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Japan's education ministry looks to expand specialized subject teacher system

Education minister Masahiko Shibayama is seen at a news conference at the ministry headquarters in Tokyo in this file photo taken on Dec. 14, 2018. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- Japan's education ministry is considering expanding the partial subject-based teacher assignment system, under which some subjects are taught by specialized teachers, for fifth- and six-grade classes at elementary schools.

This is part of a plan to reform elementary, junior high and high school education in response to changes in society, such as the declining birthrate and the development of artificial intelligence. Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahiko Shibayama asked the Central Council for Education on April 17 to deliberate on the plan.

"It's necessary for schools to respond to drastic social changes," Shibayama told reporters.

Under the current system, homeroom teachers at elementary schools teach most subjects to their classes. However, some subjects, such as music and science, are taught by specialized teachers. The ministry is considering expanding this system to cover other specialized subjects, including English which will be upgraded to an official subject at elementary schools in the 2020 academic year and programming that will be a compulsory subject in the same year.

If realized, the measure would reduce the number of subjects homeroom teachers are required to teach, decreasing time they spend to prepare for classes and possibly leading to work-style reforms for elementary school teachers.

At the same time, concerns have been raised that the expansion of the subject-based teacher assignment system would make it difficult for homeroom teachers to grasp their students' abilities and characteristics and to carry out cross-disciplinary education.

There are also fears that the system cannot be expanded at small schools to which sufficient numbers of teachers cannot be assigned.

To expand the subject-based teacher assignment system, the way teachers are assigned to schools as well as the teaching credential system need to be reviewed, and the education minister asked the advisory panel to deliberate on these issues.

The ministry is also seeking to reform high school general courses, in which roughly 70 percent of high school students are enrolled, into those that can respond to students' diverse abilities and interests.

At a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Headquarters for the Revitalization of Education, a proposal was made to abolish general courses and replace them with more specialized courses, such as "science and technology courses" and "global courses."

Since numerous second- and third-year high school students choose not to take math and science subjects, the panel will consider how to formulate well-balanced curricula and promote education going beyond the borders between scientific and humanity studies.

Furthermore, the education minister asked the council to discuss how to improve elementary school children's reading comprehension ability as well as education for foreign children.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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