and Sports Exchange Advisors. More than 90 percent of all participants of the JET programs are ALTs. CIRs are placed in prefectural or municipal administrations to assist with international activities. ALTs team-teach English conversation with Japanese English teachers. In July 2001, 5,583 ALTs, mostly English-speaking, were teaching in secondary schools (Monbukagakusho- 2003b:396). ~

ALTs teach students about their own culture and help students speak better English. They talk about their own countries in class, during recess, and in clubs. In Marugame, not all middle schools have their own ALT yet, but two ALTs are in charge of three large middle schools and several small ones. ALTs also go to elementary schools for a special event on the international exchanges once a year or once a trimester. The ALT in Nishi Middle School made a video about his house and hometown in the United States, and showed it to the class. He also set up a mailbox where the students posted questions for him, and posted several articles on his school bulletin board. He gave a quiz on the United States, using a map of the United States when I observed his class on February 26, 1998. ~

In Marugame, each high school has one full-time ALT to teach English conversation classes and to supervise the English club. The presence of ALTs in schools and the community gives students the opportunity to become better acquainted with people from other countries. In a provincial town like Marugame, ALTs are among the few foreigners with whom the students can converse. Furthermore, ALTs can talk about Japan when they return home, where they can introduce Japanese culture. Some ALTs have created student exchange programs in their hometown, and invite Japanese students to the United States through their home-stay program. The JET Program has been successful in promoting foreign language proficiency and international understanding. ~

Since April 2000, even before the implementation of the 1998 Course of Study in 2002, elementary school have taught “integrated study,” and ALTs can be dispatched to elementary schools to teach English conversation. The municipal board of education in Marugame hired a temporary instructor who supervises English clubs in three elementary schools. Students in the fourth to the sixth grades can choose a club consisting of either sports, hobbies, arts, or study at the beginning of the trimester, and the club meets for one unit-hour a week. ~

Furthermore, the introduction of English audio comprehension tests in the entrance examination for high schools and colleges has helped students and teachers sharpen their English conversational skills. For foreign language classes in high schools, a new subject, “Oral communications A, B, C” was added in the 1999 Course of Study for 2003 onward. ~

Studying English in School in Japan

English taught in school tends to focus on reading and writing rather than speaking and listening and students approach grammar as of it were a series of mathematical formulas. The curriculum often focuses on minutia of grammar and mastering multiple choice tests rather producing comprehensible sentences. The way English is taught varies greatly from school to school, There is some efforts to standardize it.

In the early 1970s more than 4,000 English words were taught. But in 1989, the number of English words was slashed to 2.4000 and were cut by another 200 words in a 1999 amendment. Many went to see the number increased to 3,000.

English teachers in Japan lack experience teaching the language. Their accents and pronunciation often means that their English is incomprehensible to native speakers. Studies of middle school and high school teachers indicate they lack good language skills and their scores on TOEFL and TOEIC are not that high. Primary school teachers often little nervous about teaching English because they are self conscious about their own skills and aware of their limitations.

A study by the Japanese education ministry found that only 20 percent of English teachers at public schools in 2010 taught their classes in English, far short of the 100 percent goal set by the ministry. In a survey 33 percent of the teachers said they use English about half the time and 41 percent said they use it less than half. . Six percent said they hardly use any English. [Source: Kyodo. January 23, 2011]

A study by Benesse of fifth and sixth grade teachers in July and August of 2011 found that 60 percent of them felt teaching English was a burden. The most common complaint was the extra time needed to prepare English materials

In August 2013, Jiji Press reported: “A Japanese education ministry survey revealed that 76 percent of sixth-grade students at elementary schools in the nation enjoy or somewhat enjoy learning English. The proportion stood at 53 percent for third-grade junior high school students, according to the survey, which was conducted in April together with an annual academic achievement test. It was the first such survey. The percentage of students who would like to have friends from other countries and learn more about overseas came to 71 percent for the elementary school students and 61 percent for the junior high school students. However, only 39 percent of the elementary school students said they want to or are somewhat interested to study abroad or work abroad in the future. The figure was even lower, at 31 pct, for the junior high school students. [Source: Jiji Press, August 31, 2013 ////]

Reforms of Studying English in School in Japan

In 2001, a new program was launched who to teach primary school teachers how to teach English. As part of the effort to introduce more English into the curriculum, math books for elementary school students published entirely in English were released in mid 200s.

