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Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006

Teachers, experts say schools had to ax classes for seniors

Staff writers

Education experts and teachers said Friday they can understand how schools cut compulsory classes and falsified curriculum reports.

As of Friday, 249 high schools nationwide had admitted to lying to the government, claiming they were fulfilling the education ministry's curriculum guidelines when they were in fact cutting out classes that were unnecessary to pass university entrance exams.

"It's impossible to prepare the students for their college entrance exams following the programs set by the board of education," said one principal at a Tokyo metro high school who asked not to be named.

The five day school week, which was introduced in 2002, allows for a maximum 28 classes per week. The principal said that 28 classes per week is not enough to prepare students properly in the five subjects -- English, Japanese, science, social studies and mathematics -- that many public universities test on their entrance exams.

To compensate, some schools probably had to cut the classes that are not tested on university entrance exams, the principal said. The problem dates back as far as 1999 in some areas.

The basic education guideline issued by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology lists the subjects and number of hours that students must take from kindergarten through grade 12. The 2002 revision to the guideline, which introduced the five-day school week, reduced the number of classes.

The population decline has led many universities to reduce the number of subjects they test on to get more students. However, at the same time, teachers say they are pressured to get more of their students into good universities.

"There's a gap between the new (government) guideline and the reality of entrance exams for students," a high school social studies teacher in Mie Prefecture said on condition of anonymity.

Koichi Kitazawa, principal at Tokyo Metropolitan Hachiojihigashi Senior High School, where 181 seniors have not taken a compulsory ethics class, was apologetic but said the school did it with good intentions.

"It was wrong, but we were trying to help the students who were eager to be admitted to universities," he said Thursday. Hachiojihigashi gave the Tokyo Metropolitan Government board of education its annual curriculum plan, including class schedule, last March, the board's Tetsuo Iwasa said, but it had been faked to follow the mandatory requirements.

Iwasa said that the diplomas of graduates are valid, because "graduation is final once the principal hands the certificate to the student."

But this year's seniors may have to give up their weekends, as education minister Bummei Ibuki ordered each school Friday to give additional classes so that students can complete the compulsory program before they graduate in the spring.

Noboru Kageyama, professor emeritus at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology and a specialist on in education, said boards of education have known about the problem for years and did nothing.

"Sending more students to prestigious universities will raise the reputation of a regional board of education," Kageyama said. "There is no way the boards of education in those prefectures were unaware of what was going on."

The professor said that sliding on compulsory subjects was the product of a shift from focusing solely on academic subjects and test scores to balancing it with developing students' values and ethics, which began in the mid-1990s.

However, Kageyama said schools have failed to balance developing students' characters and preparing them for entrance exams.

It's not clear how the education ministry first learned of the problem, but Kageyama thinks it was tipped off.

"Regarding the first case at a high school in Toyama Prefecture sliding on compulsory subjects, it was probably reported to the board by one of the faculty members or a parent," he said.

The discovery comes as Prime Minister Abe has just had his first meeting with his new Education Rebuilding Council.

Kageyama warned the government should not rush in and change everything just for change's sake, but take time to understand what the public school system needs.

"We got all the corruption out in the open with this scandal. It's a good chance to reorganize education in the country and think of what high school students really need to learn," he said.

Hirokaki Mimizuka, professor of education at Ochanomizu University, explained that the 2002 guideline has actually given flexibility to high schools to design their own curriculum as long as they met the minimum standard.

But many high schools took advantage of that freedom to create curricula that would give students a better advantage in their university entrance exams.

"It's a problem that even the minimum standard of what needs to be taught was not met under the guideline that actually lowered the quality of education," he said.

Mimizuka said that Japanese society first of all needs to establish a social consensus of what high school education is about. On top of that, he added, in order to ensure quality education, an achievement test on some core subjects to graduate could be useful.

"It's important to support the students' need to go on to university, but high school is not just about passing entrance exams," he said. "It should be an opportunity for students to acquire different skills and broaden their possibilities. Otherwise, what's the meaning of high school diplomas?"

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The Japan Times

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