Chapter 2. Competencies for 2030: Curriculum, assessment and teaching

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.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Context and main features

The Japanese government sees education as one of the keys to improving productivity, strengthening the workforce, developing social and individual well-being and investing in the future. Education policy focuses on promoting equal opportunities for all young people to receive high-quality education. Article 26 of the Constitution of Japan stipulates that “All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law.”

Student performance in Japan is among the highest across OECD countries in many international assessments. Positive student discipline is also among the highest, and the engagement of schools and teachers with their students is beyond the levels generally reported in other OECD countries, in terms of both time and extracurricular activities.

Curriculum reform seeks to balance content with competencies for 2030

Japan has adopted a broad approach to the purpose of education since the mid-1990s. In 1996, the Central Council for Education described the goals as follows:

What our children will need in the future, regardless of the way in which society changes, are the qualities and the ability to identify problem areas for themselves, to learn, think, make judgements and act independently and to be more adept at problem-solving.


We decided to use the term zest for living to describe the qualities and abilities needed to live in a period of turbulent change and felt it is important to encourage the right balance between the separate factors underlying this term. (quoted in Hálász (2013[1]), p. 11)

The current policy directions in the Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education are: developing social competencies for survival; developing human resources for a brighter future; building safety nets for learning; and building bonds and establishing vibrant communities (MEXT, 2013[2]). Specific goals are that young people should achieve independence, collaboration and creativity. The broad educational objectives of the Japanese curriculum also stress the importance of fundamental knowledge and technical skills and the need to foster skills to think, make judgements and express oneself effectively. The Third Basic Plan is currently being developed and will come into force in 2018.

Responsibilities relating to the school curriculum, assessment and teaching are divided among national and local governments and the schools themselves. Based on the School Education Act, the national government sets the National Curriculum Standards. It is developed in stages, in a process managed by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Science and Technology (MEXT) that involves political, professional and public discussion.

The National Curriculum Standards establishes the legal framework of duties and responsibilities and sets strategic objectives to maintain definite levels of education and ensure equal opportunities for quality education for all. The standards cover objectives, content, time allocation and course structure on a subject-by-subject basis, separately for primary schools, lower and upper secondary education and, if necessary, for each year group.

At the local level (prefectures and municipalities), boards of education set regulations for basic matters related to the management of schools, including the curriculum (such as the school year, the school terms and holidays, the division of school administrative duties, the procedures for defining the curriculum and the use of textbooks). Boards of education can also provide schools with additional material to help them understand and comply with the National Curriculum Standards. Prefectures elaborate arrangements for the delivery of the curriculum, including teaching materials, while municipalities establish and manage schools and are responsible for implementation (MEXT, 2016[3]).

At the school level, to deliver on the newly required competencies (specified above and in Figure 2.1), schools in Japan are expected to develop their own curricula, based on their educational goals and the situation surrounding children, the requirements of the National Curriculum Standards and the regulations set at the local levels.

Box 2.1. Revision of Japan’s National Curriculum Standards

National Curriculum Standards in Japan is revised about every ten years. The latest revision aims to foster three elements of academic ability necessary in schools and children’s development. These elements are key for shaping the future in a rapidly changing society:

  • cultivating human nature and the ability to pursue learning so that one strives to apply learning to life and society, particularly the competencies for living (Ikiru chikara) required for the new era

  • acquiring knowledge and technical skills

  • developing the skills to think, make judgements and express oneself to be able to respond to unprecedented situations.

The aim is to build an education curriculum open to society that will nurture the competencies necessary for the new era, through collaboration between schools and society, with the shared goal of “creating a better society through higher-quality school education”. The curriculum not only specifies what children should learn, but also how they should learn and what they should be able to accomplish. In that regard, the curriculum seeks to improve the learning process from the perspective of proactive, interactive and authentic learning (active learning). This aims to develop the qualities and abilities needed for the new era, including the acquisition of knowledge and skills, and to improve the quality of the learning process to achieve quality understanding without reducing the amount of knowledge.

The revised curriculum will be implemented in 2018 in kindergarten and, after a transition period, starting in 2020 in primary school, 2021 in lower secondary education and 2022 in upper secondary education.

Source: MEXT (2016[3]), OECD-Japan Education Policy Review: Country Background Report.

The new National Curriculum Standards (announcement, guidelines and other related materials) for all kinds of schools is available for public use on the MEXT website:

To better equip its population for the future, Japan now aims to shift its education system to focus more strongly on competencies required for the 21st century and beyond, with increased emphasis on problem-solving abilities and the establishment of good learning habits (see Box 2.1). Reform of the school curriculum and associated reforms of teaching and assessment are at the heart of that policy.

The reform will require a change in teaching and pedagogical approaches, moving towards more proactive, interactive and authentic learning, often described as active learning. Teachers in Japan already employ some features of active learning, but for Japan to achieve the ambitious objectives of the curriculum reform, active learning must be embraced as a system. Defining active learning as the new pedagogical standard will require sustained support from the governing institutions.

Implementation will be supported by updated textbooks based on the National Curriculum Standards and available free of charge to students in mandatory education. Similar directions for reform are reflected in the education policies of other high-performing education systems, many of which also aim to prepare and equip their youth for an uncertain future through increased capacity for knowledge, creativity and other skills (OECD, 2016[4])1.

Both formative and summative assessments to measure student performance

Schools have scope to determine the methods they will use to assess students’ learning in relation to the National Curriculum Standards. The aims of the assessments are to allow schools to measure students’ progress in the subject and to improve the quality of teaching. Teachers or schools have discretion over the choice of formative assessment methods, and the OECD review team became aware that many schools use subject assessments provided by private organisations.

MEXT has been conducting the National Assessment of Academic Ability for students in Grades 6 and 9 since 2007 (except in 2011, due to the Great East Japan Earthquake). The assessments were administered to whole cohorts in 2007, 2008 and 2009, then they were based on sampling in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but they reverted to whole cohorts again in 2014. These assessments measure student achievement in mathematics and Japanese language every year and in science every three years, and also aim to check achievements and problems with national educational policies. The purpose is to maintain and improve a uniform level of education, rather than to check individual school’s achievement.

Since 2014 however, local authorities are allowed to publish school-level results, and some boards use them for school accountability (according to data reported by MEXT, 116 of 1 736 boards do so). Additional assessments have recently become more common at regional and local levels to monitor students’ performance in core subjects (Japanese language, mathematics and English) (MEXT, 2016[3]).

Japanese students take upper secondary education and university entrance exams that determine the schools or universities they will attend. The results of these exams are published in the press and are used to rank educational institutions. These exams “represent gateways to status in Japanese society” (OECD, 2012[5]). Their high-stakes nature has an influence on adoption of the curriculum at the school level and on student learning practices outside of school, with 61% of students in Grade 9 attending after-school private tutoring institutions (juku) that prepare students for these tests (MEXT, 2016[3]).

