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Schools in Japan have more favourable disciplinary climates in science lessons compared to other OECD countries, according to students’ reports in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, with an index of disciplinary climate of 0.83 (the OECD average index value was 0.00). Student truancy in 2015 was the lowest in the OECD: 1.8% of 15-year-olds in Japan reported skipping at least one day of school in the two weeks before the PISA 2015 test, compared to the OECD average of 19.7% (OECD, 2016[1]).

The PISA 2015 index of instructional educational leadership (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to instruction) was the lowest in the OECD at -1.26 (the OECD average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]). The proportion of lower secondary teachers in Japan aged 50 or over in 2016 was 30.7%, compared to the OECD average of 35.4%. In 2017, lower secondary teachers in Japan had fewer net teaching hours for general programmes than their peers in other OECD countries. Teachers annually taught 742 hours at primary level and 610 hours at lower secondary level, compared to OECD averages of 784 and 696 hours, respectively (OECD, 2018[2]). According to school principals’ self-reports in PISA 2015, schools in Japan have high levels of autonomy over curriculum: 92.7% of principals reported that their school has primary autonomy over curriculum, compared to the OECD average of 73.4% (OECD, 2016[1]).

According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 54.9% of teachers in Japan said that if they could choose again, they would still become a teacher; this was lower than the OECD average of 75.6%. Furthermore, 34.4% of teachers felt that the teaching profession was valued in society, compared to an OECD average of 25.8% in 2018 (OECD, 2019[3]).

According to school leaders’ reports in PISA 2015, school leaders in Japan are more likely to conduct self-evaluations of their schools than on average across the OECD (98.2% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to an average of 93.2%). The likelihood of undergoing external evaluations of their school is similar to the OECD average (75.6% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to an average of 74.6%). Teacher appraisal levels, as reported in in the earlier cycle of TALIS 2013, were higher in Japan than on average: 93.2% of teachers had reported then having received an appraisal in the previous 12 months, compared to the TALIS average of 66.1% (OECD, 2014[4])

In 2017, school autonomy levels over resource management (allocation and use of resources for teaching staff and principals) were lower than the OECD average: 0% of decisions in Japan were taken at the school level compared to the OECD average of 29%.

Annual expenditure per student at primary level in 2015 was USD 9 105, which was above the OECD average of USD 8 631. At secondary level, Japan spent USD 11 147 per student compared to the OECD average of USD 10 010, while at tertiary level (including spending on research and development), Japan spent USD 19 289 per student, compared to USD 15 656.

In 2015, expenditure on primary to tertiary education in Japan as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) was 4.1%, which was below the OECD average of 5%. The proportion of expenditure on education (from primary to tertiary) coming from private sources (including household expenditure, expenditure from other private entities and international sources) in 2015, was higher than the OECD average at 28.1% of overall spending, compared to 16.1%. Between 2005 and 2015, the relative proportion of public expenditure on primary to tertiary education in Japan decreased by 1.6 percentage points compared to an average fall across the OECD of 1.3 percentage points. During the same period, private expenditure increased by 4.3 percentage points while the average change across OECD countries was an increase of 10.6 percentage points (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

Japan’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.16).

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Table 8.16. Evolution of key education policy priorities, Japan (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work, 2008-191

Evolution of responses collected by the Education Policy Outlook, 2013-192

School improvement

The OECD had identified a need to balance teaching time and the different demands facing teachers as part of their working hours in schools. There was also a need identified to strengthen staff competencies, for example, by setting minimum standards for teacher education or reviewing initial education qualifications, skills and competencies for early childhood education and care (ECEC) staff. A more recently identified need is to improve collaboration and information exchange between schools and social services regarding at-risk youth. [2011; 2012; 2017; 2018]

Japan reported the ongoing priority of securing talented, motivated and resourceful teachers, capable of improving education quality and equipping students with the skills needed to face the globalised labour market. Another ongoing priority is to provide support and feedback on the process of increasing school autonomy and to improve communication about school activities with parents and local communities. [2013; 2016-17]

