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Why should governments and schools want reform? A basic premise in most reforms is that something in the system has gone astray, which warrants fixing. This simple reasoning, however, is only partially valid given that any reform carries some degree of uncertainty and risk of failure. The fact that the reform process tends to be complex and chaotic aside (Fullan and Miles 1995, 405), reforming disturbs old structures, and in some cases changes the rules completely by which games are played. Therefore, it is sometimes argued that caution and the status quo, rather than change, might be the aspiration. In this light, it is interesting to consider the case of recent curriculum reform in Japan and Hong Kong, both of which have educational systems that have been regarded as relatively successful in their local socio-economic contexts but which are nonetheless confronted by growing discontent at home with the state of their schooling. In either system, curriculum reform is generally marked by a political tendency to decentralize. In particular, it is considered obligatory for decentralization to
address the curriculum development process in order to bring about substantive change. This necessarily calls for a transfer of control from the central authority to educational agents who are closer to the chalkboard – schools and teachers. Unfortunately, in systems where traditions are weak for schools and teachers to take care of their own curricula, such decentralization spawns problems of its own. How then was “reform” done in Japan and Hong Kong? What are the broad similarities and differences between the local conditions and developments in and through which reform took place?
This study will examine the recent policy and practice of decentralized curriculum development in these two places. The scope of the study is confined to the junior secondary school level1. The subject of inquiry is focused on describing, rather than explaining, the specific reasons, conditions, practices and processes, and implications of introducing the reformed programs concerned, namely, (1) project learning and school-based curriculum development (SBCD)2 in Hong Kong, and (2)
That is, Forms 1-3 in Hong Kong secondary schools and Japanese junior high schools. In some educational conventions, this translates into the 7th-9th grades. An exception to this is the case of JP Six (See Chapter Five), which was a primary school in semi-rural setting, but it was never used in such a way as to contribute to generalization about Japanese junior high schools. Its relevance mainly comes as an object of contrast with junior high schools which reportedly experienced more pedagogic difficulties in integrating curricular content across subjects. 2 “Project learning” and “school-based curriculum development (SBCD)” in this study are used specifically to refer to two separate initiatives sponsored and promoted by educational authorities in Hong Kong. Because, in practice, “project learning” has neither been promoted under the same rubric as “SBCD” nor shared identical goals or practices with the latter, I was reluctant to classify it as SBCD, as taken in the general sense. Theoretically, however, project learning could be defined as one subtype of SBCD, which, in turn, falls under the still broader context of decentralized curriculum development.
Sōgōtekina-gakushū (Integrated Learning) in Japan. By integrating classroom observations conducted during fieldwork in Japan and Hong Kong, I would like to venture a number of comparisons between the conditions and developments of these reformed programs in Japan and Hong Kong. I will also draw reference from the relevant reform policies and their history in an attempt to interpret school and teacher practices in decentralized curriculum development.
Decentralized curriculum development is only a recent development in the education history of Japan and Hong Kong. This slow advent is not unpredictable as the systems had until recently been dictated by a center-to-periphery mechanism to control their curriculum. While being highly academically-oriented and examination-bound, these systems in earlier periods of economic development provided a seeming answer to the demand for a steady supply of productive workers.
Towards the late 1980s and 1990s, however, old and new problems loomed large on the educational landscape. Basic education in Japan, for example, was criticized for its being too uniform in its curriculum, lacking flexibility and overemphasizing academic teaching at the expense of student individuality and
creativity. In Hong Kong, the situation was broadly similar, with an elitist orientation remaining more or less throughout the colonial period.
From the 1980s, educational policies in Japan and Hong Kong and the systems themselves increasingly came under fire. Pressures mounted for curriculum reform, which were accentuated by calls for decentralized curriculum development to “diversify” school education on the one hand, and by more deep-rooted concerns for maintaining academic standards on the other. In Japan, reform efforts related to Sōgōtekina-gakushū were by no means immune to distractions from competing government concerns on the reform agenda, such as the 5-day school week, and content of the academic curriculum itself. Controversies about the curriculum reform directions divided educationalists and the public in Japan, while schools, parents and the government in Hong Kong were facing a similar situation.
The need for decentralized curriculum development can be discerned as an implicit acknowledgement of the demands to devolve curricular control and responsibilities to schools themselves. One can perhaps view this development in two ways: it burdens the schools with new tasks in their own curriculum development, while
schools gain new, albeit restricted, freedom to make school curricula more relevant to their local needs. As long as this transfer of control is not a zero sum game, there is room to hope that school conditions and the quality of the reformed programs would improve, if some of the current problems are resolved.
The practical value of studying, in a right spirit and with scholarly accuracy, the working of foreign
systems of education is that it will result in our being better fitted to study and understand our own.
- Sadler [reprinted] 1964, p310
Using the case study research method, this research project carries the purpose of yielding a general understanding of a complex educational phenomenon, namely, decentralization of curriculum development as reflected in some reformed programs in Japan and Hong Kong. It draws on several kinds of relevant literature (both primary sources and secondary sources related to anthropology, education and sociology).
I have concentrated my effort mainly on studying the school and classroom practices and processes involved in selected reformed programs (namely, project learning and SBCD in Hong Kong and integrated learning in Japan) at the junior secondary school level (7th-9th grades) with some attention to the related policies and official interpretations from the government.
A comparison of curriculum reform in the two systems may be justified on several grounds: (1) critical analysis of the reform conditions and developments in a locality is made easier by introducing an outside perspective; (2) comparing may reveal possible global trends otherwise not accounted for in studies of single closed systems; and (3) through field observations in two systems, one can identify context-bound or culture-free variables in reform practice (Rosenmund 2000), which might be obscured or confused in policy documents.
This study can be categorized as one of locational comparison (Bray 1999). The subjects for study (reform policies, and school conditions, practices, and processes, etc.) were found to be quite comparable and this formed the basis of later analysis. Being educated mostly outside Hong Kong, I felt quite comfortable adopting an outside perspective towards assessment of the two systems of Japan and Hong Kong. Bray (1999) and Stevenson and Stigler (1992, 17) support this use of the outside perspective in comparative education analyses for its potential to “make the familiar strange”. Further, in comparative studies involving the curriculum, Rosenmund (2000) argued that a clear distinction should be made between the study of curriculum development process and that of curriculum decision-making.
There are basically two components in the study on which analysis and comparison were based: (1) policy study using literature and policy documents and (2) fieldwork using qualitative methods.
For policy study, I relied mostly on literature in English (for both Japan and Hong Kong), together with selected literature in Japanese for the study of socio-cultural background and historical developments concerning the Japanese educational system (mainly basic education) and educational reform. For Japan, I included local policy documents (both in printed and electronic form) as my primary references. For Hong Kong, I drew heavily on scholarly writings by local educationalists and researchers of other disciplines specializing in curriculum and educational reform. Primary sources in the form of government policy documents were frequently exploited in discussing general developments of the policy discourse over the past two decades. Very little literature has been written to date dealing with the subjects of my investigation (notably project learning in Hong Kong and Integrated Learning in Japan). Although there is a growing literature on SBCD in Hong Kong (school-based curriculum development), I found it relatively too localized or specific, and thus not appropriate in my later analysis
of fieldwork since most subject schools chosen were engaged in reformed programs of rather different nature than the so-called SBCD in Hong Kong’s context3.
For fieldwork, qualitative methods were used for data collection. Investigations were mainly focused on the reformed programs’ activities in schools and classrooms through participant observation. I also did semi-formal interviews with school teachers at each subject school (both Japanese and Hong Kong schools) and occasionally informal interviews with school principals or vice-principals (mainly in Japan), which provided additional information especially on technical and resource problems encountered by the schools and teachers. In the case of government sources, I conducted interviews with one senior official and one Project Learning officer at the CDI4, and one senior committee member at the CDC 5 in Hong Kong. In Japan, my interview informants were mainly assistant superintendents at the various local boards of education (of various administrative levels) and government professional teacher training centers. One interview was undertaken with an officer in charge of “integrated learning time” matters at the Bureau of Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Education, Japan.
Refer to an explanation on this in the discussion of project learning and SBCD in Chapter Four (4.8). Curriculum Development Institute 5 Curriculum Development Council
I chose to conduct the study through combined methods of documentary analysis and qualitative fieldwork because I was interested in knowing what was taking place on the school scene beyond the sometimes limited or insufficient accounts given in policy documents. Through conducting participant observation in Japanese and Hong Kong schools and classrooms, I was able to accessed information about the process in which teaching and learning were done. Interviews with school teachers and principals further informed me on the general trends of how their local reformed programs developed in relation to policies and local conditions. The other interviews with government agents provided data which were particularly useful in helping me understand the governments’ school support systems and other practical issues (which could be quite specific to a given geographic locality in the case of Japan). For a more thorough discussion of the fieldwork, refer to “Methods” in Chapter Five (5.2).
1.3 Structure of the Thesis
This thesis is a comparative study of certain types of reformed programs related to decentralized curriculum development in Japan and Hong Kong. For this reason, it is necessary to look at the conditions and developments in both systems in order to identify some of my bases for comparison. The thesis consists of six chapters. The introductory chapter (Chapter One) introduces my subject of inquiry and gives a brief overview of the local backgrounds. The following three chapters are devoted to literature reviews and discussion of the relevant policy discourses and their developments. Chapter Two outlines the developments, characteristics and critical perceptions of the postwar Japanese educational system. Chapter Three is mainly concerned with postwar developments leading to the recent educational reforms. It also introduces my subject of fieldwork investigation in Japan, Sōgōtekina-gakushū, and attempts to relate it to a larger framework of curriculum reform. In Chapter Four, I will discuss the historical developments of the Hong Kong educational system, the curriculum, the curriculum development process, and recent trends of decentralized curriculum development. The later parts of the chapter attempt to outline the policy discourse in recent curriculum reforms and give definitions of my subjects of fieldwork
investigation in Hong Kong, project learning and SBCD. A preliminary comparison between the educational systems in Japan and Hong Kong is given at the end of the chapter. Chapter Five opens with a discussion of the methods I used in fieldwork. It then presents and describes the extensive accounts of data which I had collected at local schools and government agencies in Japan and Hong Kong. Analyses of the data (in the form of two summaries related to the local systems) are given at the end of the accounts on the subject schools, to present my interpretations on specific issues. The final chapter (Chapter Six) concludes with my discussion of the trends of curriculum reform as described in the policies and observed through fieldwork in local schools. Comparisons between the two systems are made in relation to the practices and processes of reform.
CHAPTER TWO PERCEPTIONS OF POSTWAR EDUCATION IN JAPAN
The history of modern Japanese education is one of both change and continuity. While socio-economic displacements have at times entailed or catalyzed educational change in Japan, there have also been quite remarkable continuities in the ways education is practiced. Even today, these continuities in education may be observed at both the system level and the microscopic level of human interactions within and outside the classroom. The system has been generally described as successful in creating a productive workforce well-trained in fundamental skills, and in providing a formal framework for some equality of opportunity.
However, ever since the postwar system was established, there has been continuous debate on how it should be run, what goals it should fulfill, and more recently, how it should reform to respond to society’s problems as well as education’s own perceived failures. The standardized and uniform nature of most Japanese school education has been frequently criticized in the form of doubts about whether the existing system can produce independent and creative individuals with the skills and attitudes needed for the country’s future development.
The aim of this chapter is to provide an account of the major perceptions of education in Japan, focusing primarily on the postwar period. The chapter will be organized into several topical units, containing (1) an introduction of the historical contexts, (2) national concerns in education, (3) curriculum and educational control, (4) the lingering themes of egalitarianism, standardization and uniformity in education, (5) dichotomy between holistic and text-centered education, (6) educational cultures and values and (7) conclusion.
2.2 Historical Background of Japanese Education
The history of modern Japanese education cannot be complete without considerations of what preceded the postwar era. In large part, it may be said that the legacy of prewar education comes in the form of cultural norms and values related to how education is perceived and what social benefits it promises, and the general social practices that reinforce such norms and values by regulating the way recourses and opportunities are distributed in the society. In addition, the study of prewar education is important as it has provided a model to react against for many Japanese educators, even while others look back nostalgically at some of its features. It is often present as an unspoken influence in postwar debates.1
I am indebted to Dr. Peter Cave (HKU) for this insight. Personal contact, September 2001.
Education in the Tokugawa era
Japanese society is often seen as one motivated for all forms of training and selfimprovement. This national enthusiasm is not necessarily a modern phenomenon but has its roots in schooling traditions dating back at least to the Tokugawa period (16031867). During this period, government-sponsored schools for the samurai, hankō (domain school) and gōgaku (local school)2, and decentralized private schools for the commoners, terakoya (literally, temple school). With these establishments, educational skills like literacy and numeracy (and mastering the Confucian classics for the ruling class) became fully recognized for their importance. Alongside these were numerous forms of apprenticeship and vocational training, which also played crucial parts in the daily cultural and economic activities.
According to Dore, the Tokugawa practice of using schools to promote “docile submissiveness” among the masses continued into the modern period. At the same time, the Tokugawa ideology of collective goals contributed to militarism as well as to economic advance in later periods (Dore 1965: 291-316). In a similar view, Rohlen (1998) argues that Tokugawa Japan was probably already one of the most advanced nations in schooling and training on a global comparison. Tokugawa education laid the
Also read as kyōgaku (See Dore 1965: 226). Okano and Tsuchiya (1999) define gōgaku as “local schools, which accommodated the samurai class residing outside the feudal capitals” (p14). This paper follows Dore’s (1965: 226-228) and Passin’s (1965: 14-15, 19, 50) writings. It should be noted that at different times of the Tokugawa period, composition of pupils attending the so-called samurai and commoner schools varied.
foundation for efficient borrowing of Western knowledge and technologies and for the creation of a well-educated workforce for industrialization. In terms of cultural continuity, Tokugawa education also left its mark on some of the educational concepts and institutions that survive into modern times (Dore 1965: 50-56; Passin 1965: 53-61; Rohlen 1998). Examples of these include “a common universe of discourse” (Passin 1965: 59), the high value attached to self-improvement, the recognition of idealized virtues like motivated effort, self-discipline and perseverance, and the paradigmatic learning approach typically characterized by initial strict emulation of an ideal form, followed by reflective criticism and eventually a flourishing of personal creativity (White 1987: 99-100; Rohlen 1998: 6-7).
Education since the Meiji era
Modern Japanese schooling began with the Meiji regime’s attempt to build a suitable educational system for its modernization needs. In 1872 the first Education Law (Gakusei) was enacted, followed by ambitious efforts to create a network of “modern” schools across the country, ranging from elementary to university levels. Economic realities and social inertia, however, soon ensured that early implementation of the law was met with limited success (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 15-16).
Education in the Meiji period (1868-1912) gradually shifted from an earlier liberal approach to a nationalist conservative one. In 1890, the Imperial Rescript on Education (Kyōiku Chokugo) reconfirmed the emperor’s supreme moral authority over the legislation. Not surprisingly, the official ideology also demanded that education was
for the state, not for the students (Passin 1965: 88, 149-153; Cummings 1980: 22; Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 17). A series of nationalistic rituals, such as pupils lining up during morning assembly to honor the emperor’s picture and the Rescript, was developed, and survived until 1945. Around the same time, Mori Arinori, the nationalist first Minister of Education, advocated the creation of an educational dichotomy that distinguished “academic study” (gakumon) for the elite from “education” (kyōiku) for the masses. Later developments seemed to reflect strong influences from such discourse. For instance, the academically-oriented imperial universities were granted disproportionate amount of resources and prestige while post-primary vocational schooling was greatly expanded to accommodate the non-elites (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 17-20; see also Passin 1965: 92-99).
Prewar legacy since the Meiji era
It is important to note that prewar education was organized as an elitist multitrack system. From 1900 through 1945, this non-progressive nationalist system only grew to become more pronounced in its features. Apart from the separation of academic and vocational trainings, a hierarchical distinction of elite and non-elite schools (particularly at the tertiary education level) became an increasingly significant factor for career chances. In many cases, the meritocratic emphasis on educational background was manifested through employment practices of the time (Passin 1965: 123; Rohlen 1983: 58-61). Passin argues that educational elitism brought about two immediate results: fierce competition in the form of middle-high school entrance examinations for good schools, and a concentration of the best students in a small number of elite schools.
He also notes that “the Japanese schools, like those of France, were severely competitive in the early stages, and then eased off at the university level” (Passin 1965: 107). This observation remains valid to some extent even to this date.
Efforts to build a new postwar schooling system did not begin immediately after Japan’s 1945 defeat, in part due to war destruction and economic hardship. In 1947, a new US-directed Constitution was written and subsequently two educational laws were enacted under the auspices of the US Education Mission (1946). The Occupation educational reforms shortly followed, albeit in a chaotic manner (Wray 1999; see also Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 30, 33), which brought major changes to both the schooling structure and curricular content. The aims of the reforms were multifaceted: to demilitarize the country, to decentralize the school system, to democratize the Japanese people, and to eventually bring about a society founded on principles of equality (Dore 1958: 227-241; Cummings 1980: 29-36; Okada 1998: 92-101; Hood 2001: 19).
The changes to the educational system structure were significant and permanent. The old multi-track schooling system was gone, replaced by a new “6-3-3-4” singletrack one: six years of primary school, three years of middle school, three years of high school, and four years of university — the first nine years of schooling being free and compulsory. Coeducation became universal at public middle and high schools while the former vocational education was absorbed into high schools (as vocational courses) or
vocational high schools (Kaigo 1965: 91-94; Rohlen 1984: 71-72; Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 33-35). Within the curriculum, there were deliberate efforts to eradicate elements of nationalist education and wartime ideology. Alongside purges and forced resignations of teachers, the courses of moral education, geography, and Japanese history were temporarily suspended. In due course, the militaristic and ultra-nationalistic content in school textbooks was removed. And among other measures, a new subject called “Social Studies” was introduced as part of the effort to “democratize” the Japanese people. Dore (1958), however, seems skeptical about the effectiveness of this new course in democratization and describes the teaching of the subject as mechanical and non-interactive (p238-239).
Nonetheless, changes in the curriculum did result in generally more progressively-oriented school teaching as regulations relaxed (Inagaki 1986: 81). Dore (1958) argues that the most important aspect of the Occupation educational reforms was not structural. Rather, it was at the social and political levels that important changes tended to occur. This was reflected in the gradual growth of certain grassroots “democratic” practices in and outside schools. According to him, even in the postwar years leading to the early 1950s, most Japanese schools were non-authoritarian and “fairly liberal” (p238), in that independent study by the child was more emphasized than it had previously been in primary schools (p228-229), coeducation became generally accepted and approved by parents (p235), and the student’s effort as well as ability was rewarded (p232).
Developments since 1947
Although no major reform initiatives were to be taken until the late 1960s, Japanese school education for the next two decades presented a subtle picture of selective adjustments, as political parties, the bureaucracy, business interest groups and teachers unions all battled to influence the course of education. The result was that Japan succeeded in achieving some of the educational goals put forward in the Occupation reforms but largely did so in its own ways. For one thing, the Ministry of Education (MOE) had been interested in bringing back a more centralized system as well as certain nationalistic features from the prewar times. This necessarily meant conflicts with the Nikkyōso (Japan Teachers Union), which was ideologically opposed to the bureaucracy and committed itself to “democratic egalitarian education” as sanctioned by the new Constitution. Eventually, the conservative camp gained the upper hand and reasserted its control on some aspects of school control and the curriculum (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 35-47).
New initiatives for change
By 1967, amid the university disturbances, the MOE began to see the need to reform the school system so as to introduce “flexibility” and “diversity”, themes that would remain relevant well into the 1990s. The reform initiative that followed was, however, not successful, partly because of a lack of support both within and outside the government, and partly because it had failed to produce alternatives to the standard 6-33 schooling system (Schoppa 1991: 3-4). In 1984, under the Nakasone administration,
the government undertook a new initiative, this time assigning the job of charting out the reforms to a supra-cabinet advisory body, the Ad Hoc Council on Education (Rinkyōshin). Despite the high-profile government endorsement and initial popular support, the second reform initiative also proved inconclusive and unsatisfactory. The Rinkyōshin proposals were eventually left to the MOE for implementation. During the 1990s, more reform proposals were drawn up and refined by the government. The pressures for educational changes seemed to mount over the years as prolonged economic recession and “traditional” troubles such as school refusal and youth violence lingered on, rekindling questions of whether Japanese society’s problems were rooted in the postwar school system. A more thorough treatment of these will be given in the next chapter.
2.3 National Concerns in Education
For most people in Japan, education is seen as the sure avenue to success but it can also mean brutal pressures from competition. The list of entrance examinations that a person is expected to struggle through over his lifespan never seems to end, starting from exams for some good kindergartens through myriads of TOEIC and other tests for career advancement. For the state, the need to create highly competitive human capital in this resource-strapped country has always been express and urgent. As far as it is concerned, school education remains the chief and convenient way to legitimate knowledge, transmit skills, reproduce cultural norms, and select talents.
In his 1965 study, Passin demonstrates the effects of rapid educational expansion on the social structure in 1960s Japan. He notes that education, especially at the high school and university levels, continued to be of critical importance for gaining economic benefits, social status, and general security for oneself and one’s family. Educational background was relation-bound. Success in the early periods of one’s education had great implications for the types of social “cliques” a person might be able to affiliate himself to and advance own ambitions in other areas along the “Ladder of Success”. Since Japanese universities had been exclusively ranked in a hierarchical order even in the prewar times, graduates of the elite schools were always guaranteed greater social and economic benefits (Passin 1965; Goodman 1989: 25-26, 28). The expansion of higher education in the provincial areas, Passin notes, had only a limited effect on the polarized distribution of relational benefits from university education. Dore (1958: 238) and Passin (1965: 112) observe that even in the 1950s and 60s, much of school teaching and learning was centered on preparing students for university entrance examinations. Passin also rightly points out that, with the expansion of high school education and the subsequent pressure put on universities, the real venue of entrance examination competition had shifted from the middle school-high school to high schooluniversity transitions (p112).
While Cummings (1980) and Rohlen (1983: 312) have made a case for Japanese education’s being an exam-based meritocratic system, Goodman offers a slightly modified view that Japan is an “educational background society”, not one of educational ability, citing Johan Galtung’s term “educational degreeocracy” (Goodman 1989: 26).