Overall, MEXT defines national achievement levels through the National Curriculum Standards. Schools have the freedom to reflect on their local characteristics to develop their own curriculum according to the national guidelines, and reach education goals set by the Basic Act on Education. In this system with very clear national guidelines and highly professional educational staff, individual schools are less accountable for results and achievement than in many other countries (Nakayasu, 2016[6]).

Teachers and school leaders are highly skilled and hard-working

Despite teachers’ critical vision of the profession (see Chapter 1), teaching is still a well-regarded profession in Japan. The status of teachers is socially prestigious and mid-career teachers’ salaries are above the OECD average. At the same time, class sizes in Japan are among the largest in the OECD, with an average of 27 students in primary school (compared to the OECD average of 21) and 32 students in lower secondary school (compared to the OECD average of 23) (OECD, 2016[7]).

Teachers in Japan have notably been successful at helping students to acquire knowledge and to perform well in tests (OECD, 2011[8]). Teaching methods have traditionally emphasised direct teaching, but since the 1998-99 revision of the curriculum there have been moves towards encouraging students to learn and think for themselves and integrate different areas of learning. To achieve this, teachers have received high-quality initial and continuing training and are expected to have good levels of proficiency in the subjects they teach (OECD, 2011[8]). According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), 92% of new teachers have access to induction programmes during their first year of practice (compared to the TALIS average of 70%) and 58% participate in them (compared to the TALIS average of 52%), while 33% of teachers report having an assigned mentor to support them (compared to the TALIS average of 13%) (OECD, 2014[9]). Local Boards of Education are required by law to provide induction training for teachers in their first year of employment and a training programme for mid-career teachers.

The responsibilities of teachers in Japan extend beyond classroom-based learning and teaching to encompass a more holistic approach to practice. Total working time is among the longest in the OECD, although net teaching time in Japan is still relatively short (OECD, 2014[9]; OECD, 2016[7])2 . Their duties are extensive and involve engaging in teaching subjects, student guidance and extracurricular club activities to provide integrated education for developing competencies for living required for the new era (Ikiru Chikara) in a balanced manner. For example, teachers and students undertake tasks such as serving school lunches and cleaning classrooms, with teachers supervising students. In other countries, these tasks tend to be the responsibility of other staff, but they are an integral part of the Japanese model of school education.

To become school leaders in Japan’s public schools, teachers must take an examination conducted by prefectural boards of education (see Chapter 1). They need to have solid preparation at master’s level to become school leaders and are expected to have both a sound theoretical background and applied skills to exercise leadership in communities and schools. Professional Graduate Schools for Teacher Education in Japan are designed to help experienced teachers become mid-level school leaders with a thorough knowledge of leadership theories and practical and applied skills. Principals in Japan have the longest teaching experience among TALIS countries (30 years, compared to the TALIS average of 21 years). This gives them the experience to legitimately exercise leadership in communities and schools (OECD, 2014[9]).

Strengths and challenges

Japan’s curriculum reform programme has many existing strengths to build upon as it seeks to develop competencies for the future. These strengths provide a strong foundation for successful and sustained implementation as Japan seeks to embed new competencies in the curriculum. However, both in Japan and elsewhere, curriculum reform faces significant challenges: preventing overload by being clear about priorities and resource implications; avoiding a time lag in responding to fresh imperatives that can arise during a ten-year cycle of centrally driven change; and securing the commitment of stakeholders to the reform goals.

The curriculum reform: an ambitious attempt to prepare young people for the future

After a period in which the prime focus of education policy has been to improve the effectiveness of schools against generally well-established curriculum frameworks, countries around the world are now posing more fundamental questions about the purposes of school education, against the background of our increasingly complex and fast-changing world. Education policy is increasingly being shaped by developments in the wider environment: the impact of globalisation, involving the complex interaction of greater interdependence and increased competition; equally complex patterns of migration; and technological developments in computerisation, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Many countries are rethinking the purpose, nature and scope of the school curriculum in ways that go beyond entitlement to specified academic subjects to focus more directly on 21st century competencies. Research commissioned by the Welsh Government, for example, concluded that: “Although expressed differently in the policy documents of each of the high performing countries, there is a common general aim to develop in their learners the necessary attitudes, values, skills and knowledge they need in order to achieve success and fulfilment as engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.” (NFER and ARAD Research, 2013[10]) Similarly, the OECD Education 2030 Project is exploring the types of global competences required for the future in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values (Taguma, Rychen and Lippman, 2016[11]). On this occasion, Japan has been working closely with the OECD, sharing its experience in curriculum reform to contribute to an international framework (OECD EDU/EDPC, 2017[12]).

In response to this changing global context and to the impact of increased longevity, a low birth rate and a significant gender gap in employment, Japan has identified the need to develop a broader range of competencies in its young people. It sees the need to address values in the school curriculum as part of societal adjustment to the changing context for the lives of its people. In Japan’s country background report for this report, the drivers for reform are summarised as being designed “to allow school education to nurture the competencies necessary for the coming era” (MEXT, 2016[3]).

Japan is already highly successful in a number of international assessments. PISA data have demonstrated the high performance of Japanese students in reading, mathematics and science (see Chapter 1). The strong performance of Japanese students on the more demanding items in PISA tests also suggests that current approaches are already developing the ability to apply learning. A 2011 OECD report on education reform in Japan notes that “… the biggest rise in its PISA performance in Japan has occurred on open-ended higher-order thinking tasks, not in the reproduction of subject matter that is the focus of juku.” (Jones, 2011[15]).

Figure 2.1. Model of the three pillars of competence that underpin curriculum reform, 2016

Source: MEXT (2016[18]), Presentation materials provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

While Japan’s revised National Curriculum Standards maintain the broad shape and content of the previous set, they now include a greater focus on the promotion of proactive, interactive and deep learning. Concerns about potential curriculum overload have led to the incorporation of new competencies without introducing new learning areas or simply adding new requirements to the curriculum. Still promoting academic ability, the new curriculum aims to align existing learning content areas to the three pillars of competence: acquisition of knowledge and technical skills; skills to think, to make judgements and to express oneself; and motivation to learn and humanities (Figure 2.1).

In addition to developing individual competence, the new curriculum will seek to foster a sense of social responsibility for the future, covering independence, interdependence and the development of values such as a “rich sense of humanity”. Educational objectives and the content of the subjects taught in primary school, lower and upper secondary education will be organised around these pillars. According to the Japanese holistic education model, these objectives go beyond academic achievement (e.g. appreciation of arts and music, cultivation of healthy habits through practice of sports and physical activity, and the respect for life and human dignity). Table 2.1 gives a few examples of how the new curriculum aims to structure knowledge acquisition around the three pillars of competence.

