The Yomiuri ShimbunWork style reforms seem not to have progressed sufficiently in Japan’s halls of education.
An international survey on working conditions for teachers and school environments conducted last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Japanese teachers in elementary and junior high schools work the longest hours among such teachers in all the OECD’s member countries and regions. Japanese teachers in elementary schools work an average of 54 hours per week, while the average weekly working hours for Japanese junior high school teachers stood at 56.
The survey covering junior high school teachers was conducted for the second time, following the one taken in 2013. The average weekly working hours for Japanese junior high school teachers had increased by about two hours. It is worrisome that their average weekly hours were 50 percent longer than the OECD average.
The chief cause of the long working hours of Japanese teachers is believed to be the time spent on extracurricular activities and general administrative work. The time spent by Japanese teachers on each of these two activities is longer by far than that by their counterparts in other member countries. The heavy burden on Japanese teachers of providing guidance for extracurricular activities and making reports to local boards of education was pointed out.
Various efforts have been made at schools to reduce teachers’ burden: increasing the number of days when there are no extracurricular activities while introducing students who want to practice such activities more to relevant clubs in local communities, for instance. Some local boards of education have decreased the number of surveys that they call on schools to respond to.
Teachers’ working hours should be steadily reviewed by repeatedly taking these steps.
It was notable in the latest survey that the time allocated by Japanese teachers to the pursuit of their own studies, including in-service training, was the shortest among all the OECD’s members. The OECD average was two hours a week, but Japanese teachers spent an average of just over 30 minutes on such activities.
Divide up roles
In contrast, the percentage of Japanese teachers who felt it necessary to pursue their own studies or training was by far the highest among the OECD members. Sixty percent of Japanese junior high school teachers said they want to hone their instruction methods while gaining more knowledge of the subject they are in charge of. The percentage had increased from five years ago.
Faced with uncertain times, education facilities need methods of guidance to foster students’ ability to think and express themselves. There may be teachers who, despite their desire to respond to such new trends, have been unable to secure enough opportunities to pursue studies to hone their skills.
First and foremost, teachers should examine the content of their work and make time for their own studies. Those in managerial positions, including principals, need to implement appropriate sharing of roles among staff members in running each school while supporting highly motivated teachers.
The survey has also revealed challenges to be dealt with regarding the content of classwork.
The percentage of Japanese junior high school teachers who do provide such guidance as giving students problems that have no clear solution, thus making them think hard, was only 16 percent, not even half the OECD average. The percentage of Japanese junior high school teachers who utilize information and communications technology was the lowest among teachers of the OECD members.
An official in charge at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said improving classwork was not sufficient. The education ministry and boards of education must reduce the burden on teachers through work style reform, while at the same time working to improve teachers’ instruction ability and developing educational environments.