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Japanese Education System, Neşe Soysal

 

1980 yılında Edirne’de doğdu.. Lise eğitimini Edirne Anadolu Öğretmen Lisesi’nde tamamladı.. 2003 yılında Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Eğitim Fakültesi İngilizce Öğretmenliği Bölümü’nü bitirdi. 2006 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Eğitim Fakültesi Eğitim Yönetimi, Teftişi, Planlaması ve Ekonomisi Anabilimdalı’ndan ‘Yönetim Bilgi Sistemlerinin Okul Yöneticilerinin Performansları Üzerindeki Etkileri’ konusunda yazdığı tezi ile yüksek lisans derecesini aldı. Halen Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Eğitim Fakültesi Eğitim Programları ve Öğretim Anabilimdalı’nda doktora çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Eğitim programlarının ve öğretimin planlanması konularında çalışmalar yapmaktadır.

 

 

Japanese Education System

 Neşe SOYSAL
Instructor,
Departmental English Language Studies Unit

INTRODUCTION

Japan is one of the countries that show rapid growth in technology and economy. Also, it is one of the countries that have one of the highest standards of education and one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In this paper the education system of Japan will be analyzed in relation to the theories and researches on curriculum.

ORGANIZATION OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEM IN JAPAN

The modern school system of Japan has been established in 1872 with the Basic Education Law in the rule of Emperor Meiji with the aim of education for everyone (Aso & Amano, 1986). “With the enact of The Fundamental Law of Education and School Education Law in 1947, the 6-3-3-4 year system of schools was established with the principle of equal opportunity for education” (School Education, 2009, para.1).

The school system includes 6 years of elementary school; 3 years of middle high school; 3 years of high school; and 4 years of university. However, the government has announced in October 2005 that it is intending to make changes in the Education Law to allow schools to merge the 6-3 division between elementary and middle schools. Elementary school and middle high school education are considered compulsory (The National School Curriculum, 2009).

In Japan, a school year has three terms: summer, winter and spring. Each is followed by a vacation period. The school year begins in April and ends in March of the following year

(Erdoğan,2006).
The educational institutions in Japan are kindergartens (yochien), elementary schools (shogakko), lower secondary schools(chugakko), upper secondary schools(koto-gakko), secondary schools(chuto-kyoiku-gakko), schools for special needs education (tokubetsu-shien-gakko), junior colleges (tanki-daigaku), universities (daigaku), collegues of technology(koto-senmon-gakko), specialized training colleges(sensho-gakko), and miscellaneous schools (kakushu-gakko) (Organization of the School System in Japan, 2009).

The organization of the school system in Japan is shown in this figure:

        Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technologylogylogylogy

Kindergartens (yochien): These schools are for children aged 3, 4, and 5, and they provide education for 1 to 3 years. They usually take charge of children for four hours, either only in the morning, or in the morning through lunch time (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Elementary schools (shogakko): They are for children aged 6 and provide six years of general education based on the children’s mental and physical development. The curriculum of the elementary schools are based on the Course of Study and consist of the subjects like Japanese Language, Social Studies, Arithmetic, Science, Life Environmental Studies, Music, Drawing and Handcraft, Home Economics, Physical Education, Moral Education, Special Activities and The Period of Integrated Study. The management of the schools is left to the municipal boards of education as founders. However, state (MEXT) and prefectures has authority in curriculum management. Educational contents are primarily left to each school’s discretion with the revision of the Course of Study in 2002. However, the determination of the criteria and the character of Course of Study and textbook authorization have been retained by the state. The prefectural boards of education organize the standard curriculum (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Lower secondary schools (chugakko): The children who complete their elementary education are required to attend the lower secondary schools for three years. They are given general education based on their elementary school education. The objectives of lower secondary schools are to cultivate qualities essential for effective citizenship. As these schools are the parts of compulsory education, educational contents of them are required to be similar. (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009). Their management is the same with elementary schools.

Upper secondary schools (koto-gakko): The students who complete their nine year compulsory education may attend to the upper secondary schools on the condition that they take the entrance examinations. In these schools, there are full-day courses, part-time courses and correspondence courses. Full-day courses last three years, and part-time and correspondence courses last three years or more. These part-time and correspondence courses are for the students who want to both work and study.

The courses of these schools may be classified into three categories as general, specialized and integrated courses (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009). General courses provide general education to the students who wish to continue their higher education and to those who are going to get a job but not chose a specific vocational area. Specialized courses provide vocational education for the students who want to be specialized in a particular area. These courses are classified as agriculture, industry, commerce, fishery, home economics, nursing, science-mathematics, physical education, music, art, English language and other courses. Integrated courses offered in 1994, provide a variety of courses from general and specialized courses to satisfy the diverse needs and career plans of the students.

