Will there be school on Saturdays for Japanese pupils?

The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is considering a re-introduction of the six-day school week that characterised the Japanese education system until only a decade ago. This follows concerns over the quality of education in Japan and the widening ‘gap’ between state schools and private schools, many of which continue to follow a six-day week.

Questions are being asked about the types of skills Japanese schools are teaching their pupils. Voices from within the private schools, or juku, say students are unable to answer questions which require initiative and find it difficult to solve problems or respond to questions for which they have received no preliminary coaching. Others suggest that pupils lack essential skills that will help them in the ‘global economy’.

A recent re-examination of the Yutori Kyoiku reforms for ‘pressure-free education’ (which were introduced in 1992) sparked concern, and resulted in an increase in the standard number of classroom hours per year in both Elementary and Junior High Schools. Similarly, a loophole in government ordinance means ‘Saturday School’ hours are currently allowed to take place in ‘cases of special need’. Since 2010, many state schools in Tokyo and other districts have taken advantage of this and hold Saturday classes at least once a month. However, the Ministry now wishes to undertake further measures to improve the government-run school system and many ministers are in favour of the motion. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that the revitalisation of education in Japan is a priority, while Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura has stated that he would like to “determinedly introduce Saturday classes”.

The suggestion has been met with enthusiasm from parents, according to a survey by the Tokyo Elementary School PTA Council, 86% are in favour. Of the teachers asked, however, only 38% approved of the introduction of Saturday classes and 52% actively opposed it. The implementation of school on a Saturday would mean new teachers would have to be hired and that they would have less time to plan lessons and relax.

The Central Council for Education will have to consider the measure before any changes are made. Although, many are still asking if the six-day school week is perhaps outdated and no longer necessary? With more places at Japanese Universities than candidates to fill them, higher education is no longer out of reach. More work and more pressure for Japanese school-children will not ease graduate unemployment rates.

Source include: Japan Today and The New York Times

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