In the mid 2000s there was a debate as to whether or not English should be compulsory in primary school. In the end it was decided that yes it should and starting in 2011 it would be taught with an emphasis on speaking, communication and having fun.

The effort to introduce even one hour of week of English instruction to in the 5th and 6th grades primary schools has drawn a surprising amount of criticism from conservatives who feel that children should spend their time studying Japanese. South Korea, China, Thailand and Taiwan have all incorporated English into their primary school curriculum for some time.

Curriculum changes in 2009 included requiring English classes to be taught in English. A 53-year-old teachers ion Saitama told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Up unitl now, English classes have usually been taught in Japanese. If we have to teach in English, most English teachers probably won’t be able to do so.”

Changes in Class Hours and Curriculum in Japan

20100501-mINISTRY OF EDUCTION, SPORTS japan-photo.deD-MIN04-01.jpg
Ministry of Education, Sports....
Many Japanese are having second thoughts about cram-free education “in which class hours and curriculum content were reduced to develop a “zest for living”---introduced in the late 1990s. Reformers want to establish a curriculum that pushes students harder and allows more advanced content.

In February 2008, the government said it was considering raising class hours and learning content, particularly in math and science. “Cram-free education” is regarded as a failure in the eyes of many. The achievement of goals was to develop a “zest for living” and foster creativity is a matter of debate. Meanwhile, reduction of hour and changes in curriculum has been blamed for reducing students’ basic scholastic ability.

In response to declines in the performance of Japanese students on national tests, class hours and content in primary school and middle will increase starting in the 2009 school year with a weekly increase of one hour in each of the six grades with students learning more advance science and math at younger ages.

The change marks the first time 30 years that school hours have been increased. The education ministry plans to set clear goals for each grade and establish the amount of time needed to meet these goals. In 1st and 2nd grades the emphasis is on Japanese language, arithmetic and physical education. In 3rd and 4th grades the amount of science will be increased to help build reasoning skills. In the 5th and 6th grade comprehension ability begins to diverge, arithmetic and science will be strengthened.

In middle school the number of hours of study of science and math will increase. In the third and last year Japanese and social studies classes will increase. To make more room for these subjects general studies classes are being cut back.

Math and Science in Japan

Hours of math and science instructional time per year for eighth graders: Japan (90 hours in science and 117 hours in math); Germany (136 hours in science and 114 hours in math); and the United States (140 hours in science and 143 hours in math).

Percentage of eighth grade math and science teachers who assigned homework three to five times a week: Japan (4 percent among science teachers and 21 percent among math teachers); Germany (12 percent among science teachers and 75 percent among math teachers); and the United States (48 percent among science teachers and 86 percent among math teachers).

Ranking of education systems and worker productivity in Asia by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy: 1) South Korea; 2) Singapore; 3) Japan; 4) Taiwan; 5) India; 6) China; 7) Malaysia; 8) Hong Kong; 9) the Philippines; 10) Thailand; 11) Vietnam; 12) Indonesia

To stimulate an interest in the science, study guidelines for physics, chemistry and math have been introduced that are illustrated with cute female characters in short skirts and French maid outfits.

The abacus---known as soroban in Japanese---has been a fixture of Japanese education for along time. Kids have traditionally learned how to use it in school and, in recent decades, took special after-school classes on it. When the soroban craze was at its height in the 1980s about 2 million children and adults passed a special sorobon test and received certification on it. By 2005 the soroban test figure had dropped to 180,000 as children relied more on computers and calculators to do arithmetic. In 2008, the figure had risen to 200,000 in the belief that using an abacus was good training for the mind.