Evaluation and assessment

The OECD found that coherence and co-ordination of monitoring staff performance in ECEC posed challenges, as it was often unknown how to monitor staff performance or what exactly should or could be monitored. [2012]

Japan reported the ongoing priority of developing school management and evaluation of the education system. [2013]


According to OECD evidence, there was a need to develop human resources through tertiary education due to demographic pressures, as well as increase quality to strengthen the global competitiveness of Japan’s higher education institutions. Further challenges include continued promotion of internationalisation in the tertiary education system by accepting more students from overseas. Another need is to increase the role of the education system in innovation and promote entrepreneurship. [2011; 2017]

Japan had previously reported the priority to engage local communities in children’s education. The government has also been working on ensuring equal opportunities and standards of compulsory education for all, regardless of the financial situation of local governments. [2013]


A challenge identified earlier for Japan was related to juku [2011]. Compared to other OECD countries, Japanese public institutions charge high fees, while students have access to a lower level of public financial support, and also have comparatively lower internal rates of return on tertiary education. At the same time, first-time tertiary entry rates are well above the OECD average. [2011; 2017; 2018]

Japan reported securing funds to achieve the targets and carry out the measures introduced by the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2013) as an ongoing policy priority. More recently, Japan reported that with low public investment in higher education compared to the OECD average, there is a need to increase transparency on the necessary costs and benefits of higher education, in order to increase social understanding of the importance of investing in this education level. [2013; 2016-17; 2019]


1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

2. See Reader’s Guide (years and methods of collection).


Selected education policy responses

School improvement

  • Following the earthquake in Japan in 2011, the set-up of the OECD Tohoku School Project aimed to support local innovations to foster resilience, creativity and 21st-century skills for 100 students from the affected region. Fukushima University manages the project with support from the OECD. According to national information provided to the OECD, the project aimed to transform education using project-based learning on real-life issues, with bottom-up initiatives, leadership and ownership. The project aimed to scale up and explore how local innovations can be developed globally to find solutions for challenges in the world of 2030.

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Progress or impact: In 2014, the OECD Tohoku School Project held an event in Paris to show the reconstruction and attractiveness of the Tohoku region. The event entitled, “The Rebirth of Tohoku-WA in Paris”, was planned by junior and senior high school students in the three disaster-hit prefectures of Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi. Approximately 150 000 people visited the two-day event. The event concluded at the OECD headquarters, where the students presented their recommendations on “Schooling for 2030”, and held discussions with representatives from various countries.

As a follow-up to the OECD Tohoku School Project, the Innovative Schools Network (ISN) 2030 (2015) was launched with the co-operation of students from around the world and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). It emphasises project-based learning and aims to solve regional problems toward 2030. The ISN is managed by the OECD-Japan ISN (National information provided to the OECD).

  • In Japan, the National Centre for Teachers’ Development (NCTD) (2015) works on developing new teacher training programmes to help strengthen problem solving and collaborative work among teachers. NCTD offers in-service leadership training at different levels, with emphasis on school administration training for specific positions and experiences (such as principal, vice principal and mid-level teachers) and training for future trainers on school organisational management (NCTD, 2015[356]). In addition, the NCTD in co-operation with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) offers training programmes for selected school leaders, who are expected to play a central role in their region, nominated by the Boards of Education of local governments (NCTD, 2015[356]; Yamamoto, Enomoto and Yamaguchi, 2016[357]).

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Progress or impact: A partial revision of the Act on NCTD took place in 2017. The revisions took effect in two further steps in 2018 and 2019. The NCTD was renamed to the National Institute for School Teachers and Staff Development (OECD, 2018[358]). It is now in charge of additional tasks, of which some are partial transfers from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Tasks include conducting surveys and research on teacher quality (on qualities/capabilities necessary for teachers and other school personnel) and disseminating the results of the research; providing advice when appointing authorities are setting performance indicators and certifying training for renewal of teaching licenses; and conducting teacher certification exams and certification courses for education personnel certification (OECD, 2018[358]).