Explaining the centrality of education in Japanese society, Rohlen (1998) suggests four major characteristics of modern Japan that he believes have been relevant to its educational developments. First, according to him, Japanese society is one made up of “employers and employees”, where educational credentials and trained skills are essential to career, social status and other personal ambitions. Second, Japanese society is “to a significant degree a meritocracy” molded by educational competition. Third, Japan lacks natural resources; the skills and cooperation of its citizenry naturally need to combine into highly productive organizations, capable of adapting to and inventing new technologies. Fourth, Japan is “not a society with a privileged traditional caste, nor is it one divided between a small educated elite and the masses”. Rather, the success of Japanese modern sectors is hinged on the “skilled participation of the great majority of Japanese”.
White (1987) agrees on the existence of a resource “scarcity syndrome” (p11) and recognizes the importance of academic credentials for securing a good occupational future in Japan. Many Japanese mothers, the parent usually entrusted with the singular task of raising children and taking care of their education, are full-time home “educators” or, as they are sometimes known, kyōiku-mama. Their lives revolve around minute things like preparing lunchboxes for the child, preparing for a class together with him and attending PTA sessions (Lewis 1995: 69-71) – details and routines that are thought necessary for the long-term healthy growth of the child.
If competition in the school does not stifle the child, he or she will certainly have plenty of opportunities to intensify activities during off-school hours. Beyond the
formal classroom teaching and home tutoring by mothers, a significant portion of child education also takes place in the form of school clubs and other extracurricular activities, and tutoring at private bodies (juku for primary and middle schools students and yobikō for high school students). (Rohlen 1983, 1998; White 1987; Fukuzawa 1994; Ichikawa 1989). They are significant aspects of Japanese education since teaching and learning do frequently take place outside formal classroom education and involve the family, fellow people at school clubs and perhaps cram schools. All these reflect the intensity and breadth of the Japanese educational experience inside and outside the school.
2.4 Curriculum and Educational Control
Traditionally, the definition of the curriculum tends to be a bit ambivalent. For one thing, the bureaucracy, schools and teachers each have their own interpretations of the inputs and outputs at the classroom. This easily gives rise to differences between the text and the practice of the curriculum. For simplicity, we are here resigned to taking the curriculum to mean “authorized knowledge” or what is expected to be taught at schools.
Standardized compulsory education in Japan is inextricably linked with the national curriculum. As Rohlen (1984) notes, the Japanese system is “guided by detailed national standards and a fixed curriculum” (p117-118). Across the entire country, he further observes, students of the same grade need to learn the same materials within the same time frames with the help of the same textbooks and facilities. While the students’ abilities to cope with the same pace of study is likely to vary, “the iron rule
of national standardization works to systematically preserve a general level of equal opportunity” (p118).
As far as education up to the middle school is concerned, the curriculum generally contains non-academic elements (music, art, sports, field trips and clubs, etc) in addition to academic ones – a division reinforced at the middle school level. Middle schools retain elementary schools’ emphasis on developing the whole person but put increasing stress on a text-based, teacher-centered instructional approach in order to adapt to the future entrance exams (Fukuzawa, 1994: 61). According to Fukuzawa, public school teachers rarely deviate significantly from texts officially approved by the Ministry of Education. Two reasons are cited for this: (1) “the pace and intensity of classroom instruction allow for little room for innovation”; (2) “the national curriculum forms the basis for high school entrance exams”.
The Japanese system is seen by some as a centralized system when compared with most other developed countries (Inagaki 1986; Fukuzawa 1994). For the advocates of the centralization view, Japanese education has been dictated by the bureaucracy since MOE guidelines, approved texts and teacher training for exams “wrest instructional control out of the hands of individual teachers and even individual schools” (Fukuzawa 1994: 64).
Cummings (1980), on the other hand, argues that while both the conservative (MOE) and progressive (Nikkyōso) forces have been unable to claim decisive control over the system, each has etched out its own spheres of influence, with the
conservatives holding greater sway on finance and the curriculum whereas the progressives have greater influence on school and classroom activities (p40-76). This essentially means a general dichotomy at the macro and micro levels of educational control in the Japanese system, each deserving attention and an appropriate research approach.
2.5 The Lingering Themes: Egalitarianism, Standardization, and Uniformity
Three important concepts stand out in the discussion of Japanese educational achievement and reforms. These are egalitarianism, standardization and uniformity. They are linked but not identical ideas.
The first concept, egalitarianism, can be traced back to the postwar new Constitution and the 1947 Fundamental Education Law (Kyōiku Kihonhō) which set out the principles of equal opportunity of education. Cummings (1980) was convinced that postwar Japanese education, guided by an egalitarian ideology and armed with an equalitarian teaching culture, had been successful in transforming the society where educational and social opportunities had been efficiently equalized [up to the 1980s]. He summed up his points as follows:
Equalitarian education has provided increasing proportions of successive cohorts of young people with the cognitive skills and motivation necessary for advanced education. As a result, increasing proportions of young people have sought and attained advanced education. With the decreasing variance in
educational attainment, social background variables decline as predictors of individual attainment.
According to Cummings, egalitarianism contains a moral orientation, which penetrates deep into Japanese schools and has a far-reaching effect on the larger social environment. In actual instruction, teachers are relatively free from external interference. Many of them identify with egalitarian values and a few are even committed to using education to “revolutionize” the consciousness of their students. Schools are organically organized and stress moral education. The relative equality in cognitive performance eases the need for children to rank among themselves. The lack of hierarchy within the classroom is consistent with the egalitarian moral message passed on by the teachers. It is thus not unreasonable to assume that egalitarian school teaching helps promote social continuity and harmony even beyond its physical boundaries (p274-275).
The prime example of standardization in Japanese education is, of course, the national curriculum. The curriculum delineates what is legitimate knowledge in schools. It also defines the scope of materials to be tested in open examinations. While traditionally the MOE has used its elaborate guidelines to “persuade” schools into cooperation, thereby facilitating control and monitoring, in the postwar years, the early Courses of Study (Gakushū-shidō-yōryō; first published in 1947) were mere “guidelines” but they became legally binding and more prescriptive from the 1950s, when struggles with the teacher unions gave the ministry the chance to justify this shift (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 35-39). Naturally, textbook authorization also forms part of the standardization business. The MOE uses it to determine what textbooks it desires or
does not desire to appear in classrooms. On some occasions, such acts have been considered excessive or even unconstitutional and provoked tiring lawsuits regarding textbook contents. One of the well-known examples of this involved the history book author Saburō Ienaga’s long and tiring legal battles against the authorities for removing a textbook’s description of the Japanese army’s wartime brutality (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 43).
Uniformity in school practices may be described as another national phenomenon. Uniformity exhibits itself notably in areas such as in teaching methods, teacher training and qualifying examinations. Practices of uniform wearing and checking in Japanese schools are well-known. Many schools, from kindergartens to senior high schools, tend to be built with the most similar designs and organized in similar fashions as the teachers themselves play a significant part of collective school management (Goodman 1989: 26; Rohlen 1998). Group-based teaching and student class management, the two frequent modes of Japanese classroom experience, are probably also reflective of a larger social practice, in which consensus-building, cooperation and harmony are valued and stressed over leadership in most daily interactions.
2.6 Dichotomy between Holistic and Academically-focused Education
The Japanese schooling experience cannot be summarized in a handful of general statements. However, it may be possible to analyze it through studying the
various practices and dynamics involved at different stages of Japanese child development. In general, learning and teaching in Japanese schools are characterized by two competing educational concerns, namely, “holistic” or whole-person development and text-centered, exam-bound transmission of knowledge (Fukuzawa 1994; Lewis 1995; White 1987).
The concern for holistic personal development is reflected most strongly, and with declining emphasis over the succeeding developmental stages, in the preschool up to the middle school education. Daily preoccupations of learning and teaching involve such things as socializing the child to normative ideals under group settings, nurturing self-discipline, and experimental activities. In whole person development, “the definition of teaching includes not only transmission of explicit knowledge but also counseling, guidance and discipline” (Fukuzawa 1994: 61-62). Many overseas commentators, particularly those from America, have been quick to observe that these educational preoccupations might have qualitative effects on the practice and product of classroom teaching, such as choices about ability grouping and mixed ability grouping and the presence or absence of ability-based streaming and tracking (Rohlen 1983, 1998; Cummings 1980, 1989; Ichikawa 1989).
In its practice, Fukuzawa shows that lifestyle guidance (seikatsu-shidō), a significant component of non-academic educational experience up to the pre-high school period, is commonly used by middle school teachers for disciplinary purposes. It is designed to socialize the student into “ideal” lifestyles and attitudes both in and out of school so that his or her behavior may conform to the prescribed image of an ii-ko, or
“good child” (1994: 69). She then argues that by virtue of the egalitarian nature of Japanese schooling and the lack of a mechanism to segregate the “trouble-maker” students, discipline of this kind is seen doubly indispensable to the success of classroom instruction. The emphasis on holistic personal development decreases as the child progresses through the middle school into the high school, which is the venue for intensive text-based instruction influenced by the need to prepare for the fierce university entrance exams, with minimal or no considerations for accommodating diversity in personal abilities and needs within the school (Fukuzawa 1994; Rohlen 1998; Okano and Tsuchiya 1999). However, variations do exist from school to school and they deserve more investigation since the recent reform initiative has seen experimentation of various forms across the educational system.
As mentioned in the earlier section, the notion of egalitarianism is a very powerful one among the pedagogic philosophies in Japan. It is perhaps consistent with the whole-person emphasis. Education is supposed to provide an equal chance for all, regardless of one’s socio-economic backgrounds, talents and disabilities. The inclusive and egalitarian nature of Japanese education is reflected in that “compulsory education (to ninth grade) is an undifferentiated system – no streaming, nor special programs for the gifted, the learning disabled, or any special groups.” (Fukuzawa 1994: 62).
2.7 Other Educational Characteristics: Cultures and Values
As already discussed in section  of this chapter, the Tokugawa legacy still has its influences on modern society’s perceptions and practices in education. Some of these are re-manifested as people’s propensity for having collective goals, others as the prized notions of perseverance, of effort-over-ability, of motivated self-perfection and perhaps of nurturing the human mind. In the following, we will try to discuss some of the educational cultures and values that are relevant to the Japanese educational experience.
Up to high school, most Japanese classroom activities are frequently carried out on a group basis, which means there are a host of attendant educational concepts to go with them. A good Japanese child, “typically”, lives a well-disciplined and organized life. In the case of lower grade school education, where whole-person development is much emphasized, the central goal for the child revolves around things like friendliness, persistence, energy and self-management (Lewis 1995: 44-51; see also White 1987: 110-122). To the goal of “friendliness”, the multiple connotations of tomodachi (friends), shinsetsu (kindness, goodness, favor, and generosity), yasashii (gentle, kindhearted) and nakayoku (enjoying harmony or good friendship) are attached. “Persistence” usually corresponds to the Japanese terms of gambaru, doryoku, and konki – all stressing some degree of perseverance despite hardship. The ubiquitous genki of a child stands for his “physical energy or exuberance” (Lewis 1995: 49); he or she is constantly expected to “play energetically” or “be energetic”. Finally, selfmanagement relates to a child’s ability to such things as to take care of himself and keep the place around him neat.
White (1987) gives an elaborate discussion on the role that Japanese mothers have in parenting and child education. She uses Japanese psychological notions like “amae” (dependence, or the desire to be passively loved) to describe the key “relationship between love and success” (p22). According to her, the Japanese family is defined by the relationship between the mother and the child, not husband and wife. A Japanese mother’s place is in bringing up a healthy, intelligent and well-behaved child. Her ultimate reward and pride are measured by the educational success of her child through the numerous entrance exams spanning his lifetime. Goodman (1989) and Fukuzawa (1994) seem to support this view, citing the high status of motherhood in Japan. Goodman (1989) also suggests that Japanese women’s social roles are significantly restricted by a male-dominated workplace as well as by a powerful, though not necessarily accurate, image of the ideal Japanese female who subordinates her own interests to supporting her husband in work and her children in education.
At the same time, popular society in Japan has a well-defined set of expectations about how a child should be properly raised and socialized into the adult world. It is the job of the teachers and mothers to ensure that the child conforms and some of the expected qualities of a good child have already been treated in Lewis’ discussion. A typical good child is motivated, cooperative, well-disciplined and always performs academically at high levels (White, 1987: 21). Such terms as “otonashii (mild, gentle), sunao (compliant, obedient, cooperative), akarui (bright-eyed), genki (active, spirited, energetic), hakihaki (brisk, prompt, clear) and oriko (obedient, smart)” (White 1987: 27; also cited in Fukuzawa 1994) evoke the ideal image of the Japanese child – itself
reflective of the normative ideals for an adult. A separate vocabulary exists for describing the means by which the character and social developments of a child may be advanced. These include “gambaru (to persist), gaman suru (to endure hardship), hansei suru (to reflect on one’s weakness)” (White 1987).
It should be clear by now that the Japanese system is more dynamic than some would assume it to be. Changes in the Japanese educational system have taken place at various levels throughout the modern period. Not all changes came as a result of reforms. The word “reform” merely reflects the authorities’ position and their wishes to cause the system to move in some prescribed directions – with the assumption that something in it had gone awry. In any case, reform does not guarantee successful changes. Neither does it promise an outcome of something “new”. For instance, in the 1990s, despite calls for liberalization, many schools had seen a comeback of nationalistic rituals such as singing the national anthem (kimi ga yo) and raising the national flag (hi no maru) at morning assemblies, both being controversial because of Japan’s troubled war past.
Some of the postwar “innovations”, like the introduction of single-track schooling, tended to be more significant and readily observable. At the same time, educational cultures and values may represent the domain of continuities and resistance to change. But even this cannot be taken for granted. Change may also occur in people’s
perceptions about education, albeit perhaps more slowly. As we will see in the next chapter (Chapter Three), in the more recent initiatives, the notions of “individuality” and “diversity” have been perennially stressed and become some of the new educational goals that the government and business sector seek to promote. This naturally means that the traditional Japanese school environment is being questioned and deemed hostile to the creation of diverse and individualistic qualities. On the other hand, some institutions and practices in school education might not be well-suited to change. The issues of how to revitalize the system, motivate schools and parents, and involve other sectors of society in the nation’s educational quest thus present a challenge to Japanese policy-makers and educators alike.
CHAPTER THREE POSTWAR EDUCATIONAL REFORMS IN JAPAN
This chapter is concerned with specific postwar educational developments in the Japanese system leading to the recent educational reforms. Towards the end of the chapter, I will introduce my subject of fieldwork investigation in Japan, Sōgōtekinagakushū1, and attempt to relate its significance in the context of decentralized curriculum development and recent curriculum reform.
Before my discussion on postwar educational developments, it would be helpful to note some peculiar points about education in Japan. Although the Japanese educational system is frequently described as remarkably stable, calls for change have been constantly voiced throughout the postwar period. The educational system is generally seen as crucial for the development of human behavior and culture. Various actors of society – the government, the industries and the public – may hold competing yet overlapping interests in education and preference for its direction. Officially designated reform is considered the chief means to transform the existing structure as well as to alter the aims and content of education. The issue of control of education often underlies some particular reform debates, making the reform process ideological
and political rather than merely educational or pedagogical. Finally, education is related to social control and educational changes are said to reflect certain ideological changes with regard to how we should manage our social environment (Cummings 1980: 3-15;
Schoppa 1991a; Lincicome 1993: 123; Amano 1998: 152, Fujita 2000: section3; Hood 2001: 9, 14-17, 129).
3.2 Early Postwar Educational Reforms
Occupation Reforms and Their Reactions
As discussed in the previous chapter, the educational reforms initiated under the US Occupation were heavily influenced by three major concerns of the time: to democratize, demilitarize and decentralize Japanese society (Dore 1958; Cummings 1980: 29-39; Rohlen 1983: 1, 63-76; Horio 1986: 32; Tsuchimochi 1993; Amano 1998: 154-156; Okada 1998: 92-130; Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 30-35). Education was chosen as the main venue for carrying out the reforms. Subsequent educational policies and legislations, notably the Fundamental Law on Education (enacted 1947), espoused equality as well as principles of democracy and world peace as the new dominant ideology in place of prewar nationalistic indoctrinations (Cummings 1980: 31-32). Significant changes had taken place in the schooling structure as the prewar multi-track system gave way to a comprehensive coeducational 6-3-3-4 single-track system, one that was deemed important to the development of uniform standardized education in Japan, guided by the spirit of egalitarianism. Some researchers noted that
the single-track system, together with the ever-growing stress on school entrance examinations, had contributed to the formation of a meritocratic society, which nonetheless displayed elitist qualities (especially in higher education) passed on from the prewar system (Passin 1965: 108-116, 117-148; Rohlen 1977; Amano 1998: 158160). While the original Occupation reform initiative proposed comprehensive education throughout the 6-3-3 schooling structure, in practice, senior high schools tended to depart in focus from the first nine years of compulsory education (described as “non-selective and neighborhood-based”) and instead put increasing stress on “selective and specialized” kinds of schooling (Green 2000: 420; Wray (1999) and Tsuchimochi (1993: 215-216) argued that the US Occupation reforms were never implemented fully to what had been intended. Neither were they a sole product of US educational policymaking. Wray (1999) described the reforms as ill-paced, chaotic and disruptive to a Japanese society struggling to recover from war destruction and suffering from “financial starvation” (See also Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 33-35). The reforms, according to Wray, produced a number of detrimental results for long-range Japanese education, ranging from deteriorating vocational education, lower academic standards in post-elementary schooling to great hardship for individuals, local communities and the government.
During the 1950s and 1960s, “counter-reforms” against the Occupation reforms took place as the Ministry of Education (MOE; Monbushō, now Monbukagakushō) reasserted its control over the curriculum and almost all other aspects of educational organization. Horio and others noted that with the ending of the Occupation, Japanese
education experienced a broad socio-political trend of restoration, which declared the need to correct the postwar “hyper-democratization” (Horio 1986: 32; Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 35-39). A series of government measures were carried out for forming a more centralized system. Some of the major “counter-reforms” included: the system of teacher appraisal for teacher control (1957); the textbook screening system for textbook authorization (1958); the national academic achievement tests (1961-1964, soon abandoned); the nomination system (as opposed to one by election) for local boards of education (1959).
3.3 The 1970s Reforms
The late 1960s and early 1970s marked quite an important watershed of Japanese educational development. Human rights movements at home were gaining momentum, with intensifying teacher union actions and the establishment of lobby groups such as those for the disadvantaged burakumin. At the same time, both the government and industries wanted a stronger state role in managing the social problems during the time, education being one of the target areas (Okano and Tsuchiya 1999: 4547). By the end of the 1960s, the Japanese economy was dramatically transformed. As education was traditionally viewed to play an instrumental role in economic progress, the government came to take a large stake in “mobilizing” education for the country’s economic development. High on its agenda were further promotion of [higher and specialized] education, improved science education, and an improvement in the quality of teachers (Hood 2001: 21). Schoppa also noted that the many of the demands for
educational change in the 1970s were economically driven. As the Japanese grew increasingly dependent on international business and fast-changing science and technology industries, the government was urged by many quarters to reform education in order to bring it into line with a society of “more diversely talented and creative workers”, ready for a “life-long learning system” (Schoppa 1991a: 2). Apart from economic considerations, concerns were also raised about such trends as school violence and “falling moral standards” regarding youth behavior. As expected, reformers from the traditional conservative camp called for a strengthening of moral education (especially at the lower secondary schools) (Hood 2001: 21-22).
According to Schoppa (1991a), the 1970s initiative started with the then Minister of Education Toshihiro Kennoki’s little-known “request for advice” from the Chūkyōshin (Central Council on Education) in 1967. Later in 1969, a series of highpublicity university disturbances sparked heightened political interests in educational reforms. This was followed by reports from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in 1970 and the Chūkyōshin in1971 (Hood 2001:21-22). However, the subsequent reform proposals were largely left unimplemented. Few significant changes were made to the system after the Chūkyōshin recommendations. Schoppa (1991a) and Hood (2000) summarized the reasons for the initiative’s lackluster results as Chūkyōshin’s limited government backing, the lack of financial resources in the wake of the oil crisis, and that the society was generally unprepared for Chūkyōshin’s “radical” report.
Towards the end of the 1970s period, Rohlen (1977) observed that trends of educational inequality were setting in Japanese society. He argued that cultural and financial capitals of one’s family would become increasingly important in educational investment of future generations. While Cummings and others suggested that Japanese society was becoming more like a meritocracy due to the “persistent growth of large organizations that stress educational criteria in hiring and promotion”, Rohlen argued that the Japanese meritocracy appeared evolving toward a “relatively fixed status framework, characterized by much competition, but declining rates of mobility” [that is, an expanded elite in a stratified society] (p70). Rohlen’s conclusion seemed to be quite accurate and hold particular relevance for studies of educational reforms since the 1980s, where Japan faced dramatic economic and demographic changes, namely, prolonged economic recession and trends of graying population and declining birth rates (shōshikōrei-ka). The issues of cultural and financial capitals and social mobility would certainly be important to the discussions of such things as privatization and school choice.
3.4 Educational Reforms since the 1980s
The Nakasone Initiative
Many of the social and economic concerns of the 1970s initiative seemed to remain in the reform initiative started in the 1980s, though there were new interpretations and suggestions for solutions of the problems. The postwar system, both
admired and criticized for establishing Japan’s uniform standardized education, was again brought to the center of heated debates. Nakasone Yasuhiro, former Japanese Prime Minister of the mid-1980s, even declared a “total settling of postwar political accounts” (sengo seiji no sōkessan), signaling his own and some of his LDP followers’ intention to correct the Japanese educational system from the “excesses” of American influence since the Occupation (Schoppa 1991a, 1991b; Hood 2001).
In 1984, Nakasone won the Diet’s approval for his proposal to set up a supracabinet advisory body known as the Rinkyōshin (Ringi Kyōiku Shingikai: NCER, National Council on Educational Reform or AHCE, Ad Hoc Council on Education) to work out an agenda for the Japanese educational reforms. Specifically, the Rinkyōshinguided reforms were to deal with the various educational and socioeconomic problems of the time. A series of serious debates then followed over the nature, means and goals of educational change. Many of the themes debated, ranging from the notions of “liberalization” and “deregulation” to “individuality” and “internationalization”, remain unsettled and controversial to date. The full impact of some of the reform measures implemented needs to be examined in some future time.