Japan’s curriculum reform is an ambitious attempt to build on existing educational practice to better prepare its young people for the future. A challenge for Japan’s reform programme will be to meet its ambitious policy objectives to adapt students to the future without detracting from existing strengths, such as high equity and strong performance on higher-order skills of Japanese students.

Table 2.1. Description of the three pillars of competence that underpin curriculum reform, 2016

What we know

What we can do

How we use what we know and what we can do

How we engage in society and the world, and live a better life


Knowledge and skills necessary to speak, listen, write and read.

Understanding of the Japanese language culture including classics.

Communication skills to be used in real life.

Ability to use traditional language culture in modern life.

Appreciation of the Japanese language and its cultural significance.


Systematic understanding of the basic concepts and principles.

Skills to mathematize events, interpret them and explain mathematically.

Ability to consider and explain events mathematically, make a decision on the basis of mathematical reasoning, and solve problems.

Ability to develop mathematical concepts.

Recognition of the merit of mathematics.

Readiness to make decisions based on mathematical reasoning.

Health and Physical Education

Understanding of how to enhance physical strength.

Skills of exercise and physical expression.

Understanding of scientific knowledge and cultural significance of sports.

Understanding of health and safety.

Ability to pursue sport throughout life.

Ability to understand one’s own health, make healthy choices, and manage their health effectively.

Fairness, cooperation, responsibility, motivation to participate.

Enjoyment of exercise, and promote culture of health and safety.

Readiness to communicate for the improvement of health of oneself and others.

Motivation to participate proactively in the healthy society.

Note: This table shows the three pillars of competence required in the new curriculum using examples from three subjects.

Source: MEXT (2016[18]), Presentation materials provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Schools already exhibit some features of the curriculum reform, but significant efforts are still required

Practice in Japanese schools already exhibits important features of the curriculum reform. However, meeting the full implications of the proposed changes for teachers’ skills will pose challenges for professional learning and other forms of support.

In considering active learning approaches, Watkins et al. (2007[19]) identify behavioural, cognitive and social dimensions to the forms that such approaches can take in school classrooms: “From the perspective of the students, active learning engages them in ways that can involve working individually and collaboratively, taking responsibility, posing and answering questions, creating solutions and reflecting on their own learning and that of others.” In relation to teachers, Pellegrino (2017[20]) identifies major implications for professional learning to “… support teaching that encourages deeper learning and the development of transferable knowledge and skills.”

Current practice seen by the OECD review team in Japanese schools, particularly primary schools, already involves important aspects of learning that reflect the kind of reciprocal teaching and feedback that is integral to the reform. As such, there is scope to build on accepted and proven aspects of existing practice. Lessons observed by the OECD review team were extremely well-planned and organized, with different learning sequences (observation, reflection, exchange) seamlessly succeeding each other, with teachers constant attention and efforts on maintaining all the children engaged. The content quality and the scientific management of the lesson also reflect the support provided by the Lesson Study.

However, lower secondary education marks the transition to a more traditional content-oriented instruction approach. In secondary education, schools are ranked according to their ability to place their students in the best high-schools or universities. Teachers are held responsible for the prestige of the school, and as students get closer to entrance examinations, the pace of learning quickens to cover the broad curriculum defined by the National Curriculum Standards. In that regard, in an analysis of the OECD-Tohoku School Project following the tsunami disaster in 2011, Hálász (2013[1]) states, with particular reference to Japanese secondary schools:

The fact that Japanese adults show an outstanding level of literacy skills is probably the best existing indicator of the actual high performance of the Japanese educational system. But, on the other hand, there are also some negative characteristics of Japanese education often described by features such as […] teachers using one-way methods of information transmission, the lack of individualised learning and the frequent suppression of creativity.

Proactive, interactive and authentic learning can also be interpreted in ways that may not reflect the pedagogical intentions behind such approaches. There is a need for clarity on what such approaches actually imply for the skills of Japanese teachers and school leaders, including the ability to tailor approaches to the learning needs of students. Drew and Mackie (2011[14]) have suggested that, although the use of active learning has been “… promoted as an inclusive approach to education, particular groups of pupils may be less comfortable with this form of pedagogy.” It will thus be important to ensure that improving lessons from the perspective of active learning is beneficial for all students and does not give rise to inequity in Japan.

MEXT has recognised that the success of its reform programme will depend on the quality of the teaching workforce and teachers’ ability to grow professionally and develop (Central Council for Education, 2015[21]). It has strengthened the role of the National Centre for Teachers’ Development (NCTD), which trains leading teachers and staff members who will advise other teachers in their schools or municipalities. In 2017, the NCTD was restructured and renamed the National Institute for School Teachers and Staff Development. According to TALIS, almost 35% of lower secondary teachers report a need for professional development in teaching cross-curricular skills. On the other hand, only 16% of lower secondary teachers feel that they can help students to think critically (Figure 2.2). In both cases, Japanese teachers are at the extreme end of international results. Implementation of the new curriculum could further exacerbate these proportions, if teachers are not well-prepared and supported to carry it out. The effectiveness of national and local training support systems will directly determine the ability of teachers to implement the reform as envisaged.

Figure 2.2. Teachers’ views on their ability to provide cross-curricular skills, 2013

Notes: Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: OECD (2014[9]), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, OECD Publishing, Paris,, Table 4.12, Table 7.1.


MEXT has also recognised the need to address issues associated with the expectations placed on teachers, which can lead to an overly heavy workload. Current arrangements, including the wide range of tasks undertaken by teachers, have led to significant pressure on teachers and insufficient scope for the deep and sustained professional development that successful reform will demand. MEXT reported to the OECD review team that there has been some progress in this area, with the Central Council for Education planning to consider measures to facilitate the shift towards active learning.

For Japan to fully realise the ambitions of the reform, it will be important to further explain the nature of its intentions for teaching and learning and to enhance support mechanisms, so that teachers will feel confident about their role in the reforms and have the ability to develop appropriate approaches. Enhanced support should be directed towards helping teachers to create the necessary context for proactive, interactive and authentic learning, to monitor progress in student learning and to intervene as appropriate. If teachers do not fully understand and master the range of required skills, the impact of the curricular reform is likely to be diminished (Snyder, 2003[22]).

Given the existing heavy workload of Japanese teachers, it is difficult for them to participate in in-service training. Fully 86% of lower secondary teachers in Japan indicate that professional development conflicts with their work schedule (Figure 2.3). Therefore, one of the key tasks for Japan will be to help schools create the time for necessary planning and professional development by finding new alternatives.

Figure 2.3. Conflict between professional development and work schedule, 2013
Percentage of lower secondary education teachers indicating a conflict


Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: OECD (2014[9]), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, OECD Publishing, Paris,, Table 4.14.


