Falling academic standards a sign of the times

By Isao Miyazawa, Mainichi Shimbun, Wednesday 8 December 1999

Ministry of Education white paper published Tuesday about the declining academic ability of university students.

Some college students cannot solve even a fractional equation, but the white paper said that there is nothing you can do to alter the alarming decline.

The ministry blamed the falling standard on the increasing number of students who go on to higher education.

Back in 1955, only about 10 percent of students went on to university, but the current rate is approaching the 50 percent mark, so it's a natural conclusion for the average academic standards of students to drop, the white paper said.

The white paper also refuted the claim that the reduced content of school curricula is the reason behind the sharp drop in the general academic abilities of the nation's schoolchildren.

Research cited in the white paper stated that on average, only half of junior high school students and 30 percent of senior high school students fully understand their lessons.

The students are underachieving despite the fact that they have much less to learn than their predecessors since the 1984 shift in educational policy from rote learning to harnessing individual talent, which the ministry is trying to achieve by reducing the number of curricula.

However, the white paper insisted that underachievement is not a problem, as students have more time to learn the basics and satisfy their inquiring minds.

Students will acquire ‘vital knowledge’ of life (instead of academic ability aimed at getting good scores in examinations) through the shift of emphasis, the white paper trumpeted without providing any backup to its theory.

The ministry will further reduce curricula for public elementary and junior high schools by 30 percent from 2002.

Takehiko Kariya, an assistant professor of educational sociology at Tokyo University, was not impressed by the ministry report.

The white paper must explain why the policy was introduced and what it has achieved by providing supporting data, but this one failed miserably, Kariya says. Show us the evidence of the claim that educational standards won't drop because of reductions in curricula.

Kariya said it was impossible to give full backing to the ministry educational reform unless it can show some evidence that there will be an increase in the number of studious children.