Chapter III The structure of common education
Section 1 What is it to structure the curriculum?
The common education of “bringing up people as people in the universal sense” requires a framework for a certain period of time with a number of stages, as common education is there to foster the human abilities of children and help them develop as a member of human society as a part of a social act. The certain period of time means approximately 18 years from child’s birth until he/she grows up to become an adult. The paper will discuss this matter more thoroughly in article 2 of chapter 6.
The structure of common education in the English language world is mainly referred to as a curriculum. The curriculum originally means the course of a horse race. After WWII, the word curriculum as an educational course (Kyoiku Katei) or subject course (Kyoka Katei) began to be used in Japan. Even so, the educational course (Kyoiku Katei) as an academic concept and the subject course (Kyoka Katei) as used in the School Education Act or the curriculum guidelines for education policy can be differentiated. Furthermore, either the curriculum or the educational course, are used differently in universities and by the general public, apart from what is the educational concept.
What kind of curriculum can meet with the concept and purpose of common education? In this case, the curriculum is the basic framework to determine “what is taught at school, when, and taking what order.” As for common education, it is the basic framework for common education.
In considering the educational policy, the curriculum has been changed fundamentally in recent years.
The report on the council for curriculum in 1998 stated that “it is important to learn empirical matters as well as problem solving skills related to real life by taking a great deal of time, with an emphasis to cultivate skills such as the ways to learn things and find solutions, encouraging the personality of each child, by attempting a shift from the conventional one-way knowledge cramming type of learning to a self-motivated, self-learning type of learning.” This statement is a realization in the curriculum policy sector of the provisional council for education report in 1985 which set “emphasis on personality” as the principle for reform.
If the principle of curriculum formulation of “the conventional more like one-way knowledge cramming type of learning” is to be seriously changed, it is inevitable to reconsider it fundamentally or have a democratic reform about the curriculum system, policy, administration, etc. which have been carried out ever since the Meiji Era. Yet, where does such a reform of curriculum policy lead to, since it lacks adequate awareness about those needs? The headline “having the personality of each child in full account” may have blinded the true meaning of the reform, and many people may understand the reform of the curriculum policy towards the “children centrism,” but is it really so?
To take children’s personality into full account and to stand by children does not necessarily mean the same thing. Even from a nationalistic perspective, pre-war Japan also paid particular attention to children’s personalities, sorted them into categories, and took advantage by allocating them beneficially for the interest of the national or the capitalistic competition principle.
The curriculum policy reform, which the council of curriculum proposed in 1998, was not a reform at all in terms of taking initiatives by government and financial parties, but only a power transfer within the policy itself.
On the other hand, what is the curriculum as a basic framework for realizing common education, or the curriculum which stands on the side of children?
Rousseau expressed the concept of a curriculum of common education as follows.
● “The noblest work of education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason! This is beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated” (Book I, 124) *
● “Reason, apparently a compound of all other faculties, the one latest developed, and with most difficulty,” (Book I, 124)
● “The study most suitable to humans is to know about various matters of one-self. As long as he/she can recognize him/her self only his/her physical being, he/she needs to keep on studying about him/herself in relation to other matters.
When he/she begins to feel about him/herself as a moral being, then he/she needs to study about him/herself in relation to other people.” (Book II, 11)
● “When their sensitivity is limited, to be paid only to themselves, none of their behaviors would be moral. When their sensitivity reaches outside of themselves, this is when they become a member of the human race, by becoming a real person, by gaining the notion of good and bad after getting feelings of good and bad. Therefore, we must observe ourselves first.” (Book II, 23)
● “In regard to physical relations with other beings, in regard to moral relations with other people, what one is left to do after considering oneself is to keep on considering the social relations with other citizens.” (Book III, 221-222)
● “In order to do so, he needs to study the true nature of governance (government) in general and various forms of governance, and study the government of the country that he was born into, and he needs to know whether or not it suits him to carry out his life under such a government.” (Book III, 222)
*The description (Book I, 124) means the page 124 of “Emile” Book I, Iwanami bunko Book I, II, III version.
The concept of curriculum suggested here can be summarized as: a) the curriculum concept should not be formulated by the rationale of a country requested by the national society or the “public rationale.” b) a set of complex procedures and stages of a certain degree is required to cultivate a sense of rationale necessary for a person. c) children must earn a holistic understanding of the relations between themselves and nature as well as a society as a whole. d) the academic activities must observe and be appropriate to the children’s perception and its changes. And e) children can obtain the rationale as sovereign citizens as well as persons through this kind of curriculum.
The aforementioned interpretation of the curriculum was also adapted to the curriculum policy of Japan to some degree during the first half of the Meiji Era.