The reform debate initiated in the 1980s took place against four major backgrounds (Schoppa 1991a: 4-6, 49-52; Fujita 1997: 49-52; Cave 2001: 174-176; Hood 2001: 21-24), which seemed to show a historical connection with various postwar establishments: (1) Since the late 1970s, Japanese schools have been seen to confront increasing internal disorder which takes the form of school breakdown (gakkyū hōkai),
school violence (kōnai bōryoku), bullying (ijime) and school refusal (futōkō). Within Japan, these educational problems are sometimes taken to have “pathological” origins. Authorities [mainly the traditional conservatives] thus hold that reformed teacher training and increased moral education are necessary as a response to the school disciplinary problems. (2) Over the past two decades, discontent with the quality of Japanese education has arisen from such conditions as fierce competition for entrance-exams, “managerialist education” (kanri-shugi kyōiku) (Fujita 1997: 49; 2000: section 3), standardization and a rigid schooling system. These are said to be partly or wholly responsible for educational problems such as uniformity, exam-centeredness, excessive disciplinary control, oppressed individual creativity and general stress and pressure from study. (3) Trends of globalization and computerization in the socioeconomic spheres have led to calls for reforming Japanese education so as to produce individuals with the right skills and attitudes to deal with growing and complex global transactions. (4) As Japanese society gradually moves toward diversified lifestyles and values, the notion of “individuality” (kosei) has received heightened attention with respect to its meaning and relevance to individual’s rights. The debate on individuality involves such issues as school choice, diversification and personalization of the curriculum and courses, and the maintenance or abandonment of true egalitarian education.
The Reform Agenda
Among the calls for reforms, privatization of schools was one of the main themes that circulated within the debate. Nakasone himself had supported the idea, believing that privatization would leave school education to free-market forces (Schoppa 1991a: 68) and help reduce the bureaucratic control of the MOE in school administration. Advocates of privatization have raised calls for expansion of diverse forms of private education at the level of compulsory education.
Another potentially significant reform proposal concerned the relaxing of the school district (or catchment area) system, which would give parents more choice in selecting school and individualized education. Though Nakasone was described as not being very specific about “jiyūka” (liberalization) he had publicly expressed support for introducing “an element of competition into the whole school system through policies of jiyūka and jūnanka [flexibilization]” (Schoppa 1991a: 70). Jūnanka is closely connected to the notion of government deregulation (kisei kanwa), which Nakasone and some of his party followers wanted the MOE to undergo in order to, hopefully, reduce uniformity and rigid standardization in the educational system (Schoppa 1991a: 70). Nakasone also advocated jiyūka on the ground that liberalization of rules regulating school choice would force school to become economically more competitive in freemarket conditions. Jiyūka and jūnanka are in fact two distinct concepts since free competition is possible without concurrent deregulation by the bureaucracy (and vice versa). However, as Schoppa pointed out, Nakasone and his advisors tended to mix the two ideas and usually referred to them simply as “liberalization” (jiyūka) (1991a: p70).
Some LDP members, holding the MOE to be too conservative and behind times demanded corresponding deregulation in the curricular content, among other things.
By August 20, 1987, the Rinkyōshin had produced four reports to set the direction for reforms. Thereafter it was officially dissolved and left the implementation of its recommendations to the MOE. A great range of proposals was produced but only a limited number of these were actually or partially implemented. According to Schoppa (1991a), there were at least six main areas marked out for implementation, each standing varying odds for success (243-250): (1) Teacher training was reinforced with the introduction of the “conditional year” to assure that teachers graduate from their training having acquired the appropriate personal qualities and abilities. (2) A new MOE advisory body, the University Council, was created in 1987 to take over Rinkyōshin’s role of deliberating over and overseeing university reforms. (3) Rinkyōshin proposed that the university entrance examination, offered nationwide among national and public institutions once a year to date, should include private schools and be offered more frequently each year on a more flexible basis. However, with the general reluctance of private universities to participate in the scheme, reform progress had quickly lost momentum since the late 1980s. (4) A number neoliberal-neoconservative measures were brought into the curricular reform, notably the expansion of moral education, the institutionalization of the national flag and anthem in schools, and the
sanctioning of “teaching-based-on-ability” at the middle school level to allow for “flexibility”. (5) A credit-system was proposed for upper secondary schools. This could have provided the more talented academic high school students the opportunity to proceed at faster pace and skip grades. However, in practice, the MOE and local authorities only considered employing the credit system at lowerranking schools for students of the lowest ability range. (6) Measures were taken since 1987 to strengthen local authorities, though it remained uncertain whether the relevant changes would result in local diversity or actual increase of MOE control.
Like the credit-system upper secondary schools and probationary teachertraining year, measures such as curriculum “flexibilization” [decentralization] and expensive expansion programs (aimed at expanding graduate education and promoting basic research) were only partially implemented and their success has yet to be gauged after some observation period has elapsed. Meanwhile, there are other concurrent but relatively more controversial reform proposals at hand. Schoppa and others argued that their chance of successful implementation was slim, given the absence of a conservative consensus during policy-making and the MOE’s inherent political conflict of interest in implementing the measures (Schoppa 1991a: 246-250; Lincicome 1993: 14). These less promising measures include liberalization (free-market school choice) reform, textbook deregulation, university entrance examination “flexibilization”, six-year secondary schools, gifted education reform, university administration reform (hōjin-ka, or
incorporation), switching to a September school start, unifying of kindergarten and nursery administration and revision of the Fundamental Law of Education.
3.5 Perceptions and Critiques of Recent Educational Reforms
Reform as Policy-Making
Schoppa (1991a) argued that the recent Japanese educational reforms was a case of “immobilist politics” where a status-quo-oriented educational establishment resisted against attempts to change it under a number of conditions: (1) the lack of a conservative consensus among the actors of policy-making including the MOE, the LDP education zoku (bunkyō-zoku, an intra-party clique specializing in educational issues) and the reformer initiator Nakasone himself (p251-252); (2) prolonged one-party dominance of the LDP whose vested interests likewise discouraged it from upsetting the educational establishment (p252-253); (3) a narrowly segmented educational sphere whereby policy-making is much restricted within the educational sub-government, characterized by conservatism inside the immediate area concerned (p253-255).
Of course, there are other problems with reforms characterized by the top-down policy-making processes described in Schoppa’s study. For instance, progressive educational critics, such as Horio, and pedagogical reformers, such as Sato Manabu (professor of Tokyo University engaged in action research), had questioned the
legitimacy of politically-directed initiatives and advocated more grassroots educational research and innovations at the school level.
Liberalization: the Search for “Individuality”
For critics who believe Japanese education is plagued by excessive uniformity and standardization – the same factors that have putatively contributed to postwar educational equality and high standards in academic and basic-skills training in compulsory education – the questions most germane to the reforms concerns how to introduce diversity and promote individuality within the system. Liberalization seems to be the general trend. However, reformers and the public alike are clearly divided over the relative importance of individualization in schools as well as the means for bringing about change.
Fujita viewed the current educational reform initiative as one guided by the “concurrent themes” of individualization and deregulation. The first pertains to individual educational choice and the second to accountability of the schools. According to him, educational policy-making in Japan has been dominated by the camps of “sensationalism, neoliberalism, neoconservatism and reformism” (2000: section 3). The arguments of the progressive, neoliberal and neoconservative “overlap with each other to an importance degree” especially in areas like reduced central control and increased educational choice. “Reform itself seems to be the goal, not the means to improve education” (2000: section 3). There is inadequate attention given to the investigation or reappraisal of the actual effectiveness of reform measures. In the light
of “reform suprematism”, radical measures may even threaten to remove the good and efficient components of the educational system (Fujita 1997: 50).
Fujita (2000) cited three main policies which he saw as critical and problematic: (1) the five-day school week measure, which will be fully implemented from 2002, effectively causing a reduction of class hours and presumably educational content; (2) the combined middle-high school (or six-year secondary school) education, which, if expanded, would seriously challenge the existing 6-3-3 school system and lead to the formation of a partially multi-track one; and (3) relaxation of the school district system (jiyūka) among elementary and middle schools, which will likely bring with it the concerns for school ranking and tracking as well as early selection at the lower secondary educational level.
On the goals and effectiveness of the reforms, Fujita (2000: section 3) held that the current educational reforms had been misguided. “Radical” political reforms within the government and social organization convince many that deregulation and reformism are the general trend and education must not be exempt from it. “Current policy arguments and reforms measures in elementary and secondary education seem to be irrational and deceptive.” What Fujita referred to is a misfit between the educational problems and their proclaimed solutions. According to him, the shortened school week and increased school choice are not the answer to school breakdown and other school disciplinary problems as some reform policy-makers had claimed them to be. Instead, the current measures deal with changing the structure of educational opportunity. Similarly, an installation of the six-year secondary education would lead to a partial
multi-track system, which potentially holds great significance for changes to the elementary and secondary schools. With liberalization, increased parental choice and increased number of six-year secondary schools, the shape of lower secondary public school education would inevitably be distorted. Many of Fujita’s concerns were articulated in relation to the egalitarian educational ideals in Japan: “the formation of elitism, school ranking and tracking, the problem of early selection and exacerbation of school maladjustment among children” (2000: section 4).
Deregulation and Flexibilization: Reforming the Structure
As mentioned in Schoppa’s and Fujita’s analyses earlier, during the 1980s and 90s, the issues of reforming the 6-3-3 schooling structure and of decontrolling school zones and removing restrictions on school choice had become one of the major focuses of the educational reform debate. Reform activists from the neoconservative and neoliberal camps alike lobbied for structural changes to the educational systems. For the neoconservatives, who were represented by Koyama Kenichi, a former Rinkyōshin member and a closer advisor of Prime Minster Nakasone, the most relevant educational problems were not such things as school violence or school refusal (Schoppa 1991b: 65). The traditional conservatives’ call for increased moral education and teacher training also ranked low in the neoconservatives’ priorities. According to the neoconservative view, the most critical problems concerned the rigidity and standardization of the educational system, and the answer to which would be a relaxing of MOE control (Schoppa 1991b: 65). Many of the neoconservative proposals certainly challenged the emphasis on equality and egalitarian and values, which so epitomized postwar Japanese
education. These included: the decontrolling of the curriculum and reduced textbook censorship; the introduction of banding, tracking and greater course specialization among students at lower levels of schooling; the allowing of the formation of more diverse kinds of private and public schools by relaxing the school establishment standards and the rigidity of the 6-3-3-4 framework; and the allowing of greater school choice for parents and introducing free-market competition among the schools (Schoppa 1991b: 66). In short, in the neoconservative line, liberalization (jiyūka) should proceed along with various levels of flexibilization (jūnanka).
On the other hand, Horio (1986), who sided with the left-wing progressive camp, was in full sympathy with the teachers’ unions’ (Nikkyōso [and Zenkyō]) egalitarian and democratic ideals (p35) and was fundamentally interested in seeing more liberalization in schools in the form of increased freedom for research and educational practice (involving teachers and educational researchers). He was against increased school privatization and deregulations on school choice. Like some other educational critics, Horio criticized the government for failing to reconcile the conflicts between the actual educational conditions and its policies pretending to improve them. He argued that the Rinkyōshin had been less interested in appraising the “actual situation of schools and pupils in crisis” than in how to consolidate Japan’s world economic position (p33). According to Horio, the hallowed tenets of egalitarianism in Japanese education should not be compromised for the sake of enterprise interests and the development of leadership qualities, which the neoliberals and business groups wished to promote. With the latter’s proposals, he contended, the “inevitable result [would] be an even more competitive, meritocratic and hierarchical system, reproducing with increasing
clarity the discrepancy between the technocratic elites and a massive deskilled population” (p34). Horio then proposed that the reforms should be pursued with an ideal in mind – the egalitarian ideal embodied in many postwar educational institutions. Rather than an enhanced meritocratic elitist construct, Japan needed to work for a “technological society supported by a highly educated majority of people who can share in the responsibility and decision-making at all levels in industry and politics” (p34).
Internationalization as an Ideology
Internationalization (or globalization) has come to dominate the rhetoric of educational debates and policies in many countries. Japan is not immune to this. Lincicome (1993: 123) argued that Japanese authorities and critics of education alike are fond of the term “kokusaika” (internationalization) because “[T]he real significance of the internationalization movement lies in its very ambiguity”. The lack of a concrete universal definition of the term provided a “discursive space” for competing camps of the reform debate to contest the aims and content of kokusaika (p125).
Similarly, Kobayashi observed that the concept of internationalization in education was often poorly understood within Japan. It was generalized to mean (1) the teaching and learning of foreign languages or foreign knowledge (with a dominant Western focus), or (2) simply a tool for advancing the nation’s political, social and economic interests (1986: 65). Because of this ambiguity, there were risks that internationalization in Japanese education might be exploited to reinforce past nationalistic trends in education, instead of rectifying them (p66). Hood (2001) also
seemed to agree on the existence of this ambiguity. He noted that Nakasone’s own educational ideology claimed that internationalism and “healthy nationalism” could be combined as “healthy internationalism”. The Rinkyōshin took up this interpretation and coined the word “atarashii kokusaika” (new internationalism) to suit its policy language. To Nakasone and his followers, “healthy internationalism” was related not only to relations with foreign countries but also to the Japanese identity (p55).
Kobayashi argued that the very closed, uniform nature of the Japanese system, in terms of such things as educational methods and curriculum, would continue to stand in the way of internationalizing efforts, which could not bring about successful results by the introduction of “novel educational policies” alone. He cited two examples of conflicts between reforms for internationalization and the existing system. First, programs for internationalization are viewed as disadvantageous for entrance examinations and thus their relative importance tends to be marginalized. Second, the “excessive sense of rivalry and egoism” generated within the school system preoccupied with entrance examinations certainly does not promote the kind of values and attitudes congruent with an international society, which should instead emphasize “independence and participation” (p70-71).
After its establishment in 1984, Rinkyōshin was charged with the task of studying the broad issues of “coping with internationalization” (kokusaika he no taiō). The subsequent policy recommendations it produced was clearly marked by a familiar rhetoric: the need for the creating of “cosmopolitan Japanese” and a range of other ideal qualities such as mastery foreign language skills, thorough knowledge of foreign
countries and cultures, an ability to appreciate cultural differences and an “international consciousness” (kokusaiteki ninshiki) (Lincicome 1993: 124-126). Coupled with these is a range of complementary qualities, equally desired in the future generation: individual character (kosei), creativity (sōzōsei), independence (jiyū), self-discipline (jiritsu), and personal responsibility (jiko sekinin). To add to the ambiguity of its educational policies, the government attempted to juxtapose nationalist ideology on the internationalist movement (Kobayashi 1986: 66; Schoppa 1991a: 64-65; Lincicome 1993: 125-130). According to official interpretations, cosmopolitan Japanese should also be imbued with a thorough knowledge and deep respect for Japanese tradition, culture and society (Lincicome 1993: 126). In fact, as Lincicome noted, “[the] paradigm of kokusaika posits the cultivation of a Japanese consciousness, rooted in respect for Japanese culture and tradition, as a prerequisite for pupils development as internationalists” (Lincicome 1993: 144). This again clearly reaffirmed Schoppa’s and Fajita’s observation about the ambiguity of the term “internationalization”.
As observed by Kobayashi, the curriculum for “international studies” was generally not accepted by the mainstream academic high schools. It tended to be treated as some quasi-vocational course conducted at the less competitive non-academic high schools. Ironically, Lincicome observed, while some of these international studies courses have produced students of impressive qualities and attitudes of “international consciousness” that Rinkyōshin had hoped for, under the existing educational system, the high school graduates of such programs could not realistically aspire to important government and other social positions. (Lincicome 1993: 142-144). In other words, the
social structure had not undergone the necessary changes to accommodate educational reforms.
Entrance Exams: the Crux of the Problem?
Rohlen concluded in his 1983 study that social position and rank in Japan come to be quite determined by the time of [high] school graduation. Education, accordingly, is very important to the understanding of Japanese social structure. The high school level represents the watershed of the most fundamental differentiation in Japanese education (1983: 112). One obvious consequence to the lack of progress in liberalization and in reforming the university entrance examination system, Rohlen suggested, was the continued reliance by students and parents on private supplementary education such as home tutors (katei kyōshi) and cram schools or private preparatory institutions (juku and yobikō). Even in the 1970s, Rohlen observed that “[t]he establishment of greater equality educational opportunity in public system rather than cooling off parental (and student) drive is only likely to encourage more ‘private sector’ activity given the high level of competitiveness focused on educational achievement” (Rohlen 1998b: 15). This is still very much a true reflection of the Japanese educational landscape even today. With over-dependence on private supplementary education, there also come the questions of inequality in educational opportunity through differences in family income and “cultural capital”, a point we have touched on earlier. Like Rohlen, Lincicome contended that “the single biggest obstacle to the internationalization of Japanese education may be the highly competitive entrance exam” (p144). In the case of high schools, the existing system was still very much
narrowly centered on university entrance examination preparation. A strictly defined curriculum, concerns for teaching schedule and resource constraints mean that there is little room for integrating “international education” in these schools (p144). According to Lincicome, entrance examinations not only influence the courses of study for primary, middle and high schools as sanctioned by the MOE but also affect attitudes of students, teachers and parents on the content and goals of education. Interested in the notion of maintaining the egalitarian spirit in Japanese education, Horio (1986) rejected the government’s claim that once privatization of the public sector of education was set in place, competition of free choice [over schools across catchments] would produce a “positive, invigorating” effect on the system. He saw the relevant policies as problematic: the private sector would be put in an unmistakable advantage (since they retain the rights to decide over such things as length of school week and teaching practices); private preparatory schools would flourish while the public schools would be ruined (p33). While there are others who share his concerns, Horio’s view that privatization would lead more students to rely on supplementary education (juku and yobikō) remains an unsubstantiated one.
3.6 Recent Curriculum Reform and Definition of Sōgōtekina-gakushū
Despite the incessant Japanese concern about their educational “troubles” and the ongoing poignant debate on what Japanese education should become, a gradual development of government interests in “liberalizing” part of the school curriculum took shape among policy-makers towards the late 1990s.
Not surprisingly, these “new” interests seem to have been re-molded from some of the old policy discourses since the Nakasone years. Recommended changes in the curriculum included: (1) reforming and reducing content of the academic curriculum, (2) a more student-centered teaching approach for “individualized” learning, (3) promoting learning activities related to “learning through experience” and problemsolving, (4) increased emphasis on elective programs, and (5) the introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan2 (Integrated Learning Time) in the school curriculum (MEXT 1999a). To some extent, they were a reaction to the persistent conditions of Japan’s highly academic system which had been found increasingly unsatisfactory in the country’s attempt to respond to evolving socio-economic challenges brought on by external and domestic forces.
What the government demanded to see was an increase or, at least, change in the school’s role and capacity to provide education suited to the needs of school students on whom a host of new (and old) expectations was showered. The strategy to achieve this was something quite “radical” in the light of postwar educational developments – schools were given some form of autonomy to design, organize and teach part of the reformed curriculum, as defined by the New Course of Study (for primary and junior high schools) published in 1998. A new component of the school curriculum called Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was to be introduced in stages starting from 20013 for
総合的な学習の時間 The actual full-scale and formal introduction Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was scheduled in April 2002 for primary and junior high schools. The preceding year, 2001, was used as an experimental phase where schools were allowed to develop and adopt a less ambitious version of their own reformed programs (that is, Sōgōtekina-gakushū).
primary and junior high schools. According to the Curriculum Council4 (part of the larger advisory structure of the Central Council on Education, Chūkyōshin), the introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was based on the following rationale:
It is imperative to ensure the provision of timetabled school hours for schools to undertake, in full capacity, diversified and relevant teaching and learning activities within their own local or school contexts. It is also very important to ensure the same time provision to facilitate cross-subject, integrated learning activities in the hope of developing qualities and abilities [in school children] who can demonstrate an independence in dealing with social changes in relation to globalization and the information age. (Curriculum Council 1997) 5
In a final recommendation report on curriculum policy, the Council further specified the use of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan as a means to promote development of student’s ability to learn and think independently, in both study and “real-life” contexts. The purposes of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan included: (1) promoting abilities to discover subjects of interest, learn independently, think independently, make one’s own decisions and solve problems, through allowing schools to develop their own reformed programs devoted to crosssubject integrated learning activities or other activities which stimulate students’ interests; (2) promoting skills for collecting data, researching, analyzing, presenting and conducting discussion with others;
教育課程審議会 (Kyōikukatei-shingikai) 各学校が地域や学校の実態などに応じて特色ある教育活動を自由に展開できるような時間を 確保することには重要なことである。また、国際化や情報化をはじめ社会の変化に主体的に対 応できる資質や能力を育成するということを考えると、教科の枠を超えた横断的な・総合的な 学習をより円滑に実施するための時間を確保することも大切なことである。(Mid-term report of the Curriculum Council, 1997; online version; refer to References)
(3) fostering correct attitudes for problem-solving and investigative learning activities in an independent and creative manner; and (4) helping students develop an awareness of “how to live” (ikikata). (Curriculum Council 1998)6
These recommendations, challenging as they sounded, revealed an anxiety about the Japanese curriculum, which had been seen as thus far quite unable to produce the kind of “independent creative individuals” and social cohesion desired by an aging and evolving society. The notion of how to enhance student’s general skills and capacity to “live” and get properly socialized into Japanese society was especially interesting since it was itself rather problematic in definition - it was open to many interpretations of what skills constituted a valid growth in the particular “living skill”, which sometimes was loosely defined as or associated with the skills to “learn independently and think independently” (mizukara manabi, mizukara kangae) in many contexts of the recent policies.
From 2002, most public junior schools were thus required by government directives to include Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan in their school curriculum under the current Course of Study. Unlike past subjects in the national curriculum, this new component was not subject-defined. In fact, government regulations regarding Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan were minimalist and were concerned with only the mandatory implementation period of certain school hours (about 70-130 hours for junior high schools) dedicated to reform programs developed by schools themselves. These
Online version; refer to References
programs, known as Sōgōtekina-gakushū (or Integrated Learning), were timetabled learning activities of various themes and purposes, broadly delineated in the recent curriculum policy discourse (MEXT 1999, Chapter 1). A 70-hour program spread over the year typically had about two hours of activity periods in a week.
What is Sōgōtekina-gakushū? Essentially, this refers to a collection of schooldeveloped reformed programs (non-discipline-based and non-academically-oriented school curricula) that largely target the educational goals and learning themes set by the government but whose content and approach frequently are mediated significantly by the school’s very own local contexts (local environment, teachers, resources, student quality, etc.). The so-called learning themes reflected government interests in the earlier periods of reform in the 1980s – these included the major aspirations in “international study” (kokusai-rikai), I.T., environment, welfare and health, as well as many integrated learning themes specific to certain geographical regions or localities which aimed at improving education through the school-community interface (MEXT 1999).
