“Enduring Contexts”: Macdonald

Larry Macdonald (Soka University) reported on one of the aspects of yutori education that has been largely overlooked in the hoopla and panic associated with the presumed impact of a reduction in textbook content on academic abilities: the (gentle) introduction of integrated teaching and a more interrelated curriculum, 総合的な学習の時間 (sôgô tekina gakushû no jikan, general study period). Under this banner, three hours per week were to be dedicated to study that reaches across the different subjects in schools. This has been reduced to two hours this year in the context of the yutori reversal for the current curriculum.

Macdonald reported on some of the more creative, ambitious and far-reaching focus areas that particular schools have selected for the general study period. A number of Osaka-area schools with a strong tradition of dowa education thus focused on an integrated discussion of human rights.

The most exciting approach to the general study period that I had never heard of previously is that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has apparently developed curriculum materials to introduce students to its work and thus to developing countries. Fascinating!

Even though juku instruction would lend itself very well to a turn towards integrated study, I have not seen much of this in any of my fieldwork. Especially subject matter from arithmetic/math and science, but also from Japanese and social studies could well be discussed in an integrated fashion, but neither instructors nor any of the teaching materials commonly used in juku have pursued this to my knowledge.

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