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Editorial: Creativity remains vital part of teaching as Japan eyes new curriculum

High schools will be required to hold lessons to cultivate students' critical thinking ability based on classroom discussions while maintaining current lesson workloads under a draft for new curriculum guidelines unveiled by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

Under the draft, which will be introduced in the 2022 academic year, 27 out of 55 courses will be either newly established or reviewed.

The draft guidelines focus on developing students' skills in critical thinking, judgment and self-expression, representing a departure from the emphasis on accumulating knowledge.

To that end, the draft urges schools to improve their classes through active learning in all subjects. Newly established courses include "research on classic Japanese literature" and "research on Japanese history."

In a new standardized university entrance examination to be introduced in the 2020 academic year, exam takers will be tested on their ability in critical thinking and self-expression. The curriculum guidelines will be renewed with this entrance examination reform in mind.

Curriculum guidelines for elementary and junior high schools that the ministry revised last year also have a similar philosophy. Therefore, the ministry has drastically transformed the philosophy behind Japanese school education from elementary school to university.

However, questions remain as to whether schools can accept the philosophy and develop classes in which students can have discussions based on their knowledge and deepen their learning.

The proposed new high school curriculum guidelines will not reduce the volume of material taught to students in various subjects. The number of English words students are supposed to learn will be increased by up to 700.

It takes teachers a lot of time and effort to prepare for and conduct lessons centering on active learning. It is also necessary to secure enough time for students to accumulate their knowledge.

One cannot help but wonder whether teachers can offer such lessons within the limits of current classroom time. The introduction of active learning would be meaningless if students could not sufficiently digest what they are supposed to learn.

"General history" in which students learn history by linking Japanese and world histories since the 18th century will be newly introduced as a compulsory course. Another compulsory course will be "public studies," which is aimed at training high school students to be sovereign members of society.

These courses will deal with actual world affairs and political issues. Some teachers will certainly be at a loss how to teach these matters to students. It is essential to train teachers to improve their teaching skills toward that end.

Furthermore, it is necessary to create textbooks and other teaching materials that are effective in active learning. In such a learning method, teachers are required to evaluate students' performance from a diverse viewpoint.

The education ministry intends to compile an instruction manual on the proposed new curriculum guidelines and launch active learning classes on a trial basis at designated schools before fully introducing such lessons.

However, the proposal of such model lessons should not restrain individual teachers' discretion in giving classes. The curriculum guidelines set nothing but standards for teaching. Teachers' creativity alone will lead to the formulation of lessons that impress students.

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