Editorial: Improving Teacher Skills Key to Closing Gaps in University Test Scores in Japan

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Japan’s Ministry of Education has released the results of this year’s nationally standardized tests for sixth-grade students and third-grade junior high students.

The tests for junior high school students were the first edition to be administered under new curriculum guidelines aimed at fostering “the ability to find problems and solve them for themselves”.

In this year’s tests, science was added for the first time in four years to the regular math and Japanese language menu for elementary and junior high students. In the science section, many questions tested not only their knowledge, but also their ability to use data and scientific thinking.

However, these questions yielded poor results. In particular, lower secondary students answered 49.7% of the 21 science section questions correctly on average, down 16.8 percentage points from the previous test.

A questionnaire targeting schools and students was conducted in conjunction with the tests, and the responses highlighted the challenges faced by those attending the schools.

The rate of correct answers was not necessarily higher in schools which stated in the survey: “In science, we give advice to students so that they can plan observations and experiments according to their predictions and hypotheses.”

Test results indicate that there are many instances where classes are not being delivered in accordance with the new program guidelines. An official from the National Institute for Educational Policy Research, who was involved in developing the test questions, speculates that this can be attributed to the varying quality of teachers’ abilities.

There is an urgent need to strengthen teacher training and improve their skills to prevent disparities in the quality of teaching. For this, it is imperative to improve their working environment, in particular by reducing their heavy administrative burdens.

There are also notable differences between schools and regions. In the questionnaire, 20% of the colleges answered that they did not give enough courses “where the students make presentations that they have prepared to convey their messages”. The rate of correct answers also varied considerably from one prefecture to another. It is essential to identify the problems in each school and community, and to make the most of the results to improve the quality of the classroom.

Children’s academic ability is also linked to their habits outside of school.

According to the survey, the more time a child spends on social media and video-sharing sites, the lower their accurate response rate tends to be. Meanwhile, children who are fond of reading showed a higher rate of correct answers not only in the Japanese language section, but also in math and science.

Efforts to support children’s learning through collaboration between schools and households are needed to prevent educational inequalities from arising among children due to their environment.

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