Japan faces new challenges

Japan has long been regarded as one of the world’s educational superpowers. In the post-war era, life expectancy and high-school attendance soared, for example between 1947 and 2006, University attendance increased from 10% to 49%. In 2014, Japan can viably say it is counted as one of the most advanced nation on Earth. Japan consistently ranks among the highest in PISA tests.

However, there have been concerns lately that Japan is losing its innovative ‘edge’, one argument for this has been that Japan has simply been following an educational formula established in the west and now that it has cracked and surpassed that formula, it is left with little room for improvement. There is the concern that Japan’s current educational system prepares children excellently for university and higher education but does little to prepare them for business and life.

One of Japan’s fundamental principles is that ‘all children can be achievers’ and this is echoed in the fact that social background seems to have little impact on educational outcomes. However, as the Japanese government now tries to devolve authority over schools to local authorities, it is essential that they also pass equity reforms that ensure the best teachers and leaders are recruited and incentivised into schools that need the extra boost and help.

As mentioned, Japan will need to redesign its curriculum to make it more engaging, appealing and relevant to pupils. While this is an area where Japan has made significant advances, it still lags behind other world leaders. Shifting from subject-based curricula to competency-based curricula will allow for a far more applicable and broad educational teaching experience for Japanese children.

Beyond just the issue of curricula, Japan must focus on how teachers will deliver it. If Japan is to continue delivering high and higher standards while changing its curricula, staff must be properly trained on how to use and engage with it. Teacher must also learn to encourage long-term sustainable learning for life, rather than treating children as cattle in preparation for exams and the temporary, situational knowledge that they entail.

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