Rethinking Japanese education

5 February 2007

Japan has one of the most competitive education systems in the world, with its children constantly ranked at or near the top in international tests. More than 90 per cent of all students in Japan graduate from high school, and more than a third complete tertiary studies.

However, the Japanese classroom itself is unproductive and can learn much from its Australian counterpart, according to a visiting Japanese researcher.

"In Japan, teachers are pushed hard to teach their subject, and therefore they rely heavily on textbooks and on racing through the syllabus. It is a teaching-centred model of learning rather than a student-centred one," explained Kazuhiko Sekita, Professor of Education and vice-director of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Soka University. He is currently on visit to the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, with a view to observing the Centre's syllabus as well as its models of teaching.

In many ways Australia has a more advanced education system than Japan, according to Professor Sekita. School class sizes in Australia tend to be smaller - in Japan they are up to 40 students - and the teaching focuses on giving students time to work in groups and to work things out for themselves. "This model produces adults who can stand by themselves," he said.

Professor Sekita, an education psychologist, advocates what he calls "cooperative learning pedagogy" which involves not only promoting students' academic progress but also facilitating their social competency in areas such as interpersonal conflict resolution.

"A major concern in Japan involves career education. As young people leave school and university and join the workforce, they quickly lose interest in their chosen job. The government tells the teachers to 'teach, teach, teach' but the students are not necessarily learning the right things. The Japanese education system is not preparing them to participate in society," he argues.

The well-trodden path for Japanese people - to study hard in order to secure a good job - has lost currency in recent decades, according to Professor Sekita.

"Japanese society has undergone radical change in the past 20 to 30 years. Since the 1980s, economic prosperity has meant that students don't have to worry so much about securing just any job. A different sort of adult is needed. But the Japanese education system is yet to catch up," he said. During his stay in Sydney, he hopes to learn more about Australian teaching and learning practices.

Professor Sekita's research also includes developing efficient programs against bullying and violence among teenagers. He is comparing "assertive/safe skill training programs" currently operating in Australian, Canadian, American and Japanese schools.

"We are delighted to host Professor Sekita's visit and look forward to the prospect of future collaboration in the promotion of peace education," said Dr Lynda-ann Blanchard from the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Contact: Jake O'Shaughnessy

Phone: 9351 4312

Email: 0f2e00192d305a29221f315a4d39280a64305000665647