Secondary schools (chuto-kyoiku-gakko): These six-year schools were introduced in 1999. They are the combination of lower and upper secondary schools, and they provide lower school education, and general and specialized education (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Schools for special needs education (tokubetsu-shien-gakko): These schools are for the children with disabilities and they consist of four departments as kindergartens, elementary, lower secondary and upper secondary. The primary and lower secondary education is compulsory. In 2007, the permission to accept several types of disabilities to the regular schools is given (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Universities (daigaku): They provide students with teaching, research, and advanced knowledge in specialized academic disciplines. They require the completion of upper secondary schools or the equivalent, and they provide at least four years of education for a bachelor’s degree. There are national, public and private universities. National universities carry out two examinations administered by the National Center for University Entrance Examination (NCUEE). Private universities select their students using their own examinations.

Also, there are graduate schools of normally five years consisting of the first two years for master’s degree and three years for a doctor’s degree (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Junior colleges (tanki-daigaku): They conduct teaching and research in specialized areas for vocational and practical life. They require the completion of upper secondary schools or the equivalent, and they provide two or three year’s programs leading to the title of associate. Courses are offered in such fields as humanities, social sciences, teacher training and home economics. The students who complete the junior colleges may go to universities to have their bachelor’s degree, or junior colleges may offer advanced course to lead a bachelor’s degree (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Colleges of technology (koto-senmon-gakko): These schools are for students who have completed lower secondary schools, and they offer five year programs and lead to the title of associate. They are also allowed to offer two year advanced courses to provide a higher level of education (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Specialized training colleges (sensho-gakko): The great majority of these colleges are privately controlled and they offer practical vocational and technical education programs. They may be classified into three categories as upper secondary, postsecondary and general courses. They provide courses not less than one year. They are not regular schools, but they provide diverse opportunities of education for Japan’s life-long learning society (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

Miscellaneous schools (kakushu-gakko): They provide vocational and practical training in the fields of dressmaking, cooking, bookkeeping, typing, automobile driving and repairing, and computer techniques. They require the completion of lower secondary schools. There courses last from three months to one year (Outline of Japanese School Education, 2009).

THE JAPANESE SCHOOL CURRICULUM

The Japanese school curriculum is the educational program designed by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (MEXT) “to achieve the schools’ targets, taking into account the developmental conditions of the students, in accordance with the laws and regulations concerned” (Komatsu, 2002, p.50). Curriculum in Japan includes three areas such as subjects, moral education and extra-curricular activities.                                                  

National curriculum standards are determined by the national Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (MEXT) and also local education authorities and schools have a role in the determination of what is the best curriculum for students. In the organization of the curriculum, the flow starts from the MEXT to the prefectural boards of education and to the municipal boards of education (Komatsu, 2002).

The MEXT determines the standard curriculum according to the School Education Law, and individual schools organize their own curriculum according to the circumstances of each school and each community, taking the mental and physical development, and the characteristics of the children enrolled into consideration (Komatsu, 2002).

The curriculum is determined by clarification of the aims of the school; determination of the schedule; investigation of the standard curriculum and establishment of a connection between the curriculum and the aim of the school; organization of the curriculum in terms of course selection and allocation of school days and hours (Komatsu, 2002).

Basic principles of Japan education are provided in the Basic Act on Education revised in 2006. According to the Basic Act “all people shall have the right to receive an equal education corresponding to their abilities, as provided by law. The people shall be obliged to have all boys and girls under their protection receive general education as provided for by law. Such compulsory education shall be free” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.1).

The aims and goals of education are defined in the Basic Act. The aim of education is “to achieve the full development of personality and to nurture individuals with sound minds and bodies equipped with necessary capacities as builders of a peaceful and democratic state and society” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.1).

Curriculum in Kindergartens

The Courses of Study for kindergartens set specific aims and courses with regard to students’ emotions, willingness and attitudes, and specific contents to be taught to achieve each objective. “The aims and contents are set according to five aspects of children’s development as health, human relations, environment, language and expression. The aims are centered on play” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.20).

Curriculum in Elementary and Lower Secondary Schools

The curriculum of the elementary schools are based on the Course of Study and consist of the subjects like Japanese Language, Social Studies, Arithmetic, Science, Life Environmental Studies, Music, Drawing and Handcraft, Homemaking, Physical Education, Moral Education, Special Activities and The Period of Integrated Study. The total numbers of the subjects for elementary schools are like this (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008):

Subjects

Total Number of School Hour

Japanese Language

1377

Social Studies

345

Arithmetic

869

Science

350

Life Environmental Studies

207

Music

358

Drawing and Handcraft

358

Homemaking

115

Physical Education

540

Moral Education

209

Special Activities

209

The Period of Integrated Study

430

From this table, it can be seen that Japanese Language, Arithmetic and Physical Education are the basic courses of elementary school curriculum. The Period of Integrated Study follows them. This course includes the educational and developmental activities created and framed by each school according to the needs of the students.