In 1977, Mr. Ryuichi Kuki, the Great Secretary to the Minister of Education at the time, stated that “common education” is “to fit naturally to the moral development and to offer knowledge appropriate to the development stage by understanding the development stages.” Under a concept like this, the “Elementary School Act” (period of school life) as well as the “Code of Elementary School Act” (period of Education Order) were institutionalized, along with the “Elementary School Subject Course” (Elementary School Regulations) or “Elementary School Act Guidelines” (1890). After that, those regulations became the “Ordinance for Enforcement of Elementary School Act,” etc. The understanding similar to that of Mr. Kuki has been eliminated from the mainstream through the course of change from common education to education of citizens after the late 1940’s.
In the post-war period, regardless of the legalization of the concept and purpose of common education within the Constitution as well as the Basic Act on Education or the School Education Act, the concept of purpose was not realized by the curriculum policy.
In parallel, on the one hand, various core curriculums were practiced through discussions of curriculum theories based on empiricism. On the other hand, the “curriculum guidelines general version (draft proposal)” was formulated based on “educational aims for citizens in general” led by “today’s social circumstances,” which was taken advantage of by the re-promotion of nationalistic reform of the curriculum policy.
Section 2 Subjects are to be regulated for the multifaceted nature of abilities
The basic abilities of a person in general can be distinguished relatively into a number of different categories, including physical and intellectual abilities, etc. A number of opinions are available in regard to the ways that distinguish them, and this may depend on geographic location or time. The subjects specify the content and order, as well as what needs to be cultivated, in order to foster each distinguished abilities.
As already mentioned, there were eight items listed as the purpose of primary common education under the School Education Act 1947. Many of those items used the word “to cultivate.” It was thought that the educational purpose was set for different abilities and those abilities, influencing one another, would result to become the overall judgement skills which foster the human rationale.
Soon after WWII, the Ministry of Education explained that those eight items of purpose correspond to subjects. At the beginning, the post-war curriculum guidelines also used the word “subject course” (Kyoka katei). The “subject course” (Kyoka katei) was structured by subjects at that time.
Nonetheless, education came to control classes not necessarily subjects as subjects, such as the “moral hour” etc. Non-subjects were then introduced to the subject area.
Throughout the pre- and post-war period in Japan, many areas saw a drastic change, including types of subjects and curriculum formation, etc.
According to the dictionary definition, subjects “are an organized sector of knowledge and skills that school children and students will obtain at school education, such as Japanese, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, etc.” (Made italics by the author)
According to the curriculum guidelines, on the other hand, the definition of subject has seen some changes. The revised curriculum guidelines of 1951 explained it as one of the ways to achieve the general purpose of education as well as an apparatus to offer systematic and planned learning by organizing educational experiences of all kinds.
Understanding these explanations, subjects are not differentiated by abilities but for knowledge, skills or learning experiences, etc. If subjects are to be designed for knowledge or learning experiences, etc., subject structure and its content will envelope the policy trend and/or arbitrariness.
From the perspectives of common education, it is efficient to structure subjects based on the relative differentiation potentials of human abilities.
The revised elementary school curriculum guidelines of 1977 newly established the subject “Life Environmental Studies” only for the younger years of elementary school. It is not legitimate to change the subject structure for school year, type of school or the time. If there is a legitimate reason for setting up a subject called “life environmental studies,” this subject should be made available also for the other years at elementary school and for junior high school and more.
The ability-based subject structure shall minimize basic rapid increase and decrease as well as changes.
Section 3 Over the curriculum standard
By whom and how was the curriculum formulation decided, number of classes, curriculum standard and its efficacy?
The Ordinance of Enforcement of School Education Act (ministerial ordinance) stipulates the curriculum standard “according to the curriculum guidelines.” In contemporary Japan, the Central council of Education (curriculum subcommittee) receives questions by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and discusses and answers about the direction of curriculum “improvement.” Having the report of those answers, MEXT formulates the curriculum guidelines and the Minister publicly announces it in its official Gazette. This is used as a reason for the curriculum guidelines to “be a legally binding” document.
Under the “amended” Basic Act on Education and the “amended” School Education Act, the curriculum guidelines, revised in March 2008, reinforced its nationalistic tones as well as the level of binding power, more than ever before.
The issue of an educational administration body enforcing on schools and teachers the curriculum guidelines as curriculum standard was recognized as problematic for a long time even under the Basic Act on Education before its amendment.
