Table of Contents

  • The highest-performing education systems across OECD countries combine excellence with equity. Japanese 15-year-olds have been among the top performers since the inception of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and Japanese adults have the highest proficiency in literacy and numeracy in the Survey for Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. At the same time, the socio-economic status of students does not strongly influence PISA results in Japan. This highlights the high level of equity of the Japanese education system.

  • Since Confucius and Socrates, educators have recognised the double purpose of education: to pass on the meaning and significance of the past and to prepare young people for the challenges of the future. So the challenge is not simply to deliver more of the same education, but to prepare students for a different world.

  • Compared to other OECD countries Japan’s education system is one of the top performers among both youth and the adult population. Japanese students have among the best performance in scientific, mathematics and reading literacy in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), while adults in Japan have the highest proficiency in literacy and numeracy. These excellent results are linked to an environment conducive to learning in schools and beyond, with a high quality of engagement by teachers and strong support from families for effective delivery of well-rounded (holistic) education.

  • This chapter provides a brief description of Japan’s education system and the context in which it operates. Since the 1990s, the Japanese economy has been sluggish, and the ratio of debt to GDP has reached uncharted territory. The forecast of sharp demographic decline, the rapidly ageing population and the evolution of the skills required to flourish in a knowledge economy also present new challenges to Japan’s economy, society and educational institutions. Japan’s unique education system relies on the concept of “the whole child” or holistic education, where schools not only develop academic knowledge, but also foster students’ social, emotional and physical development. International standardised assessments highlight the excellence of education and the high level of equity in Japan, but Japanese students exhibit a higher level of anxiety and a lower level of life satisfaction than their counterparts elsewhere in the OECD. Building on its strengths, Japan has started to reform its education system to adapt to the globalised environment of the 21st century, increase well-being, broaden students’ skills and enhance its contribution to the economy and society.

  • This chapter introduces Japan’s planned curriculum reform, which aims to balance the development of knowledge, competencies and values for students and to ensure that teachers use active learning strategies. International evidence shows that to implement curriculum reforms successfully, it is essential to target complementary policy areas, such as assessment practices and support and training for teachers. Japan’s efforts to shift its education system to focus on 21st century competencies build on a strong foundation. It has a highly skilled and hard-working teaching staff, a system that delivers high equity and quality, effective teaching practices such as lesson study, a well-established curriculum implementation process and local engagement and ownership at the school level. This chapter explores how the reform can build on these strengths and proposes using formative and summative assessments to ensure alignment of the new curriculum and supporting teachers with professional resources and learning adapted to their needs and those of their students.

  • This chapter analyses Japan’s unique system of holistic education and explores ways to sustain it to both support curriculum reform and respond to challenges in the areas of socio-demographic change, student well-being and teacher workload. Japan has targeted efforts in the area of school management and school-community partnerships to support its holistic approach, in which schools engage students in practices such as serving lunch, working together to clean their school or providing extracurricular activities. International evidence points to the role school-community partnerships and effective management structures and leadership can play in enhancing school outcomes, but it also points to potential inequalities when such additional services are not supported for the more disadvantaged. To effectively sustain the holistic model, Japan should enhance school organisation by ensuring effective school management teams and leadership and should clarify the focus of school-community partnerships. To prevent and mitigate potential inequalities, Japan should support partnerships with disadvantaged communities as an alternative to shadow education.

  • This chapter reviews the issues of participation and funding of non-mandatory education, i.e. early childhood education and care (ECEC), tertiary education and lifelong learning. Participation in ECEC and tertiary education is high in Japan, but there is room for improvement in adult learning supply and demand. Non-mandatory education is mostly provided by the private sector in Japan, which imposes a significant financial burden on households. Financial support for students is of limited scope, which potentially reduces the efficiency of resource allocation and raises equity concerns. Our main findings suggest that Japan should: 1) strengthen lifelong learning and financial arrangements for non-mandatory education to support equity; and 2) design lifelong learning to meet the skills needs of both employers and the population.

  • Competencies for 2030: Curriculum, assessment and teaching

  • 09:30–10:00 Briefing from National Co-ordinator from the Ministry of Education (MEXT)

  • Graham Donaldson,a former teacher, headed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) from 2002-10. As chief professional advisor to ministers on education, he has taken a leading role in a number of major reform programmes, including Scotland’s major reform of its curriculum.