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Students' Academic Ability Is a Growing Concern

November 2, 1999

In recent years, the Ministry of Education has changed its priorities from cramming knowledge into students' heads to giving students more freedom by greatly reducing the curriculum. At the same time, there have recently been cases of college students who cannot even do fractions, which is prompting growing criticism that this style of education has invited a drop in basic academic standards. The Ministry of Education itself is also gravely concerned about this problem and has decided to launch a full-scale investigation.

Catch-Up Classes in 45% of Colleges
According to a survey by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations on the academic ability of first-year college students, many deans at national universities felt that falling standards were becoming a problem. The survey also found that falling standards were seen as a problem in 70% of private institutions and that in 45% of them catch-up classes were being held in math, science and other subjects to go over topics taught in high school.

With these findings in mind, for three years starting in fiscal 2000 (April 2000 to March 2001), the Ministry of Education will collect and analyze the results from the past 20 years of the uniform preliminary entrance exams for public colleges. It has also decided that from the 2001 academic year it will investigate the scholastic aptitude of about 100,000 elementary, middle and high school students all over the country by means of standardized tests in Japanese, math, science and social studies.

The Education Policy Dilemma
The background to the Ministry of Education's switch to more freedom was that in recent years issues like truancy and bullying have been hitting the headlines. It is thought that the old rote-teaching style of education was unable to combat these problems. The aim of relieving the pressure on students was to offer them a "happier school life."

On the other hand, if Japan intends to become a center of technological innovation it must offer a high level of specialist education, particularly at scientific and engineering colleges and graduate schools. That in turn must be based on fundamental knowledge taught systematically at the primary and secondary levels. A drop in basic academic ability risks jeopardizing the whole future of education.

The education authorities are now faced with the dilemma of delivering both more freedom and higher standards. Once, the Meiji-era government (1868-1912), with its slogan "Education for the Nation's Next Hundred Years," poured its efforts into making children study. Searching for an alternative way, authorities switched course and elected to give students more freedom. Now, however, efforts are being made to seek a middle ground in educating the leaders of tomorrow.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.