Japan's goal: getting students out of the pressure cooker
WHEN the Japanese discuss their current education problems, the legacy of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur invariably receives part of the blame. Officials here trace many of their present difficulties to the imposition of foreign values held by those Americans who administered the postwar Allied occupation.Skip to next paragraph
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As a result, restructuring of education methods and, more specifically, shifting the philosophical underpinnings from American to Japanese social values are priority domestic tasks for Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.
An advisory group appointed by the prime minister identified four major educational problems:
* The baneful effects on lower education of the present highly competitive college entrance examination system.
* The ills of uniformity in education that stifles diversification.
* The influence of general social trends that make light of responsibility and obligations while emphasizing freedom and rights.
* Lack of recognition of the importance of discipline and education of youngsters in the home.
The concerns come against a background of record postwar levels of juvenile delinquency, especially violence by junior high school students in the classroom and at home. (Police have had to be called repeatedly to many inner-city schools to try to restore order.)
Japan has also seen an increase in the number of nervous breakdowns among teachers unable to cope and extremely high suicide levels among students, mainly concentrated among those at the junior high level but extending to elementary school as well. School absenteeism has shot up dramatically (by Japanese standards); the Education Ministry reports an average of 3.6 percent of junior high students refusing to attend classes.
Other authorities believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The prime minister argues that education in any society represents an effort to transmit a nation's culture to succeeding generations, but he notes that the postwar education reform sought to graft an American cultural model on Japanese society in order to build a new democratic society that would make a complete break with a militaristic, emperor-worshiping past.
''(This) helped the war-devastated nation rebuild itself and achieve today's prosperity,'' the advisory group concedes, but at the same time ''it has contributed to the (social) ills of today.''
The seven advisers, however, did not come up with any firm proposal on an issue close to Mr. Nakasone's heart - revamping the American-introduced school structure in which elementary schools include kindergarten through Grade 6; junior high, Grades 7 through 9; senior high, Grades 10 through 12; and college, four more years. This has long been blamed for the the severe struggle at every stage to advance to a good school, eventually leading up the ladder to a prestigious university that offers its graduates the prospect of top jobs in the public or private sector.
Instead, the group found it ''not necessarily appropriate'' at this time to enforce a uniform revision in this structure, although it urged more flexible application to allow for diversification of educational courses.