Increase in Hours of Math and Science in Japanese Schools

In December 2012, Jun Ishikawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “New guidelines were implemented starting with science and mathematics in primary schools in fiscal 2009. Total science class hours for third-grade primary school students increased from two to 2.6 per week, and from 2.6 to three for fourth-grade students. [Source: Jun Ishikawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 14, 2012 <=>]

In Senju Primary School, one science class hour a week is used by students to discuss how to conduct experiments and hypothesize results; another two hours of class are used to conduct the experiments. In the past, teachers tended to lead science experiments and students were passive. Now the method has changed and students can be at the center. Tamura said: "If we only taught with words, students would forget them in a few months. If they participate in the experiments, the experience can really take root." <=>

Under the new curriculum guidelines, science class hours for first- to third-year students increased from 290 per year to 385, while those of mathematics increased from 315 to 385. Class hours for the two subjects increased from one to 1.7 per week. A science teacher in a municipal middle school in Chiba lamented, "Unless there is an accumulation [of knowledge] from their time as primary school students, raising the level of academic capability may be difficult."<=>

In recent years, he has begun to feel that the capability of even high- and middle-ranked students has fallen, as many could not do their fractional calculations properly. "Under the cram-free education policy, textbooks were diluted and some steps [for studying a certain subject] were skipped along the way. To raise students' capability levels, it may take more time [than we had assumed]," he said. Even senior officials at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry now openly criticize the cram-free education policy they had previously promoted. One said the lowly results "were partly due to the fact that students were educated under the previous curriculum guidelines in primary school." <=>

International-Understanding Education in Japan

International-understanding education began as an initiative of UNESCO. Since 1969, UNESCO has endorsed the Associated Schools Project in Education for International Understanding, and in 1974 issued “The Recommendation Concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education Relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (UNESCO 1969; 1974). In Japan, the 1974 report of the Central Education Committee supported the “basic aims of international exchange of education, academics, and cultures.” However, it was only after the 1987 report of the Rinkyo-shin that the MOE implemented nationwide international-understanding education in order to instruct students on becoming a new Japanese citizen with international perspectives and experiences for the 21st century. The MOE subsidizes public funds for government-designated schools for the promotion of international-understanding education. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Students learn about foreign cultures in their social science classrooms. Starting in 2002, international-understanding education has been also taught in a new subject, “integrated study” (so-go-tekina gakushu- no jikan). English-conversation lessons in elementary schools, taught as a part of integrated study, is regarded as an important part for international-understanding education. Students become more familiar with foreign cultures when they are directly involved with them, for example, by cooking foods from other lands, and playing with the toys that are popular in other countries. Students learn foreign languages more quickly by speaking with and writing letters to people who already are fluent in that language. ~

Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in middle schools and high schools are native English-speaking teachers who teach students about their native countries, in the course of teaching English conversation. Foreign students and resident foreigners can be invited to schools. Japanese returnees from overseas can discuss their experiences abroad. Using e-mails and the Internet, students can research foreign countries, and communicate with people living in any country in the world. Some cities have established relationships with schools in their sister cities so that students can correspond through e-mails and letters. ~

Teaching International-Understanding at Japanese Elementary Schools

Elementary schools teach children about foreign countries and cultures through special school events, and fund-raisers for schools in developing countries, and through regular social studies classes. International-understanding education is currently taught through a few school-specific events, except in social studies courses. More programs and classes on foreign culture have been taught since integrated study was introduced in April 2002. Third to sixth graders have three unit-hours a week for integrated study, which can be allocated for international-understanding education. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Currently, many schools are able to transform vacant classrooms into computer labs, and an international-exchange room. The international-exchange room can be a center for international-understanding education, and can be used for special events or for study. Some schools have a student committee for the international-exchange program. For example, in 1998, Hachinohe Elementary School’s committee for international exchange consisted of ten fourth- to sixth-graders, who were in charge of arranging a special classroom for international exchange, and organizing a school event for international exchange. ~

The majority of schools organize a special school event for the international exchange program once or twice a year. ALTs are often invited to speak about their homelands. Foreigners living in Japan, returnees, or former participants in the Japan Overseas Volunteers Program are also invited to speak. The students sing songs, play games in English, and see pictures or slides. Most schools collect donations for humanitarian organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, and the Red Cross. A student council collects used telephone cards, postcards, and stamps for UNESCO and UNICEF. The student council in Jo-ken Elementary School in Marugame collected 10 yen from each student, used pencil cases, notebooks, pictures and stationery. They collected seven boxes of items, and sent them to elementary schools in China. ~

Textbooks Reflect More Global View Rather Than Just of the U.S.

