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Create lessons to build kids’ applied skills for questions on national tests

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Less than half of Japanese students could answer questions on applied skills in April’s national tests. Teachers may begin to change teaching methods to improve scores.

Schools should raise the standard of children’s applied skills by getting more creative with their lesson content.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released the results of national academic achievement tests held in April.

This was the 10th time the tests have been conducted on sixth-grade elementary school students and third-year junior high school students. The tests measured the students’ basic knowledge and applied skills in Japanese and math.

Although around 70 percent of students gave correct answers to basic knowledge questions, on some parts of the tests regarding applied skills, the figure ranged only from 40 percent to less than 50 percent. On four of the five questions requiring explanatory answers in junior high school math, the percentage of correct answers was below 20 percent.

Poor results in applied questions that test a student’s ability to think and express thoughts have persisted since the tests were launched. Developing abilities needed in the real world — such as gleaning necessary information from the material and understanding the intention behind another person’s remarks based on the context of their conversations — remains a stubborn issue that needs addressing.

In prefectures that ranked at or near the top, efforts that put high value on children’s own initiatives and that let them learn through interaction are producing good results.

After each child thinks independently about a set topic, they hold group discussions to come up with an answer. Rather than the teacher only giving out homework, the children and students themselves decide the content of what they will learn at home.

Such teaching methods have continually produced excellent results in Akita prefecture. In recent years as many as 10,000 people have visited the prefecture to observe these methods. Some prefectures even dispatched teachers on long-term stays to Akita and other high-performing prefectures to help them soak up these teaching methods.

The gap between poorly performing prefectures and the national average is shrinking. The sharing of effective teaching methods should be promoted.

The city’s board of education has started stationing former teachers and others at struggling schools. These teachers will offer advice about ways to improve academic performance. Some elementary schools have even improved library room functions for after-school learning, after taking heed of such advice.

It is not desirable to have local governments become excessively competitive about achieving the highest marks. However, it is important that they squarely face the situation confronting them and compile policies that boost the overall academic performance of children in their region.

School summer holidays are ending, and second-term lessons are getting into full swing.

Children will present what they think they learned from their experiences during the vacation. Such lessons, in which children get involved on their own initiative, should be increased.

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