Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lesson Study Is Not A Success Story of Japanese Education

Critical Thinking about Overseas Education Reports

After having read educational discussions for the past few years, I have learned that the education theories and ideas based on experiences of different countries are often unreliable.
Especially, the experiences of countries where “educational pluralism” can be seen are more than likely to be misreported.
Therefore, educators are strongly advised to apply their critical-thinking ability to those reports instead of swallowing them. It is not fascinating that people’s discussion is driven by wrong stories.

This time I would like to discuss Lesson Study (or Jugyokenkyu in Japanese), a teacher training method of Japanese origin, which is gathering attention now.

Lesson Study as Success Story outside of Japan

Lesson Study is a professional development method in which teachers collaborate with each other through planning, observation, discussion, etc.
It was first introduced widely abroad in the late 1990s in the book titled “Teaching Gap” written by two university professors in the US.
Since then, this method has been known overseas as a secret of Japan’s educational success. Many educators have been involved in the seminars and workshops on it. Several study groups have been set up and conferences have been held.
Thus this movement has succeeded in raising awareness of the Lesson Study method among overseas educators to some extent.

Lesson Study as Unsuccess Story in Japan

However, this success story of the overseas Lesson Study movement must sound very strange to the people who have just experienced the grand educational failure under the policy called "yutori education" in Japan, which is, for example, described in the below articles.

By searching the Internet with the phrase “yutori education”, you can find other discussions on this policy, none of which call it successful most probably.
In fact, it is a national consensus in Japan that this long-standing yutori education was a big failure.
It was so devastating that the Japanese word “yutori”, which used to have only positive meanings, has earned a new meaning that is very negative. For example, “Are you yutori?” in casual conversation means “Are you an idiot?” now.
Accordingly, so many students resort to shadow education that is called juku in Japanese.
Now we should scrutinize and overhaul the whole school system including teachers’ training.

Under these circumstances, nobody can possibly argue that the Lesson Study method succeeded in Japan. Rather, some may suspect that it hindered students’ learning.
Or are there any arguments that this method alone was successful in midst of the overall collapse of school education?
I wonder what the experts think about the role played by the Lesson Study method in this recent failure of school education.

Collaboration between Schools and Jukus after Educational Failure

The government is gradually shifting away from yutori education, and school educators as well as policy-makers are now struggling to seek a new direction.
Under these circumstances, some of them are looking to jukus for help, as seen in the below articles.
(Please seek assistance from the Internet translation service for understanding the below articles written in Japanese)

To respond to these demands, some juku companies have prepared school-support services and some are involved in school reform programs carried out by local governments, as can be seen in the below articles for instance.

I have been talking about the dual structure of students’ education in Japan. And now maybe we are witnessing the similar structure developing for teachers training.

Lesson Study Doesn't Guarantee Success

The recent Japanese educational situation doesn’t provide any evidence to prove that the Lesson Study method was successful. Rather, it can testify that it failed to work.
Therefore, it is incorrect to insist that this method succeeded in improving students’ learning in Japan. It would be dishonest to play up this method while shutting eyes to the failed Japanese school education.
Probably the proponents of this method including the authors of the above book are making the same mistake with the NY Times.

However, just because Japanese Lesson Study failed to work, it doesn’t mean that this method always fails everywhere.
Ingredients of the method such as planning, observation, discussion, etc., are neutral in nature.
In other words, it doesn’t automatically guarantee either success or failure by itself.

In this sense, Japan’s experience of Lesson Study can be an important case study.
Although it is unfortunate to take up Japan’s case as unsuccessful, it is worth discussing the reason why it failed to work in Japan in order to find out problems in its implementation and seek the ways to solve them.
I hope that such a discussion will deepen the thought on Lesson Study.

To be continued in "Why Lesson Study Failed in Japan?" 


  1. Is there some hard evidence about the state of Japanese education? You quote Kathleen Morikawa - she visited one elementary school!

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      Maybe you can find some other discussions by searching the Internet with the phrase “yutori education”.
      At least, I'm glad to know that you understand that there is no evidence to prove that Lesson Study was successful in Japan.
      At any rate, knowing the failure of yutori education and the dependence of students as well as schools on juku industry, we cannot possibly accept that Lesson Study was successful in Japan. I hope you understand it.

      However, it doesn't guarantee either success or failure everywhere. So I hope that the Lesson Study in your country will succeed. And I suppose it's meaningful for you to learn the lesson from the failure.

  2. Hi, I would also say that you did not offer any evidence in your post. As an outsider, I didn't see why lesson study is a failure. If you really want to convince people (I received your message from my working email), please be serious about it with facts.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Please read my reply to the previous comment above.

  3. I took 3 children out of primary state education in 1997 because the local school was so bad. We had 3 wonderful years of learning by being out and about and absorbing facts without them realising they were being 'educated'. I remember Japanese education was held up by politicians and media as being superb but I'd already seen effects of stress on children in that system. Suicides were high. Although my children started secondary school, I don't think we get a good education in UK. Successive Governments ensure that with their constant meddling! 21st century and parents still fighting over the few schools of excellence on offer. One could think the Government design it that way....?

  4. As the result of Japan’s education system, Japanese people are not good at expressing their own ideas. But at the same time they can listen to other’s ideas well. I think that Japanese educational system not entirely negative but still positive in some sense.


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