Mike Guest wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Children's English textbooks now include characters from Singapore, the Philippines, India and, on occasion, folks from countries where English is not an official language. No longer does the United States represent the standard or take the arbiter's role of the English language. More power to those who present English as a language that traverses many countries, races and cultures. [Source: Mike Guest, Daily Yomiuri, November 27, 2012 |-|]

“The past widespread depiction of the United States as the embodiment of all that is foreign has contributed to some unfortunate worldviews prevalent among Japanese students (as people who come to Japan from countries other than the United States can readily testify). And people of many nationalities are responsible for this. |-|

“But since textbooks and other teaching materials have developed a more global perspective, with U.S. standards and norms no longer dominant, I've noticed a welcome shift in student awareness of a world existing on an axis other than a U.S.-Japan (and maybe Chinese or British) one. This is welcome, as it is in accordance with the fact the majority of English speakers in the world are not Americans but in fact learners of English as a second language from myriad countries. |-|

Special Education in Japan for Children with Learning Disabilities

The MOE plans to provide nation-wide special education for children with learning disabilities, based on the United States model of special education for learning disabled (LD) children. A MOE-sponsored research group of specialists and principals submitted a preliminary report about screening and teaching LD children on July 2, 1999 (Monbusho- 1999d). The report defines LD children as children who have extreme difficulties in hearing, speaking, reading, writing, counting, and reasoning, even though they have average or above average intelligence. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The MOE-sponsored Report proposes screening for a LD child, modeled on the screening methods for LD children in the United States (Monbusho- 1999d). The Report proposes that an in-school committee of the principal, vice-principal, and a homeroom teacher, possibly including outside professionals, be formed when the homeroom teacher recognizes learning difficulties in a student or when parents inform the school that their child has learning difficulties. The in-school committee decides whether or not to see a professional evaluation in collaboration with the parents. The child has learning disabilities if: 1) The child has the average or above average IQ and average or above average educational achievement in one and more academic subjects; 2) The child does not need the type of care required by children with disabilities. Also, the learning difficulties cannot be caused by environmental factors. However, children with physical and mental disabilities and children from disadvantaged environments may also have learning disabilities. 3) The second or third grader is at least a year behind, and the fourth grader or older is at least two years behind in Japanese language arts or mathematics. He or she may also be behind in hearing, speaking, reading, writing, counting, or reasoning abilities, based on his or her school records, classroom attitudes, homework, notes, and attitudes at home. ~

The in-school committee weighs these criteria and ensures that the learning disabilities persist for at least one trimester. The committee needs parental permission before requesting a professional evaluation. The committee can ask permission from the parents after any initial refusal, if the committee finds that the child still needs special education. When behavioral and interpersonal problems also occur, the in-school committee studies the behavioral history, home environment, and attitudes of the child. The in-school committee trusts the professional team to decide whether or not the child needs special education. The professional team consists of specialists, a special-education teacher, a homeroom teacher, psychologists, and physicians. The professional team decides whether the student has learning disabilities, and decides on the kind of pedagogy is most appropriate for the child (Monbusho- 1999d). ~

Children with Low Educational Attainment in Japan

According to the criteria that the Report suggests, children with learning disabilities are indistinguishable from children with low educational achievement, the so-called “ochikobore” and “slow learners” without any discernible medical issues that could indicate central nervous system problems. There have been always students who lag behind academically when they take more demanding classes. In elementary school, “slow learners” are usually behind in arithmetic, and in middle school in mathematics and English. Most slow-learners come from dysfunctional environmental factors or from homes that do not place a priority upon learning. A regression analysis of educational attainment confirmed that parents’ education, occupation, and household income have a strong influence upon their children’s educational performance (e.g., Aramaki 2000). Many children from poorer families with low socioeconomic status and relatively uneducated parents miss opportunities to learn effective study habits and to value education. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Elementary and middle schools did not have ability-grouped classes until 2002, when the MOE implemented a program of special education classes in English, mathematics, and science for advanced elementary and middle school students. All children, including high achievers and “slow learners,” usually learn the same lessons in the same classrooms. Discrepancies in educational achievement begin to appear as early as the first or second grade. Some elementary schools have a homeroom teacher who helps students catch up with assignments after school.4 However, most “slow learners” in elementary and middle schools do not receive much special attention. ~

Low-achievers in middle schools are more likely to have behavioral problems. Teachers in the student guidance programs monitor them closely in order to modify their conduct. However, few teachers can help them catch up with their class work. The students who enter middle school at an academic disadvantage have a hard time catching up, and sitting still in a class where they have no comprehension of the course material. According to the 1987 survey, almost 60 percent of middle school teachers said that it is too difficult to help the students who are already behind to catch up with their classmates (Kudomi 1994b:329).