In September 2006, the Tokyo District Court decided about the “Tokyo Kimigayo Prevention Case” and explained that “it is reasonable to understand that the curriculum guidelines fundamentally have the character of a legal regulation” and added its limitation as:
“When an educational administration body of national government establishes the standard to stipulate the content and methodology of common education, based on legal authority, it is reasonable to understand that such standard is to be of an outline-like character. And this character should be recognized necessary and legitimate for the purpose of assuring the equal opportunity to learn and maintaining the national standard of certain degree, apart from educational perspectives to respect one’s autonomy.” (Made italics by the author)
Since this legal decision was based on the “educational perspectives to respect one’s autonomy” and “principle of local autonomy in regard to education,” it is still relevant today even though the Basic Act on Education is “amended.”
At the same time, this legal decision does not delve deeply into the interpretation of Clause 2 of the Constitution Article 26, though the word “common education” was used.
From the perspective of the constitutional basic principle as well as the concept of common education of “bringing up people as people in the universal sense,” the primal sovereign beings able to decide the “outline-like standard” in regard to the curriculum are the people of this country and this right must be used for the side of children who receive common education. The “outline-like standard” as the curriculum standard has not enjoyed a consensus. Under these circumstances, it should be reconsidered whether or not the curriculum guidelines formulated unilaterally by the educational administration body should be recognized as having the “character of a legal regulation” just because it was publically announced in their official Gazette.
After the war, what was the intention and what kind of the character were the curriculum guidelines formulated for?
When Japan was defeated and governed under the occupation, post-war reform was carried out by the General Headquarters (GHQ) and the curriculum reform was recognized as a priority agenda. However, Japanese government, the Imperial Diet and the Education Reform Committee, etc. did not discuss about the curriculum reform thoroughly enough then, although they made every effort to establish a Japanese Constitution, Basic Act on Education and School Education Act. This was indeed the problem.
The ministry of education set up the curriculum revision committee within the ministry. Through the course of committee discussions, the committee decided to formulate a booklet following the course of study, which was used in the United States of America, giving the suggestion from the civil information and education section, etc. This was the “curriculum guidelines general version (draft proposal)” and issued in March 1947 by the ministry of education.
“The curriculum guidelines general version (draft proposal)” had a character of learning and teaching reference for teachers. These guidelines consisted of some sections with broad content, such as “general purpose of education,” “life of school children,” “subject course (Kyoka katei)” “general pedagogy,” “or “consideration for educational results,” etc.
“The curriculum guidelines general version (draft proposal)” did not give consideration to the educational concept and principle that the Constitution as well as the Basic Act on Education. Basically, it did not reflect on even the concept and purpose of the common education.
As already mentioned, the ministry of education issued the “new education guidance” at this time, stating that “the purpose of education is to bring up people as people in the universal sense.” However, this point of view was not adapted into the first curriculum guidelines.
The Ministry of Education stipulated quickly for the Ordinance for Enforcement of School Education Act in May 1947 that “as for the curriculum of elementary school, subject contents and handling of them shall be based on the curriculum standard.” (Made italics by the author) Having thus done so, the Ministry of Education used the curriculum guidelines with a broad content and assured de facto rights of ruling and controlling the curriculum and subject contents, etc. as much as or even more than it did before the war.
Today, the fundamental reform of the curriculum system is a top priority and an issue to be dealt with most urgently, in order to realize the concept of common education.
Section 4 Meaning of changes of the curriculum guidelines
The curriculum guidelines have been revised eight times in the past, and have gone through significant changes in properties each time. The paper studies the process of such changes, having an elementary school as the main case. Please take a look at the “Changes in framework of curriculum, etc. under the elementary curriculum guidelines (conceptual figure).”
The first “curriculum guidelines general version (draft proposal)” had the curriculum structured by only subjects as written so.
The revision of 1951 added approximately three hours weekly of “hours of activities other than subjects” (non-subject hours) and “the curriculum” became structured bilaterally. As for the contents, “meetings of all school children, various committees of school children, school excursions (Ensoku), school art festivals (Gakugeikai), school exhibitions, music festivals, free book readings, various club activities” were mentioned as examples and “the selection of content and decision of how many hours should be allocated for that content shall be decided by principals, teachers and school children to meet their needs.” This methodology emphasized a principle with a pragmatic perspective that asserts “learning by doing.” The act of the Ministry of Education ruling over and controlling non-subject educational activities can already be seen at this time, through entrusting the “discretion of the school,” being vocal on education methodology, placing the hours of activities other than subjects “should have legitimate placement within the curriculum” in with the same subjects, etc.
The 1958 revision newly added “moral education” separately from subjects or “hours for activities other than subjects.” At the same time, the “hours for activities other than subjects” was divided into “school events, etc.” and “special curricular activities,” so the curriculum then consisted of four domains.
In regard to the purpose of “moral education,” the preamble of the Basic Act on Education “to create a culture universal and rich in individuality” had the “universal and” part taken away. Here is where the making of a new interpretation of the Basic Act on Education began to be made for the worsened.
