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The new Courses of Study have been applied at primary schools and lower secondary schools nationwide since April 2002. Content for all children to study in common is carefully selected, and each school is allowed to devise plans to give children enough time to think, to provide supplemental teaching individually, or to involve them in developing learning. It also substantiates the experiential and problem-solving approach to learning so that children can understand what they are learning with a feeling of reality. The aim is to enable children to learn basics and fundamentals, and to develop "Academic Ability", including natural gifts and faculties to find assignments, learn, and think by themselves, make decisions independently, take actions, and solve problems better. Contents of revisions in the new Courses of Study will be explained in detail below.
Educational content is carefully selected in the new Courses of Study in order to ease the time constraints and mental pressure on both learners and teachers. Utilizing the educational content will enable (1) fine-tuned, individually responsive teaching such as teaching according to degrees of understanding and learning, individual teaching, repetitive teaching, etc.; and (2) experiential and problem-solving approach to learning such as observation and experiment, survey and research, presentation and discussion, and so on.
In the light of the low degree of understanding of lessons by children (see Part I, Chapter 2, Section 2 ), this educational content enables each school to realize "lessons that are easy to understand" better than before so that children can learn basics and fundamentals with sense of achievement and acquire the "Academic Ability" to learn by themselves, think by themselves, etc.
In the careful selection of specific educational contents, attention is paid to secure basics and fundamentals to be established in children in the following manner: (1) Educational content that tended to be mere communication or memorization of knowledge due to their advanced nature are moved up to upper grades/years or upper level schools to be combined with the content that has been initially handled in an upper level so that children can learn them systematically and with understanding; and (2) Content that has been handled in overlapping levels of school, grades/years, and subjects are combined so they can be taught in a manner where children can learn them carefully on a timely basis ( Figure 1-2-1 : Example of careful selection of educational content).
In the new Courses of Study, in view of developing individuality and ability thoroughly according to interests and preferences, wishes for career, etc., elective courses at lower secondary and upper secondary schools are expanded.
At lower secondary schools, class hours for elective subjects are increased, and that time is used for active involvement in supplemental learning, developing learning to deepen the understanding of content included in the Courses of Study, or project-based study.
At upper secondary schools, the minimum number of total credits for compulsory subjects is reduced (from 38 to 31) so that students can develop their abilities fully by learning deeper, higher, and wider than before through study of elective subjects or courses and subjects offered that respective schools may set independently.
At each school, imaginative and original approaches are being currently taken such as offering various subjects of elective courses (See examples (Ena West Lower Secondary School, etc.) on p. 32: Part I, Chapter 2, Section 4 ).
The general rule of the Courses of Study defines: "Items related to contents in each subject, moral education and special activities shall, except for cases otherwise indicated, be handled at any school. When schools have particular needs, content not specified (in the Courses of Study) may be taught additionally." The content specified in the Courses of Study has, in the sense that it needs to be taught to all children, the character of a minimum standard.
This concept has not changed, but in the new Courses of Study, through having carefully selected educational content that all children commonly study and an expanded elective courses, the character of a minimum standard is further clarified.
Under the Courses of Study like this, at each school, children whose understanding of content specified in the Courses of Study is not sufficient may be taught repeatedly so that they can learn basics and fundamentals certainly, or, for children who have already learned enough, teachers may give assignments suitable for their interests, preferences, aptitudes, etc., so that deepening understanding of the learned content or learning more advanced content can be recognized as more important assignments. In fact, various approaches using original ideas can be employed.
The newly created "Period for Integrated Study" aims to help students: (1) Develop natural gifts and faculties to find assignments, learn, and think by themselves, make decisions independently, take actions, and solve problems better; and (2) Acquire ways to learn and view things, develop attitudes to address problem solving and research activities independently and creatively, and be able to think of their own goals in life.
Development of such natural gifts and faculties and attitudes is also looked for in the teaching of each subject. Nevertheless, this period was created in the light of decreasing opportunities for children to understand knowledge and other things they have learned at school with a sense of reality, with the object of providing such opportunities by intent and by design so that the abilities acquired through study of subjects, etc., can function in an integrated way through diverse activities.
Regarding contents to be taught in the "Period for Integrated Study", the Courses of Study only attempt to show that experiential learning such as experiences with nature, experiences in everyday life, observations, experiments, field trips and research, and problem-solving approaches to learning should be actively applied to crossover and comprehensive problems such as international understanding, information, environment, welfare and health. Each school is allowed to set specific contents freely with original ideas based on the realities of its children and the area.
In addition, paying full attention to the goal of the "Period for Integrated Study", and getting cooperation of outside human resources, each school is currently endeavoring to broaden the knowledge and experience of children and enhance motivation for learning, e.g., to utilize the abilities acquired through study of subjects, etc., in the "Period for Integrated Study", and to utilize the abilities acquired in the "Period for Integrated Study" in subsequent study of subjects, etc.
In the new Courses of Study, the contents to be learned by all the students were carefully selected, enabling instruction to be even better tailored according to the level of understanding and proficiency of individual students. Each school is expected to promote further education according to the individuality of each student, and at the same time they are expected to adopt further approaches to develop the abilities of students who have sufficient understanding of the contents required by the Courses of Study by means of advanced study for deeper understanding.
In order to realize the above approach fully in school textbooks, MEXT requested the Textbook Authorization and Research Council to discuss improvements of the textbook administration system from the perspective of providing students with better textbooks.
On July 31, 2002, the Textbook Authorization and Research Council presented a report on this subject. It stated that, considering the basic character of the textbook as the common teaching materials for all students and the necessity of deepening students' understanding of what they learn and broadening students' learning experience according to their interests and motivation, it is appropriate to guarantee further the variety in the contents of textbooks by means of allowing the content not required in the Courses of Study to be included in the textbooks on condition that these contents be treated as additional and be clearly distinguished from the main body of the textbook.
Based on this report, MEXT revised a part of the Ministry's guidelines for textbook authorization on August 29, 2002.
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