Other forms of support for implementation of the reforms will also be important. Teachers and schools have been supported by the systematic development and free distribution of print-based textbooks to support curriculum reform. These textbooks, which are produced by the private sector, are revised based on the National Curriculum Standards and supplied to students in mandatory education free of charge. Local boards of education (for public schools) and school principals (for national3 and private schools) choose books from the lists of MEXT-authorised textbooks. The move to teaching methods that encourage greater creativity and problem-solving will raise questions about the most appropriate forms of resources for different forms of learning. For instance, over-reliance on print-based resources could limit learning opportunities.

Creativity in the 21st century will increasingly demand high levels of digital skills, and students without such skills will be at a considerable disadvantage, both in school and afterwards as part of a modern workforce. The pace of change in the wider environment also means that resources for both teachers and students will need to be updated and supplemented. A challenge for implementation of the reform in Japan will be to ensure that the resources provided support more active teaching methods and can also be amended quickly and easily.

While the proposed reforms in Japan have strong bases to build upon, the implications for professional learning and other forms of support remain significant.

Implementation and monitoring experience, but a need to align assessment practices

The established curriculum review strategy (see Chapter 1 and Box 2.1), together with a policy of greater decentralisation, provides a sound platform for reform. As the reform takes shape, there will be a need to ensure that there is scope for continuing responsiveness to the pace of change in the wider environment and to win full understanding and support of the purposes of the reform.

The nature and pace of change in the 21st century pose significant challenges for the management of education reform. The OECD Education 2030 Project identifies economic, social, demographic and technological developments that demonstrate how the world is becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. A 2015 review of the curriculum in Wales summed up the challenge as follows: “What our young people learn during their time at school has never been more important yet, at the same time, the task of determining what that learning should be has never been more challenging.” (Donaldson, 2015[23]).

In addition to responding to emerging trends in the external environment, Japan needs to tackle the areas it has already identified as needing improvement, such as development of digital and global competencies, problem-solving skills and proficiency in foreign languages (particularly English). The OECD Survey of Adult Skills found that Japanese young people (age 16-24) performed less well than their international peers in their ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments (OECD, 2013[24]). Figure 2.4 shows that Japanese students exhibit the lowest index of ICT use outside of school for schoolwork, and the second-lowest index of ICT use at school (after Korean students) (OECD, 2015[16]). In a survey led by Education First in 2016, Japan scored “low” on the English proficiency scale, at the second-lowest grade on a five-item scale (Japan ranked 35 out of the 70 countries surveyed) (Education First, 2017[25]).

Figure 2.4. Use of ICT at school, 2015
Percentage of students who reported engaging in each activity at least once a week

Source: OECD (2015[16]), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Japan’s systematic approach to identifying needs and evaluating learning and teaching approaches provides a strong basis for ensuring that reforms are well planned and relevant. Its established ten-year curriculum review cycle provides a potentially supportive context for the proposed curriculum reform. Review is conducted on a systematic basis, with phased implementation that allows time for consideration, development and assimilation into practice. The Central Council for Education began its most recent review process in 2014, described in Chapter 1, and dissemination of the new curriculum will start with kindergarten reforms in 2018 and end with upper secondary education implementation in 2022. The shared expectation across the main stakeholder groups that change will take place provides a good starting point for the reform.

Schools are expected to develop a locally relevant curriculum that reflects the standards set in the National Curriculum Standards and pursues the goals specified in the Basic Act on Education. MEXT also provides supplementary guidance to aid consistency in interpretation of national documents. The National Institute for Educational Policy Research (NIER) conducts a National Curriculum Standards Implementation Survey to help schools formulate, offer, and improve their educational curricula in accordance with national requirements. In addition, each board of education has an assigned supervisor of school education who provides guidance and advice on education courses, learning instructions and other matters concerning school education. The Ordinance for Enforcement of the School Education Law stipulates annual standard school hours for each subject. The specific amount of time for teaching is decided in each school, taking into account the characteristics of the communities, schools and students, thus allowing scope for local determination of timetables. Japan is therefore seeking to promote national consistency while encouraging local autonomy within defined parameters set by the National Curriculum Standards. The policy intention is to go further in establishing “an environment to encourage originality and ingenuity in local regions.” (MEXT, 2016[3])

Piloting and review processes already exist in Japan

At the local level, schools are required by law to conduct and publish their own self-assessments of overall school processes, and also commonly follow a PDCA (plan/do/check/act) cycle of development and implementation, which was in evidence during the review visit. Lesson study is a particular and widely respected characteristic of Japanese teaching, which facilitates improvement through collaborative reflection and networking around the effectiveness of identified teaching approaches. Operating on a team basis, teachers prepare and analyse teaching materials and methods and then apply the approach in their teaching. The next stage involves reflection and discussion on the impact of the lesson on students. The effectiveness of lesson study both encourages and is enhanced by a culture of collaboration among teachers and others.

More generally, the established network of Research and Development schools, which are usually linked with universities, develops and evaluates new approaches to the curriculum and teaching and links with other schools. Staff are also encouraged to publish support materials, such as lesson plans. This network of schools provides a valuable bridge between policy and practice.

Curriculum reforms are also monitored through the NIER National Curriculum Standards Implementation Survey, and MEXT also conducts a biennial survey of all public primary and lower secondary schools on the ways in which the school curriculum is being applied. The results of these processes contribute to the evidence of the success of reform and provide signposts towards future development.

Overwhelmed teaching staff might hinder effective reform implementation

There are concerns among some stakeholders that the reform programme will prove too demanding for schools and teachers. Teachers’ unions, for example, believe that the accumulation of reforms is likely to lead to overload for the already hard-pressed teaching profession. New content and more interactive teaching methods are seen as significant additional pressures. It will be important to clearly communicate the importance of the proposed changes, secure support for their implementation from those who will have to make them work effectively, and address the implications for successful implementation.

Japan has among the highest proportion of staff resisting change, according to principals (38%, compared to the OECD average of 30%) (OECD, 2016[17]). In addition, the accountability of upper secondary schools in Japan is based on the share of students who are accepted by top universities. School principals and teachers, explicitly or implicitly supported by parents, may thus be reluctant to comply with the reform, especially if high-stakes examinations do not reflect the new curriculum requirements. While public comments were integrated during the design of the reform, that consultation will not guarantee successful and sustained implementation if the nature and extent of the reform programme as a whole is not endorsed by stakeholders.

Leadership, particularly pedagogical leadership, has also been demonstrated to play a role in successful reform and in school improvement overall (Leithwood, Harris and Hopkins, 2008[26]; Pont, Nusche and Moorman, 2008[27]; Leithwood and Day, 2008[28]; Donaldson, 2011[29]; Branch, Hanushek and Rivkin, 2012[30]). While schools in Japan have high levels of autonomy in curriculum and assessment, school principals scored below the OECD average in the index of instructional leadership (OECD, 2016[17]), and there appears to be a high turnover of principals’ service in any one school. Leadership at all levels needs to understand, engage with and support the reform, and have the capability to bring about the desired changes in classroom practices. The challenge will be particularly strong for leaders in secondary schools, where the pressures to prepare students for high-stakes examinations with an emphasis on content are greater than in primary schools. However, more positively, discussions during the review suggested that there is broad support among many leaders for the direction of the reform and its possible benefits.