The revision of 1968 was themed as “modernization” as a whole. As for the domains, there were three domains at this time: “subjects,” “moral education,” and “extracurricular activities.” The “school deterioration” became obvious.
The 1977 revision newly established “latitude education.” The cram learning style was severely criticized by society, so class hours were shortened without de-elevating the education standard, under the name of “reduction of learning load,” and “latitude education” was allocated for this freed up time. Since the class hours are shortened, the disparity between children who could keep up with the class and others who could not became more and more apparent and widened. By introducing conceptually vague “latitude education,” teachers became busier and busier to formulate lesson plans, etc.
The revision of 1989 abolished the science and social studies subjects for earlier years of elementary schools and, instead, introduced the “life environmental studies.”
It is profoundly important to understand how school children of earlier years at elementary school are aware of nature and society and to foster their awareness. Such awareness would be the base of their scientific and critical cognition as well as judgement skills that are required for all people. Even though there may be some problems recognized in the content or teaching instruction of the science and social studies in target years, those problems shall be improved. It is rather abrupt to abolish these subjects without a broad and thorough discussion regarding this.
The “life and environmental studies” aims to “cultivate a base to be independent” through children’s ordinary experiences as its base.
Although the expression “self-learning” appears there, the aim is not for children to deepen their learnings and lift them up to be the high level of recognition, through sharing their experiences among themselves. Intrinsically, “self-independency” as people is to be earned as a result of a collective learning experience of learning activities and educational activities. Would it be possible for people to grow to be independent by narrowing and entrenching the world of awareness belong to each and every single child down to his/her ordinary life experiences?
The revision of 1998 introduced the “period for integrated studies” for the third year and above at elementary school, separately from the already offered three domains. According to the educational guidelines, it is the hour where “the learnings and educational activities shall be conducted, such as the cross-disciplinary and integrated learnings and learning based on the interests and curiosities of school children.” This new class is regarded as “life environmental studies” for the earlier years at elementary school. Empirical studies are emphasized here as well, such as natural and social experiences.
The “period for integrated studies” is understood the same as the “integrated studies” since those titles are similar, but the “integrated studies” and the “period for integrated studies” are fundamentally different.
“The integrated studies” are practicable also within the subject domain and are effective educational activities for enriching subject learning, so there is a history and reality that these studies have been incorporated in a number of different ways. Those studies have not necessarily emphasized the “experiences.”
The “period for integrated studies” is something different, not being found among the subject domain, so its teaching methodologies are different. The “period for integrated studies” pays particular attention to certain learning activities, such as experience focused activities.
Since the teaching plan of the “period for integrated studies” is vague and covers quite a wide area, in reality, making the plan has caused teachers’ to over work. Some schools are letting people outside of school manage the class “completely,” or some high schools are using this class as a substitute class period for preparing for the university entrance exams.
In the meantime, some are still forcing a cram type of learning under the competition principle, where others are offering different learning activities incoherently, under the experience emphasis. What kind of characters forms in children with this kind of learning experience?
To be fair, there are teachers who have connected subjects and the “period of integrated studies” and practiced classes with the view point of school children. That fact and the intention of introducing the “period for integrated studies” should be discussed separately.
Section 5 Elementary school curriculum guidelines revised in 2008
The eighth revision of the curriculum guidelines took place in March 2008. Since this revision was done after the Basic Act on Education and the School Education Act were both “amended,” this paper recognizes this revised version as different from previous revisions so discusses it separately.
As for the domain structure of the curriculum, the total number of domains became five, including the newly established domain of “foreign language activities” and the “period for integrated studies” as one independent domain, instead of three, before the revision.
The revision this time set forth the first “general policy of curriculum formation” as “to foster the zest for living.” The report of the Central Education Council (January 2008) was the cause of this revision and the “zest for living” was explained there as “the zest necessary to live in a society independently by looking over their future job or life.” Similarly, in the booklet titled “Zest for Living” (April 2008) which the ministry of education published for guardians afterwards, the “zest for living” is explained as “the ability balanced among knowledge, morals and physical health.” This “zest of living” does not seem the same with the ability of living as a human being, aimed by common education.
Generally speaking, it is not easy to look over one’s future job or life. That is why common education is necessary to foster the innate abilities suitable to each development stage, in order for children to live as a person in the future in any sort of society.
Today, how is “the future job or life” looked over? Isn’t it the case that everyone has some kind of anxiety as to their future? Even if the creation of such anxieties has stemmed from the world of adults, it is necessary to acknowledge that and have a solid judgement skill as well as his/her future prospect regarding the “future job or life,” in order for one to become an independent person as a person. Having done that, he/she can contribute to change society in cooperating with each other as a sovereign being, using the rights entitled to every adult. This is also very important to earn independency in the world of adults.