Although Japanese and math are unquestionably important subjects, the other activities are not eliminated. To the contrary, they marveled at excellence in art exhibitions, choral performances, and other presentations. “The top choices for what they wanted students to learn by elementary school graduation were social goals, such as getting along well with peers, having a cheerful personality, and being a kind, considerate person”(Sato, 1992,p.3).

The name of the courses and the total hours for lower secondary schools can be seen here (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008):

Subjects

Total Number of School Hour

Japanese Language

350

Social Studies

295

Mathematics

315

Science

290

Music

115

Fine Arts

115

Industrial Arts and Homemaking

115

Health and Physical Education

270

Moral Education

105

Special Activities

105

The Period of Integrated Study

210-335

Foreign Languages

315

Elective Subjects

155-280

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From this table, it can be recognized that Japanese Language, Mathematics and Foreign Languages are the basic courses of lower secondary school curriculum. The Period of Integrated Study and the Elective Subjects follow them. The students can chose the courses they want to study according to their interests.

ANALYSIS of JAPANESE EDUCATION SYSTEM

In October 2008, the MEXT submitted a report concerning the development of education in Japan between the years 2005-2008. As it is stated in the report “basic principles for education in Japan are provided in the constitution of Japan enacted in 1946 and in the Basic Act on Education revised in 2006” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.1).

The Basic Act on Education includes the fundamental ideas and principles for education in Japan, and it serves as a fundamental law for all legislation related to education.  “This law sets out principles for education considered important today and also the universal principles of the previous law. The principles of the previous law include the value of public spiritedness and the other forms of normative consciousness that the Japanese people have in addition to respecting the traditions and culture” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.62).

From this statement, it can be understood that the curriculum of the Japanese education is a national curriculum. The MEXT prepares a national curriculum according to the laws and sends it to the schools. Each school has the right to prepare its own curriculum, based on the national curriculum, according to the needs of its students and the community. Also, the statement indicates the emphasis of Japanese people on public spiritedness.

The report of the MEXT about the development of education in Japan begins with stating the national aims and goals of education as “to achieve the full development of personality and to nurture individuals with sound minds and bodies equipped with necessary capacities as builders of a peaceful and democratic state and society” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.1).

From this aim, the given importance to the public spiritedness and the concept of society can be seen. As Japanese people are tied to their cultural values from the history, the concept of being a community is a great importance for them. Especially, after the destroying effects of World War II, they had to be tied to each other.

On the other hand, the desires of the Japanese people about individual freedom and democracy can also be recognized in this aim. In addition to the concept of a community, they want to raise fully developed individuals with healthy minds and bodies as the members of society. From this “sound minds and bodies”, the importance given to the physical developments of the individuals in addition to their academic development can be seen. Also, it can be recognized that, they pay attention to “the necessary capacities of the individuals”. In other words, they indicate their focus on the differences of the individuals. Furthermore, as one of the victims of World War II, they emphasize the peaceful society.

In the second part of the report, the recent trends and developments in government policies in education is presented. In this part, it is stated that “Japan’s education system has served as a driving force behind social development through fostering of human resources” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.61).

This statement again indicates the new departure to the individualism from the concept of society. They focus on the social development of the students, at the same time they give importance to human resources.

As stated in the report, “The circumstances surrounding education have changed greatly in respects such as the progress of science and technology, advanced information technology, internationalization, the falling birthrate and aging population, and the nature of families. At the same time, the environment surrounding children has changed significantly and a variety of issues come to light. Bullying, truancy and horrific accidents that should not be happening are taking place in which children are both the victims and the victimizers” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.61).

From this statement, it can be understood that the perspective of the curriculum of Japanese education is based on society centered theories. As it is known, the society centered theories focus on group welfare and meeting a society’s needs through learning social values and studying social problems. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (MEXT) has recognized the rapid change in the circumstances of education such as scientific and technological development, internationalization, birth rates and the nature of families. Also, the MEXT has studied the social problems such as “bullying, truancy and horrific accidents” and decided on the revisions of the national curriculum.

The Basic Act on Education has been revised for rebuilding education by clarifying educational principles for new era. For that reason, the Basic Plan for Promotion of Education is formulated. This plan has four chapters about the measures to be taken next five years about how the education ought to be in ten years from now.