The 2016 OECD report Governing Education in a Complex World suggests that: “A key element of successful policy reform implementation is ensuring that local stakeholders have sufficient capacity […] In particular, they need adequate knowledge of educational policy goals and consequences, the ownership and willingness to make the change, and the tools to implement the reform as planned.” (OECD, 2016[4]) Successful implementation of the Japanese education reform programme will require careful analysis of the full meaning and implications of the enhanced approach to teaching and learning for schools and teachers.

A further challenge relates to the apparent implications of the length of the current curriculum reform cycle compared to the fast pace of change in the external environment. Some commentators have referred to a conservative approach to educational change in Japan (Hood, 2001[31]). However, the OECD has more recently noted that “Japan has already seen a significant shift from one of the more centralised to one of the more decentralised education systems.” (OECD, 2012[5]) Hálász confirms this view in his analysis of possible messages from the OECD-Tohoku School Project that followed the catastrophe in that region in 2011. He notes that the Japanese education system is governed in a much less centralised way than most external observers would think, with local administrators having quite large discretion to use specific solutions to specific local problems (Hálász, 2013[1]).

To achieve both consistency and flexibility in the ways in which the current reform programme is realised in practice, MEXT will have to set the strategic direction for local authorities and schools in ways that allow sufficient scope for them to respond to emerging needs without having to wait for the next stage in the formal reform cycle. It will, therefore, be important to ensure that the evaluation framework continues to monitor ongoing implementation of changes to practice and that quick action is taken to respond to evidence of need for adjustments.

Additional assessment expertise is required

International analyses of curriculum development and implementation highlight the importance of distinguishing between the formal curriculum outlined in policy documents and the enacted curriculum that learners actually experience. One of the most important modifiers of curriculum intentions is the way in which learning is assessed. In many countries, both external and classroom-based assessments have remained focused primarily on reproducing knowledge and applying basic skills, with less attention paid to measuring complex competencies (OECD, 2013[32]). Pellegrino highlights the essential role of formative assessment in the kind of deeper learning envisaged in the Japanese reforms. However, he also identifies the challenges in going beyond more traditional forms of formative assessment. In addition to psychometric complexities, he notes significant implications for the expertise and capacity of teachers and administrators (Pellegrino, 2017[20]):

In the areas of teacher education and professional development, current systems and programmes will require major changes if they are to support teaching that encourages deeper learning and the development of transferable knowledge and skills. Changes will need to be made not only in the conceptions of what constitutes effective professional practice but also in the purposes, structure and organisation of pre-service and professional learning opportunities (Darling-Hammond, 2006; Garrick and Rhodes, 2000; Lampert, 2010; Webster-Wright, 2009). For example, Windschitl (2009) proposed that developing 21st century competencies in the context of science will require ambitious new teaching approaches that will be unlike the science instruction that most teachers have participated in or even witnessed.

Similar issues are identified in the 2013 OECD publication, Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment (OECD, 2013[32]).

Within the broad parameters set by the National Curriculum Standards (education objectives, broad content, time allocation and course structure on a subject-by-subject basis…), the freedom accorded to Japanese schools on methods of assessment allows them to select and apply approaches that are more closely tailored to the nature of learning and teaching in each school. To achieve the changes envisaged in the curriculum reform, this diversity among schools must be taken into account when developing new practices in assessment. The Japanese reform programme faces the task of integrating assessment into its framework in ways that promote valid approaches to assessing the creativity, problem-solving skills and independent learning that underpin the reform’s objectives. If assessment practices do not reflect national standards, there will be a lack of valid evidence upon which to judge how well or to what extent students’ learning is meeting expectations.

Japanese students participate in high-stakes testing as they progress towards the latter stages of mandatory education and beyond. Tests that emphasise memorising facts and mastering procedures, rather than analytical thinking, creativity and the capacity for innovation will give rise to teaching and learning that reflects limited learning of that nature. An increasingly strong focus on teaching to the test can lead to a narrowing of the curriculum. The importance of these tests in shaping the educational experience of Japanese students in the latter years of schooling should not be underestimated.

The high-stakes nature of entrance tests (to upper secondary schools or universities for instance) can also have a powerful effect on students’ and parents’ attitudes towards education. Jones (2011[15]) cites Japan’s share of students attending after-school lessons as one of the highest in the OECD. While he says that the growing investment in jukus suggests that they positively influence students’ school performance and their success rate on school entrance exams … [and] they may also contribute to Japan’s results on the PISA assessments”, he identifies a number of possible negative effects. These include exacerbating inequality and imposing a heavy financial burden on families due to the high costs of jukus and reducing leisure time, thereby undermining well-rounded development for children.

The government has recognised the importance of aligning future high-stakes testing with its new curriculum goals. MEXT has established a Council for Reform on the System of Articulation of High Schools and Universities, which has developed practical proposals to promote alignment of university entrance exams with the reform of the school curriculum. However, creating appropriate instruments will be complex, and there are likely to be transition issues between the former and the new curriculum.

If future high-stakes tests do not give due weight to the three pillars of the proposed curriculum reform, students are likely to experience a curriculum that is much more limited than the reform intends.

Policy recommendations: Prioritise implementation of the curriculum reform

Align the key factors that influence implementation and further encourage local responsiveness

Successful reform must take into account interactions across the critical interdependent factors and stakeholders. Linear approaches to reform are likely to have limited impact in plural environments with varied levels of decision-making, diverse forms and sources of information, and established norms of practice and success. Increasingly, the nature and pace of change in the external environment can overtake sequentially planned reform programmes. It is important that feedback loops allow modifications to be put in place as reform is implemented (Blanchenay and Burns, 2016[33]).

Generally, school improvement reforms that focus on promoting better student learning have had success when the reforms cover a range of complementary areas that support the core reform, including:

  • targeting classroom practice directly through the introduction of new curricula, a focus on pedagogy, and constructive use of assessment data,

  • focusing directly on the organisation and leadership of schools, together with relevant professional development to build teachers’ confidence and capacity,

  • aligning policy with outside factors, such as external pressure and support, and well-judged timelines for implementation (OECD, 2015[34]).

