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Japan Education Reform Updates

Addressing the country’s aging population and reduced workforce in today’s competitive global economy, the Government of Japan (GOJ) has introduced a number of measures to reform its education system. The following are highlights of these reform areas.

English Education: Starting in 2020, Japan designated English as a formal subject starting from the fifth grade, a change from the previous policy which began at the junior high school level. The policy also emphasizes practical English reading and writing abilities. English familiarization curricula (e.g. singing, games and simple phrases) will be adopted from the third grade. In addition to a homeroom teacher, an assistant language teacher (ALT) will also participate in classroom teachings. Applicable education technologies and devices will be utilized to enhance students’ English communication skills. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science (MEXT) targets the next two years for schools and educators to prepare and adapt to new learning contents.

Computer Science and Programming Education: The MEXT aims to foster younger generations’ greater critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Starting in 2020, computer programming education becomes mandatory in elementary schools. For example, students will learn how to avoid wasting electricity by using easy-to-learn programming languages in science classes and how to compose simple sounds through programming designs in music classes. Junior high schools are expected to fully implement programming related subject teachings from 2021. High schools will teach students two types of programming, “measurement and control” and “network communication” from 2022.

Private English Test System for University Entrance Exam: The current standardized university entrance exam only assesses English reading and listening comprehension levels. Any change to the existing test system has been proven a slow process despite GOJ’s reform intensions. The MEXT originally planned to introduce private sector developed English test models in 2020, for the purpose of adding listening and speaking tests to the existing reading and writing skill measurements. However, the new testing system has faced much criticism such as testing locations, consistency of test scores, and social inequality of pre-test preparedness. As a result, the MEXT decided to postpone implementing the new test system to 2024.

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