Selected education policy responses


  • Japan established Compulsory Education Schools (2016) as a new type of school. These schools integrate elementary and lower secondary education with the aim of achieving coherence of education providers, education activities and school management. For the implementation process, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has worked to disseminate information and create curricula that can be of reference in implementing integrated elementary and lower secondary school education, so as to facilitate transitions between each phase of education.

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Progress or impact: Forty-eight compulsory education schools were set up as of 2017 (National information reported to the OECD). Respondents to a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) poll (aimed at all prefectures, municipalities, national universities and incorporated schools, garnering responses from all 1 749 municipalities), during that year provided positive initial comments. Results suggested that integration led to reduced anxiety among students advancing to lower secondary school; there was an increase in joint practical efforts between elementary and lower secondary schools; and there were stronger collaborative ties with local communities. According to the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), Japan has had success in providing students from low-income families with equal educational opportunities due to the compulsory education system (NCEE, 2018[359]). The OECD reports that students’ socio-economic backgrounds explained only 10% of the variation in student science performance between schools in Japan (OECD, 2016[360]).

  • Japan’s Third Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2018-22) includes the priorities of ensuring the universal mission of education and providing better opportunities for all people through education. The current plan implements principles from the Second Basic Plan (2013-17), while also aiming to solve issues based on its progress and concerns in anticipation of social changes beyond 2030. It established targets and set measures to help students develop the necessary skills to achieve their potential as well as lead sustainable development of society; promote lifelong learning and activities for all learners; build a learning safety net by which anyone can play an active role in supporting society; and build the foundation to carry out these education policies (OECD, 2018[358]).

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Progress or impact: In 2017, prior to the launch of the Third Basic Plan in 2018, the Japanese Business Federation presented an outline of opinions concerning the evolution of the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education since 2008 and the formulation of the Third Basic Plan, highlighting three main points for improvement. First, the government could reduce confusion concerning the link between the numerous achievement targets and achievement indicators by narrowing them down to key points that would be easier to understand. Second, the plan could propose evaluations as a benchmark for achievement indicators and implement annual updates on progress to achieve the target and required measures and systems for implementing them. Finally, the plan could strengthen the responsibility of the government and educational institutions in gathering best practices, which could serve as references when evaluating programmes that cannot be measured quantitatively.

The Japanese Business Federation also suggested ways the plan could improve investment in education: ensuring “in-depth learning through an active/interactive approach” and active student participation through research activities and group discussions; expanding English education; improving international mobility of Japanese and foreign students choosing to study abroad; expanding the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in classrooms across the country; recruiting and retaining teachers able to adapt to these new challenges (active learning, ICT, communication in English); reducing inequality due to students’ socio-economic backgrounds; and increasing public expenditure on education (Keidanren (Japanese Business Federation), 2017[361]).


  • MEXT is expanding interest-free scholarship loans. After fiscal year 2017, all students who fulfil the requirements are allowed to receive the scholarships. MEXT is also expanding the use of interest-free scholarships from interest scholarships. Also, to avoid delinquent payments, MEXT has enhanced the bailout plans for those who have financial difficulties following graduation, such as introducing an “income-based repayment system”, which decides the amount of monthly repayments based on previous annual income in 2017.

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Progress or impact: Following the implementation of the interest-free scholarship loan programme, public loans increased: from JPY 277 billion in 2012-13 to JPY 307 billion in 2014-15, covering almost all students who qualified, and again from JPY 307 billion to JPY 326 billion over 2014-16 (OECD, 2017[362]).

Japan’s 2017 budget plan included earmarked allocations to provide loans to all qualifying applicants and the introduction of a new version of an income-contingent repayment system for scholarship loans (National information reported to the OECD). The budget included resources to establish a grant scholarship scheme and to improve public access to information about scholarship programmes. Loans and repayment options are managed by the independent agency, Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) (OECD, 2018[358]).