However, the curriculum guidelines do not seem to pay any attention to such things. The guidelines seem to pre-admonish children about their future job and life, which is so difficult to look over. And furthermore, it seems to tell children that living independently means to find a job and live on their own self-responsibility, or they would be excluded from the society if they interpret it wrongly or do not follow. So they better see about their own personality to avoid ending up like that. The admonition ends by telling that the learnings and education are there for children to learn how to follow this route.
Also regarding to “the ability balanced among knowledge, morals and physical health,” the same thing can be said. Knowledge, morals and physical health is a phrase that began to be used in Japan in the late 1880’s to early 1890’s. It was found in the writing of H. Spencer (1820-1903), who was a British philosopher and an early advocate of the theory of social evolution.
Spencer had a view of society as like an organic organism such as a human body. For instance, he asserted that there are some people who function like a human brain and so many people function as other various organs. The basic meaning of the “knowledge, morals and physical health” was for a certain number of people, who function like a human brain, to draw system plans, for common people to follow the plan or policy (the curriculum guidelines), to be educated and to endeavor in following the plan. As a consequence, it means to maximize “the zest for living” to live appropriately to his/her roles played by following the orders provided by society.
Society today sees the expansion of social polarization. There are a number of young people living in circumstances described as “working poor”. Some of them began to question such a way for society which they can no longer tolerate. It is said that the number of young people who are questioning society and at the same time realizing to cooperate among themselves to find better ways of living. From the perspective of the curriculum guidelines this kind way of living is not agreeable at all.
The revised curriculum guidelines strongly emphasize patriotic education more than ever. Even in the 6th grade’s social studies, it is stated as “to explore myths and traditions and to have interests in the ways of thinking in regard to the formation of a country.” These are clearly the realization of educational purposes set up by the “amended” Basic Act on Education. The “way of thinking” to understand the formation and development as well as history of a society through a certain type of culture fits into a theory of a ruler, which is to explain future politics and economic society from the perspectives of a certain “culture” ready made by a country, etc., and make people of the country fit to that society.
The “zest for living” as an educational policy phrase stems from the slogan “the zest for living in more relaxed circumstances” in the report of the Central Education Council of 1990. The curriculum guidelines here eliminated the word “relaxed circumstances.” Has the “more relaxed policy” been removed?
The aforementioned booklet “zest for living” of MEXT reads “it is not either “relaxed” or “crammed,” both are important for fostering knowledge and cognition, etc.” (Partly quoted) MEXT has not rectified the “more relaxed policy.” MEXT has not originally introduced the “more relaxed policy” from the bitter experiences through practicing the “cramming” education.
The “more relaxed” policy was received as the reduction of teaching content by 30% for the subject domain. So the decline of academic achievement became publicly apparent, and the “latitude education” was to be blamed. This led MEXT to review the policy to some degree.
The revision this time was to increase the number of classes at elementary as well as junior high schools: a total of 287 classes (5%) annually for the elementary school and 105 classes (3.5%) annually for junior high school are added respectively. However, the principles of competition as well as meritocracy remains unchanged, so a worse than ever “cramming” education is expected. In addition, the “foreign language activities” will be introduced to the 5th and 6th grades. Though being shortened, there is still “the period for integrated studies.” The “complete five-day week school system” also remains unchanged. Therefore, the long term school holidays would be shortened, inevitably.
What the revision aims for this time is the reinforcement of moral education. Moral education is to be conducted in relation to other educational activities at school, led mainly by moral education promoting teachers at each school. At the same time, what follows at the end of the “extracurricular activities” is a phrase, which reads “to hoist the national flag and instruct to sing the national anthem.” As a part of either moral education or extracurricular activities, these guidelines are under the “amended” Basic Act on Education and the “amended” School Education Act and therefore the characters of those expressions would become legally quite different, even though the expressions themselves are not seemingly so different.
According to the report of the Central Education Council, “school education activities out of the curriculum” is newly established as a new framework to make possible voluntary activities during long term school holidays, such as making up classes with voluntary attendance, swimming school, junior high school club activities, etc. These are the “school education activities” and will increase the work load of teachers. The “making up classes with voluntary attendance” will meet with needs of guardians and school children to some degree, but it is clear that it will result in creating unequal education and widening education disparity as well as a gap of academic achievements. Long term school holidays are extremely important from an educational perspective, yet the “school education activities out of the curriculum” intervene into those holidays. Where and when will children cultivate rich aesthetic sensitivity, sensibility and humanity?