In the first chapter, it is stated that “Japan aspires to be ‘a nation based on education” and “the efforts of the whole of society is necessary for the promotion of education” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.62). This statement again shows the importance of society for Japanese people. They accept that they have a society based curriculum.

In the second chapter, the goals for ten years are stated like this:

·         to develop basic skills before completion of compulsory education so that all children can lead independent lives in society,

·         to develop human resources who would support and develop society and lead the international community.

In addition to reflecting the society based perspectives, these goals indicate the aim of the MEXT about learner centered perspectives. Although they shape their curriculum according to the changes and the needs of society, they want to respond to the needs of the individual learners. For that reason, it can be said that they want to develop their curriculum according to learner centered perspectives, because as it is known this perspective recognizes the uniqueness and potential of each individual as a contributing member of a democratic society. Also, they have essentialist perspective in their curriculum. They want all the students to study basic courses and develop their basic skills.

Furthermore, in the second part of the report, lifelong learning is given as a governmental policy. It is stated that “it is crucial to create a lifelong learning society in which ‘people can freely choose relevant learning opportunities and participate in learning at any time throughout their lives, and their learning should be duly evaluated in society” (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.65)

By the help of lifelong learning opportunities, the government wants to respond to the needs of the individuals. Each learner has the right to choose what to learn, how to learn and when to learn. This perspective is supported by learner centered theories.

Moreover, “as regards social backgrounds which have necessitated the creation of a lifelong learning society” the necessity of learning aimed at “coping with social and economical changes”, “increasing learning demands caused by the maturing of society”, and “adverse affects of society preoccupied with academic credentials” on individuals  have been pointed out.

Specifically, MEXT has set some objectives for educational reform in the 21st century (Efforts in Education Rebuilding, 2006, para.11):

·         cultivating dynamic Japanese people, who think and act on their own initiative,

·         cultivating top-level human resources who will lead the Century of Knowledge,

·         cultivating Japanese people who will inherit and create a spiritually rich culture and society,

·         cultivating Japanese people who are educated to live in the international community.

These objectives reflects the aims of the MEXT focusing first the individuals who think and act on their own initiative; next, the power of the individual workers according to the needs of society; then, the individuals who are the inheritors of spiritually rich culture and society; lastly, the individuals in international community. They all focus on the individual learners in a society.

In January 2008, the Central Council for Education, a group that helps the Japanese government develop education policies, issued a report entitled “Regarding Reform of the National Curriculum Guidelines,” which sketched out policies for future reform of the education system. This report was used as the basis for the revised national curriculum guidelines which MEXT communicated to all elementary and lower secondary schools, in March. The following basic aims are stated (The Development of Education in Japan, 2008, p.67):

    • to nurture a “zest for living” based on the principles of education stated in the revised Basic Act on Education,
    • to emphasize the balance between the acquisition of knowledge/skills and development of the ability to think/judge/express,
    • to develop rich spirit and a healthy body by enhancing moral education and physical education.

These aims show that the focus of education is not simply to have children memorize basic information, but to help them develop the ability to apply the information that they have learned. As learner centered theories state the activities demand that children use information and think critically, they also aim to develop the ability to think, judge and express. In addition, the physical and moral educations of the individuals are highlighted.

The FY2005 White Paper on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) focuses on educational reforms. These reforms also reflect the learner centered theories in Japanese curriculum:

1.    Improvement of academic capabilities

 “Through projects for the formulation of hubs to improve academic capabilities, MEXT is promoting individually-targeted instruction, including instruction that incorporates learning activities such as advanced learning for children who have a sufficient understanding of basic and fundamental content, and instruction differentiated according to the level of proficiency in the given subject matter”.

“Through the program for the activation of the Period of Integrated Study and others, students are given the chance to experience the joy of learning in order to enhance their motivation to learn. Furthermore, efforts are made to boost students' individuality and abilities through such means as the Super Science High Schools (SSH), which carry out advanced education in mathematics, science, and so forth in collaboration with universities, research institutes, and other entities”.

These reforms aim to bring learner centered perspective to the curriculum by “individually-targeted instruction”, “instruction that incorporates learning activities”,  “the joy of learning in order to enhance their motivation to learn”  and “boosting students' individuality and abilities”.

2. Promotion of rich experiential activities in school education

“In order to make planned and systematic efforts in experiential activities in school education and foster persons with rich humanity and social development, the Rich Experience Activity Model Program has been implemented since FY2002. Support is being provided for various experiential activities at schools, including extended overnight-stay experiences in a natural environment, as well as social service experiences”.