Selected curriculum reform examples shed light on the need for complementarity and alignment in the reform process:

  • In Finland, the development of the national curriculum has been used to steer overall policy direction and set broad frameworks that local municipalities and schools adapt to their own context (Hargreaves, Hálász and Pont, 2008[35]). Curriculum reforms are undertaken approximately every ten years and are informed by a national consultation. The current comprehensive curriculum reform aims to modernise teaching and learning through the use of new pedagogies, developing new learning environments and promoting a new school culture. The factors taken into account in the overall strategy include: clarifying the vision; determining the actions required to develop the curriculum; identifying the new or enhanced skills required for teachers; and providing standards to clarify the curriculum to practitioners.

  • Like Japan, Wales is currently engaged in a major reform of its curriculum that is geared towards 21st century competencies. The development and implementation strategy recognises the importance of alignment across key dependencies. Reform of the Welsh school curriculum is thus accompanied by developments in the professional learning of teachers and leaders and the establishment of a constructive accountability culture (Donaldson, 2015[23]; OECD, 2017[36]). The Welsh Government has also recognised that successful and sustained realisation of its ambitious and radical aims will require a move away from a centrally-driven model of change to one that promotes ownership locally, through the devolution of key aspects of development to the level of local authorities and schools. To ensure effective implementation at the school level, a particular focus on the role of school leaders aims to ensure that they are well versed in the implementation of the curriculum, in the specific training required for teachers and in providing support to introduce learning and teaching that aligns to the curriculum (Welsh Government, 2016[37]).

  • In Australia, the major programme of curriculum reform that followed the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians in December 2008 encompassed ongoing curriculum review, a much stronger focus on professional learning for teachers and leaders and an improved and transparent approach to evaluation and assessment. The aligned nature of the programme was reflected in the leadership role of the Ministerial Council on Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs. It has established the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, a dedicated curriculum and assessment co-ordination and review body, and the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, which is charged with promoting excellence in teaching and school leadership.

A number of countries are seeking to establish local ownership of reform and to create a degree of agility within the reform cycle:

  • Singapore pursues a strategy of “centralised decentralisation”, resolving the tensions between maintaining national consistency while encouraging local diversity and creativity. Policy expectations are set nationally, while schools are expected to interpret policy in ways that meet strategic national requirements but also match local needs. Ng describes the system in Singapore as being “tight at the strategic level and empowering at the tactical level” (Ng, 2017[38]).

  • In Finland, a consistently high-performing country in international surveys of student performance, the approach to school governance combines national strategic leadership with significant local autonomy. Finland places a high degree of trust in its well-qualified and highly-regarded teaching profession, with limited external accountability. While the National Framework Curriculum sets the context in terms of guidance and regulation, it does not specify detailed standards or intended learning outcomes. Curriculum planning takes place at the level of schools and teachers.

Japan’s policy of giving greater freedom to prefectures, municipalities and schools within a framework of clear national direction provides scope to combine strategic direction with local creativity and responsiveness. The established leadership role of MEXT, allied with the policy moves towards greater decentralisation, presents both opportunities and challenges for future curriculum reform in Japan. As the reform moves from policy to practice, it will be important to maintain the commitment to greater local ownership and to align significant developments in building capacity with the pace of implementation.

In addition, for monitoring purposes, communication must be clear on how school progress in the reform implementation should be reported to prefectures (and other parts of the system), the data to be provided and the areas on which schools will receive feedback. This can include school reporting, improvement planning, performance management and interactions with superiors, peers and other staff.

Ensure this positive curriculum reform also encompasses new priorities

Increasingly, education systems have introduced curricular reforms that focus on combining knowledge, skills and values. Most present a national vision that describes the characteristics they aspire to develop in young people, such as confidence, connectedness, lifelong learning and innovative dispositions. New Zealand’s national learning framework, for example, has an overall vision for young people to be confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners, which is then elaborated in terms of values, principles, key competencies and learning areas.

It is important for the curriculum to also take into account or integrate additional educational issues in the country, as evidenced by the plan to enhance initial training of teachers in certain topics (MEXT, 2016[3]). For example, the development of digital skills and/or foreign language learning must not be simply add-ons to already crowded programmes.

  • Singapore’s education system is in transition to ensure that curriculum, pedagogy and assessments work together to develop complex skills required for the 21st century. Since 2005, it has followed a strategy of “Teach Less, Learn More” with less dependency on rote learning, repetitive tests and standardised instruction (Ng, 2017[38]). Its 21st Century Competencies Framework emphasises values of respect, responsibility, resilience, integrity, care and harmony. These values are embedded in every subject, with a particular focus on character and citizenship education. This is in addition to setting high standards, focused on curriculum development in mathematics, science, technical education and languages, and further work to ensure that teachers have a strong background in these subjects and are pedagogically well prepared to teach them. The curriculum as a whole is designed to nurture each student as a confident person, a self-directed learner, a concerned citizen and an active contributor.

  • Scotland (United Kingdom) has been developing a curriculum based on the development of four capacities in its young people. The goal is that through their school experience, young people should receive a broad general education that will promote a holistic understanding of what it means “to be a young Scot growing up in today’s world”. More specifically, the aim is that they should become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible learners. The curriculum is structured in six areas, while literacy, numeracy and health and well-being are expected to be developed across teaching and learning. The approach builds on the broad shape of the existing curriculum, but it sets new priorities for the elaboration of content and the classroom experience of students. A recent OECD review found it to be an important and coherent reform (OECD, 2015[39]).

  • British Columbia (Canada) is developing a concept-based, competency-driven model. Core competencies, together with literacy, numeracy and essential content and concepts are at the centre of the new curriculum. Its “know-do-understand” approach reflects content, curricular competencies and a structure based on “big ideas” (generalisations, principles and the key concepts important in an area of learning). Detailed curriculum descriptors for each subject are available on line4 with related instructional examples.

The reformed curriculum in Japan maintains the broad direction and nature of the curriculum as it has developed over the last twenty years, and some of the newly introduced pedagogical features are already in place in classroom practice. However, it includes important new elements, both in content and in teaching and learning approaches. It will be important to take into account additional educational issues in the country, such as development of digital competence and proficiency in foreign languages. It will also be important to be clear about curriculum priorities and what might be perceived as competing demands.

Align both formative and summative assessments to the new curriculum

A number of countries have recognised the central role that assessment can play in embedding successful reform, but also recognise how assessment can undermine reform.

  • New Zealand sees assessment as integral to effective teaching and learning and formative assessment as central to its overall assessment strategy. Schools are expected to use a range of assessment practices and multiple sources of evidence to measure students’ progress in relation to national standards. Students are actively involved in assessment and are expected to regulate their own learning through self-assessment. The OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment in New Zealand concluded that “… student assessment of learning is part of teachers’ professional learning, which in turn makes teachers’ professional judgement increasingly suited to support students’ learning”. (Nusche et al., 2012[40])

  • Singapore has adopted a holistic assessment approach that gathers evidence about a range of aspects of a child’s development. Parents are given a profile of their child that reflects this broader range of assessment evidence.