Since the content, teaching, assessment and internal organization of the timetable of the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum was entirely left to the schools to decide, this signified a major change in the ways curriculum development had been done in Japan. Schools certainly enjoyed some form of new, albeit restricted, autonomy in their school curriculum through the policy development. However, since the infrastructure for decentralized curriculum development was very much in a state of infancy, the implementation of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was just as likely to be problematic. Cave (2003, 98) rightly pointed out that the given the new freedom
accorded to teachers in the reformed programs, they were also obliged, willingly or not, to participate more in the curriculum development process.
While reform efforts in Japan have gone through cycles of flows and ebbs since the 1980s, actual measurable changes in many aspects of Japanese education have remained elusive to date (Lincicome 1993; Cave 2001: 185). School education continues to be heavily standardized. School choice remains limited for the majority among the student population. University admission continues to be narrowly defined by exam-preparation and little changed even in testing designs. At middle and high schools, the teacher-centered lecture approach of teaching remains the norm. As is the case in Lincicome’s 1993 study, despite the internationalist rhetoric, certain international studies program had been implemented more successfully at lower-ranking, non-academic schools while their more academically competitive counterparts rejected the programs as irrelevant to “normal” educational pursuits. A question then becomes relevant: At least for some measures, the reforms have not been treated wholeheartedly as worthy alternatives to the existing establishment. The so-called reforms implemented during the 1980s (moral education expansion, nationalist and internationalist education and establishment of the University Council, for example) have produced a relatively minor impact on the structure and general outlook of education, especially when considered in the larger context of transforming Japanese teaching and learning institutions. Nevertheless, it is also clear that many reform measures are still under way
or yet to be implemented. It requires more future studies on our part to better appreciate and understand the full impact of what the reforms mean.
The introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan in junior high schools and consequently the development of partial school autonomy over their local school curricula seemed to be an important step towards “liberalizing” parts of the Japanese curriculum so as to account for the need for skills, values, attitudes and other qualities not properly taken care of in the existing academic system. Although much interest in the teaching of Sōgōtekina-gakushū had been seen in vast amount of practical writings done in Japanese related to pedagogy (Cave 2003, 96), research on Sōgōtekina-gakushū, particularly regarding the practices and processes during its overall implementation in schools, is generally lacking. This study is precisely interested in the local conditions and developments around Sōgōtekina-gakushū at certain Japanese junior high schools. A detailed discussion of my case study of its introduction is given in Chapter Five.
CHAPTER FOUR EDUCATION AND CURRICULUM REFORM IN HONG KONG
This chapter contains a literature review on the education system and curriculum reform in Hong Kong. It traces the developments of decentralized curriculum development, in particular, project learning and SBCD (school-based curriculum development) and give a brief outline of the curriculum development process in Hong Kong.
Compared to the UK or Japan, mass schooling in Hong Kong has a relatively short history. In the case of England and Wales, despite limited state participation, universal education was introduced at the elementary level as early as 1870 and at the
secondary level in 19441. In Japan, where state intervention has always been strong, universal education at the elementary level was achieved in 19002 and this was extended to the secondary level in 1947 under the reconstructed postwar system3. As we shall see shortly in this chapter, Hong Kong’s government provision for education did not begin on a serious scale until the 1960s and 1970s. This, however, does not necessarily lead us to conclude that discussion of the developments before centralized educational provision is unimportant. Quite to the contrary, local cultures, values and norms embedded in education have played powerful and durable roles in shaping what take place in the classrooms and schools, as was the case in Japan as demonstrated in Chapter Two. In the recent history of education, these have facilitated the government’s policy in some cases while resisting or working against it in some others. The persistent emphasis on the value of academic study, for instance, has a far-reaching effect on local people’s perceptions and expectations of education as well as on school practices. Consequently, generic student skills and qualities now being fervently advocated in policies had been previously ignored or neglected in the school curriculum during previous periods of development.
See Halls (1995, 1025). The total enrolment rate for elementary schooling was already 90% in 1902 (明治 35 年) and 98% in 1909 (明治 42 年). See Monbushō’s “120 Years’ History of the Educational System (学制百二十年史)”, available online at <http://wwwwp.mext.go.jp/v120nen/index-11.html>. 3 See Chapter Two under “Historical background”.
As is the case in many other places including Japan, curriculum reform in Hong Kong has often involved tensions between the interests of schools and the state. Hong Kong’s curriculum has been in a state of flux thanks to structural changes in the system and socio-economic dynamics in local society. Successive expansions of the educational sectors and a shift from an elitist to a publicly-financed mass schooling system gradually put curricular control into the hands of a central authority. Despite the expanded state role in education, implementation of local policies was rarely a straightforward business, partly because of the government interest to ensure both (i) continuity in academic standards through a central curriculum framework and (ii) some form of flexibility and diversity in school curricula through attempts in decentralized curriculum development in non-academically-oriented learning. School-based curriculum development (SBCD) in the local context was encouraged since the late 1980s though this had been quite restricted in progress and confined to certain types of schools. Towards the late 1990s, interests in other forms of decentralized curriculum development grew among government policy-makers and schools. Among these were subject integration and project learning. The latter is the main subject of interest in this study, as it provides a context for comparing with developments of curriculum reform in
Japan, namely, Integrated Learning or Sōgōtekina-gakushū.
The chapter is organized into the following parts, broadly equivalent to that used the discussion of the Japanese educational system: (i) historical developments of the Hong Kong educational system, (ii) educational control and policy-making by government, (iii) formal schooling, and its structure and characteristics, (iv) the curriculum, (v) mechanisms in reform implementation, (vi) discussion of the Llewellyn Report as a critique on earlier-period curriculum development, (vii) developments of curriculum reforms towards decentralization, (viii) background on project learning and SBCD, and (ix) conclusion (preliminary comparison between the Japanese and Hong Kong educational system).
4.1 Historical Developments of the Educational System
4.1.1 Early Developments
Hong Kong’s educational system and its developments have been seen as a result of interactions between endogenous and exogenous forces (McClelland 1991;
Morris 1995: 123-131; Sweeting 1995; Sweeting and Morris 1998). The local curriculum and its developments can also be examined in a similar light.
With its historically peripheral position, Hong Kong had almost always relied on borrowing established models (notably from the UK) for conceptual frameworks related to education. At the same time, local realities, such as cultural practices, religions and ethno-linguistic concerns made it very difficult to implant any foreign systems without some form of modifications (Ng 1984, preface; Sweeting 1990). Essentially, the study of Hong Kong educational development calls for a degree of consciousness about the evolving relationship between China and Hong Kong, the mutual interactions between the government and populace and the processes of negotiation between imported foreign institutions and local contexts.
At the same time, socio-economic dynamics, such as massive population influx from the mainland and structural shifts in the economy, also provided another source of impetus for change and readjustment in education. One direct impact of increased demands for mass schooling was the quantitative expansion of educational provision started in the 1950s. In recent decades, educational reforms were increasingly being
called upon to address the issue of quality, which subsequently entailed a reinvestigation of the nature of the curriculum.
From the early colonial period, Hong Kong’s political status meant that legitimacy had to be judged on the government’s abilities to deliver policies for local welfare, while keeping the business sector happy. The priorities of these had changed over time. In the case of education, the public provision of education, even at the primary level, was not accorded with great importance on the government agenda until the end of WWII (Adamson and Morris 1998: 182).
The government’s participation in educational provision between 1841 and 1941 can be described as minimalist or laissez-faire in its approach (Adamson and Morris 1998: 181; Sweeting and Morris 1993: 202). Education was limited to the purpose of producing an academic elite acting as go-betweens in trade and administration (Adamson and Morris 1998: 182)4. Localization and vernacularization of some parts of the educational system were sponsored and tolerated by the colonial
Bray (1992) seemed to have a different interpretation on what might be termed interventionist in early educational provision. Agreeing with Catherine Jones’ point on school grants, he argued that, “[t]here was no early intention to raise an intermediary class of English-trained natives as ‘go-betweens’… Nevertheless, early education policy differed from other aspects of social policy in being more active and interventionist” (p324-325).
government to ensure the practicality of schooling in relation to administration, employment and other economic-political activities (Sweeting 1992: 60-65)5. Out of this pre-war background came four main types of (primary) schools, namely, government schools, grant schools (mainly of missionary origin), subsidized schools (predominantly rural and Chinese-medium), and private schools. The private schools were mainly urban and Chinese medium and formed the largest segment of the pre-war schooling system, which catered to non-academic demands and was often questioned by the government over its standards and purposes (Sweeting 1993: 6-9; Adamson and Morris 1998: 182).
4.1.2 Influxes and Impetus for Change
The War and the Japanese Occupation brought an abrupt end to the old system. As the British reclaimed rule of the colony, new “significant forces began to transform Hong Kong – its society, its economy, and the role of its government” (Sweeting 1993: 2). In the immediate post-war decade and ensuing periods, Hong Kong’s population
Ng (1984) in her study of the government’s early grant-in-aid scheme also acknowledged that the scheme might serve as some evidence of government effort to promote vernacular instead English education, but she argued the scheme was more likely a policy of expediency to avoid tension arising from religious and administrative concerns (p26).
grew exponentially thanks to an extended post-war baby boom and to a huge influx of refugee immigrants from the mainland facing economic hardship, civil war and subsequent political upheavals. Consequently, pressures on employment (increasingly of the female population) and public social provisions were also dramatically increased (Sweeting 1993: 2; Sweeting and Morris 1993: 202-203). External developments also encouraged structural changes in local production, as Hong Kong’s economy developed through the entrepôt-manufacturing-service pattern.
New programs of expansion in all educational sectors were required for Hong Kong’s evolving social and economic needs (McClelland 1991: 127). Each stage of expansion had tended to involve increasing burden on public spending with relatively slower social returns. In contrast with the pre-war minimalist approach to educational planning, the Hong Kong government’s policies between 1941 and 1971 were gradually “overtaken by events and pre-empted by crisis intervention” (Sweeting 1995: 53), thus strengthening the hand of centralism.
The early increased demands for kindergarten and primary education were met by the rapid growth of the private sector, which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. The
government, for its own part, initially responded to the “crises” of educational provision in the following ways: build its own (government) primary schools, offer interest-free loans and favorable building sites to voluntary (mainly religious) bodies and, albeit grudgingly, similar aid to selected private schools (Sweeting 1993: 155-175; Sweeting 1995: 51). Despite this, the private sector remained very important well into the 1970s, providing all kindergarten places, about 15% of primary school places and about 70% of secondary places (Sweeting 1995: 51-52). The expanded provision of primary schooling eventually led to an extension of demand to secondary education.
4.1.3 Increased Government Involvement
Free and compulsory education was introduced at the primary level in government and aided schools in 1971 (Adamson and Morris 1998: 182; Bray 1992: 328; Sweeting 1995: 52) but primary education had become largely universal even before this (Cheng 1987: 23). Free schooling was extended to junior secondary level
(up to Form3) in 1978 and in the following year nine years of education was officially made compulsory (Bray 1992: 328).
A major development following the expansion of secondary education in the late 1970s was the government steps to phase out private secondary schools and expand the government-aided sectors. This occurred in the context of secondary place shortages in the mid-70s, when the government decided to adopt the Bought Place Scheme, which consequently gave the government some control over private school standards.
The 1980s witnessed the gradual emergence of a government-controlled mass secondary schooling system from a socially elitist one dominated by the private sector, though, academically, the elitist tone of the curriculum was maintained during the same period. New challenges arose as the expansion put increasing pressures on school resources and teacher abilities to cope with students of greater disparities. Against the background of constant concerns for “falling academic standards” (Llewellyn et al. 1982), a trend for whole curriculum and an accompanying discourse for whole-person development slowly took root in the government policy after the establishment of a central advisory body, the Education Commission, and related curriculum development advisory bodies. These will be discussed in further detail in the section on curricular reforms and school-based curriculum development.
4.2 Educational Control and Policy-making
4.2.1 Hierarchy and Division of Educational Control
Broadly speaking, education administration in Hong Kong is divided into (1) policy-planning and (2) execution and supervision. Although the day-to-day processes from policy-making to curriculum planning are said to be dominated by bureaucratic procedures (Marsh and Morris 1991: 256; Adamson and Morris 2000: 10), the organizational structure is a combination of a decentralized system among the administrative bodies and a centralized one within each of them. This means that individual bureaux, departments, and councils may have strong administrative control over their own operations and decisions by means of bureaucratic procedures, but there is no formal procedural structure governing inter-departmental relations.
Unlike Japan’s Ministry of Education, the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB), the de facto highest educational policy-making and supervisory organ in Hong Kong, does not enjoy the same status and level of power over its so-called subordinate
bodies6, among which are the Educational Department (ED), the Vocational Training Council (VTC), the Hong Kong Examination Authority (HKEA) and the University Grants Committee (UGC). To illustrate, both the Secretary for Education and Manpower, head of the EMB, and the Director of Education, head of the ED, are senior civil servants separately appointed by the Chief Executive. The EMB and ED have their own separate fiscal budgets approved by the Legislative Council.
In terms of responsibilities, the division of labor is also fairly clear-cut. The main tasks of the EMB are to formulate and review education policies, secure funds in the government budget, and oversee the effective implementation of educational programs (EMB, homepage). On the other hand, the operational concerns of the ED lie in the implementation of policies at the kindergarten, primary and secondary levels, which includes enforcing the Education Ordinance (Cap. 279), providing and allocating public sector school places, provision of special education, school curriculum development, assuring school education quality, monitoring of teaching standards and giving resources support to schools. Although the ED also nominally takes part in developing and reviewing policies for school education, this is in fact largely taken care
One may instead argue that, within a local context, the Education Department in Hong Kong enjoys comparable stature and power of the Ministry of Education in Japan, particularly with respect to control over school operation and the curriculum.
by the Board of Education (BoE), a free-standing statutory committee that conducts its own research on primary and secondary schools and coordinates with the Education Commission on such matters.
One may speculate that the separation of the organizational structure for school education into two policy-making and executive divisions is rationalized on practical and historical grounds. Practically, the ED has always been responsible for enforcing educational policies and regulating school operations. It has the natural advantage to establish relations and connections with schools, which is reinforced by the fact that members of the BoE predominantly are administrators and teaching professionals in school education. Historically, the establishment of the ED long preceded that of the EMB and Education Commission, the latter two being the products of growing demands for policy planning relevant to the local contexts during the successive stages of recent educational expansion.
4.2.2 Curriculum Planning
In the case of curriculum development, however, it would be simplistic and
misleading to say that the EMB simply makes polices and the ED implements them in some closed operation. Educational policies in Hong Kong often come in the form of “recommendations” by various advisory bodies and require elaborate processes of public consultation and legislation (Cheng 1992; Cheng 1998).
The Education Commission occupies a central though not necessarily predominant position within the hierarchy of educational advisory bodies. It is a rough counterpart of Japan’s Rinkyōshin or Chūkyōshin, composed of a select group of members representing the educational bureaucracy, advisory bodies, teaching profession and the business and academic communities. While the Education Commission sets the general direction of reforms, its role is as much a government co-advisor as a coordinator for the other major co-advisory bodies (ECR1, 1), namely, the BoE, VTC, HKEA and UGC, which all have ex-officio members sitting on the Education Commission panel.
To date, the main institutions responsible for planning and developing the curriculum are the Curriculum Development Council (CDC) and Curriculum Development Institute (CDI). Teaching syllabuses produced by the CDC are
“recommended” for use at primary and secondary schools but this is by no means mandatory (ECR4: 8). Summative assessment is separately handled by the HKEA, which regularly updates its examination syllabuses, but this usually involves very limited variations.
Like other areas of educational policy, curriculum development in Hong Kong operates in a centralized system, which is often highly derivative of overseas models and relies on bureaucratic procedures for implementation (McClelland 1991; Lo 1995; Adamson and Morris 2000). According to McClelland (1991, 128; Morris 1995, 134, citing McClelland), the main characteristics of curriculum development in Hong Kong can be identified as: (i) centralized and top-down; (ii) product oriented; (iii) focused on single subject syllabuses; (iv) sensitive to international trends but generally derivative of British models; (v) geared towards adoption of syllabuses and resources; and (vi) taking implementation as unproblematic.
Adamson and Morris (1995, 11-12), while echoing McClelland’s observations about local curriculum development, further note that gaps between what is planned and what is implemented have often resulted from the mismatch between a centralized
mechanism for curricular planning and dissemination strategies for certain curricular reform initiatives such as TOC (Target Oriented Curriculum). The problems they identify include “the tendency to rely on bureaucratic procedures, the low level of involvement of practitioners in developing curricula, the strong washback effect from examinations, the failure to match forms of assessment and curricular goals, and the failure to support innovations with appropriate resources and teacher education programs” (ibid., 12). A more detailed discussion of the reform mechanisms and dissemination strategies is given in the later part of the chapter (4.7).
4.3 Formal Education: Schooling Structure and Some Characteristics
4.3.1 Schooling Structure and Compulsory Education
One out of five in Hong Kong’s population is receiving some form of education in kindergartens, schools, universities and other institutions (See Table 1c). For certain historical reasons, the 6-5-2 schooling system in Hong Kong bears a basic resemblance to the British structure7, with some variations at the lower and upper reaches of formal
According to Morris, McClelland and Wong (1998, 111), the schooling system of Hong Kong in the mid-1970s was modeled upon the British system and had a 6-(5+2)-4 structure. The seven-year
The nine-year compulsory education9, sometimes termed the more politically correct “universal basic education”10 (BoE 1997, ii) or “general education” (Cheng 1998, 26-28), is funded by the government in the public sector (government and aided) schools and spans six years of primary education (P1-P6) and three years of junior secondary education (S1-S3). In the 2000-2001 period, 98.7% of the age cohort was enrolled in the nine-year compulsory education while 91% of all junior secondary school graduates enrolled for S4 places for the two-year senior secondary education (S4-S5)11 (EMB 2002, Table 5, p5). The sixth form education (S6-S7) comprising two-year matriculation program is not free but operates under heavy government subsidy. Between 2000 and 2001, S6 enrolment rate12 was only 37.4% (EMB 2002, Table 4, p4). Both primary education and secondary education are dominated by public sector schools, though in recent years efforts were made to improve standards and
secondary curriculum is divided into junior secondary (S1-S3), senior secondary (S4-S5) and the sixth form (S6-S7). This may seem identical to the current system but the various public examinations determined the exit point of the school student differently before the expansion of secondary and tertiary education. 8 For instance, schooling in Hong Kong is compulsory for nine years (age 6-15), instead of 11 years (age 5-16) in the mainstream 6-5-2 schooling system in England and Wales. Secondary schooling in Hong Kong is also divided into junior and senior secondary levels by an albeit largely abandoned allocation exercise called the JSEA system. However, steps have been taken to phase out this division. 9 九年強迫教育 10 普及基礎教育 11 Locally, secondary school classes are commonly known as Form1-Form5, that is, S1-S5, etc. 12 This refers to S6 enrolment as a percentage of S5 enrolment in the previous school year. 78
quality of education in the traditionally disadvantaged private sector, with major initiatives such as the Direct Subsidy Scheme.
4.3.2 School Classification
As Postiglione noted, Hong Kong’s history is much characterized by “a combination of government, government subsidized, and private form of education” (1992, 11). Concomitant to the growing government role in school educational provisions since the 1960s is the development of a complex system of school classification by the Education Department (ED). Rightly or wrongly, the school type within such a system tends to suggest to the public qualities about student intake and performance, teacher professionalism, school facilities, medium of instruction and, of course, the availability and level of government aid to the school.
Broadly speaking, schools following the “local curriculum” are categorized into government, aided and private schools. The government and aided schools, together referred to as public sector schools, receive public funding under the Code of Aid and their operations are controlled and monitored by the ED according to the Education
Ordinance. Aided schools are by far the numerically most important education provider at both the primary and secondary levels. However, according to Postiglione (1992, 12), “most of the schools in the territory are publicly funded but privately operated.”
After the Education Commission’s recommendations (ECR3) in 1988, the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) was introduced in an attempt to regulate as well as give autonomy to schools in the private sector and improve their standards, in particular at the secondary level.
4.4.1 Academically-Oriented Curriculum and Teacher-centeredness
Like the case of public provision for mass schooling, a systematic mechanism to plan, produce, and assess the whole curriculum is only a relatively recent phenomenon in Hong Kong. The elitist nature of the schooling system in the earlier periods of development had encouraged and tolerated the existence of an academic
curriculum across the entire schooling system13 which allowed itself to be dominated or significantly affected by public examinations (Llewellyn et al. 1982, 31-39 passim)14 such as the HKCEE and HKALE.
Morris (1990) concludes that the problems relating to curricular provision were linked to and worsened by the primary and secondary school expansion programs (p4). The academically oriented curriculum for an elitist school system proved inadequate to accommodate the needs of students who have non-academic aspirations and abilities (ibid.).
Morris (1995) also points out that the term “academic” often does not imply such things as the generation of ideas, creative thinking or problem-solving on the student’s part (p125). An academic curriculum refers to one that “encourages pupils to learn large bodies of information and forms of analysis which are selected from the disciplines, abstract, defined by textbooks and tested by a public examination” (ibid.).
As recently as mid-1990s, “intense competition” for the most popular schools necessitated reforms of the system of allocation of Primary One places because such competition was seen to “distort the emphasis of pre-school education towards formal teaching and away from informal learning through play” (EMB 1994, 14). Note, though, that preschool education is not officially recommended but the need for the child to develop academic competence at this early developmental stage is clearly felt among most local parents. 14 A thorough discussion of the Llewellyn Report in a later part of this chapter, under “The Llewellyn Report”, 4.5.
The content and activities of school teaching and learning are restricted by the various teaching syllabuses and exam syllabuses centrally developed by the ED (through the CDI and CDC) and Hong Kong Examination Authority (HKEA) as well as school culture and teacher values and abilities. In schools, teachers traditionally adopted a didactic, authoritarian approach to class teaching while the students take on a passive role (Llewellyn et al. 1982, 34-35).
