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Japanese school teachers work most hours of all countries: OECD survey

A staffroom administrative assistant, right, is seen working at a junior high school in Yokohama on June 19, 2019. She deals with a wide range of office duties, including making copies, answering the phone, greeting guests and hanging posters around the school. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Japanese elementary and junior high school teachers work the longest hours of any country surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)'s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), according to the results of a 2018 study published on June 19.

Japanese teachers at junior high schools were found to work on average for 56 hours a week, while in elementary schools it's 54.4 hours, with both at the top of their respective educational stage.

The previous 2013 survey also saw Japanese junior high school educators ranked top, making this year's result their second consecutive appearance at the head of the list. A tendency for particularly long hours at the schools caused by duties outside lessons such as instruction during extracurricular club activities and administrative responsibilities appears not to have changed.

While Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is continuing to pursue its current working style reforms for education sector workers, it is also seeking more effective measures to ease the situation.

Held every five years, the third TALIS survey was carried out on junior high schools in 48 participating countries and regions, and on elementary schools in 15 countries and regions. The previous inspection marked the first time that Japanese junior high schools were sampled, and this year's survey is the first to include Japan's elementary schools. Principals and teachers at around 400 schools nationally -- 200 primary and 200 junior high schools -- took part in the 2018 survey.

The average number of hours worked per week in junior high schools across respondent countries is estimated at around 38.3 hours. But in Japan it's 56 hours, up from the already high 2013 result of 53.9 hours. When looking at a breakdown of teachers' duties, extracurricular club activities take up 7.5 hours per week on average, an exceptionally high number compared to other countries and regions' overall average of 1.9 hours a week.

Clerical work such as document preparation and other obligations also constituted about 5.6 hours of employee time per week in Japan, more than double the 2.7 hour average for all surveyed countries and regions. However, the amount of actual classroom time per week is 18 hours, lower than the international average of 20.3 hours.

In Japan's elementary schools, clerical duties are estimated to take 5.2 working hours per week, longer than the 4.9 hours they give on average to marking and correction, or the 4.1 hours said to be used for discussion with colleagues each week.

Furthermore, self-evaluation with regards to teaching ability was low among Japanese teachers. At the junior high school level, just 30.6% of educators in Japan said they felt they could motivate students who show low interest in school work, compared to 72% internationally. And whereas 86.3% of worldwide respondents said they felt they could get students to believe they could do well in school work, just 24.1% of junior high school teachers in Japan reported the same level of confidence.

In Japan, new curriculum guidelines to try to revitalize classroom education with deeper learning through independent and interactive means are set to be implemented sequentially, starting with elementary schools in school year 2020. But the TALIS results show that only 16.1% of teachers in junior high schools in Japan are presenting tasks for which there is no obvious solution to students, against a 37.5% average internationally. In Japanese elementary schools, similar trends were observed as in junior high schools.

An official at the ministry of education said, "We take the results very seriously. We want to continue implementing work-style reforms that allow teachers to concentrate on the roles only they can do."

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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