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New written Japanese, math portions for college entrance exams postponed

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda speaks about the postponement of the adoption of written portions of Japanese and math exams in the new standardized college entrance test system due to start in the 2020 academic year, during a press conference held at his ministry in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on the morning of Dec. 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- The adoption of written portions of Japanese language and math exams under the new university entrance test system due to start in the 2020 academic year will be postponed, education minister Koichi Hagiuda announced on Dec. 17.

The move is the second setback for the government over education reform following its earlier decision to drop its plan to adopt privately run English tests for the new standardized college admission exam system.

Both the introduction of private English tests and written portions of Japanese and math exams were the major pillars of university entrance exam reforms pushed forward by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Hagiuda made the announcement during a press conference following a Cabinet meeting that morning.

Grading of the written portions were to be commissioned to a subsidiary of the correspondence education firm Benesse Holdings, Inc. As it was said to require some 10,000 people to grade all test answers of approximately 500,000 exam-takers in about 20 days, concerns were raised over possible errors or disparities in grading due to the hiring of part-timers.

In two trials held to see the viability of the written portions, it emerged that there were discrepancies between scores by graders and those self-rated by test-takers themselves. As university applicants are supposed to decide which schools to apply for based on their self-rated scores, voices of doubt prevailed among would-be applicants about the adoption of the written portions.

Calls for postponing the adoption of the written portions had been mounting within the prime minister's office and the ruling coalition on the grounds that pressing forward with the scheme could create new fodder for attacks against the Abe administration. The education ministry accordingly decided to postpone the introduction of the initiative.

Discussions on college entrance exam reform began after the education rebuilding implementation council, promoted by Prime Minister Abe, made a policy recommendation in 2013. Under the new standardized college entrance exam system set to start in academic 2020, the reform featured the adoption of private English tests to gauge applicants' skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking, as well as the introduction of written portions of Japanese and math exams to evaluate test-takers' abilities in expressions and judgment.

On Nov. 1, however, Hagiuda announced the postponement of the introduction of private English tests due to a lack of prospects for resolving economic and regional disparities in applicants' opportunities in taking those tests. The government is currently considering implementing a new system in the 2024 academic year.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, Kohei Chiwaki and Yuka Narita, City News Department)

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