An education ministry survey on elementary and junior high school teachers' working conditions has demonstrated that Japanese educators are overworked.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology surveyed approximately 19,000 teachers randomly selected from among public elementary and junior high schools across the country, and compared their working conditions with those from a decade ago.
The survey shows that both elementary and junior high school teachers' work hours have significantly increased. The weekly work hours of elementary school teachers averaged 57 hours and 25 minutes, an increase of over four hours from 10 years ago, while those of junior high school teachers reached 63 hours and 18 minutes, up more than five hours from a decade ago.
One in three elementary school teachers and nearly 60 percent of junior high school teachers work for at least 60 hours a week, a level that could lead to serious health problems or even death from overwork.
Another survey conducted by an international organization shows that junior high school teachers in developed countries work for about 38 hours a week on average. In light of this figure, Japanese teachers' work hours are remarkably long.
Japanese teachers' long work hours are attributable largely to an increase in the number of classes given to students as a result of curriculum changes as well as their duty to instruct students in extracurricular activities such as sports.
Under revised curriculum guidelines, the number of classes in early elementary school grades has been increased by two per week and that of those in later elementary school grades and junior high schools by one. That means teachers must spend more time preparing for classes and grading children's performances. And with the spread of a system under which children are taught in small classes, teachers are required to teach more classes.
The hours that junior high school teachers spend instructing students in extracurricular activities at weekends and on national holidays have doubled to over two hours a day on average. In particular, many teachers are required to intensively instruct students shortly before they participate in important competitions.
What is particularly worrisome is that around 5,000 teachers take sick leave each year due to mental problems. It is necessary to increase the number of teachers to reduce their burden while seeking assistance from outside experts and reviewing their duties.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is trying to reduce the burden on teachers by appointing counselors and club coaches as school staffers. The ministry should speed up these efforts.
Teachers are still required to handle massive amounts of clerical work such as compiling reports for education authorities. Boards of education should examine whether their surveys are adding to teachers' workloads. Schools should also review their events, meetings and training sessions for staff.
English is due to be added to the elementary school curriculum as an official subject while active learning, such as debate, is set to be introduced in the academic year of 2020, increasing the burden on teachers.
If teachers are exhausted, the quality of school education will decline. Reducing the burden on teachers is an urgent task for the future of Japan.