  • Current reform in Wales (United Kingdom) places assessment at the heart of an ambitious curriculum reform programme that is also seeking to promote creativity and problem-solving (Donaldson, 2015[23]). The Welsh Government has recognised that too strong an emphasis on assessment for accountability can compromise its central, formative role in learning and teaching (Welsh Government, 2016[37]).

If curriculum changes are to take root, alignment of assessment practice to support the intentions of reform should be one of the main priorities for the professional development of teachers. Assessment of deep learning is complex and teachers may not have the necessary knowledge and skills to fully assess students’ progress in such areas as creativity, problem-solving or independent learning. To ensure teachers are well-prepared on this front, systematic training on how to assess students according to the new curriculum should be available for every teacher.

A number of countries are attempting to develop approaches to assessment that support schools and teachers in responding to the learning needs of their students.

  • In Finland, reading, mathematics, and science as well as other subjects identified on the basis of needs analysis are evaluated in national sample assessments in three-year or four-year cycles. Evaluation also assesses a student’s capacity for self-motivated learning, problem-solving and the ability to evaluate (Sahlberg, 2011[41]; OECD, 2013[32]). The explicit purpose of these tests is to inform policy and practice in ways that will improve teachers’ ability to match learning and teaching to students’ needs.

  • Similarly, in New Zealand, the National Education Monitoring Project, established in 1995 (replaced in 2010 by the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement), covered all curriculum areas on a four-year cycle and incorporated both competency and values elements. It was designed to provide a system-level overview of learning outcomes at Grades 4 and 8 to inform policy and practice and to provide assurance to society more generally about trends in the performance of New Zealand students. The assessment methods and items used to measure more complex learning outcomes in these national surveys could serve as useful examples for teachers.

  • In Denmark, computer-based adaptive testing was introduced in 2010 to provide diagnostic analyses of students’ learning and allow teachers to address learning needs quickly and in a targeted manner.

The extent to which the ambitions of Japan’s curriculum reform are realised in practice for its students will be strongly influenced by the ways in which learning outcomes are assessed. An OECD review of evaluation and assessment (OECD, 2013[32]) recommended that the development of teachers’ expertise in assessment should be a priority if curriculum goals are to be pursued successfully. The increased emphasis on deep learning will require further development of the assessment skills of Japanese teachers.

Research also emphasises the powerful effect of high-stakes tests on teaching and learning, particularly in upper secondary schools. If these tests, including university entrance examinations, do not reflect the central learning goals of the curricular reform, then real change is likely to be minimal (Posner, 1994[42]; Torrance, 1996[43]; Barnes, Clarke and Stephens, 2000[44]):

  • In China, different versions of the College English Teaching Syllabus (1985/1986, 1999) and the College English Curriculum Requirements (2007) have framed unified syllabus and assessment practices in teaching English. Chen and Klenowski (2009[45]) detail how the successive versions of assessments tried to correct a system with “low efficiency and effectiveness” in order to incentivise teachers to teach the actual curriculum, and not only to the test.

  • In the United States, Supovitz reviewed 20 years of assessment practices to document how high-stakes tests have become a widely utilised and relatively inexpensive American federal and state policy instrument to stimulate change in districts, schools, and classrooms (Supovitz, 2009[46]). These assessments do motivate teachers and administrators to change their instructional practices and align their efforts with the high-stakes exams. However, Supovitz remarks that the changes they motivate might only result in superficial adjustments.

  • In Finland, there are no standardised tests prior to the National Matriculation Examination administered as students leave upper secondary school. Sahlberg (2011[41]) refers to empirical research findings (Häivälä, 2009[47]) that raise issues about limiting backwash effects from the final examination on teaching in upper secondary schools.

The established impact of competitive tests and examinations on teaching and learning in Japanese secondary schools highlights the need to align the content of these assessments with the new curriculum goals.

Ensure that professional development for teachers and resources for teaching and learning are an integral part of the implementation strategy

Significant curricular reform implies investment in professional development and support. Significant reform is likely to require that teachers not only change their roles and take on increased responsibility, but also that they modify attitudes and beliefs. They therefore require support in understanding both the requirements of the new curriculum and the implications of proposed changes for their practice (Kennedy and Kennedy, 1996[48]). New approaches to teaching require teachers to become learners, and teacher professional development is crucial (Michael, 2006[49]). It is therefore important to integrate and invest in teacher training when rolling out the curriculum reform, as that will determine its success.

Research from nine case studies (Anderson, 1995[50]) highlights the dilemmas facing practitioners seeking to implement a new pedagogical approach to education. Overall, the conclusions of the research emphasise the need to provide significant support to ensure that teachers’ values, beliefs and competencies are aligned with the requirements of the reform. The role of students and the nature of the work expected from them in the new system must also be clearly defined, since they will progressively have greater ownership of their own learning, as the focus shifts from passive learning to active learning.

The OECD Initial Teacher Preparation study has also highlighted the need to invest in initial teacher education and induction to ensure that candidate teachers are also able to adapt to the new curriculum. A potential incentive to ensure the knowledge, competencies and values of teacher candidates in ITE are in line with the new curriculum would be to align national examinations for teachers and accreditation standards for ITE programmes.

In analysing the Finnish case of active learning in teacher education, Niemi (2002[51]) underlines pitfalls for both students and teachers associated with a lack of knowledge about and familiarity with changes to learning methods and strategies. Students need to get used to these methods, especially to the learning strategies required to seek and process knowledge. They also need more knowledge of how to develop their own learning, as well as of the social skills called for in this type of learning. Teachers need encouragement to sustain the approach and more opportunities to practice it during teacher education. The study concludes that building communities of teachers and fostering collaborative working relationships may help to better root active learning in the school culture.

Hargreaves (1996[52]) points out that schools, as well as teacher educational institutions, rely more on experience and intuition than research and the road to significant changes in practice is often a long one. In addition, although results may not be immediately apparent, they may nonetheless have an indirect impact. In a literature review on active learning, Prince (2004[53]) concludes that teachers who adopt problem-based-learning are unlikely to see improvements in student test scores, but are likely to see a positive influence on student attitudes and study habits. Evidence from the literature suggests that active learning methods will help students to retain information longer and perhaps to develop enhanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Some relevant country practices illustrate how support for teachers and school leaders, including investment in professional development, can be used effectively to support curriculum reform.

  • In Wales (United Kingdom), the current curriculum reform is associated with an effort to raise the level of initial teacher education and offer lifelong opportunities for professional development across the career stages (Furlong, 2015[54]). The new Professional Teaching and Leadership Standards, implemented in 2016, reflect the vision in the curriculum reform and aim to develop teaching and leadership capacity. The standards promote professionalism in the workforce. Teachers are expected to strive to develop and grow their expertise, take responsibility for their own development and seek better ways to improve the life chances of children (OECD, 2017[36]).

