Under the current education system, Japanese students devote most of their effort to memorizing facts needed to pass exams. Even kindergarten students sometimes go to afterschool cram schools to prepare for elementary school entrance exams.
They have little opportunity to think critically or develop their own ideas. Faced with crushing stress and monotony, students often act out. While outside observers tend to think of Japanese schools as academically successful, the Japanese themselves have long understood their educational system's shortcomings and tried to fix them-albeit unsuccessfully.
In the early '70s the Japan Teachers Union, alarmed by a surge in classroom violence, bullying, truancy and suicides, began to push a new system known as yutori, or breathing space. It aimed to reduce school-related stress by giving students the freedom to freely exercise their imagination, develop intellectual curiosity and grow into valuable talent.
That was a noble goal, but the result was quite the opposite. Many teachers demonized competition, suppressed individuality, punished intellectual rigor and encouraged mediocrity in the name of egalitarianism. At school sports events, students who could sprint faster had to stop and wait so that everyone could cross the finish line hand-in-hand. Textbooks were dumbed down-the mathematical constant pi was reduced to just "3"-and classes trudged at turtle pace, adjusting to slow learners.
In order for the yutori reform to succeed, teachers needed to establish an environment where students could freely ask questions, express their opinions and explore new ideas. But many teachers failed to do so because they did not know how to encourage individuality while avoiding favoritism. Their solution: force everyone to act the same.
The search on the ground for the last missing person in the series of powerful earthquakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture recently was terminated on Sunday due to persistent fears of secondary disasters. (Jiji Press)
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida conveyed Tokyo's concerns over the situations in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, during their meeting in Beijing on Saturday. (Jiji Press)
In the latest development in the gambling scandal involving Yomiuri Giants players, the Metropolitan Police Department on Friday arrested restaurateur Satoshi Saito, 38, on suspicion of running gambling operations for the purpose of gain and former Giants pitcher Shoki Kasahara, 25, on suspicion of assisting the operations. (the-japan-news.com)
The Osaka District Public Prosecutor's Office has filed charges of drug trafficking against a 40-year-old woman who left a large quantity of illegal drugs inside a fast-food outlet, reports the Asahi Shimbun (April 30). (Tokyo Reporter)
An increasing number of people are using the "furusato nozei" hometown donation program to support Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, which has been hit hard by a recent series of strong earthquakes. (Jiji Press)
A 28-year-old nursery school teacher who forced a 4-year-old boy to eat fried chicken covered with wasabi and recorded it on her smartphone, has received a suspended sentence from the Tokyo District Court. (Japan Today)