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.

But challenges linked to economic and societal trends, globalisation and skill-biased technological change can have a major impact, even in a high-performing education system. Coping with these challenges requires new skills, and schools need to adapt their contribution to shaping the future.

Japan’s high performance relies on the high-priority it places on education and on its holistic model of education delivered by highly qualified teachers and the external collaboration of communities and parents. However, sustaining high performance requires constant revision.

Already the Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2013-17) placed education at the centre of the roadmap to growth. Japan is now moving to its Third Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (2018-22). A number of reforms are progressively being rolled out, including the following:

  • fostering the development of capacities for a new era through a National Curriculum Reform focusing on improving lessons from a perspective of proactive, interactive and authentic learning

  • reforming the teaching career to improve teaching skills

  • strengthening school-community partnerships by involving communities in children’s education and reforming school management

  • ensuring financial support for those in need at non-mandatory levels (such as early childhood education and care and tertiary education) while improving access to tertiary education and adult learning through the promotion of new programmes to foster lifelong learning in an ageing society.

This report aims to highlight the many strengths of Japan’s education system, as well as the challenges it must address to carry out reforms effectively and preserve its holistic model of education. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the education system delivers the best for all students and that Japanese learners have the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need for the 21st century.