All school textbooks are produced by commercial publishers and faithfully follow the prescriptions from exam syllabuses in order to ensure survival and profitability. To date, the ED still regularly publishes through the CDI a “Recommended Textbook List”15 for approved textbooks to be used in schools. According to the CDI, “the books are reviewed by a panel of reviewers consisting of serving teachers, lecturers in tertiary institutions, in addition to CDI subject officers. The books are checked against the recommended syllabuses to ensure that they meet with the syllabus requirements, the format requirements, the accuracy of content materials and their
The list is updated on a monthly basis and can be accessed online at <http://cd.ed.gov.hk/cr_2001/eng/textbook/textbook.htm>. Accessed on May 21, 2002.
suitability for the ability of students at the respective levels.”16
4.4.2 Factors Affecting Teachers’ Role in Curriculum Development
Llewellyn et al. (1982) and McClelland (1991) observes that the terms “curriculum” and “syllabus” are translated into the same Chinese word17. In practice, the meanings of the two terms also are also taken freely to be interchangeable, or confused. This is demonstrated in Morris’ 1990 study in which concluded that majority of teachers in Hong Kong defined their main objective of classroom teaching as covering the examination syllabuses (Morris 1990, 45-49).
Time is one of the foremost problems cited as a disincentive for teachers to assume a more active role in tailoring and participating in developing the school curriculum (Morris 1988, 4). Most teachers (especially home-room teachers) are required outside their normal teaching duties to do various clerical chores and handle counseling. The burden of some teachers is further increased with the introduction of such initiatives as the Whole School Approach, School-based Management Initiative
Under “Resources” in “FAQ” on the CDI homepage, available online at <http://cd.ed.gov.hk/misc/faq/faq_e.htm>. Accessed on May 23, 2002. 17 課程設計
(SMI), and SBCD. Added to the problem are large class sizes in most schools. In the 2000-2001 period, the average class size is 20.3 for kindergartens, 34.9 for conventional-approach classes18 in primary schools, 38.3 for S1-S5 and 30.3 for S6-S7 (EMB 2002, Table 9, p8). In other words, the organization of schools does not provide favorable conditions for school-based curriculum development.
The teachers’ reliance on the use of prescriptive centrally-devised syllabuses is also seen as a rational development following the rapid expansion of the educational sectors and to the general inadequacy of professional training and qualifications of local teachers. McClelland argued on this point that “[g]iven that teacher training could not keep pace with the expansion so that large numbers of untrained teachers have to be recruited, a centrally devised set of syllabuses and recommendations for their presentation made a great deal of sense” (1991, 127).
The established system of centralized curricular planning itself presents a great challenge to the recent trends towards school-based curriculum development, despite some overt official endorsement in the policy documents. With the public examination
31.7 for activity approach classes.
system still remaining unaltered and schools loath to risk deviating from an academically-oriented curriculum, the impact of curricular reforms aimed at changing classroom teaching and learning still remains to be seen. Morris (1990, 48) quite rightly points out that “the emphasis to cover the exam syllabus in teaching is against the [CDC teaching] syllabus’s stress on knowledge as a process and on heuristic learning style”.
4.4.3 Clear Educational Aims and the Lack of Them
According to Morris, curriculum development in Hong Kong traditionally has been heavily influenced by the Tyler objectives model (Morris 1995, 54; Morris 1990, 6), which identifies four key stages for curriculum planning, namely, the development of (1) aims and objectives, (2) content, (3) organization of teaching and assessment and (4) evaluation, in a linear sequence (Tyler 1949; cited in Morris 1995: 54, and Silbeck 1984: 5).
Viewed in this context, syllabuses such as those produced by the CDC and HKEA are more than a syllabus because they delineate the educational aims and recommended methods of teaching and assessment, effectively delivering “an official
plan of what the curriculum for a specific school is intended to achieve” (Morris 1995, 1-2).
However, according to the BoE’s Report on Review of the 9-year Compulsory Education (1997), the overall aims for compulsory education in Hong Kong were not clearly defined for the most part of its existence. It stated:
Though compulsory education was enforced as early as 1971 (primary education only), the aims of Hong
Kong education were not made explicit until a formal document “School Education in Hong Kong: A
Statement Aims” was published by the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) in 1993. (BoE 1997, 16)
The BoE also noted there were earlier White Papers such as that in 1974 which gave very broad definitions of the aim of education with a utilitarian accent: “to provide for the children of Hong Kong the standards of education which they need if they are to be properly equipped to fend for themselves and serve their fellows in the competitive world of the next decade.”19
Cited in BoE 1997, p17: White Paper on Secondary Education in Hong Kong over the Next Decade, 1974, para.1.9.
4.5 Mechanisms in Reform Implementation
4.5.1 General Practices
Despite the propensity of Hong Kong policy makers to view educational reforms in an ahistorical manner20, as Sweeting observes, the history of Hong Kong’s education is littered with failed attempts to reform, starting right from its formative years and through the chaotic reforms of the schooling structure in the 1960s 21 . Typically, these reforms are initiated from the center and are characterized by a top-down, fidelity approach to implementation (Sweeting and Morris 1993: 213).
There are basic questions which we need to address so as to evaluate the impact or significance of a reform. How do reform aims and objectives get interpreted and translated into actions? How do reform measures become operationalized by informed players to produce desired results? Apart from collecting empirical evidence at the level of school actions, the study of mechanisms employed for the reform initiatives should also be given some particular attention.
This was presented and discussed by Professor Sweeting at a seminar titled ‘The Education Commission’s “New Clothes”: Education Reform in Hong Kong – Blueprint for a Brave New World or Rejection of the Past?’ (June 6, 2002; Centre of Asian Studies, HKU). 21 This refers to the Donohue’s scheme which attempted to restructure the schooling system to “make it more congruous with social realities” (Sweeting and Morris 1993, 203-206).
Before we proceed further, a working definition of the term mechanism is required. In this study, mechanism refers to a framework of the government’s planned measures, implementation procedures and dissemination strategies that relate to a certain intended outcomes, particularly changes across the system.
Previous studies on the curriculum by Morris (1990) and McClelland (1991) have brought important insight into the nature of mechanisms for both curriculum development and curricular reforms. In the customary cases of implementation, Morris argued that “[t]he mechanisms used to disseminate curriculum changes by both the CDC and HKEA rely on the classic tools of a power coercive strategy, namely directives and requirements” (1990, 8)22. The educational bureaucracy (ED and HKEA) and related advisory body (CDC) often see themselves (and are perceived by schools) as sole legitimate actors to identify problems and provide solutions in the form of packages. At the initiation23 stage, these are disseminated through official circulars and new syllabuses which try to persuade and inform schools and teachers of planned changes
Policies and reforms on language proficiency have tended to be an exception to this, where government preferences and intensions are often overshadowed by market forces. Consequently, related directives are less influential in school decisions on such things as medium of instruction. The result is what Sweeting terms a “laissez faire” approach to language policy which still holds true today (Sweeting 1989; Sweeting and Morris 1993, 205; see also Llewellyn et al. 1982). 23 As part of a framework to study the stages of curriculum development, the term “initiation” technically refers to the way in which ideas arise and get accepted. The related term “development” refers to the process leading to adoption of some syllabuses or guidelines while “evaluation” refers to the process in whereby information is collected relating to the decision to publish recommended syllabuses or guidelines or to their actual implementation in schools (See McClelland 1991, 121 and Morris 1990, 5-6).
(ibid.). The Advisory Inspectorate of the ED, responsible for initiating and overseeing the implementation of the initiatives (Morris 1990, 16), tends to perform “essentially defensive and conservative functions rather than an innovative one” (Morris 1990, 8). Morris further criticizes this implementation approach on the basis that it gave the government a virtual monopoly over curricular decision-making through “centralizing and bureaucratizing the process of innovation” while discouraging schools and teachers from experimenting with any “localized or site specific curriculum innovation” (ibid.)
There is an additional dimension to the process of implementation: How are the reform measures resourced and where do the resources go? According to Morris (1990: 10-16), the chief problem with reform implementation in this regard, is not always under-provision but misallocation or ineffective utilization of resources24. Resources
in Hong Kong, he argued, have mainly been channeled to the initiation stage of curriculum development (that is, the mobilization of schools and teachers towards the adoption of a policy) with the crucial variable of teacher-student interactions being ignored (ibid.: 10).
Note that this refers mainly to professional support and material resources. Time is also frequently cited as very important for teacher participation in curriculum related reforms. See Morris 1988, 4.
Several types of support and resources have been identified by Morris in his 1990 study, which include (p11-12): (a) Subject resource centers created to provide resources and facilities in specific subject areas as well as venue for conducting teacher training courses. They, however, tend to be under-resourced and hence underutilized, with limited or no full-time professional staff support, and are generally not operated in hours convenient to the teachers (weekends and evenings). (b) In-service training, which takes the form of courses designed for the change or introduction of a new syllabus. These courses usually focus on explaining changes made to the syllabus and assessment procedures or on exhorting the merits of some government sanctioned teaching approach. Implementation issues at school, however, are seldom addressed. (c) Provision of classroom resources, which is sometimes done by the recruitment of fresh graduates with no teaching experience who are employed on some temporary basis25. The relative ad hoc nature and low status of such provision of classroom resources guarantee that teachers cannot expect much reliable resource base out of it.
Morris gives the explanation that “the status of the positions and the career structure in schools make it difficult to employ people with the experience and capabilities to perform the task” (Morris 1990, 12).
In addition to the overemphasis of the initiation stage, one may argue that, in general, curriculum reforms (as in the case of other educational reforms) also have a tendency of misappropriating resources for supporting the bureaucracy instead of promoting genuine change in schools.
4.6 The Llewellyn Report
Despite some scholarly criticism that educational reforms in Hong Kong were ad hoc in nature and operated in the form of crisis intervention, this may not be an entirely fair judgment. A longitudinal documentary review of past policies suggests that there also seemed to be some degree of coherence and continuity at least in the public agenda of educational planning. Notably, the Llewellyn Report (1982) raised a number of key problems in the contemporary system of the 1970s, which had experienced significant changes resulting from successive quantitative expansion, from preschool to
secondary education. Many of these key problems, while mediated by previous historical developments and social conditions, were to persist and remain relevant throughout the course of existence of the Visiting Panel’s successor, the Education Commission. The strong formative influences of the Llewellyn Report’s on the Education Commission’s early reports (in particular, ECR1 and ECR2) were evident in the fact that the key problems identified in the 1982 Report were virtually reincarnated and dominated Education Commission’s initial agendas for educational reforms and planning.
Clearly, the study of the genesis of the reforms in Hong Kong should include a historical perspective. While the social and political conditions on the macro-landscape have dramatically changed during the 1980s and 1990s, adjustments and shifts in the education system are almost never the instant reflections of the external structure. The problems of the education system do not spring up overnight, either. Instead, the adjustments and shifts represent a gradual and continuous process of experimentation, often marked by a significant time lag from where the impetus of change is first introduced. The Part II of this literature review on Hong Kong education tries to examine the connections between the policy reports and documents. This should help to
form a framework for explaining why and how the political discourse and rhetoric of the current policy have developed.
For this study, we will concentrate on discussing documentary components that directly deal with or are likely to be significant in our discussion and interpretation of the Hong Kong curriculum: (i) the processes and products of the curriculum, (ii) teacher professionalism, (iii) examinations, and (iv) medium of instruction.
Documentary reports and topics that are of peripheral relevance but still useful for our understanding of the changes proposed or implemented in the system will accordingly be treated with relative brevity.
4.6.2 The Report
The Report (1982) was commissioned by the Hong Kong government and was conducted by a Visiting Panel led by Sir John Llewellyn. Its historical significance can be summarized as follows: it recommended the establishment of a premier advisory educational planning body (the Education Commission) to advise the government on
education matters and to coordinate work between the existing advisory bodies, thereby creating a permanent institution for public educational planning; it conducted a holistic review based on an outsider’s perspective on the local system and produced a blueprint of policy agenda for tackling problems in education; and it recommended that the uncoordinated and deficient curriculum development mechanism in the government needed reorganization and strengthening (Llewellyn et al. 1982: 53-56), which later provided the basis for establishing the Curriculum Development Council and the division of Curriculum Development Institute within the Education Department.
Within the scope of our study, several problem areas of local education was highlighted by the Llewellyn Report, namely, (a) the dilemma of using English and Chinese as the teaching medium (ibid., p25-30), (b) the competitive nature and excessive influence of public examinations (ibid., p31-39, 53-56), and (c) the various factors affecting school teaching and learning including the curriculum, resources and teacher professionalism (ibid., p47-61). We will briefly discuss the major criticisms and recommendations made by the Report.
(a) Medium of Instruction
The Report found that the need to learn English and Chinese in most Hong Kong classrooms had created certain “unusual privilege and burden” (ibid.: 25) for the local students. This was complicated by the linguistic differences between the spoken language, Cantonese, and written standard Chinese. Despite the common difficulty of supplying teachers with adequate language competence in mass education, language instruction in schools tended to crowd out other non-academic curriculum areas (such as physical education and visual arts). The Report further observed that:
Many Chinese speakers find it almost impossible to master English at the level of proficiency required for intricate thinking; and yet pupils from non-English speaking Chinese families have to express themselves in English at school. Under these conditions, more emphasis tends to be placed upon rote learning. (ibid.: 26)
The special status of English in relation to educational privileges and social advancement was linked to the elitist educational system developed in earlier periods. Rapid educational expansion, particularly of secondary schooling, created both great
demands for English education and problems with the quality of language teaching and its products. The Report observed among many manifestations of this tension in schools that:
While some primary schools manage to teach English quite successfully, many do not; and so pupils
spend a considerable portion of their (junior) secondary schooling coming to grips with the basics of
writing and speaking English. When all subjects across the whole curriculum are taught in English, those
subjects with a high language dependency (e.g. history) tend to become exercise in English language
instruction. Even in the upper secondary school we observed such low standards of English in both
teachers and pupils that the essence of the lesson was largely lost. (ibid.: 27)
In its recommendations, the Report argued that the importance of English teaching in schools must not be reduced since Hong Kong’s political future was linked to China, which had itself given high educational priority to the teaching of English. To improve the quality of English teaching, the Report recommended the creation of a “cadre of resource staff” so that every local school could enlist the service of competent and fluent speakers to teach English as a second language (ibid.: 28). As regard the use of Chinese, the Report stated that it “accept[s] [it] as a fact that the mother tongue is, all
other things being equal, the best medium of teaching and learning” (ibid., p28), effectively recognizing the practical and educational value of the local language. It recommended government actions to articulate a clear policy on the medium of instruction, to tighten the codes for advertising and media broadcasts, and to “embark on a long-term project to change parents’ and employers’ attitudes towards Chinese as a teaching medium” (ibid.: 29).
(b) Public Examinations
According to the Report, the character and role of public examinations were also an area creating problems. Public examinations, in particular during the early and mid-1980s, were the main vehicle for sorting and sifting able students into their proper stations of schooling. With the expansion of secondary education, pressures mounted especially on the supply of limited tertiary places. This, coupled with the social tradition of according high prestige and weight to public examinations, had contributed to something resembling a virtual tyranny of examinations over the schooling system.
In the following ways, the Report observed how competitive examinations
dominated education and society in Hong Kong: (i) the high frequency of examinations tied to entry at various stages of schooling from kindergartens to universities; (ii) the significance of each examination result for determining the educational options that remain open; (iii) the importance of examination performance in the conceptualization of self-worth and peer status; (iv) the constricting effects that external (non-school-based) examinations have on the curriculum and character of the individual schools; and (v) the risk of inequality of life chances arising from the great differences in quality among schools and from the fact that examination success in a given subject often depends not only on competence in the subject but also on the medium of instruction being used (ibid., p32).
As a response to the observations, however, the Report stated that, given the continued expansion in secondary and tertiary education and the recurrent difficulty to provide for all, it opposed to the idea of radical piecemeal adjustments and accepted that for the foreseeable future there would “a need for selection and grading as a means of allocating a small number of opportunities among a large number of qualified applicants” (ibid., p37).
Nevertheless, the Report recommended the following areas for government actions: reducing the overall number of examinations aimed at formal selection and allocation (ibid., p38, 55); removing the examinations for early stages of schooling (because they are by nature “educationally harmful and socially unjust”) (ibid., p38); abolishing the Junior Secondary Education Assessment system and replacing it with internal assessment within the schools; and increasing effort to draw the teaching force into curriculum development and improve the coordination between the organizations responsible for curriculum and for examinations (ibid., p39, 54-55).
The Report conducted a general review of the primary and secondary school systems, noting the great diversity and differences of quality and standards among schools. In the case of curriculum and teaching method, the Visiting Panel reported encounters of what seemed to be the endemic stereotyped qualities of classroom teaching in Hong Kong: teacher-centered, exam-oriented, text-bound, student passivity, didactic teaching, and rote learning. The Report further observed a general apathy at both the primary and secondary levels for innovative classroom practices that tried to
deviate from the established norms:
Discovery methods, team teaching and individualized instruction have little appeal to parents, students and teachers in a situation where the ends require more didactic means… Teacher-dominated instruction of passive student audiences seems, with rare exception (such as the activity approach in primary and integrated science in secondary schools), to be the accepted way. (ibid.: 53-54)
Understandably, the Report had relatively little to say on how classroom teaching and learning could be changed. Nevertheless, it recommended the transforming of the role and function of the Hong Kong Examinations Authority (HKEA) from that of “controlling a public examination system to that of operating a course and student accreditation service” (ibid.: 55). In turn, there should be more coordination between the curriculum development division of the Education Department and the HKEA in planning teaching syllabi and exam syllabi. At the school level, the Report also saw it desirable to encourage (mainly post-S3) teacher participation in curriculum development and assessment (ibid.: 56).
4.7 Curriculum Reforms towards Decentralization
4.7.1 The Graduate Shift to the Periphery
Not all the recent curriculum reforms have their genesis in the historically important Llewellyn Report (1982), but some of the problems we encounter with teaching and learning in schools today had been identified by the Report twenty years ago. One of the noteworthy suggestions by the Report, as we have discussed, was the new emphasis on more “periphery-to-center” strategy in school curriculum development.
According to Adamson and Morris (1998, 11), the key initiatives in curricular reforms before 1982 mainly impacted primary schools and these included the “Activity Approach in 1975, the cross-curricular themes (civic, moral, sex and environmental education) from 1981 and the addition of new school subjects such as General Studies”. These initiatives were described by Adamson and Morris as essentially “exhortatory, advisory and incrementalist” (ibid.). Despite the fact that the initiatives promoted
desirable visions of schooling, schools were left to their device to decide whether or not to adopt them, often with uncertain costs and benefits of implementation (ibid.).
The early Education Commission Reports, ECR1 and ECR2, were devoted to issues such as provision of secondary school places, medium of instruction and professional teacher training, which did not directly tackle the problems of the curriculum. It was only in ECR3 (1988) and subsequently in ECR4 (1990) that the discussion of the needs to establish a central curricular planning mechanism in the form of the CDC (Curriculum Development Council) and to introduce school-based curriculum development into schools was finally raised.
As a result of a BoE report in 1988, the School-based Curriculum Project Scheme (SBCPS) was set up in the hope of encouraging teachers to adapt the centrally devised syllabuses to the special needs of their students (ECR3, 80; ECR4, 7; Lo 1995, 22). Morris and Chan (1998, 256) viewed the SBCPS, together with the School-based Management Initiative (SMI), as part of a larger official discourse that involved the parallel themes of “state provision and school empowerment”. Quite from the beginning, school-based curriculum development (SBCD) in Hong Kong is regarded by
policy-makers as an attempt to meet the “special needs” of students presumably less well-adapted to academic competition within the expanded schooling system. Very limited attention has been given to discussing how SBCD may change the roles and relationships of teachers and students in teaching and learning.
4.7.2 Two Growing Trends: Whole-person Development and Life-long Learning
A related development in curricular reform, the TOC (Target Oriented Curriculum), was introduced in the early 1990s26 under the Education Commission’s recommendations in 1990 (ECR4). Seen as a reaction to the established systems of centralized curriculum development and assessment, the TOC tried to promote “generic competencies that are seen to transcend the goals of individual subjects, child-centered and task-based learning with criterion-referenced assessment, and a focus on constructed knowledge” (Adamson and Morris 2000, 16).
According to an official report by Clark, Scarino and Brownell (1994: 9-14), the TOC was envisaged to solve various problems relating the educational system. With
The initiative was originally termed TTRA (Target and Target Related Assessment) in 1991 and renamed TOC in 1993 after an initial stony reception of the former by the schools.
regard to the curriculum, the TOC’s role as a framework for change was much desired. The report stated, inter alia, that:
It seemed necessary to attempt to overcome fragmentation and overcrowding in the curriculum, through providing a curriculum framework which would highlight connections across subjects and focus on the essential rather than on atomistic details.
Classroom practice indicated that although the aims of education had been set out, they were not well known to teachers and were operationalized coherently and consistently throughout the curriculum. A more coherent system of learning targets that would permeate the curriculum as a whole and subjects within it was required.
The over-emphasis on rote-memorization and on the linear mastery of decontextualised skills would have to give way to a more active and purposeful construction and use of knowledge through engaging students in relevant, contextualised learning tasks.
The lack of explicit information about on what learning progress look like, and on what students should be able to do as they make progress, would
have to be rectified by attempting to describe stages or bands of ever-improving performance. • The view, apparently shared by many, that students are born with a fixed amount of intelligence and aptitude for learning, and that this will remain constant and can be tapped in academic aptitude tests, would have to be challenged by highlighting the fact that all students can learn well, given appropriate learning experiences, and that all students have ever-improving capabilities, though they learn at varying speeds and have different strengths and weaknesses27.
Essentially, the TOC attempted to remove the existing subject boundaries by reorganizing the educational aims and objectives around a certain common core, which targeted the key areas identified for more student-centered integrated learning, including “inquiring, conceptualizing, reasoning, problem-solving and communicating” (ibid.: 9).
Though it started out as a “strongly promoted and resourced” (Adamson and Morris 2000: 15) reform initiative and was seen to be significant for its potential to
Although it might not be obvious at first glance, what the TOC policy language advocated was a change in the attitudes and values of the teachers towards their students, which proved to be very difficult.
change curricular practice and reform schools (Adamson and Morris 2000: 14; Lo 2000: 79), the TOC never quite lived up to the expectations of government planners and its critics, in part due to a lack of proper support for teachers and schools as well as problems arising from assessment and school culture.
