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.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's reshuffled Cabinet was launched Wednesday, with key ministers including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso as well as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga retaining their posts. (The Japan News)
Nagano Prefectural Police announced on Wednesday that a member of a newly formed organized crime group who had been shot at a hot springs resort in Iida City has died, reports TV Asahi (Oct. 7). (Tokyo Reporter)
Tokyo police found there were at least 10 suspicious phone calls in the Japanese capital linked to the My Number 12-digit identification number system for social security and tax this month, it was learned Thursday. (The Japan News)
Child welfare authorities dealt with nearly 90,000 child abuse cases in the fiscal year ending March, a government survey showed Thursday, with experts blaming the record-high figure on increased poverty and the isolation of some families. (Japan Times)
Niigata Prefectural Police on Tuesday raided headquarters of the troubled Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group as a part of an investigation into a baseball gambling case, reports the Sankei Shimbun (Oct. 6). (Tokyo Reporter)