Japan’s education ministry receives endorsement for ethics to be taught in public schools

TOKYO, Nov. 11 — Following deliberations earlier in the year, a panel of experts from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology recommended Monday that moral education become a core component of state elementary and junior high schools.
The education ministry will finalize its plans by the end of the year with an aim to introduce ethics studies as a core component of public schools’ curriculum in 2015, sources with knowledge of the matter said.
In February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s education task force floated the idea that ethics be taught under the government’s curriculum, but skepticism to the idea was rife among the ruling coalition, with factions believing such a subject would be hard to implement.
Criteria such as grading the students quantifiably and the choice of which textbooks to use had been the center of debate among government officials and teachers alike, but the expert panel on Monday’s draft proposal suggested that government- authorized textbooks be adopted, but acquired from private publishers.
Currently in Japan’s public elementary and junior high schools, classes devoted to the study of morals and ethics are allotted one hour per week and are taught as an extracurricular “activity” rather than as a core subject with a designated syllabus.
Teachers up until now have been wary that the standardization of such a subject may inhibit students’ abilities to form their own judgments and value systems and could possibly diminish their ability to have and voice their own opinions.
To this end, the Central Council for Education, a ministerial advisory body, will review the proposal and make alterations where necessary, in line with the prime minister’s overall calls for educational reform.
The panel convened to formalize the proposal suggested that rather than bringing in qualified ethics teachers to teach the subject in the same vein as mathematics and science, for example, that the duty should fall on the students’ regular homeroom teachers.
In terms of assessments, the panel recommended that a more subjective approach be taken, rather than quantifiable measures and that until a textbook can be agreed upon within the ministry, a textbook currently used may be amended and used in the interim period from 2014.
Despite being a non-curricular subject, the education ministry has long trumpeted the virtues of teaching morals and ethics in public schools in Japan as an activity.
The ministry stated “Moral education aims to develop a Japanese citizen who will never lose the consistent spirit of respect for his fellow man; who will realize this spirit at home, at school and in other actual life situations;… and who is able to make a voluntary contribution to the peaceful international society.”
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