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Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010
Test results still worrisome
Japan's ranking had been falling in the triennial international academic survey of 15-year-old students by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Japan fell from eighth place in 2000 to 15th place in 2006 in reading, from first place to 10th place in mathematical literacy and from second place to sixth place in scientific literacy. But in the 2009 PISA, in which 65 countries and regions took part, Japan moved up to eighth place in reading, to ninth in math and to fifth in science. Shanghai, the newcomer to the test, took the top position in all the three fields.
The education ministry boasts that Japanese students' scholastic ability has started to rise. But one cannot be complacent about the results of the test. PISA's main purpose is to judge whether students who have just finished compulsory education have the ability to think and express by using the knowledge and skills they have acquired. Japan should scrutinize the test results from this viewpoint.
In a section of the reading test, which requires students to select important information from text and express what they have thought through composition, 22.5 percent of Japanese students gave no answers — much higher than the OECD average of 14.1 percent.
Attention also should be paid to the fact that more than 10 percent of students are at or below level 1 in each field — a point at which it is feared that they are experiencing difficulties in their social lives — 13.6 percent in reading, 12.5 percent in math and 10.7 percent in science.
Japanese students are poor at finding subjects of interest and studying them. PISA found that 44.2 percent of them do not have the habit of reading books for enjoyment, considerably higher than the OECD's average of 37.4 percent.
Japan's new study courses are designed to cram knowledge into students. The education ministry should rethink its approach and lessen the burden of individual teachers so they can help students develop interests and learn the joy of thinking and studying.