Go to contents

[Opinion] Resurgence of Japan’s Education System

Posted January. 07, 2008 07:53,   


Japan in December 2004 was shocked after seeing the results of the triennial test results of the Program for the International Student Assessment. The reading comprehension ability of Japanese students slid from eighth in 2000 to 14th in 2003, though the country’s science ranking was second and that of math sixth. Still, Japanese citizens decried and condemned the poor performance.

The Japanese government was swift to act, with the Japanese Education Ministry implementing a number of reforms. Japanese education authorities blamed “yutori education,” or “education of leisure,” as the epicenter of the disgrace. They said a looser approach to education drove students away from reading. A ten-minute pre-class morning reading session was implemented soon after, and the Japanese Diet enacted a law promoting reading among all Japanese citizens.

Stronger measures followed. Tokyo began requiring all teachers to renew their licenses every ten years, and resumed national academic performance tests for the first time in 43 years. Benchmarking the Eton School of Britain, Aichi Prefecture opened the boarding school Kaiyo in 2005 to produce more a globally competitive pool of students. To finance the expensive program, which costs about three million yen (about 25,000 U.S. dollars) a year, major corporations in Japan including Toyota rolled up their sleeves to donate a combined 20 billion yen (167 million dollars). Japanese colleges also introduced radical measures to overhaul their competitiveness. Tokyo University, for example, promised to add 1,300 foreign professors to its faculty of 5,000, though The Times of London rated the school’s competitiveness 17th in the world last year.

The educational level of a country cannot advance overnight, as Japan saw a further drop in the 2006 world scholastic rankings. The latest data, however, re-sparked the Japanese zeal for a better education system. Unfortunately in Korea, nothing has changed. Korea in the 1990s introduced a measure to privatize national universities, while Japan did so in 2003. A pledge to evaluate public school teachers, however, suffered a setback in the face of severe opposition from teachers.

President-elect Lee Myung-bak has pledged to overhaul Korea’s high schools and sever all state interference in college governance. Incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun has not hid his disdain for Lee’s plans, however, warning of an educational “tsunami.” We, however, must root out the competition-phobic educational philosophies of the liberal and socialist administrations.

Hong Chan-shik, Editorial writer, chansik@donga.com