In addition to scholarship loans and grants, private and public universities offer reduced tuition fees for students from low-income families, through subsidies from the government (OECD, 2015[363]). Eligibility requirements for the tuition fee scholarship, under JASSO, is dependent on high school scholastic achievement (3.5 equivalent or higher) and “high motivation” and/or “outstanding ability”. The scholarship amount for national universities is JPY 7.42 million. (for students still living at home) and JPY 8 million (for students living elsewhere during their studies). The scholarship amount for private universities has the same eligibility criteria but rises to JPY 8 million (for students still living at home) and JPY 8.47 million (for students living elsewhere during their studies) (National information reported to the OECD, 2019). Still, Japan ranks second among OECD countries for the share of private expenditure on tertiary education (65%, compared to the OECD average of 30%) (OECD, 2018[358]).

National information reported to the OECD reveals that due to budget constraints, some students have been unable to receive scholarship loans despite meeting the requirements. Some scholarship recipients also had difficulty repaying their loans due to financial reasons after graduation. As for the scholarship system, the government reports a general lack of sufficient understanding among citizens about available programmes.

  • Under Japan’s Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2013-17), access to free and universal early childhood education and care for all children (2014) became a priority to ensure that all children, regardless of their family’s financial situation, are able to receive high-quality pre-school education. The policy’s objectives included the elimination of tuition fees and incremental provision of free early childhood education to 5-year-olds as of 2014. Also, the plan aimed to provide free early childhood education at kindergarten for children whose parents are welfare recipients, alleviate financial obligations for large families starting in 2014, and increase financial support for children whose parents qualify for municipal tax exemption starting in 2015 (OECD, 2015[363]).

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Progress or impact: As of 2014-15, Japan eliminated childcare costs for families who receive social benefits (approximately JPY 6 600 per month) as well as those under an annual income limit (approximately JPY 6.8 million) for the tax breaks of half-price fees for a second-born child and free tuition for any children after the second one. In 2015-16, the cost of childcare for families exempt from their municipality’ residence tax decreased from JPY 9 100 to 3 000. In 2016-17, families with a total annual income below JPY 3.6 million began paying half-price for childcare for the second child and received free childcare for three or more children. During the same year, tuition was no longer required for children with single parents exempt from residence tax. In addition, single-parent families with income under JPY 3.6 million began paying half-price for their first child and received free childcare for all future children. Finally, in 2017, the government planned to eliminate tuition for second-born children and any additional children of families exempt from residence tax. Single-parent households with annual income below JPY 3.6 million would benefit from reduced monthly costs for the first child from JPY 7 550 to JPY 3 000. Similarly, the costs for the first child would be reduced from JPY 16 100 to JPY 14 000 for two-parent households with a similar income (OECD, 2018[358]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries


  • Japan made amendments to the Act on the Organisation and Operation of Local Educational Administration (2014) that regulates the boards of education in each local government. A revision of the law passed in 1956, aiming to increase the representation of local stakeholders’ views in the design of local education policies. The amendments include that with the agreement of the local assembly, the local government head can designate a superintendent to lead the board of education, as well as is responsible for organising education meetings with the board of education members to discuss basic education policies to improve their local education system.


  • Japan passed the Act on Free Tuition Fees at Public High Schools and High School Tuition Support Fund (2010) to ease family educational expenses and contribute to equal opportunity in upper secondary education. Low-income families still faced some degree of educational costs, including private upper secondary school fees. Therefore, the government decided to make further amendments to promote support for low-income families and correct the gap in educational costs between public and private schools. The 2014 revised system includes an increase of allowances to improve financial support to students from low-income families in private upper secondary schools. It also introduced new scholarship programmes for students from low-income families to alleviate some financial obligations other than tuition costs, such as school trips and textbooks. The rate of students who leave high school halfway due to financial problems has steadily decreased from 2.9% in 2009 to 1.1% in 2017 (National information reported to the OECD).

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