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    Japan’s Central Council for Education (CCE) is about to release an unsual report: one that backtracks on major proposed policy change that would have provided “breathing room” in education. (That’s essentially a euphemism for not keeping students spent with study and other organized activities from dawn through midnight, which is often what happens when private cram school is tacked onto regular public school.)

    Rearranging public school curricula and instruction to make cram school redundant sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, when you look at the actual planks in the platform, you can see how trouble resulted:

    However, wave upon wave of criticism was leveled at the policy when the main guidelines were implemented. Due to the decrease in the number of classroom hours, “Students’ fundamental study skills suffered” and “The gaps among individual children’s motivation to learn widened.”

    The CCE report will cite the following points as failings it has identified: (1) The government had not been able to convey to instructors what “life force” referred to and why it was necessary. (2) The platform cited “cultivation of the ability to learn and think for oneself” as symbolic of “life force.” However, this signaled such respect for children’s autonomy that there was an increasing tendency on the part of instructors to hesitate to provide guidance. (3) The platform set up time for comprehensive learning, but how that was defined was not clearly communicated. (4) Classroom time was cut so drastically that there was no longer sufficient time for the acquisition of basic knowledge, and thinking and expressive skills were not cultivated. (5) The new guidelines were not based on the decreased ability of family and community to provide education.

    Airy, nice-sounding abstractions that couldn’t be implemented effectively because they weren’t grounded in concrete requirements–sound familiar? One thing it’s important to bear in mind is that that whole “life force” thing, which sounds as insubstantial as “self-esteem” when rendered into English, is by no means a New Age joke in Japan, where suicide among the young is high and researchers are constantly reporting that they meet a lot of exhausted and listless children. “Comprehensive learning” is also more than chic theory in an education system that has been known for feeding students lots of discrete facts but teaching them little in the way of how to synthesize them and weigh new evidence.

    It isn’t clear from the Yomiuri article how the CCE plans to move forward. It’s stated, without elaboration, toward the end of the article that the council plans to retain the “life force” guidelines while specifying more clearly how it’s to be guaranteed that classroom hours and moral/ethical education will be sufficient. It remains to be seen whether the revised guidelines will help teachers find the sweet spot between being authoritative and fostering inquisitiveness.

    Added on 31 October: The Yomiuri English edition actually had a version of the article cited above. There’s a follow-up today on the concrete proposed changes, too.

    4 Responses to “生きる力”

    1. Zak says:

      Being in the education sector you probably know more about education in Japan than me, but what I know seems to suggest that all time in school is basically wasted time, and that the knowledge to pass entrance exams is passed down in juku after real school. This trivia-based knowledge is then forgotten the day after exams are over, so really all school-based and juku-based education in Japan is a waste.

      Definitely keeping my kids out of the Japanese educational system.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      What you’ve heard is, in my understanding, essentially correct. It’s in school that they learn how to behave like good Japanese citizens, right? I doubt that’s regarded as a waste of time here, though it’s certainly not “education” in the Western sense of acquisition of academic knowledge.

    3. Zak says:

      Well, I didn’t mention that on purpose, but the “learning to be a good Japanese citizen” point to real school is another crucial reason my children will never attend one.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      I thought it might be something like that. :)

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