It is believed that the heavy workloads for high school entrance examinations make “slow-learners” fall even farther behind. According to a 1978 survey, middle school teachers blamed problems upon excessive content in academic subjects, lecture-style classes, and unmotivated or inept students (Kitao and Kajita 1984). Worried about the students who were overloaded with schoolwork and the increasing number of children who were struggling in their classes, the 1977 Course of Study lightened the academic burden of students. However, it did not help reduce the students’ stress and workload because they still had to undergo “examination hell.” Therefore, the number of “slow learners” has remained constant. ~

Labeling Japanese children as LD may be more detrimental than beneficial. Giving elementary- and middle-school children such a label definitely stigmatizes them in the eyes of their teachers and peers because of the absence of ability grouping. Since the criteria and screening methods for identifying LD children are questioned by leading studies in the United States, and the distinction between LD children and “slow learners” from disadvantaged families is blurry, labeling Japanese children as LD children may be unnecessary. However, it is necessary to provide remedial education for students who are lagging behind in their classes. ~

Remedial Education in Japan

The Report proposed remedial education for LD children (Monbusho- 1999d). LD children need to have supplementary lessons for particular subjects in which they are having difficulty. The National Institute for Special Education has shown that supplementary materials, incremental teaching methods, team-teaching, and tutoring help LD children master the subjects in which they are behind. Each LD child will be given personalized educational plan based on his or her needs. These students can be taught in the regular classroom with special attention from a homeroom teacher, or by a team of teachers. Under the team-teaching system introduced in 1993, two or more teachers share a class by dividing students into small groups or by tutoring individual students who need extra attention. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

When LD children need tutoring, a team teacher helps them in the class or meets privately with them. LD children can also attend after-school tutorials from a homeroom teacher or from part-time teachers. These tutorials can be open to all children, not only those with LD. LD children may go to the resource room to have special education, similar to that offered to children with mild physical and emotional disabilities. The deployment of specialists to teach LD children and advise teachers is also possible. If children with physical disabilities also have learning disabilities, they may enroll in special schools. If children with attention deficit disorder, emotional problems, or communication disabilities also have learning disabilities, they can be enrolled either in a special class for children with emotional disabilities in the regular schools or in a regular class with special aids in the resource room (Monbusho- 1999d).

The Report acknowledges that LD children and “slow children” need remedial instruction to catch up with their classes, and proposes opening supplementary lessons for LD children to other low-achievers (Monbusho- 1999d). The proposed special education for LD children should take the form of remedial education for all low-achievers, but without labeling any children as LD. Not only supplementary lessons, but also additional teaching aids for LD children should be made available to all low-achieving children. Tutoring should start as early as the first grade, the first indication that a student is not performing at grade level. Homeroom teachers, subject teachers, classroom aides, part-time teachers and volunteers can provide this tutoring in after-school classes, regular classes and private sessions. Furthermore, schools should make an appeal for people from the community to come forward and volunteer as classroom aides or part-time teachers. Finally, teachers and tutors should communicate a sense of confidence in their students’ abilities so that the students will believe in their own ability to learn. Teachers need to see these students as more than a set of academic abilities or disabilities. Teachers should likewise encourage their parents to make a greater emotional investment in their children’s education. ~

Many low achievers, including LD children, go to low-ranked academic or vocational high schools, evening high schools, correspondence high schools, and vocational-training schools. Others enter the workforce. Therefore, it is important for them to realize their potential in high school. These high schools need to emphasize vocational training, and provide the necessary remedial courses, because most of these students plan to seek employment following graduation. ~

Image Sources: 1) 7) Guven Peter Witteveen 2) 6) Ray Kinnane 3) Brooklyn University 4) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 5) 9) Kantei, Office of Prime Minister of Japan 8)

Text Sources: Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~; Education in Japan website ; Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated Japan 2014

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