Curriculum history is important to educators just as the general history of a country is important to historians and politicians. Much can be learned from the successes and the failures of the past. Traditional education in Japan follows societal norms in stressing respect for order and for group goals. The schools stress self-evaluation, hard work, and organization. Schools actively teach morals and values in order to develop individuals of character that will function in society as educated and moral.
Japanese formal education in began with adherence to Buddhism and Confucianism. Later, studies in sciences were added, and Japan slowly began to adopt more western styles of education. Briefly, the schools were used as military and nationalistic training grounds during WWI and WWII (Hood, 2001). Over the last fifty years, schools in Japan have been evolving further. After WWII, a call to return to leadership and societal welfare in education was initiated. Schools were strictly centered around community goals and common curriculums.
In the 1980s, unfortunately, an increase in youth violence began to worry Japanese citizens about their future. Focus turned to the morals based education of centuries before. In the late 1990s, the cold war era was over. The Ministry felt as if they could relax the six day long weeks and long days (Japan, 2006). Part of this change in philosophy could be due to changes in competition for universities. Previously, competition for admission into Japanese universities was cutthroat, but now, with a reduction in the number of children being born, schools are competing for students (Hood, 2001).
In a way, this has given students more power to seek the types of education they most need. In addition, Japan is also loosening its governmental hold on curriculum and allowing from more flexibility in curriculum through site-based decision-making (Komatsu, 2002). Schools are now able to select textbooks from a group of sources. Recently, controversy has arisen as to which history textbooks to choose. In 1997, a group was formed to create and market a revision of Japanese history for incorporation into school history textbooks.
This group was primarily interested in revising the presentation of Japan’s execution of militaristic procedures. Unfortunately, even with its widespread promotion efforts, the revised textbook failed to gain a foothold in Japanese schools. Only a few private schools in one small area of Tokyo was willing to give the book a chance (Masalksi, 2002). Not all things in Japan’s educational system are open to change. Before, Japanese teachers had very little autonomy in determining what they would teach even though they held positions of high respect in the community.
Now, individual schools and teachers will be able to decide on curriculum issues that best meet the needs of their students. “The general principle of curriculum organisation is changing from the idea of providing a common education for all children to one of providing different education for various children” (Komatsu, 2002, p. 53). The 2002 Rainbow Plan mirrors the change in philosophy towards more democratic ideals. The government is continuing to relinquish more control to the schools’ local administrations (Japan, 2006).
In the future, Japanese education will continue to follow Western trends. One such trend will be in technology and information. While Japan is a world leader in electronics technology, its individual and student use of the internet lags behind. This is primarily because 80% of the internet content is in English. As a result, Japanese students need to be learning both spoken and written English and how to use the internet at younger ages (McCarty, 2000). Clearly, Japanese education will begin to include more intensive English and computer technology classes in early education for its students.
Another trend in Japanese education must certainly be increased funding for higher education. Even though the number of teenagers in Japan is lower, over 40 % of them do attend universities. However, government funding for universities is low. Dr. Akito Arima, former Minister of Education, notes that while the United States spends about one percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on educational funding, Japan spends less than half of one percent in the same manner. However, Japan is second only to the United States in the number of students who attend college.
The funding for private universities is even lower, even though 75% of college students attend private universities. “In this respect, one should note the contradiction between the high proportion of people who move on to higher education, and the low public expenditure ratio. This demonstrates that university education in Japan is seriously under-funded” (Arima, 2002). If college education remains under-funded, many secondary students may turn away from it, thinking that it has less to offer than before. If birth rates should rise in the future, this burden will become more pronounced.
Funding will definitely have to be initiated in order to keep young students setting college educations as their goal. Ironically, the US and Japan seem to be crossing each other in the middle of the curriculum spectrum. While Japan is recognizing the individuality of each student and allowing him to seek his own educational goals with flexible programs of study, the US is getting much more rigid with the enactment of NCLB and strict state testing plans and pacing guides. One might wonder if the US will notice a similar increase in youth discontent as a result.
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