This reform refers to the learner centered and experience based perspectives. They want to develop individuals with rich humanity and experiential activities.

3. Fostering sound bodies

Revision of Basic Plan for the Promotion of Sports

“The ‘Basic Plan for the Promotion of Sports,’ which was revised in September 2006, is aimed at reversing the declining trend in the fitness of children. Within the plan, ‘improving the fitness of children’ through outside play, sports, and so forth was set as one of the pillars of the new policy challenges, based on the current situation of a long term declining trend children's fitness that has continued since 1985”.

Promotion of dietary education

“Projects for the promotion of dietary education are being carried out in collaboration with schools, families, and communities, centered on diet and nutrition teachers. Furthermore, new practical surveys and research are being conducted with regard to promotional policies, including promotion of the use of local products in school lunches through collaboration between schools and producers and the ways of promoting the inclusion of rice in school lunches. In FY2006, diet and nutrition teachers were placed in 25 prefectures and 13 national university corporations”.

These reforms are related to develop physically healthy individuals. In order to meet the needs of the learners, the MEXT promotes various sport activities and also dietary education.

On the other hand, there is an example of The Course Study for Lower Secondary School Foreign Languages on the website of the MEXT. After focusing on the practical use of language in overall objectives, in the Syllabus Design and Treatment of the Contents Part, the MEXT expresses that “In designing the syllabus, consideration should be given to the following”( Elementary and Secondary Education, 2003):

“Taking into account the various factors affecting students and the conditions in the region, each individual school should establish objectives for each grade in an appropriate manner and work to realize the objectives of English instruction over three grades”.

“In regard to teaching materials…[t]eachers should take up a variety of suitable topics in accordance with the level of students' mental and physical development, as well as their interests and concerns, covering topics that relate to the daily lives, manners and customs, stories, geography, history, etc. of Japanese people and the peoples of the world, focusing on countries that use English”.  

In these statements, the MEXT wants each individual school teachers design their syllabus focusing on the various factors affecting students and the conditions in the region, also, the MEXT emphasizes the use of teaching materials according to the mental and physical developments of the students focusing on their interests, daily lives, customs and geography. These requirements also reflect learner centered perspective of the MEXT. 

CONCLUSION

After the analysis of the Japanese education system, it can be recognized that the MEXT prepares the Course of Study, which is the standard nationwide curriculum in Japan. Then, the local curriculums are provided by the prefectural boards of education and the municipal boards of education. The Constitution and the Fundamental Law of Education provide educational objectives, and on the basis of them the Boards of Education and schools determine educational objectives. School educational objectives show each school’s educational philosophy. Each school sets up its ideas and educational objectives. Educational objectives are generally focused on what kind of human beings are to be nurtured.

The curriculum of schools in Japan consists of two areas: subjects and non-subjects. Subjects are like Japanese language, social studies, arithmetic, science, life styles, music, drawing and physical education. In non-subjects there are moral precepts, special activities and the period of integrated study.

Curriculum development is recognized from the perspective of social change in Japan.  Curricula are developed at various levels, such as schools, communities, and the national curriculum. For that reason there is a perspective of school-based curriculum development.

Curriculum development process needs a set of procedures which are to (1) set educational objectives, (2) select study experiences, (3) select contents, (4) organize study experiences and contents, (5) perform evaluations, and (6) make improvements (Organization and Implementation of Curriculum, 2006). By this set of practical procedures, each school develops its own curriculum. They indicate the concept of the ideal type of person that each student should become through participation in school educational activities.

Japan’s national curriculum focuses on the basic and compulsory education of nine years. Despite the national curriculum, there is flexibility in the determination of the objectives, and the use of the materials and the activities according to the schools. For that reason the curriculum development process is school based.

On the other hand, with the radical changes on curriculum and constitution, the demand of the government about development of learner centered curriculum can be recognized. The social, political and economical developments shaped the curriculum and moved it toward a diverse, flexible, and decentralized one. The developments required to cultivate motivated, independent, active and creative individuals who are respectful to their tradition and culture, and love their country. For that reason, the curriculum is developed according to the needs of a community living in a specific region. Also, in order to develop students’ individuality, elective subjects and extracurricular activities are set in the curriculum. In addition, upper secondary schools provide part time courses for the students who want to both work and study, and there are schools of special needs, junior schools and miscellaneous schools to meet different needs of the individuals.

To conclude, Japanese people believe that every individual is a learner and everybody can learn. Therefore, they provide education for all people. Also, they are keen on their cultural and moral values. In that way, with these reforms, they recognize the uniqueness and potential of each individual as a contributing member of a democratic society. The results of the reforms will be seen in the future.

REFERENCE