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New curriculums to offer 70 hours of English classes a year for 5th, 6th graders

The education ministry on Aug. 1 presented a summary of discussions regarding an update to the national curriculums for elementary, junior high and high schools, with English to be made an official subject with 70 class hours a year in fifth and sixth grade.

The summary was presented to a special working group of the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister. The 45-minute English courses are to prepare students for globalization.

Additionally, the new curriculums are to include changes to high school courses that emphasize raising students' thinking and expressive skills, together with changes to university entrance exams. Large changes are planned for the subjects of geography, history and Japanese. A new subject of "general history" that combines Japanese history and world history, with a focus on modern history, is to be created.

The ministry intends to seek public opinion on the changes this month, after receiving approval from the council's special working group and other organizations. The council will also aim to submit a report to the ministry on the plans within the year.

The new curriculums are to be adopted in the 2020 academic year at elementary schools, in 2021 at junior high schools, and staggered by grade level at high schools starting in 2022.

The education ministry revises the national curriculums about once every 10 years. The current curriculums, which were revised in 2008 and 2009, reinstated the elementary and junior high school class time and content that had been reduced in earlier cuts, in an effort to break away from the so-called "relaxed curriculums." The newly planned changes will keep to this path by not reducing the amount of class time. They also place emphasis on raising students to be active instead of passive learners. One method of doing this is the introduction of so-called "active learning," in which students use the knowledge they have gained to debate, discover issues and explore those matters.

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