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More public universities using interviews to screen aspiring teachers

In this Jan. 14, 2017 file photo, exam takers sit for the annual standardized National Center Test for University Admissions, at the University of Tokyo in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. (Pool photo)

The ratio of public universities that used interviews as part of the screening process for aspiring teachers who entered this spring rose to half. Universities are making the move in the hopes of determining the suitability of future teachers amidst repeated trouble with mental health, and cases of child molestation and other indecent acts.

    According to major preparatory school Kawaijuku Educational Institution, of the 44 national universities with an undergraduate or graduate program in teacher training, 17, or 39 percent, used interviews to screen candidates entering in the 2014 academic year. However, that number rose to 22 universities with the addition of the five national universities of Iwate, Ibaraki, Yamaguchi, Kumamoto, and Oita for the 2017 academic year. A representative of Kawaijuku said, "The number has been increasing little by little for several years, and this trend will probably continue."

    Up until last year, the Faculty of Education at Chiba University screened department candidates exclusively based on the results of a written test -- apart from students enrolling in certain programs like junior high school arts. But starting this spring, all applicants, capped at a maximum of 405 people, took part in a 15 minute group interview and discussion session with four other applicants. The evaluation of the professor interviewers were then converted to a point system, and the applicants' score was considered along with their scores on the National Center Test for University Admissions and the school's own independent secondary exam to decide whether or not to admit them into the program.

    In addition to asking about the prospective students' motivations for becoming an educator and what kind of teacher they aim to become, they are also asked, "If a case of bullying arose in your classroom, what would you do?" These and other questions are used to see how the hopeful applicants would tackle the problems often faced by teachers on the job. The department has decided that they will use the interview system to screen candidates for next academic year as well.

    "The professors not only look at if the applicant is a good student, but also take a close look at their general ability to work well with others as a member of society," explained the head of the Faculty of Education Tomoyoshi Komiyama as to why the group interviews and discussions were added to the admission process. "We wanted to be able to check at the entry stage if the students have a clear idea of what kind of teacher they want to become and if they have the communication skills to build a good rapport with students and parents."

    The increase in the introduction of interview exams comes as the working environment faced by teachers is changing. According to a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology survey, the average working hours per week during the 2016 academic year had risen by five hours to roughly 63 hours for junior high school teachers and four hours to roughly 57 hours for elementary school teachers compared with 10 years ago. Public school teachers who left their posts due to depression or other mental illnesses has hovered around 5,000 since the 2007 academic year.

    On the other hand, teachers who faced reprimands such as disciplinarily dismissal or admonitory warnings for obscene behavior including indecent assault and prostitution reached an all-time high of 224 during the 2015 academic year. The education ministry has been aiming to increase the credentials of the nation's teachers. However, it is still difficult to properly grasp the qualifications of a candidate through short interviews alone.

    "Applicants come to the interview prepared with ideal answers," laments the head of the admissions at a national university in the Kanto region that introduced the interview screening method in its education department. "It's better than doing nothing at all, but..."

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