Five-Day School Week Gets Underway in Japan
July 18, 2002

The beginning of the new school year in April saw the implementation of the new Courses of Study. As part of measures aimed at giving students more room to grow, public schools are closed every Saturday now, whereas students previously had only two Saturdays off each month. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology hopes to provide kids with opportunities to have enriching experiences of society and nature with the help of schools, families, and communities. The idea is to enhance children's ability to learn on their own.

Taking the Initiative
On one Saturday in April, nine-year-old Shun Tamagawa, a fourth grader at an elementary school in Tokyo's Higashi-Murayama City, took part in a special Saturday class offered at the National Science Museum located in Ueno, Tokyo. He had been looking for something interesting to do on Saturdays, so when he heard about the program at the museum, he hurried to sign up. The theme of the class is different every week, and the day that Shun went, students made microscopes out of glass balls and examined strands of their hair. Shun said, "This was the first time for me to really look closely at one of my hairs. It was really cool." The program is extremely popular, and the museum saw a 50% rise in Saturday attendance in the month of April, drawing about 3,000 people.

FM Miki, a radio station located in Hyogo Prefecture's Miki City, began broadcasting a new program timed to coincide with the start of the five-day school week. The program, titled "Youth Corner Blackboard," is aimed at middle-school and high-school students and is broadcast from 12:00 to 1:00 PM every Saturday. It features two high-school students who take up various challenges on the air that have been "written" on a blackboard. Among their future activities, they plan to perform rakugo (a traditional Japanese form of comic monologue) in English.

Yoko Okada, who lives in Kyoto, has been taking her six-year-old daughter on excursions to learn about nature and inviting families with children of similar ages to come along. In April they went to a nearby river to collect edible wild plants, and in May they went to the beach to make salt from sea water.

From Aromatherapy to Canoeing
Many localities are also providing organized activities for kids. Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward is already operating one "smile school" that holds introductory classes for children in such subjects as go and cooking. After the introduction of the five-day school week, though, the ward plans to open three more such schools in September. These learning centers will be made by remodeling classrooms left empty by the falling number of students. And at specially designated model schools in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward, a program is being implemented that provides elementary and middle-school students with opportunities to experience with such traditional arts as flower arranging and the tea ceremony. Students can also study English and sports, and all the classes are taught by community volunteers.

Different regions have been making different types of programs available for children. In Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, students are learning about local history and culture. Elementary-school students in Chiba Prefecture's Miyoshi are getting a taste of farming. Kids and their parents in Kawamoto, Saitama Prefecture, are participating in sports camps and competitions together. In Gunma Prefecture's Takasaki City there are classes in canoeing. Students in Takanezawa, Tochigi Prefecture, can study aromatherapy. In Akeno, Ibaraki Prefecture, meanwhile, there are plans to teach children about the wadaiko (Japanese drum) and other traditional arts.

Some Schools Opt for Extra Study
While many cities and towns across the country are providing children with opportunities to gain new experiences, other places are offering supplementary tutoring instead. In Tokyo's Taito Ward every middle school has set up "Saturday schools" at which kids can take supplementary classes in Japanese, mathematics, and English on Saturday mornings. In addition to giving students every Saturday off, the new Courses of Study also cut the curriculum by 30%, something that has led many parents to fear that students' academic abilities may decline. And while public schools went to a five-day school week in April only 43% of private middle schools and 59% of private high schools give students every Saturday off. This has led some parents to fear that public-school students may fall behind their counterparts in private schools. It appears that the tutoring sessions offered on Saturday's are aimed to ease parents' anxieties.

In Ota, Gunma Prefecture, a program has begun that provides one-to-one instruction for elementary-school students in the fifth and sixth grades who are having difficulty with math. The local board of education believes that math is a subject in which it is relatively easy to determine the areas that students are having problems with and that scores can be brought up quickly with a bit of practice. The idea is that once math scores rise, children will gain confidence and enthusiasm that they can apply to their studies in other subjects as well.

These extra-study courses are not mandatory, though, and some parents seem quite content to take Saturday as a day for family outings. Whether they go to school on Saturdays or not, kids these days have no shortage of things to do.

Copyright (c) 2002 Japan Information Network. Edited 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.
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