By 2001, the TOC ceased to be an independent reform initiative; it was, rather, absorbed into a new drive to promote life-long learning and whole person development. The CDC explained the rationale for the move to make TOC as part of something else as follows:
The TOC spirit and the positive evidence collected have all been incorporated into the development of the
primary school curriculum. Among the best practices used are the importance of setting clear targets, the
emphasis on catering for individual differences and the use of cross-curricular (generic) skills, etc. On the
other hand, undesirable practices, such as assessment for recording only and bias toward one particular
teaching and learning approach, have changed and improved. As good practices from the TOC initiative
have now been fully incorporated into the curriculum of primary schools, it is no longer necessary to use
the specific term “TOC” anymore (CDC 2001: 11).
4.7.3 Evolving Reform Focus in the Recent Period
Towards the 2000s, the general direction for curricular reform seems to be centered on life-long learning and all-around development in a “globalized world” of information age (EC 2000, 3-5; CDC 2001). The policy language also evolves into a discourse that strongly advocates the virtues of generic skills and a more comprehensive whole curriculum – something almost doubtlessly implanted wholesale from overseas reform documents. Many of the generic skills are essentially seen to be what the current system produces most inadequately, which is still very much dominated by teaching and learning within discrete academic subjects. The CDC identifies nine skills and qualities to be promoted in the KLAs (Key Learning Areas), namely, collaboration skills, communication skills, creativity, critical thinking skills, information technology skills, numeracy skills, problem-solving skills, self-management skills and study skills (CDC 2001, vi).
Since educational policy-makers have redefined the kind of “products” they want see out of the schooling system, it would be important to look at the measures they take to implement their policy, in particular, whether they adopt a center-driven or at
least tolerate a periphery-driven strategy to coexist with the former.
For this study, I will discuss decentralized curriculum development in Hong Kong using the case of curriculum reform related to project learning and also to some extent SBCD (school-based curriculum development).
4.8 Decentralized Curriculum Development: The Case of Project Learning and SBCD
Broadly speaking, the three terms “decentralized curriculum development,” “project learning,” and “SBCD” (school-based curriculum development) refer to interrelated concepts, which require some specification for the sake of clarity in later parts of the discussion and analysis. Of the three, “decentralized curriculum development” is perhaps the most general in conceptualizing any curriculum development process or practice that is not driven or controlled through a central curriculum authority.
In this section, I will try to clarify some of the key terms and concepts being applied to my Hong Kong case study schools (which appear in Chapters Five and Six) so as to help the readers follow my reasoning. Specifically, the key terms and concepts in question here are: project learning and SBCD. A brief overview of the developments leading to their advent in the Hong Kong curriculum reform will be presented. During the course of fieldwork, concerns for ensuring comparability in my case study schools in Japan and Hong Kong led me to decide to focus more on the study of project learning in Hong Kong. I will, accordingly, focus on project learning and its developments more intensively.
In proper conceptualization, “project learning” and “SBCD” refer to very different dimensions of the curriculum. SCBD is, by its very definition, a form of decentralized curriculum development approach in which a school, rather than the central curriculum authority, makes decisions on most or all aspects of the school curriculum (curricular objectives, content, teaching and assessment, etc.). Silbeck (1984, p2) defines SBCD as “the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of a program of students’ learning by the educational institution of which those students are members”. This approach is said to be highly adaptive to the needs, priorities and
cultural patterns within individual schools which adopts it (Silbeck 1984; Cooke 1988, pp11-12) and had been widely adopted in some western systems (notably, the UK and Australia) until the trend was reversed during recent developments towards centralized curriculum planning.
The term SBCD in Hong Kong’s contexts is often used in a very specific but non-theoretical way, which refers to certain types of reformed programs (rather than approaches) developed by schools (in the areas of local subject integration and adaptation of government teaching syllabuses, for example). As a local reform measure, it had a very modest origin: in the late 1980s, the government first promoted SBCD among certain schools in the hope of relaxing control of the school curriculum and attempt to make relevant its content to schools’ local contexts, as variance in student abilities grew with the expansion of education in the 1980s and 1990s. There were no attempts to make SBCD mandatory at this date. Schools were persuaded into adopting it through a variety of subsidy schemes administered by the Education Department or CDI. Since the academic orientation in Hong Kong’s curriculum had remained strong through the period, many schools have only slowly warmed up to the idea of adopting this approach. However, towards the late 1990s, policies by the Education Commission and
CDC re-emphasized the need for decentralized curriculum development in the recent reform (EC 2000; CDC 2000; CDC 2001). Subsequently, the term SBCD seemed to have recovered from its tarnished image as an alternative curriculum development approach for students with special needs in study. Relatively few studies have been done on SBCD in Hong Kong over the past decades. Theoretical discussion (Morris 1988; Cooke 1988) and case studies on SBCD initiatives (Li 1990; Lo 1995; Cheng 1999) seemed to remain outnumbered by studies interested in other aspects of the curriculum reform.
In contrast, project learning 28 , or more commonly “project work” in educational writings29, refers to a type of learning activity or approach. It has been quite widely adopted by school practitioners particularly in the West in developing a variety of student skills and qualities of a more generic nature. There are many writings done on the subject but these are almost invariably concerned with discussion of its applied or empirical use.
“Project learning” (主題研習) is the most frequently adopted form of the term in local policy documents in Hong Kong. In the study, I will conform mostly to this convention in order to facilitate reference with regard to the policies. 29 Still others refer to it as “project-based learning”, among many other forms. The essential element of the concept, therefore, is concerned with the applied meaning of “project” to teachers who practice the learning activity or approach.
“Project work” can be defined as “an approach to learning which complements mainstream methods and which can be used with almost all levels, ages and abilities of students” (Haines 1989: 1; cited in Lee, Li and Lee 1999: 7). “Project work” is both process-oriented and product-oriented, involving intensive activities over some period of time (Lee, Li and Lee 1999: 7-8). It contains three basic procedural components or stages, namely, classroom planning, conducting the project, and reviewing and monitoring student work (Fried-Booth 1986: 6; Lee, Li and Lee 1999: 15-17). In any of these stages, teacher feedback and collaboration should be involved. Some of the characteristics of “project work” were summarized by Fried-Booth in the following:
Since the project is student-centered rather than teacher-directed, teacher may need to develop a more
flexible attitude towards the student work. The project is not designed to suit a syllabus, and the language
required derives not from the textbook but from the nature of the project itself. However, the project must
first be planned and discussed, and later evaluated. And it is here that the teacher can provide valuable
assistance. (1986: 5)
Lee, Li and Lee (1999) noted that “project work” can contribute significantly to the growth in learning skills. Its main benefits include (i) fostering learner autonomy or
independence in decision-making, (ii) promoting cognitive development through the process of inquiring conceptualizing and problem-solving, (iii) helping learners apply
and integrate previously acquired skills or knowledge, (iv) allowing for individualized learning even within mixed-abilities groups, (v) facilitating rapport in classroom
through increased teacher-student interactions and a change in the “power-relationship”, and (vi) promoting life skills through experiential learning activities (ibid.: 8-9).
There were a few writings on “project work” undertaken in Hong Kong which mainly tackled “project work’s” applications in language learning (Allison and Lee 1992; Lee, Li and Lee 1999). Relatively few studies of a strong theoretical nature have been done on how project learning (particularly in a broader scope beyond language learning) is being organized within the local school curriculum. There is still less research on the subject in relation to curriculum reform in this context, given project learning’s relatively recent advent in most Hong Kong schools. There was also an absence of policy discussion on project learning’s role in the school curriculum during most of the 1980s and 1990s periods.
Towards the late 1990s, however, the educational policy discourse in Hong
Kong had evolved into one that favored the developments of subject integration and “generic skills” in the school curriculum (EC 2000; CDC 2001). While this echoed the trends of educational policy in the international context, there seemed little historical continuity in the government’s decision to promote project learning extensively in relation to previous developments. As in the case of SBCD initiatives, project learning was advocated in an almost entirely positive tone. The government seemed to have abandoned its strategy of articulating a reform discourse through negative criticisms of the local school conditions and instead adopted a “talk-up” strategy to motivate interests and participation of schools and teachers30.
The so-called Four Key Tasks were recommended as priorities for schools within the gathering policy interest in “Learning to Learn” (CDC 2001). The Key Tasks refer to (1) Moral and Civic Education, (2) Reading to Learn, (3) Project Learning, (4) Information Technology for Interactive Learning. As a rule, they were not part of the academic curriculum but seen as essential curriculum reform areas in which schools should initiate or enhance their efforts. In the case of project learning, schools were not
I owed this insight to Professor Paul Morris, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, in a personal interview (conducted on August 15, 2002; see interview transcription in Appendix). A later interview with Dr. K.K. Chan (conducted on August 19, 2002), chief executive of the CDI, also seemed to confirm this proposition.
forced into adopting it in their school curriculum, though a number of financial incentives such as government subsidy schemes and the QEF (Quality Education Fund) were made available to schools.
Quite suddenly, project learning became marketed as a tool and a “banner to march behind” for schools to achieve multiple learning aims and in the process help fulfill a score of other so-called reform goals of the government. In the recent reform policy, it was argued that project learning should be adopted as a “strategy to learning” because, inter alia, “project learning enables student to construct and connect knowledge, skills, values and attitudes through a variety of activities. These activities often involved other Key Tasks, particularly Reading to Learn, and are conducive to students developments of moral and civic values” (CDC 2002). While the validity of this view remains to be assessed on the project learning outcomes, there were clear signs that the government, along with some well-equipped schools, would like to see further development of project learning in the curriculum reform.
By the late 1990s, certain local schools had started their experiments with project learning – not in the context of “project work” but subject integration (for
example, the subject school, HK One, in Chapter Five). To date, official statistics on how widely project learning was being practiced among local schools remain unavailable31. The fact that project learning was being promoted as a form decentralized curriculum development aside, not every school was immediately interested in project learning, as local conditions (school resources, student quality and concerns for the academic curriculum) continued to dictate many schools’ priorities within the curriculum reform.
Hong Kong’s educational system is broadly comparable to the Japanese system in a number of ways. Although education in Hong Kong may have a stronger tendency towards elitism (particularly before the matriculation level) than in Japan thanks to the latter’s egalitarian traditions, the two systems similarly emphasized academic study as well as competition and selection through examinations. The curriculum was defined very much within a narrow set of subject interests, with Japan’s school curriculum being
According to an officer in charge project learning at CDI’s Project Learning section.
controlled through means such as the Course of Study, and Hong Kong’s through a combination of centrally developed teaching syllabuses and public examinations. Subject boundaries were strong and the teacher-centered approach was common in the classroom. In terms of curriculum development, both systems remained relatively reliant on a centrally–driven approach. The alternative, decentralized curriculum development, is still in some experimental or tentative developmental stage. Towards the late 1990s (with TOC in 1992 being something of an exception), policy discourses had evolved towards a call for “liberalizing” part of the school curriculum. New skills, attitudes, knowledge and other qualities were being promoted among students as the old academic curriculum was increasingly seen as insufficient to meet the demands of changing socio-economic needs of society. Essentially, this ushered in a partial transfer of curricular control from the state to the schools, as the latter take on increased responsibilities in curriculum decision-making. Understandably, in the absence of decentralized curriculum development traditions in most schools and among teachers in Japan and Hong Kong, uncertainty and anxiety mounted in the curriculum reform.
What kind of reforms did the governments want? How did schools respond to them? And what were the benefits and costs?
In the next chapter, I will discuss my investigation of the conditions and developments of certain types of decentralized curriculum development being pursued in some Japanese and Hong Kong schools. My scope of the study, as stated in the introduction chapter, was limited to the practices and process involved in the reformed programs of project learning and SBCD in Hong Kong and Sōgōtekina-gakushū in Japan among school children of the 7th–9th grades.
CHAPTER FIVE FIELDWORK METHODS AND DATA
The purpose of this chapter is to present the fieldwork methods I have used in the study and to delineate the fieldwork data collected about the reformed programs in Japan and Hong Kong. As I have mentioned in the foregoing two chapters (Chapters Three and Four), this study defines its subject area as decentralization of curriculum development, which can easily encompass a broad range of curricular activities depending on how liberally one defines such terms as SBCD. To set a realistic scope, I have limited my field evidence to that related to (i) project learning and SBCD1 activities in Hong Kong and (ii) Sōgōtekina-gakushū (Integrated Learning) in Japan, as seen at the junior secondary school level, for analysis and comparison. While the defined scope is by no means comprehensive enough to cover all aspects of decentralized curriculum development, nor does it claim to have examined the subject area to an exhaustive extent, this exploratory study has nevertheless made a promising attempt to relate the challenges and problems of curriculum reforms in Japan and Hong Kong in a comparative perspective and has benefited the researcher greatly by
As promoted in the official policies and practiced in schools in Hong Kong. This means the term “SBCD” in my study tends to be more specific than one would expect from more mainstream or theoretical definitions of the term. For definitions, refer to 4.8 in Chapter Four.
demonstrating the need and potential for articulating a discourse in educational research through a combined approach of documentary analysis and fieldwork.
This study identifies itself with the case study research method. In its design, the study was intended to yield a general understanding of aspects of a complex educational phenomenon, i.e. decentralization of curriculum development in Japan and Hong Kong as reflected in the selected reformed programs. A case in this study was defined as all schools collectively engaged in the reformed programs in a particular geographical location. From the outset, deciding the methods for investigating my research question presented a major challenge. Although much discussion about the programs under curriculum reforms (Sōgōtekina-gakushū in Japan, and project learning and SBCD in Hong Kong) exists in policy documents and scholarly studies, to what extent and in what ways the phenomenon of curriculum development is reflected in the practical settings of school and classroom life remains an area that calls for more research inputs. In the case of Sōgōtekina-gakushū in Japan and project learning in Hong Kong, these are relatively recent developments for which hardly adequate amounts of documentation about school practices have yet been done.
Since decentralization of curriculum development is a relatively recent phenomenon both in Japan and in Hong Kong, and since the selected reformed programs being studied have been introduced still more recently, the objective of the
research was to serve as an exploratory study. Unlike quantitative studies, it did not attempt to use the method of including large numbers of cases to give fully representative data in describing the phenomenon. Instead, the primary concerns that guided the study had to do with (1) the need to introduce balance and variety in choosing the cases so as to do justice to the complexities involved (Stake 1995, p.6), and (2) the opportunity afforded by such methods to gain a general understanding about aspects of the phenomenon (ibid.).
To elaborate, according to Stake, “the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case, coming to understand its activity within important circumstances” (1995, Introduction, xi). The chief purpose of case study is thus to attempt to uncover the “detail of interaction with its contexts” (ibid.). Yin (1993: 3-41) essentially captures the same point in his citing the conditions for the use of case study:
The case study is the method of choice when the phenomenon under study is not readily distinguishable from its context. Such a phenomenon may be a project or program in an evaluation study. Sometimes the definition of this project or program may be problematic, as in determining when the activity started or ended – an example of a complex interaction between a phenomenon and its (temporal) context. (Yin 1993: 3)
The strengths of the case study research method, according to Yin (1993), include: (1) the latitude to cover the richness of contextual conditions which aid us in distinguishing variables from mere data points; (2) the possibility of including multiple sources of evidence instead of relying on a single data collection method; and (3) the possibility of developing distinctive strategies for research design and
analysis to define topics broadly, not narrowly (p.3). At the same time, limitations of case study essentially arise from the difficulty of obtaining representative results from samples with very few or unique cases, and thus it may not be possible to generalize on the basis of case study findings (depending on the definitions of the case). However, case study differs from sampling research in that its primary purpose is not to give enumerative detail about other cases but to yield general understanding of one particular case (Becker 1970; Stake 1995). Yin (1993) argues that the role of exploratory case study is to help define questions and hypotheses of a future study (whose research methods may not necessarily be that of case study) or determine the possibilities of desired research procedures (p4-18).
A case in a case study may be defined at multiple levels to fit its research and analysis, depending on the type of knowledge to be gained. Both Stake (1995), and Yin and White (1986) have confirmed the methodological soundness of case study in some urban school research, though the criteria for selecting and defining a “case” (which can be a school, program, teacher, or student) require that it be specific as a complex functioning entity (Stake 1995, p2). For this study, the case was not defined as single schools, though I have, for convenience, used the term “case” to denote the names of schools being studied in my fieldwork (For example, HK One for a Hong Kong school). Rather, all schools in a particular geographical location were treated collectively as one case. Thus, the three schools in Hong Kong constituted a case for studying project learning and SBCD programs, while the first five schools in Japan constituted another for Sōgōtekina-gakushū.
It was clear that a mere comparison between such things as curricular objectives and recommended implementation methods, which are invariably staple features of many educational policy documents, would not serve the study very far, since it states that its primary focus of inquiry is on describing, rather than explaining, the specific reasons, conditions, practices and processes, and implications of introducing the reformed programs concerned. Thus, documentary analysis was not the main component of my methods for the study. Neither did I over-emphasize the importance of interview data obtained with government sources in Japan and Hong Kong, which did not prove particularly informative about school practices.
I mainly used two levels of investigation: government-level and school-level. As the methods used imply, school-level investigation was of predominant importance in contributing to the eventual findings of the study. Additional interviews with notable local academics whose study specializes in the relevant reform developments were also included to illustrate some of the intellectual reflections on the reform debate.
For government level investigations, interviews were conducted with government agents responsible for curriculum development policies and their implementation. In Hong Kong, this was done with CDC/CDI2 decision-making officials as well as officers in charge of specific curriculum development units. In Japan, due to an obviously more complex organizational structure for educational supervision, interviews with government agents at various central and regional (or district) levels were needed. The government-level interviews were designed mainly
The Curriculum Development Council (policy-making body) and the Curriculum Development Institute (executive body) of Hong Kong.
to crosscheck interpretations of government officials with discourses in the policy documents and also to seek the authority’s clarifications when I felt that an unexpected re-interpretation had occurred with school teachers whom I had interviewed.
For school-level investigations, teacher interviews and observations of classes in sessions were done with most subject schools3. The schools visited generally displayed a variety of characteristics specific to their resources, student quality and local social milieu. For example, in Hong Kong, the schools come in three different bands4, which means that the schools are likely to confront rather different student abilities and needs, with the Band One school being in a relatively more comfortable position to introduce its school-based programs at its own pace. Similarly, in Japan, the university-affiliated schools are better equipped both in terms of teacher ability and finances to pursue their own Sōgōtekina-gakushū programs. Certain mediumsized schools in a relatively rural part of eastern Kansai region seemed to encounter fewer technical and financial problems compared with public schools in the depopulating wards of metropolitan Tokyo. However, a large overpopulated public school visited in the Kansai region likewise seemed to have difficulties of other kinds in introducing a sustainable program.
Except one Hong Kong school, HK Three, which refused my request to observe out of the concern that it might interfere with teaching and learning in normal classes. 4 Bands refer to the labeling system used by the Education Department to differentiate a secondary school’s student intake quality during admission. The bands are measured on a scale of one to three, with Band One indicating a superior student intake and (generally) school performance. Refer to Chapter Four on the discussion of the school categorization for other details.
5.3 The Schools
I will introduce the schools I visited in Hong Kong (labeled as “HK One”, etc.) and Japan (labeled as “JP One”, etc.) and present their background and my findings in the following case studies. Access to the Japanese and Hong Kong schools was gained in a number of ways.
In the case of HK One, I attended one of their presentation activities during a QEF dissemination exercise5. Through personal contacts with an assistant-principalin-charge and school teachers, I acquired a better understanding of the implementation strategy for introducing project learning at the school and was eventually allowed to conduct interviews and observations at the school on several occasions. For the other two schools in Hong Kong, I gained initial information about them through the CDI’s and the Education Department’s online resources related to project learning and various SBCD schemes, and later personally contacted the schools. Due to school decisions to minimize interference to classes, I was not able to conduct observations at HK Three. Although I had attempted to establish more contacts with schools in Hong Kong so as to obtain a more representative sample, the process of negotiation had proved extremely time-consuming and was often hindered by procedural matters. Within my time constraints to conduct fieldwork both in Japan and Hong Kong, I decided to use the current sample of schools.
With the exception of JP Six6, a primary school, I mainly obtained my contacts of Japanese schools (1) through connections from my thesis supervisor, Dr
June 2002 Note that JP Six, an outlier in the overall sample, was not included in the final analysis about the cases in Japan.
Peter Cave (who had been teaching and researching in schools in the Kansai area), for the two public schools in Kansai and (2) through a selection of schools mostly known to me in metropolitan Tokyo and Kantō because they were accessible online through their homepages7. The two national public schools were themselves quite well-known as innovative teaching centers, apart from their affiliation to their respective universities, which were also known to locals for teaching and research related to education. I had come to know about the Sōgōtekina-gakushū program at JP Two about a year before the fieldwork through conference information from my supervisor. A fellow postgraduate student had recently conducted research at another school affiliated to JP One’s university. I was thus interested in including at least some national public schools in my sample of selection8.
In the course of designing and conducting the fieldwork, I tired to include schools which shared comparable qualities or conditions (school curriculum, school types, geographic location, etc.). However, as this study was only one of an exploratory nature regarding the subjects of inquiry, the scale of my fieldwork did not allow me to conduct a more extensive study either in temporal or quantitative terms. For instance, two (out of three) of the Japanese schools in metropolitan Tokyo and Kantō were national public schools, while one ordinary public school in the same region was examined. In Hong Kong, fieldwork was particularly difficult – Hong Kong schools generally do not have a tradition of “opening up” to visitors whereas most Japanese schools welcome even unscheduled walk-in visits by parents and
Entries listed on a Japanese school directory at <www.yahoo.co.jp>, most of which were public junior high schools. 8 The national public schools are of a category of schools whose achievement standards and resources levels (particularly in terms of quality of professional teachers) are in general superior to ordinary public schools. In addition, the two schools I visited, JP One and JP Two, are university-affiliated schools, which have served as pilot centers of educational innovations. Further descriptions of these schools are given the individual accounts on the cases.
researchers alike. I was consistently refused observations at some Hong Kong schools, causing me to discard some of my potential contacts.
Apart from that, the reformed programs in Japan and Hong Kong were, strictly speaking, not identical in scale or extent of practice across the systems. The notion of “project” seemed much more loosely conceptualized in Japan whereas, in Hong Kong, “project” in project learning did come with some pedagogic framework borrowed from literatures in English.