  • After a public consultation in 2002, Scotland (United Kingdom) developed the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as a coherent 3-18 curriculum. Teaching Scotland’s Future, a review of teacher education in Scotland, (2011[29]) provides a vision of the future teaching profession in Scotland that was accepted by the Scottish Government. In particular, it offers a series of measures to answer the growing needs of teachers since CfE was implemented. An important feature was the creation in 2014 of the Scottish College for Teaching and Leadership, a government agency that provides support and coherence to leadership development across the education system at all levels of responsibility.

Implementation of new curricula has also raised the issue of the use of different types of media, including both ICT and printed materials in the learning process. Despite excellent broadband infrastructure, Japanese schools are not rich in the application of ICT to teaching and learning (Figure 2.4), and more than one in four teachers reported a high level of need for professional development in the area of ICT skills for teaching (OECD, 2015[16]).

Schools and teachers are now increasingly using a range of materials, combining print and technology that can promote more active learning by students. The 2015 OECD report, Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, (OECD, 2015[16]) highlighted the role of technology in significantly expanding students’ access to knowledge. In the foreword, Andreas Schleicher asks: “Why should students be limited to a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they could have access to the worlds best and most up-to-date textbook? He goes on to point out that technology allows teachers and students to access specialised materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats, with few time and space constraints. Technology provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation, where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. Perhaps most importantly, technology can support new pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants, with tools for inquiry-based pedagogies and collaborative workspaces. For example, technology can enhance experiential learning, foster project-based and inquiry-based pedagogies, facilitate hands-on activities and co-operative learning, and deliver formative real-time assessment. It can also support learning and teaching communities with new tools, such as remote and virtual labs, highly interactive non-linear courseware based on state-of-the-art instructional design, sophisticated software for experimentation and simulation, social media and serious games’ technology.

The introduction of new aspects to the curriculum based on skills, knowledge and values provides an opportunity to explore the use of different teaching and learning materials for schools, teachers and students, many involving ICT. Tablet and hand-held computing are featuring increasingly across education systems in the OECD. Used imaginatively, tablet computers give greater flexibility and are more amenable to change and improvement in fast-moving environments. However, the evidence on the use of ICT in education more broadly is not clear. It offers potential and promise, but there are challenges relating to the disruption of existing traditional teaching and learning practices, costs, training of teachers, equity and issues around data privacy and security. According to an international study for policy makers on the use of ICT in education (Trucano, 2016[55]), policy makers need to carefully consider how best to utilise and integrate ICT, especially in the context of a new curriculum.

  • In China, an experiment carried out in 166 primary schools showed that using an e-book or printed book made no significant difference to students’ reading accuracy. However, the tracking technique of the tablet can provide detailed logs about the actual learning processes and allow further assistance to individual learners. This study concludes that a tailor-made e-book-learning system could achieve a more personalised learning experience for primary school students (Huang et al., 2012[56]).

  • ICT is represented in two ways in the Australian Curriculum, within the curriculum for the technologies learning area and through the general ICT capability embedded across all learning areas of the curriculum. The learning continuum for the general ICT capability describes the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that students can reasonably be expected to develop at particular stages of schooling. The framework guides teachers and industry in creating the educational resources that promote proficiency in the use of electronic sources of information, and helps to ensure that students develop useful skills in their time on line, such as planning a search, locating information on a website, evaluating the usefulness of information, and assessing the credibility of sources (OECD, 2015[16]).

  • Wales has developed a Digital Competence Framework as the first element in its curriculum reform. The Framework5 was developed by practitioners from pioneer schools chosen to help lead the development of the new curriculum, with the support of external experts. Through the four strands outlined below, it aims to encourage the development of digital competence across the curriculum:

    • Citizenship: identity, image and reputation; health and well-being; digital rights, licensing and ownership; and online behaviour and cyberbullying.

    • Interacting and collaborating: communication; collaboration; and storing and sharing.

    • Producing: planning, sourcing and searching; creating; and evaluating and improving.

    • Data and computational thinking: problem-solving and modelling; and data and information literacy.

There remains scope for more imaginative use of ICT to support the ambitious education reform programme in Japan. Continued reliance on print-based textbooks, for example, sets their content at the date of publication and limits the scope for more interactive styles of knowledge and skill development.

In addition to capacity, the success of curriculum reforms can depend on the organisation of the workload for teachers and staff in schools. In many countries, workload has become a central issue for the teaching profession, and it is becoming a concern for governments. Countries appear to be considering reorganising working time for teaching staff, reducing class sizes, hiring additional teachers or other approaches to alleviate the burden of teachers and ensure quality teaching (OECD, 2015[57]).

  • A 2014 Canadian report highlighted the struggle teachers face in terms of workload. On average, teachers in this pan-northern study are found to work 50-55 hours a week on tasks as diverse as teaching, administrative and clerical work and extra-curricular activities. With little or no time remaining during the day for lesson planning or marking, those are done during evening or weekends, which can lead to stress and burnout (Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association, 2014[58]).

  • In England (United Kingdom), the rising concern about teachers’ workload drove the government to launch the Workload Challenge (2014), a survey focusing on three areas of inquiry: 1) reducing unnecessary or unproductive tasks; 2) identifying strategies that work in schools to manage workload; and 3) defining what the government and schools can do to minimise workload. The survey revealed that marking, planning, and managing data were especially wasteful in teaching resources. In 2015, the government made the commitment to:

    • give schools more time to prepare for any government change made to accountability, the curriculum or qualifications,

    • share examples of successful practices schools have used to deal with teaching tasks that can cause unnecessary workload,

    • track teacher workload by running a large-scale survey every two years (Department for Education, 2015).

The proposed reforms in Japan are likely to have a significant impact on the experience and learning of students. The implications for cumulative demands on teachers’ time, for professional development and for supporting teaching and learning resources should be planned as an integral part of the implementation strategy.

MEXT is aware of the need to address workload issues, and it is important for Japan to consider this as part of its curriculum reform. In that regard, MEXT has informed the OECD that there have been proposals from the Central Council for Education to reduce work pressures on teachers by adding more teachers, promoting work efficiency and making use of external staff (MEXT, 2017[59]). Finding complementary arrangements or options to alleviate the burden on teachers and ensure that they have enough time for training is discussed in Chapter 3 of this report.


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← 1. More broadly, the OECD is developing a framework focused on 21st century skills through its Education 2030 Project (OECD, 2016). Japan has been participating in this project and has shared the concept of chi, toku, tai (knowledge, attitudes, values and skills ) in its curriculum.

← 2. For more detailed data, see Teachers in Japan: A highly productive but fragile population and Figure 3.3, Working hours of lower secondary education teachers, 2013.

← 3. National schools are public schools where the book selection is done by the school principal and not by the Board of Education.

← 4.

← 5.