The “more relaxed policy” still remains without the word “more relaxed” since a number of factors vigorously promoted by the policy have fundamentally remained.
Section 6 Question about the “more relaxed” (Yutori) policy again
The “more relaxed” (Yutori) policy originally had a precondition of “maintaining the standard of education” and was introduced into the education policy after the year 1978, attempting to “lessen” the learning load of some children who may have had difficulties in keeping up with the standard. Its title attracted public attention at that time and was welcomed also by educators. Yet, what was welcome was the title, not its policy. In addition, the author of this paper believes it is more appropriate to use the phrase “more relaxed policy” (Yutori Seisaku) rather than the “more relaxed education” (Yutori Kyoiku).
As it has been already mentioned, the “more relaxed policy” was a measure to “reduce the learning load created by the government/ministry of education. This policy was based on the principle of competition and meritocracy and had the possibility of creating children, who may not be able to keep up, and resulting in a lowering of the academic achievements if the education standard that was to be maintained. So, in order to secure a group of children who can reach to a certain level of educational standard, even under the principle of competition and meritocracy, the new headline “having the personality of each child into full account” is made to prepare different types of learning opportunities for those other children who may not be able to keep up. Consequently, this policy was a mere made-up idea to utilize the categorized personalities (expertise, skills, qualifications, etc.) of the national society.
The “more relaxed policy” began with “latitude education” and gradually expanded rather vigorously to introduce the “period for integrated studies” as well as “forming classes according to levels of academic performance” and so on. The introduction of a “five-day week school system” and reinforcement of the complete five-day week system was a part of the “more relaxed policy.”
Under circumstances where teachers, as civil servants, were to be secured with a two-day-off week system in the labor sector, having backup teachers with favorable opinions, the five-day week school system was introduced as the educational policy to realize the “principle of emphasis on personality of each child.” The five-day week school system was a policy that took away the opportunity to study at school on Saturday from children, under the beautiful words of returning them to their family. The majority of children could not spend Saturday and Sunday appropriately, and in some cases, the rhythm of life was disturbed and some children ended up becoming delinquent.
Other children, who were financially advantaged and whose families were education-minded, can continue to study at academic institution other than schools.
The intention of MEXT to introduce the five-day week school system was not limited here. The consequent was even intended, to promote the grading of schools.
When the Ministry of Education introduced the five-day week school system, a booklet titled “commentary and case studies of the five-day week school system” (1992) was issued. The education standard shall be maintained even after the introduction of the five-day week school system, so the number of classes, which were conventionally allocated on Saturday, must be allocated elsewhere before the end of Friday. By simply relocating extra class hours, it would increase the learning load during weekdays. So what was planned was for schools to be graded and a new type of school in which learning loads can be set much “lower” shall be established.
According to this booklet, all of the schools from elementary to senior high school, including special needs education schools, shall be graded into 6 levels such as schools with primary aims, schools with voluntary activities, etc. as the main learning contents, etc. The booklet explains thoroughly about this grading with actual examples. Those schools, which belong to level 3 or lower, would not practice adequate learning/education.
Today, the introduction of the school choice system as a national policy has been proposed. The guardians have to be able to make the choice, so suitable circumstances should be made available. In order to make it so, schools should be graded at many stages as well as in a numerically visible way for guardians to judge. The complete five-day week school system and the national assessment of academic ability started in FY 2007, and so will be fully utilized.
The school choice system does not meet with the concept of common education. The common education to bring up people as people in the universal sense, considering that is the social work, is possible under the mutual understanding and cooperation of social communities, with the stance of having a certain period of curriculum being fully blessed by the love and trust between teachers and children.
Section 7 Education content sought by common education
What kind of education content does common education require? The paper considers this issue by taking the education content for the Japanese language class under the elementary school curriculum guidelines.
The curriculum guidelines specify the “aim” and “content” for each level of school years: by dividing six years of elementary school into three groups, two years each, Teigakunen, Chugakunen and Kogakunen.
The content of every level consists of three parts: “speaking and listening,” “writing” as well as “reading.”
The revision this time has the addition of a number of items of teaching for each part. Also, the “items related to traditional linguistic culture and characteristics of the Japanese language” was newly added. This item was what was referred to as “linguistic items” under the revision of 1998.
Based on the education purpose of the “amended” Basic Act on Education that “respect for tradition and culture,” the intention of MEXT to control even the teaching content can be recognized.
New additions, that is “to foster the ability,” can be seen for all three past of “speaking and listening,” “writing” as well as “reading” like “to foster the ability of speaking and listening,” “to foster the ability of writing” and “to foster the ability of reading.” (Made italics by the author) Within this context, the intention is to foster those abilities.