Nevertheless the current sample in this study may not represent a comprehensive cross-section of schools in Japan and Hong Kong. As will be shown in the discussion and analysis of data in this chapter, practices could vary greatly among local contexts. One should, of course, exercise caution about generalizations of data thus collected. As the recent curriculum reforms continue to evolve in Japan and Hong Kong, further studies will be needed before a definite understanding of their nature can be established.
5.3.1 The Hong Kong Cases
First, I would like to present the three schools I visited in Hong Kong. Most of my fieldwork at these institutions preceded that in Japan, and provided some basis for reflections on what I wished to investigate later in Japanese schools. HK One and Two were “better” schools in the superficial sense that they seemed to have more resources to develop their own programs, though their approach to project learning
was largely different. HK Three introduced a SBCD program with a heavy emphasis on tailoring for less able students. It presented a case of school-based curriculum development through more intense teacher teamwork with initial professional support from the government. Actual fieldwork in Hong Kong was conducted over a period of about four months (between June and November 2002). A summary outlining the types of schools I visited and the nature of my investigation (observation or interview) can be found in Tables 5.1t-a and 5.1t-b below.
Table 5.1t-a Schools (for junior secondary forms – Form One to Three) visited in Hong Kong School HK One HK Two HK Three Location Hong Kong Island (urban) The New Territories (urban) The New Territories (urban) Type Girls aided (Band One) Co-ed aided (Band Two) Co-ed aided (Band Three) Date of visit 26.6 / 28.8 / 9.9 / 8.11.2002 12.9 / 16.9.2002 3.9 / 16.9.2002 No. of observations 2 2 Nil No. of teachers interviewed 1 2 1
Table 5.1t-b Characteristics of the Hong Kong Schools School HK One HK Two HK Three Founding year 1890 1984 1989 Type of founding agent or chief sponsor Religious group (Christian missionary) Professional association Religious group (Buddhist) Initiator of school program Viceprincipalin-charge Principal Principal Quality of teaching staff High Medium to high Medium Level of resources Very high High Low to medium School climate Progressive Moderately progressive Moderately progressive
Case: HK One
This well-established girls’ school is located in a developed district9 on Hong Kong Island. Like many other schools affiliated to mission bodies, it has a de jure school head from the church but is administered by deputies of professional teachers in daily operation. One of the assistant principals was specifically responsible for supervising and organizing the school’s project learning program. External aid in the form of technical help and professional training was sought from a professional training center of a local university, which is running a school-partnership program for project learning under the QEF10.
I did two principal observations during the school’s staff development days and an interview with a teacher relatively experienced in project learning. Although the school had joined the QEF in a sponsored project with affinities to project learning activities, this previous venture was not sustained and was participated in only by a select group of senior-form students. The school only formally introduced project learning again from September (2002).
Unlike their prior venture under the QEF (lasting from approximately June to December in 2000), HK One decided from 2002 onwards to have all Form Three girls (about 200 of them in the entire grade) participate in project learning. The program is heavily school-based with the help11 of an external project learning training expert
An old residential and mixed industrial-commercial area. Quality Education Fund, a major government fund in Hong Kong to finance school projects, improvements and research outside the grant recipients’ normal annual budget. 11 Under the Acceleration School Project (ASP), which was participated by 50 schools and lasted three years, and currently under the Quality School Project (QSP), which is participated by 40 schools and is to last two years starting from 2002. Both projects have been operated under the financial auspices of
(“school development officer”) from the Centre for University and School Partnership, Faculty of Education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This training expert has the additional connection to the school of being a former graduate. She had been working closely with the school to involve its teachers in various sorts of training in the past few years, notably project learning.
HK One’s project learning program, according to the assistant principal-incharge, was to span an entire school year. Since most students had not been exposed to project learning and most teachers had still limited experience with the relevant process of teaching and learning, the school decided to introduce the program in incremental stages. Four “school development days”12 spanning the school year were set aside for training involving all teachers and all Form Three students. On each of these school development days, the external training expert would visit the school and a full day would be devoted to initiating and familiarizing both students and teachers with the processes and concepts involved in project learning.
I participated in and observed such teacher development day activities on two occasions (September 15 and November 8, 2002). The activities were organized in a large auditorium hall with the 200 students being split into 40 groups, each led by a group leader (a subject teacher). Seating was informal and was generally in the form of students and their teacher-in-charge arranging themselves in a circle. Occasionally,
the QEF. HK One is said to enjoy a waiver of fees to receive the professional training help for having participated in the ASP, the pilot precursor of QSP. 12 These are non-teaching school days designated by the school to help teachers in professional development. In the case of HK One, they are said to have kept this self-promoted tradition of training for over a decade. The Education Department has recently made school development days (or a set number of hours devoted to relevant activities) compulsory for local schools. For what purpose and how schools organize activities and utilize their time is left to their own discretion.
they might abandon their seats to sit on the floor if the activities required a more mobile form of group work or interaction.
The school development officer was the central leader of the day’s learning activities. The method that she used might involve giving out a particular task to a group and asking them to deal with it in an initially laissez-faire manner, eliciting student comments or “critiques” of other groups’ approaches with regard to their strengths and weaknesses, bringing up the “correct” concepts and approaches as some possible better alternatives and finally asking the groups to re-do their task in a more systematic or well-conceptualized manner. On frequent occasions, student representatives from the groups also volunteered to come forth or were called out to speak or demonstrate in front of the stage. Understandably, such task-based activities could be time-consuming but they generally succeeded in helping create an informal atmosphere of well-engaged learning.
A few teachers on the first development day occasionally reverted to a strong coercive role during discussions but most others seemed comfortable to reside in a less assertive advisory role (without forcing a final decision on the group, for example). During the second visit, almost all teachers adopted the latter role, preferring a participatory position which reduced their usual authoritative function of being a subject teacher. Unlike the first day, students were not required to dress in uniform13.
The assistant principal explained that she realized that students frequently needed to sit on the floor and move about to do their tasks. It would be advisable to let them dress casually. This also applied to non-project learning school development days.
Most students were enthusiastic in their activities, willing to discuss, exchange ideas and even make frivolous jokes or remarks when speaking up or demonstrating. Neither the school development officer nor the teachers discouraged this student tendency to be playful; the groups remained well-disciplined despite their rather large number.
For assessment, each student was required to keep a folder to file away materials they had used in the school development day activities and those that they would generate during the rest of the school year. These folders were periodically recalled for inspection by the group leaders and project leaders (eleven senior teachers from the subject panels who helped supervise and advise the group leaders14) who would, in turn, seek advice from the school development officer.
In an interview15 with a senior teacher who had participated in the earlier QEF-sponsored project, it was pointed out that one of the main purposes for introducing project learning at HK One was to simply keep the students “interested” in the learning process. Project learning also affords students and teachers interactions at a much more personalized level. My teacher informant also asserted that she experienced a role change while co-supervising her students in the QEF project (2000).
I simply could not dominate in a student group. Creating and maintaining a sense of ownership among the students had been very important. We teachers had to learn to become “hunters” for resources and
Only three of the eleven project leaders have actual prior experience in project learning activities involving the QEF project two years ago. 15 Conducted on August 28, 2002.
support outside the school. At the same time, we were the facilitators and advisors. Thus, in project learning, a teacher is no longer a teacher but a friend [to the students].
In this school’s case, a considerable but implicit emphasis seemed to be put on developing the student’s ability to communicate, articulate her own ideas and present them confidently. The team-work that often occurred might appear fortuitous depending on the tasks given and characters of the group members. They nevertheless provided opportunities for negotiations, critiques, and other forms of social interactions which may have been relevant to the school’s own objectives.
The teacher informant noted several problems in carrying out project learning during HK One’s experience with the QEF project. These included (i) the teachers’ lack of relevant experience and knowledge in project learning supervision16, (ii) the absence of previous school-community interactions and use of local community resources, (iii) relatively limited cognitive ability in students (especially in lower secondary forms) for carrying out specific tasks and activities, and (iv) the need to maintain adequate emphasis regular subject teaching and examinations.
Support from the school management and external resources were important, according to the teacher informant. Essentially, the school management rendered funding available to project learning activities17, and helped make the teachers-incharge’s work schedule more flexible so that they could interact more with students outside teaching. External resources were felt to be relevant more in the technical
This applied to supervision at all stages of the project learning process that might involve planning a project “topic”, deciding on the research methods, locating resources and references, providing continuous feedback and support, and assessing the final product of student work. 17 This is especially true in HK One’s new project learning program, which does not have external financial sources as they did in the previous QEF project (2000).
sense. The community youth center which helped in the QEF project and the current external trainer for the school development days were both seen as important in providing “research leadership”. In the latter case, the teachers and students were simultaneously given instructions and taught concepts before they started on the actual activities. This would possibly help direct participant energies and time towards more productive ends, since teachers and students were likely to go their own ways without proper initiation.
Case: HK Two
A co-ed school located in the northwestern part of the New Territories, HK Two takes students mainly from the Band Two pool18. The school is about ten years old and has been experimenting with project learning for about two years, though the learning approaches and emphases had evolved over time. Starting from this year (2002), the school’s EPA19 and Computer Science were combined to form a new school subject called project learning itself. A third element of Library Study was also added to the project learning “syllabus”. This decision to combine the subjects20 coincided with the falling popularity of EPA as a junior secondary school subject (being considered less connected to Economics in the senior Forms) and an increased government policy interest in promoting more integration of subjects. All students from Form One to Three were required to take project learning while Form Four students were deliberately left out apparently due to examination concerns. For 2002,
This means it tends to have students who are moderately competitive in academic study and have a manageable level of discipline problems. 19 Economic and Public Affairs 20 Initially, the decision was made by the school principal who left the work of re-organization to the two subject panels.
additional resources were available to expand the project learning program21 thanks to a successful application to the QEF.
A single subject panel teacher (from EPA) was put in charge of the new subject. Other subject panel teachers were also nominally responsible but they do not participate in the actual decision-making or developing of the project learning curriculum (materials, teaching methods, etc). It was revealed that the project learning teacher-in-charge herself had been occupied with duties in teaching Economics in the senior forms, which are considered more important developmental stages for the students because of concerns for public examinations. The actual planning and developing of the teaching and learning activities were delegated to a newly recruited22 project learning teaching assistant who would take, on average, about one to two weeks to prepare the materials to be used for all classes (Forms One - Three) prior to the learning sessions.
I conducted one observation of two different classes (Form Two and Three) at the school (September 12, 2002). The sessions were basically characterized by a combination of a relatively strong tendency towards the “taught” subject approach and a moderate attempt to encourage student participation. Perhaps because of the large class sizes (about 40 students), it seemed difficult for the teachers to resist the temptation to “lecture”. Many of the teachers seemed, in other words, not philosophically attuned to progressive approaches, either because of their professional
The school plans to invite a neighborhood community youth center to help train some of their more able students in skills in doing surveys and questionnaires. This expanded activity might not be sustained when the QEF support expires. 22 From August 2002, a month before the new school term. She has about a year’s prior experience helping another school to develop project learning curriculum but admits her first degree in education did not cover enough training specifically devoted to project learning.
training background or school climate and other practical constraints which discouraged experimentation of pedagogical methods.
Student interactions were not group-based in the Form Two class, which took place in a computer room with only twenty seats and the same number of computers; many were forced to stand without access to the computer materials being used. In the second class, which took place in a normal classroom, students were divided into groups and called out to do role-play on a topic (about civic education) that interested them. The interactions seemed more spontaneous but again, due to the large student numbers and the amount of the materials supposed to be covered, little time was afforded the groups to involve themselves in genuine discussion.
In general, I found HK Two’s project learning syllabus rather overcrowded or strained with three major learning areas being involved. Although the new subject trimmed down on materials covered in the former EPA and Computer Science, some activities targeting different learning objectives seemed to be juxtaposed with each other simply to appear “integrated”. For instance, the Form Two class was supposed to refresh themselves on the concepts and procedures involved in project learning which they had picked up in the previous school term. The topic being used to demonstrate those concepts and procedures was related to the Basic Law23, a component directly lifted out from the old EPA syllabus. To actually show the materials, the teachers had chosen to use computers and give students tasks requiring them to do simple research on the Internet about the Basic Law. The project learning teacher-in-charge defended this by saying that the project initiation stage probably
The Basic Law forms the post-colonial constitutional framework of Hong Kong. Understandably, local school curriculum and teaching related to the Basic Law have gradually gained importance after 1997 (reversion of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China) especially in areas such as civil education.
requires more of a lecture-style approach for students in order to cover all the necessary topics before they can begin on their own projects.
Besides the resource concerns, most teachers at the school had not been trained for project learning. This may have a serious negative impact on the level of initiative or receptivity of the teachers toward the new programs, given that perceptual changes are rarely spontaneous in a closed system such as a school. The classes were taught, in fact, by the various subject teachers who received only basic instructions (in the form of a “weekly teaching plan”) from the teaching assistant before they walked into the classroom. Not surprisingly, the teaching styles varied greatly though teachers did attempt to let students talk and interact in a more lively and informal atmosphere. Occasionally, however, student interactions could generate so much noise that the teachers would decide it was better to “short-circuit” their responses. On the whole, student behaviors were generally orderly though not always as disciplined as in the case of HK One.
Case: HK Three
This co-ed aided school located in a developed new town in the northern New Territories is about ten years old. Unlike the first two Hong Kong schools I visited, HK Three seemed to have more express concerns over maintaining a reasonably acceptable level of scholastic achievement among its less able students. Its intakes24 of students with lower abilities provided an immediate background to the need for SBCD, as revealed in my teacher interviews. Instead of promoting project learning,
Mainly from the lower Bands (Bands Two and Three) according the school teacher I interviewed.
the school had been diverting its resources to developing a three-year old SBCD program which focused on tailoring teaching to cope with students who had difficulties in attending normal classes which were generally textbook-based and done lecture-style. This school-based program was seen as an alternative for less able groups of students from mainly the junior secondary forms, and featured tailor-made and simplified course materials, co-teaching, intensified teacher supervision and feedback, and task-based self-learning. As such, though this school-based program was understood locally as the “remedial classes”, its role was not to provide extra classes but a parallel school curriculum to cater to specific student needs25.
While being school-based, the SBCD program at this school did not involve integration as part of its curricular objectives. Neither did the curricular content relate to the promotion of such qualities as creativity and higher analytical skills as it was sometimes claimed in the other two Hong Kong school cases. Instead, the program was organized around three existing teaching subjects – English, Chinese and Math for the junior secondary forms. There was no attempt to integrate on the ground that integration would be unrealistic or unproductive with subjects that are so fundamentally unrelated in learning content or objectives.
Before the introduction of the SBCD program, the subject teachers had no particular prior training in developing school-based curriculum. The English department head26 had taken over the leader role in putting together the first SBCD
Depending on the size of intakes in a given year, one to three classes (out of five to six) of students in the lower percentiles of performance would be assigned to the school-based remedial program. Each class has about 40 students. 26 Or “subject panel chair”.
English program in the school27, which served to help develop later programs in Chinese and Math.
Interestingly, HK Three was possibly28 the school where I found the most “intense”29 level of team-work among school teachers in planning and developing the school-based curriculum. The fact that each “remedial class” was handled by two teachers also increased the chance that teachers needed to communicate and negotiate more frequently to ensure coherence in their co-teaching. Teachers in the SBCD program would spend one to two meeting sessions to prepare for a particular class30. After an initial brainstorming session deliberating on items to be covered according to some particular teaching scheme31, the teachers would meet again to present the worksheets and other materials they had prepared at home and to discuss how they would like to conduct the class. If time was short, however, the latter procedure might be bypassed.
To be sure, not all materials in the SBCD program were developed “from scratch”. Remedial class teachers of the same form would use materials that ranged from self-created worksheets, model kits borrowed from other schools, to selected textbooks (such as workbooks as a “supplement”) for particular class sessions.
With the professional help from local educational authority, which I will discuss in the later part of the account on this school. 28 Evidence on this was not available besides the interview given by one school teacher (interviews conducted on September 3 and 16, 2002). In concluding on the following point, I have only compared the intensity of team-work that she described in the interview with evidence I collected in the other schools through interviews and observations. 29 This is only relative as teachers in most schools cannot afford the time to plan and develop curriculum outside the subject teaching. 30 Note that these sessions were organized outside the teachers’ duties for subject teaching. Many of them also had to teach in the regular textbook-based classes. This means that teachers in the SBCD program not only may have extra workload but also face difficulty in agreeing on a common period to meet for curriculum planning, their individual schedule being varied and overcrowded. 31 Common to the entire form but specific in content for students in the SBCD program.
Whether created afresh or borrowed over, further adaptation by teachers was said to be common in most of the above cases.
In general, the SBCD program was considered a moderate success in this school. It had afforded students who were otherwise academically unprepared an option to master skills at their own pace. Since the content in the SBCD program was a scaled-down version of normal subject teaching classes within the same form, students in the SBCD program were also expected to learn the same range of skills as normal students, even though differentiated examinations were adopted. Remedial class students were said to have shown moderate, not drastic, improvement in their scholastic achievement32. According to one school teacher33 I interviewed, the chief merits that she saw in her own remedial classes included that she was able to visibly build up the student’s confidence in his learning, to bring in more interesting materials that appealed to the students and to help “remedial class” students to eventually return to the normal subject teaching classes. “Without the SBCD program, I can’t expect to see some of my former Form Three students move on to the senior forms. There is a fulfilling sense of satisfaction in this as a teacher,” she affirmed. Some former remedial class students seemed to be so accustomed to the less formal style in the SBCD program that they would find the normal subject teaching class less stimulating. Overall, she found the curricular objectives for the SBCD program and normal subject
When remedial students progressed through the school year, the more able ones would be placed back into the normal stream. This essentially means that the SBCD program plays only an auxiliary role to the normal subject teaching curriculum. The “success rate” for remedial class students to return to a normal subject teaching class (from Form One to Form Two, for example) was about 10%, that is, four to five students in a given class. About 20-30% of the Form Three remedial class students would eventually succeed in moving on to Form Four. Their number at Form Six was much less. 33 The informant (interviewed on September 3 and 16, 2002) teaches Geography as subject teacher but also taught English in the SBCD program in the previous two years.
teaching “essentially the same” – to impart to the students some basic skills which hopefully would benefit them in future learning.
In remedial classes, we teachers try to play a facilitator’s role. However, because of the problem with student attitude and ability, this may not always be the case. There is actually a higher risk that we “dominate” over a remedial class. With simplified content and more intense teacher aid, the students may get a little “over-protected”. In the long run, therefore, it is our hope that such students would return into the normal stream. (Teacher interview, HK Three)
Two important factors for the relatively satisfying results of remedial classes were identified by this school teacher. These were (i) teamwork between the school teachers in preparing their school-based curriculum and (ii) external professional help. The former has been discussed in the previous passages concerning curriculum planning and co-teaching. For the latter factor, external help came in the form of professional advice and financial and technical assistance from the government. HK Three had been on a government project called the School-based Curriculum Remedial Scheme. Like other participating schools, it received a subsidy for developing the necessary resources (including teachers) for the target SBCD program34. In the first year after joining the Scheme, the CDI (Curriculum Development Institute) dispatched an SBCD expert (an experienced teacher seconded to the CDI job) to demonstrate classes to teachers at HK Three. CDI maintained regular contact with the school over the school year to monitor progress and send in additional help when the occasion arose.
This refers to the School-based Curriculum Remedial Scheme, which caters to schools that want to develop remedial classes similar to those at HK Three. SBCD projects / schemes under the ED, such as the School-based Curriculum Project Scheme, may focus on other areas of school-based interests (nonremedial, project-based school curricula, for example).
The teacher I interviewed did not think that the workload involving the SBCD program was significantly different from that of normal subject teaching. She claims that “The difference lies more in the degree of difficulty of what we teach in class and assess in the tests. The school makes sure that the work for teachers in the remedial classes and normal classes are about the same. Otherwise, it would be unfair if every teacher thinks that work is lighter in the remedial classes and tries to escape from teaching normal classes.”
There seemed something left to be desired in professional support. While the teachers at HK Three seemed to appreciate the existence of CDI’s SBCD resource center35, it was said that the location of the single center was not likely to be convenient for all local teachers. Most materials (such as sample kits from “model schools”) could not be borrowed out or photocopied. In addition, the center operates only in regular office hours and is closed on non-week days.
5.3.2 Summary of the Hong Kong Cases
All three Hong Kong schools I studied showed an assured interest in reforming their own school curriculum, though their specific conditions and expectations should be considered in understanding why change was called for at all. Reforming had mainly taken the form of incorporating non-academic elements (HK One) or re-organizing syllabuses and teaching in the classroom (HK Two and HK
The CDI’s SBCD section houses a resource center in Sheung Shui, a new town in the northern New Territories. To travel there, this would on average take a teacher from HK Three thirty minutes. For teachers working or living in more developed districts, say, a teacher from HK One, the single-trip time needed for commuting could well be around two hours. This makes frequent use of the resource center impractical. The CDI Project Learning section is located in urban Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island, similarly inconvenient for schools which need support in far-flung districts.
Three). To a large extent, this reflected the schools’ concerns that the subject-based central curriculum defined by the official CDI syllabuses and dictated by competitive public examinations has become deficient, which is clear in the face of their immediate local conditions (student abilities and resources) and the general reform development towards a greater emphasis on non-academic / generic skills. There were variations in each of the cases regarding priorities in the reformed programs.
Despite the general recognition by teachers that reforms were needed in the local school curriculum, few teachers interviewed had directly exposed themselves to any reform policy documents and thus the official interpretations on project learning or SBCD. Most had only based their beliefs of reform objectives and approaches on indirect sources (school management, external workshops36, etc.). Some teachers from HK One and HK Three even argued that familiarity with the official reform discourse was “unimportant” or “irrelevant” as government policies often failed to provide specific guidelines and support relevant to local needs.
The relatively low government control over decentralized curriculum development programs (as in the cases of project learning and SBCD) was, in fact, a policy maintained by the CDI to encourage autonomy and innovations among local schools, according to the CDI chief executive37, who argued that “uncertainty is not a problem but rather the beauty of school-based [programs]”. In the case of SBCD, the school-based programs are not to entirely replace the centrally-developed curriculum.
CDI’s Project Learning section, for example, organizes four workshops per month on project learning topics. These sessions each takes about 40 participants. The QEF secretariat also organizes year-round “dissemination seminars” (presentation or demonstration by former QEF projectparticipating schools) which may cover project learning though these occur much less frequently than the CDI workshops. The teachers whom I interviewed were unable to say exactly how frequently they took part in such external activities. 37 Dr. K.K. Chan. Interview conducted on August 19, 2002.
