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[Opinion] Japan’s Education Miracle

Posted November. 21, 2008 18:33,   


Japan, which is suffering from worsening academic performance by students like Korea, conducted last year a nationwide academic assessment for the first time in 40 years. Despite opposition, Tokyo argued that both teachers and students will get motivated by fair competition. The test results surprised education officials. Akita Prefecture, which has the lowest per capita income in Japan, topped the list. A family’s financial status determining a child’s academic performance is a given theory in education, but Akita’s stellar showing has contradicted this thinking.

Akita has continued its fame this year as well, with its sixth graders ranking first and ninth graders second in Japan. The region has put education as its highest priority since 1997, devoting its efforts to creating the best study environment. The prefecture has a high percentage of students who repeat what they learn at home at 74.5 percent, higher than the national average of 40.1 percent. Behind them are responsible teachers and the Akita government. The prefecture’s teachers closely monitor students’ homework to prevent anyone from lagging behind.

Korean families in rural areas leave for the cities by the time when their children go to secondary school. This is because rural areas in Korea are not a good place for education. Like Akita Prefecture, creating the best educational environment in the provinces could prevent this exodus and revive regional economies. Akita recognized this and put education as its top priority. In Korea, however, information on nationwide academic performance is not open to the public. If people know that a certain region offers a good educational environment, fair competition will ensue. But opponents of this plan warn that rankings will hamper educational reform. Then, provinces are doomed to fall behind in everything, including education.

Akita’s case shows education is not limited to environment. Good education can overcome disadvantages stemming from hereditary or external conditions. How impressive it is if one can make a change in life through education. Korea’s education system served its purpose well in the past, but at a certain point, the government began to focus on equality-based education. It now seems asleep at the proverbial wheel and blames others for problems in education. Only provincial governments’ passion for education can change this distorted condition.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)