Even before “writing” and “reading,” with the presence of the letters as a premise, it is important to locate the time for fostering the abilities of speaking and listening, at each year. There was a period of time where the curriculum guidelines in the past did not locate time for “speaking and listening.”
Regarding “speaking and listening” during the youngest two years (Teigakunen: first and second year), the guidelines begin with “the topics may be selected among ordinary matters and one’s experiences and necessary things are to be recollected” and “one needs to make an appropriate order to talk about a topic according to needs, and talk carefully with consideration to the different use of polite words and ordinary words,“ and end with “listening to each other’s talk with concentration and discuss about the topics.” According to the guidelines of 1998, the sentence “one shall choose what he/she wants to inform others, thinking about the order of the talk, talk in the way others can understand” was written first.
In the world of children’s “speaking and listening,” any dialogue carried between children and others is not limited to friends and family members, but includes some characters from TV shows as well as picture books, etc. or even their dolls, toys, nature, animals and plants, etc. To foster the abilities of “speaking and listening” etc. it is definitely a basic educational content to experience the outer world, differentiate them, and acknowledge and judge accurately about those worlds as well as the relationships between themselves and such worlds.
However, the curriculum guidelines limit the world to “ordinary matters and one’s experiences.” Even in such a limited world, the abilities of “speaking and listening” can be fostered. But selecting “topics” from there is a different activity from the activities of “speaking and listening.” The abilities sought here are to think of potential topics, to structure the topic, to express the topic, to react to the reactions of listeners, etc. Moreover, the guidelines aims for “necessary things are to be recollected.”
There are a number of interpretations about “necessary things are to be recollected.” To think of who, why, for what this was necessary, and even furthermore to recall this information requires different abilities other than abilities of “speaking and listening.”
Only those abilities of “speaking and listening” require broad and deep abilities. The infinite possibilities are only to expand further to mention only two abilities: the ability to tell what he/she wants to tell others accurately and the ability to listen to others’ talks completely.
Through the course of fostering these basic abilities, children become able to understand what speakers are trying to say, whether or not children can listen to and understand the speakers talk accurately. What is the reason is it necessary to talk or listen, is it to make people happy, is it to harm others, what is the meaning for speaking and listening to human life, what would it be like if speaking and listening are practiced inadequately etc? Children will understand human beings through this process. This is also the process to bring them up “as people.”
If children of a younger age are required to have other abilities on top of “speaking and listening” abilities, as suggested by the curriculum guidelines, would this not intervene to foster their “speaking and listening” abilities?
As for the “items related to traditional linguistic culture and characteristics of the Japanese language” regarding to the “speaking and listening” during the first two years, “listening to books and sentences about folktales or legends or presenting and discussing” are suggested. As the first stage of “speaking and listening,” it is awkward to have the sudden appearance of “folktales or legends) despite of the fact they had suggested “ordinary matters and one’s experiences” (regardless how limited it is).
The content of the Japanese language studies is made of non-education matters, rather than the basics of the linguistic education.
Some points of concern are remarked in the guidelines about the teaching materials for the Japanese language subject as a whole, including “contributes to foster the values of understanding and loving the traditions and cultures of our country” and “contributes to foster the values of loving the country with the self-awareness of being a Japanese, hoping for the development of the country and society.” These expressions were in fact found also in the other curriculum guidelines in the past (especially in the “moral studies” section). However, since it is now situated under the “amended” Basic Act on Education and the “amended” School Education Act, it is necessary to consider they have fundamentally different meanings from the ones in the past.
Section 8 Work of teachers and common education
The work of teachers is definitely very important for common education. It is teachers who create the reality of “common education” as sought by the Japanese Constitution.
Article 6 of the Basic Act on Education, 1947, stipulates that “teachers of the schools prescribed by law shall be servants of the whole community. They shall be conscious of their mission and endeavor to discharge their duties. For this purpose, the status of teachers shall be respected and their fair and appropriate treatment shall be guaranteed.” This kind of stipulation is extremely important in order to realize the concept of common education at schools.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the “recommendation concerning the status of teachers” in 1966 (Japan also ratified.). The preamble of this recommendation “concerned to ensure that teachers enjoy the status commensurate with the role” by being “aware of the need for more extensive and widespread general and technical and vocational education, with a view to making full use of all the talent and intelligence available as an essential contribution to continued moral and cultural progress and economic and social advancement, recognizing the essential role of teachers in educational advancement and the importance of their contribution to the development of man and modern society.” The recommendation also states that “it should be recognized that advance in education depends largely on the qualifications and ability of the teaching staff in general and on the human, pedagogical and technical qualities of the individual teachers.” Teachers as a profession are to meet with three conditions: a) qualifications, b) ability, and c) human, pedagogical and technical qualities.
