Annex A. Overview of strengths, challenges and policy options

Competencies for 2030: Curriculum, assessment and teaching


The curriculum and reform are focused on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes (and values) for students with a long-term focus on 2030.

The curriculum reform process is well established (every ten years) and understood by stakeholders.

There are pilots in place to test the teaching strategies to introduce the new curriculum.

The lesson study is well known and operationalises the culture of reflection, team work and impact.


The magnitude of the reform should not be minimised, and there are risks that proactive, interactive and authentic learning may be adopted only as superficial change.

There is a need for a clearer strategy for schools and teachers to adopt the concept of active learning.

Significant efforts are required to align assessments with the new education objectives to ensure full adoption of the revised curriculum (upper secondary education and university entrance examination are driving incentives).

There is a need to ensure that conditions exist for teachers and schools to develop and be able to practice new curriculum, including subjects and skills development, and to target the heavy teachers’ workload and large class sizes.

Suggested policy recommendations

Towards 21st century competencies: Prioritise implementation of the curriculum reform

The implementation of the new curriculum requires a carefully crafted strategy that sets policy priorities around the curriculum and communicates its value to parents and communities to ensure adoption and support.

While the reform strategy can build on existing strengths and continue the measured move towards more active learning, it also needs to take into account additional educational issues in the country, such as development of digital competence and proficiency in foreign languages.

The approach to assessment, including upper secondary education and university entrance examinations, needs to reflect the broader purposes of the new curriculum. Training to ensure teachers are able to assess students aligned to the new curriculum should be systematic.

Investing in the continuing training of teachers will be key, ensuring that teachers are able to focus on effective teaching and learning and that they have flexible resources that reflect active learning and encourage cross curriculum learning. Aligning ITE to the new curriculum will also be key.

Holistic education and school-community partnerships


Japan has adopted a model of holistic education in which schools also work with children to take care of their own environment, and deliver after school activities. School-community partnerships contribute to this model.

The recent reform package (Team Gakkou, Community School and Community Co-operation Network for Learning and Education) attests to a strong political will to design schools for the 21st century.

The commitment of families and communities for schools already exists and contributes to holistic education.

In Japan, there is a shared commitment to improve equity


Teachers’ long working hours and the lack of leadership on the part of school principals may hinder the sustainability of holistic education.

The reforms on school management and partnerships with community require investing in leadership capacity at the school level.

There is a lack of clarity on the objectives of school-community partnerships which can divert efforts from the core curriculum reform agenda.

External extracurricular activities and juku, financed by families, place a financial burden on the more disadvantaged.

Suggested policy recommendations

Focus school organisation and school-community partnerships on the curriculum reform and preserving holistic education

Enhance support service at school level by considering the possibility of having additional teachers or administrative staff who could cover extra social or welfare needs, enhance students’ well-being and potentially alleviate the burden of teachers. However, it is important to ensure that the holistic model of Japanese education is maintained without resorting to a Tayloristic model of work organisation that promotes the segmented allocation of tasks across different staff.

Focus leadership towards 2030 by redefining the role of school principals according to long-run objectives, developing professional selection processes, providing specific training at different stages of the career and implementing evaluation and incentives to make the profession more attractive.

Target the objectives of the school-community partnerships to promoting activities that contribute to holistic education, to allow schools and teachers to focus on the curriculum reform.

Consider establishing specific structures and sparing resources to mitigate the risk of increased inequalities that could result from school-community partnerships. In addition, support more partnerships in disadvantaged communities as an alternative to prevailing shadow education, while also studying its impact on inequalities.

Lifting the contribution of education to the Japanese skills system


Education is a priority for individuals and families; the principle of cost sharing is widely accepted.

There is high-level recognition by the government of the need for change in the skills system. This creates opportunities to address longstanding issues: the need to broaden the skill base, in terms of the types of skills in the population and the retention of more skilled people in the labour force (especially women and older people).

The existing high-performing tertiary education institutions provide a strong base from which to meet the emerging challenges. There are signs of growing innovation in the higher-education sector.

The government has an efficient student financial aid system that provides subsidised loan schemes and a new grant-type scholarship to provide support for tertiary education students.


There is a high financial burden on families who take up early childhood education and care (ECEC), especially for the most disadvantaged.

The government’s student financial support is low by international standards, so most students have to rely on family support and income from part-time jobs.

There are two functions for lifelong learning: upskilling the working or retired (qualified) population and second-chance education. There seems to be little recognition of the need to provide second-chance adult education.

Take-up of lifelong learning is low. There is evidence that current lifelong learning provision is of low relevance and poor value for money.

Suggested policy recommendations

Strengthen lifelong learning and financial arrangements for non-mandatory education to support equity

As tertiary education student numbers decline, the Japanese government needs to take advantage of the headroom created in the tertiary education budget to find efficiencies and to reallocate funding to higher priorities. The government needs to target support to those who are most disadvantaged and to initiatives that will have the greatest impact on the challenges the skills system faces.

As resources permit, the Japanese government should continue its efforts to increase subsidies for ECEC, while maintaining its approach of targeting subsidies to disadvantaged families. In the medium term, ensuring better integration of the day-care and kindergarten systems could boost female participation in the labour market.

Reconsider the design of the tertiary student financial support system with a view to extend income-contingent loans as resources allow, and use the parameters of the scheme (such as interest rates, repayment threshold and loan entitlements) as a mean of managing the costs of loans.

With employers and workers’ representatives, redesign the approach to lifelong learning to focus on the needs of employers and of the population for upskilling, while ensuring the affordability and relevance of lifelong learning provision, as well as innovative delivery approaches and flexibility in scheduling.