The Yomiuri Shimbun English will become an elementary school subject and students will start learning English grammar in the fifth grade, according to a proposal by the education ministry to revise the current teaching guidelines. The new teaching guidelines for elementary and junior high schools will gradually go into effect starting in the 2020 academic year.
Other changes are expected as well in elementary and junior high school education, one of which is the introduction of active learning, a teaching method in which verbal presentation, class discussion and other exercises are emphasized to let students actively and interactively participate in the learning process. Active learning is said to result in deeper learning.
In social studies, the Takeshima islets in Shimane Prefecture, the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and other areas will be identified as an “inherent part of the territory of Japan.”
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry on Tuesday made public a draft of its plan to revise the teaching guidelines. This will mark the first complete revision of the teaching guidelines since 2008.
Currently, classes are 45 minutes long in elementary school and 50 minutes long in junior high school. According to the draft, the total school hours in the course of a school year will remain unchanged in junior high schools. However, in elementary schools, with the aim of augmenting English education, school hours will increase by 35 hours per school year in the third to sixth grades.
Total elementary school hours to be provided as each student moves from the first through sixth grades will thus come to 5,785 hours, bringing the level back to where it was before “yutori kyoiku,” a more-relaxed education policy that cut learning content by great volumes, was implemented in the 2002 academic year.
In elementary schools, “foreign language activities,” which involve singing and playing in foreign languages, will be introduced in third- and fourth-grade classrooms. Fifth- and sixth-graders will use textbooks to study English, which will be classified as an official subject to be graded by teachers. The third person, past tense and other grammar will be studied starting in the fifth grade. The students are expected to build up their vocabulary to 600-700 words in four years.
Active learning, to be introduced in all elementary and junior high school classes, is not referred to in the draft as “active learning,” although it was mentioned in a report issued by the Central Education Council in December last year. The ministry concluded the phrase could carry too many meanings and invite misinterpretations, and decided to be more specific by calling the method “deeper learning by active and interactive student participation.”
Computer programming education, which teaches children to handle computers taking logical steps, will also be compulsory in elementary schools.
Results of an international student assessment released in December last year showed that Japan’s ranking in reading comprehension dropped from No. 4 to No. 8. To reverse the trend, the draft also included such items as strengthening Japanese vocabulary and more use of newspapers as teaching material.
The education ministry will solicit opinions from the public on the draft until March 15, and promulgate the revised teaching guidelines by the end of the same month. The guidelines will go into effect in the 2020 academic year for elementary schools, and in the 2021 academic year for junior high schools. For high schools, the guidelines will be promulgated in the next academic year and will be implemented in the 2022 academic year.
Knowing one’s nation
In the draft, the education ministry made sure elementary and junior high school students will learn about Japanese territory in their social studies. In fact, this is the first time the ministry articulated in the teaching guidelines that the Takeshima islets and the Senkaku Islands are an “inherent part of the territory of Japan.”
By including the names of these islands in the legally binding guidelines, the ministry intends to deepen education pertaining to the nation’s territory.
The ministry did not include these territories when they last revised the guidelines in 2008. However, in one handbook, which supplemented the guidelines and gave guidance to the makers of junior high school geography textbooks, the ministry for the first time included instructions to refer to the territorial issue with South Korea over Takeshima.
Social studies at the junior high school level comprise three subjects: geography, history and civics. In 2014, the handbooks for all three subjects articulated that Takeshima and the Senkakus are an “inherent part” of Japan.
Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference on Tuesday, “Learning about your nation’s territory through public education in a sovereign state is a matter of course, and will serve as a basis [of your knowledge] in any given international situation.”Speech