Thursday, May 26, 2016

Japan's Farewell to Yutori Education

On 10th May 2016, Mr. Hase, Japanese Education Minister, issued a message to clearly mark the departure from Yutori education, the ill-famed Japanese education policy that is largely influenced by progressive education thoughts.

Although this policy had been already reconsidered in 2005 by another education minister of the time, some people were worrying that the new education policy would become a disguised attempt to go back to Yutori. Thus, he felt it necessary to confirm that it is not intended to turn back a clock.

In the meantime, it is reported that the OECD director for education and skills recently praised Yutori education. If this report is true, Mr. Hase’s message happens to highlight the difference of opinion between them.

Yutori education policy is a set of school reforms that were aimed at depressurizing school life, which had been gradually introduced since the late 1970s and faded out in 2000s. It is primarily known for large cutbacks in subject contents and school hours.

When it comes to learning methods, cramming methods such as rote-learning, drilling, testing, etc. were largely denounced because the Yutori policy was based on the firm belief that every hardship and suffering of young people was caused by such methods.
Alternatively the progressive educational methods such as problem-solving, experiential learning, project-based learning, etc. were encouraged with a view to eliminating problems in schools and promoting all those positive things such as academic ability, creativity, independence, or whatever.

The consequence was devastating. 
Parents evacuated their children’s learning to juku cram schools and some companies had to provide remedial courses to their newly-recruited employees who received Yutori education. One news report described Yutori people as “running amok, threatening to destroy the country”.
Needless to say, this policy is now regarded as the most famous blunder of Japanese education. Many ordinary Japanese people may feel his message as a belated action.

Although his message states that “we should not return to the dichotomy of cramming and Yutori,” many things still remain to be clarified. 
Particularly, it doesn’t clearly mention how to rectify qualitative or pedagogical failure of Yutori education, though it seems to admit that the large cutbacks in subject contents were wrong.

* Above cited Japan Times article said that Yutori kyoiku (Yutori education) took effect in 2007, but it is a glaring mistake. Although there are some different opinions on when it was started, nobody thinks that it took effect as late as in 2007.

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