Nevertheless, meanwhile, the Japanese government and MEXT have been reinforcing the control over teaching staff. What was created as policy jargons is the “improvement of the quality of teachers.” On contrary to the recommendation of UNESCO, the notable characteristic here is to have the focal point on “quality.”
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) forwarded the “report related to the improvement of the quality of teachers” in 1981. The provisional education council first report of 1986 also had the “improvement of the quality of teachers” as a priority. In 1987, the Teacher-training Council suggested the “policy for improvement of the quality of teachers” (the report).
This report pointed out about teachers as “they need to have a sense of responsibility as teaching personnel, a thorough understanding of human growth and development, an educational love toward preschoolers, school children and students, a professional expertise knowledge related to education and rich and broad knowledge as well as the practical ability of teaching based on all of said elements.”
These elements of teachers should be ensured by the concept of common education that has been stipulated by the Japanese Constitution and the Basic Act on Education, or by “academic freedom.” On the contrary, if they are kept within the capacity of “the curriculum guidelines” or the Education Personnel Certification Act, or other government driven systems such as the teacher training system, etc., then that would be a fundamental problem.
The report of the provisional council for education also stated the emphasis to be put on the “practical teaching skills” considering it as the quality of teachers. This “emphasis on the practical teaching skills” was to be the core of educational policies from then on. At the same time, the report said that “the pre-service training, employment, in-service training, evaluation, etc. shall be considered as a whole.”
The practical teaching skills are necessary at all times, but that is so when those skills are based on solid theories of education. Needless to say, the theory and the practice are enveloped within one person with two different indivisible sides and improve one another by acting on each other.
However in the case of educational policy, where and how is the teaching expertise provided in order to be the premise of the practical teaching skills? Under repeated revision the Educational Personnel Certification Act is for the worse, the certificate standard expanded the portion of pedagogy and techniques and lessened the portion of theoretical subjects. It is as if the necessary knowledge on theories has been provided by the “curriculum guidelines” and so on.
The quality, that is discussed here, lacks theories and their direction. This is not the true quality.
The “quality” in general is used with the meaning of “innate character or talent” (Kojien dictionary). Teachers are sought to have such a deep love for school children and thorough knowledge and proficiency almost to the degree of having them innately. That is the reason why the thoroughly equipped teacher training institutions are necessary.
The “amended” Basic Act on Education of 2006 stipulates the teachers to “have to be aware of their noble mission and make endless efforts for study and culture in order to pursue the responsibility of the profession.” Would it be possible for teachers to pursue their true mission, even though phrases such as the “servants of the whole community” or the “respect for their status” have been eliminated?
In 2007, the government or MEXT introduced the Teachers Certificate Renewal System by revising the Educational Personnel Certification Act for the worse. This system determined the validity period of the certificate for ten years and teachers would forfeit their certificates if they did not fulfill and pass the teachers certificate renewal seminars. Some teachers would possibly have to stop teaching.
Mr. Ibuki, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (at that time), explained the purpose of the Teachers Certificate Renewal System during the Diet Deliberation as “to reconfirm the new knowledge required at different times.” “The new knowledge” may well mean about de fact the curriculum guidelines which would be revised once in every ten years. This indicates the crisis awareness that the education administration institutions may have for the curriculum guidelines are not adapted well enough in schools. But if that is the reason for the renewal seminars launch, it is like putting the cart before the horse.
Teachers of today are put under an extremely heavy load of work. They are also surrounded by the rigid and vertically divided management principle. The number of teachers who suffer some kind of psychological disorders has been increasing. Some teachers with rich experiences have been losing their confidence and taking early retirement. It is much more reasonable to solve these issues in order to improve their quality.
Rousseau stated that “One same person can be involved with teaching only once.” His words can be interpreted as “he/she must have the basic qualifications as a teacher right at the beginning of his/her career and with that, he/she can tackle any issues and problems along with his/her colleagues and improve his/her quality as a teacher, even if there may be a number of difficult situations or changes they encounter in the future.” Schools must regain such a working environment and it should be urgently realized.
I shall discuss teacher training in Section 6 of the Chapter VI.
Kuki. Ryuichi, “Monitoring Report on the Third University,” “Fourth Annual Report of the Ministry of Education,” 1877, p55-56. This is also enclosed in “System of Education,” Japanese Modern School of Thought 6, Iwanami syoten, 1990.
“Curriculum -General Theory- Curriculum 6 of the post-war Japan,” Hidano Tadashi, Inagaki Tadahiko, et all. Tokyo University Shuppan kai, 1969, reference. Here, two paragraphs are analyzed: the absence of educational issues within the Board of Education of Japan side and the absence of curriculum issues of the Education Reform Committee.