Education is an endeavor that aims to fully develop the personality of each and every child, and is essential for children to lead happy lives in the future. In addition, education has the mission of cultivating the children who will be the future leaders of Japan and society, and the importance of such education remains a constant that will remain unchanged across eras. Further, with factors such as intensifying competition from overseas, as society continues to change at a rapid pace, the education of children is becoming increasingly important.
To further enhance the education given to these children, MEXT implements a range of policies.
First, to ensure that children are able to receive a certain level of education wherever they are in Japan, MEXT has established Courses of Study that serve as the fundamental standards for curriculums from kindergarten to high school levels. To foster a “zest for life” that emphasizes a balance of academic abilities, richness in humanity, health and physical strength, MEXT revised the Course of Study for Kindergarten as well as the Courses of Study for elementary and junior high schools in March 2008, and the Courses of Study for high schools and schools for special needs education in March 2009. Towards across-the-board implementation at elementary schools from fiscal 2011 and at junior high schools from fiscal 2012, MEXT is currently proceeding with preparations aimed at the smooth implementation of the new Courses of Study, including advance implementation in Arithmetic, Mathematics and Science and the arrangement for instructional systems and teaching materials.
Next, to develop the science and technology-oriented human resources that will lead the next generation, MEXT is engaging in the comprehensive promotion of policies aimed at enriching science, technology and mathematics education, including the expansion of policies to expand the range of children interested in Science and Mathematics and uncover and cultivate children’s talents. At the same time, efforts are underway to enhance foreign language education, starting with the arrangement in response to the introduction of foreign language activities at the elementary school level nationwide from fiscal 2011 onwards.
Textbooks are the principle teaching material in school curriculums and fulfill an important role in students’ pursuit of learning. As such, enhancing the quality and quantity of textbooks is essential, and the authorization of textbooks is underway to ensure compliance with the new Courses of Study.
Meanwhile, in all activities conducted at school, another role of school education is to provide instruction and assistance so that children acquire and develop the qualities, abilities and attitude to become members of society. In recent years, acts of violence, bullying and truancy problems have occurred in schools. To properly address these problems and ensure that school life is a meaningful and fulfilling experience for students, MEXT is producing a compilation of cases that might serve as a reference for initiatives conducted on premises at various schools, and is also working to enhance its educational counseling system.
In recent years, young people’s waning enthusiasm towards work and careers, their high turnover rates and growing numbers of part-timers and those without employment, education or training have developed into social problems. In this climate, to ensure that children acquire attitudes towards work and careers in keeping with their developmental stages and are able to carve out lives for themselves with a clear sense of purpose, career-oriented and vocational education is becoming an important part of school education. For this reason, in December 2008 the Central Council for Education was consulted on the future role of career-oriented and vocational education in schools, and is currently examining the issue. MEXT plans to take into account the forthcoming results as it seeks to enhance career education.
Since schools are a place for conducting learning activities aimed at promoting the healthy growth and self-actualization of children, the provision of a safe and secure environment is also considered important. For this reason, MEXT is working on policies aimed at ensuring the safety of students at school （including when traveling to and from school）. These policies include the promotion of dietary education at school and measures to deal with mental and physical health issues.
MEXT is working to improve education at the stage of early childhood, an important time for building the base for lifelong character formation, and for children with disabilities, endeavors to enhance special needs education, in consideration of their individual educational needs, which aims at full development of their capabilities and at their independence and social participation. Moreover, with respect to high schools, which have now achieved an advancement rate of about 98% and become national educational institutions, since the abilities, aptitude, interests and career choices have diversified along with the rise in advancement rates, MEXT is striving towards the enhancement of high school education that cultivates the individuality of each and every student.
The fact that more than anything, the success or failure of educational activities at these schools depends on the qualities, abilities and enthusiasm of the teachers is significant, and enhancing the quality and abilities of teachers is a policy challenge of tremendous importance in enhancing the education available to children. To improve the quality and abilities of teachers, a variety of measures are taken at each stage, from the development of teachers at universities and the recruitment through prefectural boards of education as well as training after hiring. In addition, to realize even higher-quality education, MEXT has embarked on a fundamental review of its strategies to improve teacher quality.
To improve the educational abilities of schools, reinforcing the number of teachers is also a key issue alongside improvements to the quality and abilities of teachers. The number of students per class and number of students per teacher in Japan is high by international standards, and serious consideration on reinforcing teacher numbers has also begun.
To secure the necessary number of excellent teachers nationwide and to maintain and improve educational levels, building the educational finance system is a key policy challenge. While the Constitution provides that compulsory education in Japan be provided for free, to guarantee funding, the Compulsory Education System Funded by Tax Revenues, which guarantees the full amount of the salaries of teaching staff at public compulsory education schools （which accounts for the majority of compulsory education costs） has been established at the expense of the national government and the prefectures.
Improvements to the school educational environment and enhancements to the quality of teachers is not something achieved through the efforts of schools alone under the recognition that parents and local residents should deepen their relationship of trust with schools and work together with schools in taking responsibility for education in the community, active cooperation with the running of schools is important. For this reason, we are expanding the discretion afforded to schools with respect to curriculum, budgets and so on so that schools can take the initiative in implementing creative educational activities based on the actual circumstances of the community and children, and engage in autonomous and self-sustaining school management. At the same time, through the utilization of the School Management Council System （Community Schools） and other initiatives, we are trying to gain the understanding and participation of parents and local residents and promote school development through coordination and cooperation with schools, households and the local community.