Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Japan adds textbook contents to improve world ranking

It's not only in the economy where Japan is slipping nowadays, in the education department, the Land of the Rising Sun slowly finds itself cast in shadows. So, to enhance the knowledge of school age children and make use of this knowledge, the government has added about a thousand pages in its textbooks. Other improvements in the teaching style would be implemented to make the country regain its high status in world ranking. Read details below.

TOKYO - Alarmed that its children are falling behind those in rivals such as South Korea and Hong Kong, Japan is adding about 1,200 pages to elementary school textbooks.

This will bring the total across all subjects for six years from 4,900 pages to nearly 6,100.

In a move that has divided educators and experts, Japan is going back to basics after a 10-year experiment in "pressure-free education", which encouraged more application of knowledge and less rote memorisation.

Science and maths textbooks will see the biggest additions, getting 60 per cent more pages compared to earlier this decade.

An hour or two of school will be added each week, depending on the grade, and English will be introduced in fifth grade instead of seventh.

Middle and high school students can expect similar changes in subsequent years.

"I think it's a good move. Compared to the education I got, I'm kind of shocked at the level my children are receiving," said Tokyo resident Keiko Honzawa.

Japan's near-the-top rank on international standardised tests has fallen since the Education Ministry implemented curriculum changes 10 years ago.

In the Programme for International Student Assessment - a test given by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development every three years to 15-year-olds around the world - Japan's rank in maths dropped from first in 2000 to 10th in 2006. Science rankings slid from second to 6th, and reading comprehension declined from 8th to 15th.

The slide is puzzling because the exam is designed to test the ability to apply knowledge in real-life situations - one of the supposed goals of "pressure-free education".

Japan's performance in another test that does measure knowledge acquired in school, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, has been mixed.

The rank of middle school students in maths has slipped from 3rd in 1995 to 5th in 2007, while their rank in science, which fell from 3rd to 6th in 2003, improved to 3rd again in 2007.

For Japan, the education debate reflects a deeper anxiety as the country struggles to find direction in a world where its influence has waned.

Its once-powerful economy has been overtaken by China and political leaders are grappling with how to deal with a bulging national deficit and an aging, shrinking population.

"There are serious concerns about whether our education system is working for a country... whose most valuable resources are its people," said Mr Hiroaki Mimizuka, a professor at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo.

But some feel the latest revisions are misguided, and they believe the emphasis on independent thinking needed more time to bear fruit.

"Just adding pages to textbooks and pushing for more memorisation isn't going to get us anywhere," argued Mr Koji Kato, professor emeritus of education at Sophia University in Tokyo. "Japan needs to invest in developing thinking people for its future." AP

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