Japan govt panel eyes lowering school age to 5

Japan govt panel eyes lowering school age to 5

JAPAN - The government's Education Rebuilding Implementation Council will start discussing a plan this week to lower the compulsory school age from 6 to 5 as part of a review of the current school system, it has been learned.

The council, chaired by Waseda University President Kaoru Kamata, also will study a plan to create "compulsory education schools" that would integrate primary and middle school education.

In addition, the council is expected to discuss a plan in which local governments will be allowed to flexibly change the current 6-3-3 system-based on six years in primary school and three years each in middle and high schools-to a 4-4-4 system, for example, on the condition that coordination between primary, middle and high schools will be strengthened.

Under the current system, the compulsory period of education is nine years in total: six years in primary school and three years in middle school.

In May, the Liberal Democratic Party's Headquarters for the Revitalization of Education made proposals on school system reform, calling for the establishment of compulsory education schools.

After thorough discussions, the council is expected to reach a conclusion on school system reform by next summer.

It has been pointed out that the current 6-3-3 system needs to be flexibly reviewed, as children are mentally and physically growing up faster than before. Some say a system like those at middle schools, in which different teachers present different subjects, may also be effective for upper-grade students at primary schools.

Therefore, the council will discuss a school system better suited to the developmental stages of students. Because a unified reform would significantly affect the current school system and involve high costs, the council likely will focus on a method to first establish compulsory education schools, then allow educational stages to be flexibly arranged.

Currently, some local governments run schools that integrate primary and middle school education. However, unlike secondary schools that integrate middle and high school education, the establishment of such schools requires a special designation by the education minister, as there is no relevant law.

Those schools that already combine primary and middle school education have reported benefits of the system. They say problems associated with the transition from primary to middle schools, including truancy related to adjustment anxiety due to a new environment, have not been observed. They also say they have observed improvements in students' academic abilities.

Recently, the Tokyo metropolitan government unveiled plans to establish public schools integrating primary, middle and high school education, thus introducing the 4-4-4 school system.

The plan to lower the compulsory school age from 6 to 5 is aimed to help children acquire basic academic skills at an earlier stage.

The council will discuss the plan, which is based on a similar system in Britain. It will also refer to systems adopted overseas, such as in the United States, where school systems differ by state and region, and Finland, where nine-year comprehensive schools integrating primary and middle school education are fast on the rise.

However, kindergartens, which are concerned about the adverse impact of the plan on their businesses, are expected to strongly oppose it. Securing funds to cover the extra year of free education is another anticipated problem.

The council is also expected to discuss a reform plan to ensure a smooth transition to primary school education from preschool education at kindergartens and day care centers.

The nation's school system was established after a US educational mission visited Japan at the direction of the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers after World War II and advised Japan to introduce the 6-3-3 system, widely adopted in the United States at the time. It was implemented by the School Education Law, which came into force in 1947. Later, the United States switched to a predominantly 5-3-4 system.

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