Rather, according to the CDI chief executive, the government expects the primary school curriculum to derive about 80% from the central curriculum and only about 20% from the school’s own adaptation or creative efforts in curriculum development. For secondary school curriculum, this ratio is about 90% to 10%, indicating a still strong concern for maintaining academic standards and the uncertainty about the experimental nature of decentralized (or “school-based”) curriculum development.
External aid was quite frequently sought in the course of introducing schoolbased programs. However, the form of aid and the duration for which the school was aid-dependent seemed to vary considerably. I have identified two main forms of aid in the Hong Kong schools, namely, financial and technical. These forms of aid could come as mutually independent or in combination with each other. The highly competitive HK One had used funding from the QEF to conduct a pilot project originally focusing on subject integration (which was not sustained)38 while it was currently re-introducing a project learning program out of its own budget. Under the new program, professional training was organized in a relatively systematic manner by inviting a project learning expert from a tertiary research institution to impart concepts and knowledge to both teachers and students.
At HK Two, project learning had been conducted informally within subject teaching (as some extended assignments, for example) and was now becoming
According to a teacher at HK One (interviewed on August 28, 2002), the project financed by the QEF did involve some external technical assistance from a community youth center to help training the students in such skills related to simple surveys and street interviews. The training lasted several days. In retrospect, the teacher explained that she and her colleagues in charge of the project had felt unconfident about carrying out the training themselves due to an obvious lack of practical experience and knowledge in such data collection activities. This incident shows that HK One’s previous venture in project learning also involved some, albeit limited, external aid regarding technical or practical issues – in addition to the money that they received from QEF.
reorganized as a school subject itself covering formerly discrete teaching and learning areas (EPA, Computer Science and Library Study). The relatively long tradition of project learning as part of the school curriculum at this school had possibly contributed to a tendency of teacher “independence”, with low incentives to invite external technical help or participate in external professional training. In addition, the integration of the three discrete teaching and learning areas ensured that the new project learning curriculum was fairly crowded and remained focused on teaching academic content rather than conducting activities genuinely relevant to “project learning” itself39. While HK Two had successfully applied to the QEF for 2002-2003, such financial aid, as a rule, was not renewable or directed towards professional development of the teachers. Thus, it is quite unlikely that external financial aid would produce a very long-term effect on the nature and quality of teaching in HK Two’s school-based program.
With HK Three, external aid (both technically and financially) seemed very crucial in the initiation stage when the school began introducing its SBCD program. Direct assistance in the form of technical advice and “on-site” demonstration by government specialist teachers40 had been made available through the school’s joining a government subsidy scheme specifically dedicated to SBCD programs of a remedial nature41. Technical assistance was said to be “intensive” only in the first year and was
I refer to that in the course of conducting HK Two’s rather academically-oriented program, the creative element of putting together a “project” seemed watered-down in the face of other competing concerns in teaching. 40 From CDI’s SBCD section. In this case, the specialist was an experienced English teacher relieved from her school duties to join CDI’s SBCD team. She was dispatched to the school to demonstrate to HK Three’s teachers how a class could be taught “differently” besides the textbooks and conventional lecture-based teaching approach as prescribed to a whole school grade (or form). 41 School-based Curriculum Remedial Scheme, as mentioned for this subject school (HK Three).
slowly reduced to regular yearly contacts (via telephone) between school teachers and the CDI officers in subsequent years as the program became more established.
As curricular objectives and content change, one may expect that the pedagogic approach and teaching process change accordingly so as to readjust into some efficient or optimal conditions for operation. However, this could not be taken for granted with the three schools being studied; it was clear that they had neither uniform starting conditions (student abilities and resources), nor equal goals in their local reform efforts.
Based on the observations, I found that teachers at HK One seemed more ready to give up their authoritative role and to form cooperative relationships with their students during the school development days. This could be a result of the fact that (i) the teachers were deliberately put under the mentorship of a single external trainer who assumed principal responsibilities for organizing the curricular activities, whereby the teachers’ own active role to teach (or dominate) was minimized; (ii) the school development day training took place with simultaneous groups consisting of teachers and students, ensuring that the trainer was able to provide her instructions in an evenly-paced manner and to correct both teachers and students when they deviated from the planned procedure for conducting project learning; (iii) there was reasonable degree of assurance or confidence among the teachers in the students’ ability and potential to learn42.
During the teacher informant interview (August 28, 2002), it was pointed out that many students might not have sufficient cognitive skill to carry out their projects (refer to the HK One account). However, during my observation on the school development days, both the external trainer and the assistant principal-in-charge, for example, had spoken out in ways to convey messages of confidence in the students. I did observe occasions where teachers (groups leaders) expressed the need to help particular “weak” students.
At HK Two, teachers displayed great variations in teaching style during the project learning “class”. This was not surprising since the school did not invite any external professional or technical help which targeted preparation of the teachers, which could aid schools in institutionalizing progressive practices by providing a concrete model to follow. Although external training of the students was to be included in the 2002-2003 program43, it was unclear if this “out-sourcing” of teaching activity would involve similar training for the school teachers. Without more longterm inputs for improving the existing teaching methods, it would be unlikely to see radical changes in the ways project learning was being “taught” at HK Two, which, at this stage, remained organized in large classes and displayed a tendency towards lecturing. I also noted that the level of teachers’ participation in planning the project learning curriculum and generating teaching materials was rather low; only a deputy, the project learning teaching assistant, was made to assume all the relevant duties. Communications between the teachers were said to be uncommon44.
HK Three would have been an interesting case to conduct observations, given the more challenging conditions in which the reformed program operated. Students’ academic abilities were said to be relatively low in the remedial classes and disciplining could consume as much as 70-80% of a class’s time and energy.
While the teachers interviewed at the three subject schools in the case study generally viewed their own reformed programs in a positive light, there were
See paragraph one of this account on HK Two. The training would mainly concern the designing and evaluating of surveys and questionnaires. 44 Subject teachers do meet on regular basis for discussion of matter related to academic subjects. Subject teaching nevertheless seemed to remain central at HK Two despite the forming of “project learning” as a new school subject.
variations in the specific skills, knowledge and values being expected or pursued. At HK One, within the newly re-introduced project learning program, emphasis was clearly put on non-academic skills – data collection, analytical45, communication, and social skills among them. These were integrated in the initiation activities during the school development days. The external trainer had organized a considerable number of activities whose underlying theme was to encourage the students to think and start questioning through “multi-angles”46. Concept maps47 were introduced and subsequently used extensively throughout the activities – a step apparently designed to help students organize and articulate their ideas better. Intense teacher-student interactions48 were characterized by spontaneous in-group debates and discussions. Teamwork was especially evident both in the brainstorming and presentation sessions with most students being actively engaged.
At HK Two, by contrast, the main objectives of project learning were tied to subject integration, which possibly undermined the potential of project learning activities as a learning experience to promote non-academic skills if they were undertaken in a more student-centered approach. Since the new school subject (project learning) was created by combining three existing subjects (EPA, Computer Science and Library Study), its academic tone remained fairly strong as summative
This refers to the skill or ability which students develop in analyzing and evaluating their “research” data in the projects. In other words, it is more akin to the notion of “critical thinking” skill described in recent Hong Kong educational documents (CDC 2001 and EC 2000, for example) and therefore should be differentiated from analytical skill in an academic sense. 46 For example, under a certain central theme on “Better Living in the 21st Century” designed by the external trainer and the school, the student groups were encouraged to work on a related topic they had chosen (which included such areas as health care, food, entertainment, genetic engineering, teenage dating in school, etc). Each group was asked to think “horizontally” instead of “vertically” so that they could investigate their topic across subjects (economic, social, cultural, technological considerations, etc) and avoid linear thinking. 47 A device for organizing ideas diagrammatically. 48 The level of teacher-student interactions could be different outside the school development days. It is understood that students would also come to meet their supervising teachers individually instead of as full groups for discussion of their projects.
assessment (examinations and tests) continued to outweigh formative assessment (diagnostic use of student portfolios, records of in-class performance49, teacher feedback, etc.). To be sure, there were clear signs of teacher efforts to readjust the teaching and learning approach. One of the classes observed, for example, was entirely conducted through role-play of small student groups. The students were given the chance (though restricted) to perform on particular learning tasks and to subsequently give brief critiques of other groups50. Overall, the program at HK Two seemed quite bounded within the original subjects, with the project learning “syllabus” retaining much of the old subject components (the content of which was now totally decided by the school notwithstanding). To some extent, I found HK Two more a case of school-based curriculum development attempt at integration, rather than project learning as in HK One’s case.
The school-based program at HK Three was a case of SBCD without subject integration. Unlike the other two cases, the school’s priorities were steadily attached to providing an alternative academic curriculum to less able students. According to the teacher informant, the syllabus of the remedial program still contained the same number of learning tasks (though with simplified content) as would a normal subject teaching syllabus. Generic skills, which were expected to be covered in the other two schools to varying extents, were not dealt with. For example, the teacher informant indicated that she would not discuss reading skills with students until they progressed
A certain reward system was used at HK Two where a student would be given a token of recognition on giving a correct response to a question during some quiz sessions. A student could respond as frequently as he wanted and the tokens would be tallied and registered by his teachers (two co-teaching normally) at the end of a class. This would then be translated into evaluation scores towards continuous assessment. However, such scores accounted for only about 10% of the overall assessment, which depended heavily on tests and examinations on the integrated subjects. 50 Critiques were not necessarily done in critical ways. Often first provoked by the teachers, these mainly took the form of short comments given by students on how well or badly a group had performed. The “why” questions, which dealt with where or how individual groups could improve, were sometimes skipped due to the tight class schedule.
into the senior secondary forms. A teacher’s priorities lay more in providing timely instructions and intensified in-class attention to the students so as to help improve their self-image and confidence in the learning subjects – hence the practice of coteaching in all remedial classes. One notable feature of HK Three’s school-based program was perhaps the relatively intense level of teachers’ participation in curriculum planning. The teacher interviewed responded positively to this, saying that the school even started to extend “co-planning” of curriculum to normal subject teaching classes. This type of active participation in curriculum planning by teachers was not observed in the other two subject schools. Although we could only infer that student benefited from “co-planning” indirectly, the practice of planning and devising teaching materials in curriculum development was likely to have a positive long-term effect on the teachers’ own professional development.
5.3.3 The Japanese Cases
For the Japanese cases, I visited five junior high schools51 and one primary school (which was not included in the study for analytical purposes, however). All schools were public-funded. Of the first five, two were university-affiliated schools52 (JP One and JP Two), which are understood to engage themselves in pilot or researchoriented teaching and learning activities with generally better quality in teaching staff and student intakes compared with public schools in the ordinary categories. Three of the subject schools were from the Tokyo metropolitan53 area (JP One and JP Three)
Roughly the equivalent to Form One to Three in Hong Kong (or 7th to 9th grades). Note that Japan has a 3-3 secondary school system while Hong Kong features a 5-2 system. Refer to Chapters Two and Four for more detailed discussion on this. 52 Fuzoku-chūgakkō (付属中学校) 53 Referring to the area encompassing the 23 wards (administrative districts) of Tokyo.
and the nearby Kantō region54 (JP Two). The other three schools are from an eastern part of the Kansai region55 which generally features a more rural setting. The primary school (JP Six) visit was a matter of serendipity as I was invited there unplanned56. Due to time constraints, I have, regrettably, been forced to exclude JP Six from the fieldwork data though references have been made to the school in the analysis in relation to professional support issues57. For a summary outlining these schools’ background and my research activities, refer to Tables 5.2t-a and 5.2t-b. The actual fieldwork in Japan was conducted over a month (between September and October 2002).
Table 5.2t Schools (all junior high, except one as specified) visited in Japan School JP One Location Tokyo metropolitan (urban) Kantō (urban) Tokyo metropolitan (urban) Kansai (urban) Kansai (semi-rural) Kansai (rural) Type (all co-ed) National public (universityaffiliated) National public (universityaffiliated) Public Public Public Date of visit 20.9.2002 No. of observations 1 No. of teachers interviewed 1
25.9 / 7.10.2002 26.9.2002 30.9.2002 2.10.2002
JP Three JP Four JP Five
1 1 1
2 1 3
JP Six Public 4.10.2002 1 2 (primary school)* *Observation and interview data of JP Six, a primary school in Kansai, were not included in this study though references to the school have been made in the analysis.
Kantō generally refers to Tokyo and the nearby prefectures surrounding it. Kansai is the region roughly defined by the prefectures around Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. 56 I was invited to visit JP Six by one of its teachers who was currently granted a partial leave (or possibly reduced regular teaching duties) in order to study and conduct her research project on Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan at a regional Sōgō-kyōiku-sentā (professional teacher training center), where I was conducting a separate interview with an officer in charge of Sōgōtekina-gakushū matters. 57 See this in the discussion of “Problems and Implications” in Summary of the Japanese Cases (5.3.4).
Table 5.2t-b Characteristics of the Japanese Schools School JP One JP Two Founding year 1947 1965 (Reconstituted from two older schools) Late 1940s 1947 Late 1940s 1887 Initiator of school program Head of research section Head of research section Head of research section Head of research section Head of research section Various teachers Quality of teaching staff High High Quality of student intakes Very high Very high Level of resources Medium to high Medium to high Low to medium Low to medium Medium Medium School climate Progressive Progressive
JP Three JP Four JP Five JP Six
Medium Medium Medium to high Medium to high
Medium Low to medium High Medium to high
Moderately progressive Weakly progressive Moderately progressive Progressive
Case: JP One
This university-affiliated school has a history of well over forty years58 and is located in metropolitan Tokyo. With its affiliation to a national university, it is also a national public school, enjoying general prestige59. Unlike normal public schools in Tokyo, JP One’s intakes are not restricted by the school catchment system60. Being highly selective, it takes competent students61 from the eighteen wards in metropolitan
Founded in 1947, shortly after the War and around a period when the educational laws were enacted to witness a period of rapid expansion of school education. 59 Apart from having students with generally high scholastic achievement, most university-affiliated schools also function as innovative and disseminating centers of teaching and learning practices for the regions that they serve. 60 A geographically-determined place allocation system similar to Hong Kong’s for primary school graduates. In Tokyo, regular public (junior high, for example) schools in a ward are required to recruit pupils within the same school catchment area (gakku). Although this system is slowly relaxed in response to pressures from de-population, only Shinagawa Ward and Hino City schools are currently allowed to take pupils outside their own school catchment area (Cave 2003, 94). 61 The average intake size in a given year is about 60, roughly the sum of two co-ed classes.
Tokyo, and from a similar number of administrative districts in nearby Kanagawa Prefecture. Pupils who wish to join this school must take two entrance examinations62. This highly selective intake system may have its merits in ensuring a secure pool of good students who are academically able and well-disciplined so that their teachers can devote their time and energies more wholeheartedly to teaching activities consistent with the school research-oriented dispositions.
JP One’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū program had been in place and evolving into its current shape over the past ten years63, and stressed a diverse variety of “elective courses” (sentaku gakushū)64 and learning activities of an investigative nature (kenkyūtekina-gakushū)65. Since the Ministry of Education maintained only minimalist guidelines on the content and organization of Sōgōtekina-gakushū, JP One’s program was essentially a continuation of the school’s existing innovations and practices which it had independently developed, according to the school’s viceprincipal.
Organized around January and February each year. This means that the school’s program is well ahead of the Ministry of Education’s “guidelines” for Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan and most other public junior high schools’. 64 選択学習 65 研究的な学習
Summary of “category-α elective courses”66 by themes at JP One, 2002 Themes (activity titles) Activity descriptions 1 Reading self-chosen books67, sharing thoughts with fellow students and presenting before primary school children Producing a broadcast play through recital; and producing a “drama” using musical instruments Growing flowers and agricultural produce on one’s own and learning to make simple preserved food69 Studying about a self-chosen foreign language or culture Discovering the mathematical applications or expressions in daily life70; making “rockets” from used plastic bottles Conducting research on a self-chosen topic of professional qualifications or certifying examinations Inspecting and learning to classify plants on the school compound, producing specimens and studying about ecological role of plants Constructing various objects and simple machines71 with the help of texts and guiding models Making drawing and writing stories to create original picture books Using the computer and library to conduct study and survey about the relationship between health, sports and the environment72 and presenting the work on a web page Experimenting with foodstuff-making in the kitchen, and studying about food’s chemical and commercial
Number of students* 15
3 4 5
「ブックトーク」で本 の世界を広げよう (study the world through “book talk”) 音のドラマ・言葉の音 楽 (“the drama of sounds and the music of language”) Our Local Farm68 (study about food and agricultural processes) 国際理解 (“international study”) 数学セミナー (“Math seminar”) 資格について考えよう (study about qualifications) 植物に親しもう(“get to know plants”) つくる・作る・創る (“make, build and create”) えほんをつくろう (make picture books) Total Healthy Life (the study of science of health and sports) 生活を科学する (study objects in daily life through science)
Number of supervising teachers 1
29 25 44
2 1 2
There was a second group of elective courses at JP One called “Category-β” but these were mostly subject-based (Japanese, Mathematics, Social Study and Science) electives not conducted in the same manner as Sōgōtekina-gakushū. “Category-β”targeted only 9th graders. 67 Students could choose from any categories of books, even manga (popular comics books). 68 Fictional title to preserve anonymity of the school. 69 These included nattō (Japanese sticky beans) and pickles. The class was not restricted to girls. 70 These included geometric designs in artistic creations, statistical patterns in surveys, and puzzles in numbers and mathematical applications. 71 The objects and machines that had been cited on the list of previous student creations (by 2002) included robots, radios, transformers, tainted glass, mirrors, fireworks, and mini-rockets. 72 Some of the topics suggested to students included physical training of the body, stress, aromatherapy, the functions of perfumes, neurosis, “disease and psychology”, “sports and nutrition”, drugs risks, fast food and allergies, etc.
properties. Carrying out role-play and practicing 44 3 英語の音とことば (the speech on video screen based on selfsounds and words of chosen English films73 English) * Maximum number of students for a class fixed at 25 for one supervising teacher and 44 for two supervising teachers. 12
Student choice and diversity in interests was quite evident. Students from both the 8th and 9th grades could participate in a particular “course” (elective) of their own choice74. Unlikely normal home-room classes, students were mobile and were not bound by their own subject teaching classes. The mixed-age group design of the elective courses also afforded younger students the chance to work with their seniors, effectively eliminating barriers of age and proficiency in a particular skill. Since a student who was motivated and interested enough in a given elective course could opt for remaining in the same elective after completing his first year, he or she would have a choice to explore his or her interests further within Sōgōtekina-gakushū through a two year period. Apart from leaving the choice to the student, this can possibly contribute to more continuity in curricular content. 7th graders, who were considered not mature enough or sufficiently equipped with the necessary skills, were not allowed to participate in the Sōgōtekina-gakushū program.
Investigative themes were common in a number of elective courses, which were generally well-subscribed by students, but such themes did not necessarily permeate JP One’s entire Sōgōtekina-gakushū program. It is difficult to define what the school perceived as “investigative”. While some courses contained activities which more readily challenge the students to observe, report, ask questions and think, some others did not. The former tended to involve a science or mathematics topic,
These were mostly animated films. Decided at some point before a new school year, usually around March.
which exposed students to activities such as watching a teacher demonstration of chemical processes, experimenting with making objects from plastic bottles, investigating about food composition through cooking, observing plants through painting75 and designing simple surveys with the aid of the computer. The courses that apparently had a lesser investigative tone tended to focus on languages and arts. One such English elective course had the highest number of subscribing students (44 compared to an average of below 30 with most other courses). This class took place in a multimedia room with students who sat in free groups to practice oral speech by imitating spoken lines from a video-taped animation. The level of teacher supervision, as in most other cases, was limited76 though most students were well-behaved enough to conduct their own work productively.
As far as I could observe, pedagogical practices here during Sōgōtekinagakushū were not fundamentally different from other schools I had also visited in Japan. Teachers tended to keep immediate intervention and feedback in class to a minimum level. Certainly, there were exceptions but this depended greatly on individual teachers’ style or attitude.
Assessment, at least in the form of teachers giving timely feedback and evaluation in the course of the program, did not seem to play a significant part in JP One’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum. Students were evaluated, apparently informally, at the end of the school year by displaying their achievement such as artwork, survey report, or project findings. I noticed that “projects” in Sōgōtekina75
Students were made to draw the shapes of a sample of leaves (from green vegetables, for example) using traditional Japanese paint brushes. They worked individually and were supervised by a Science teacher who did no more than passively monitor their progress during my observation. 76 Only one foreign native-speaker teacher (a female Australian) was present to help students with their English pronunciation.
gakushū, as in the case of other Japanese schools I visited, were loosely defined as any student endeavor to do individual or group “investigation” by writing about a topic (for example, “professional qualifications”) which might involved simply mechanical transfer of information from books or the Internet to the student’s working notepads77. Questioning, debate, or analysis was not frequently or explicitly encouraged.
Case: JP Two
Located in the Kantō region close to Tokyo, JP Two is also a national public junior high school founded shortly after the War78. Student choice and diversity in curricular activities seemed equally pronounced as in JP One, if not more so. The school’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū programs, which involved all three school grades79, were formed with two components of basically different learning objectives and activities: (i) “Living Together Time” (kyōsei-no-jikan) and (ii) Communication and Skills (komyunikēshon & sukiru)80. The former focused on learning activities that were more individualized according to the students’ interests, abilities and motivations while the latter was more a “common core” type of curriculum focusing on so-called holistic development of the students. Efforts were made to provide some evaluation system for the learning activities, though to date this had been limited to self-evaluation by the students themselves.
Admittedly, I have not done observations extensively enough to qualify most “projects” in Sōgōtekina-gakushū as “unchallenging”. It is obvious that students at university-affiliated junior high schools do have plenty of opportunities to produce challenging and quality “project work” in the form of reports or actual objects they create. This was made known to me at JP Two where I was allowed to see some of such student works which formed part of the school’s subject teaching curriculum. These works tended to be more substantial, well-guided and well-researched. 78 Formally reconstituted in 1965 through the merging of two older schools affiliated to the same university. 79 Instead of two upper junior high school grades as at JP One. 80 This was introduced only recently from April 2002.
As a national public school, JP Two initiated experimentations of Sōgōtekinagakushū much ahead of normal public schools of the country. Sōgōtekina-gakushū at JP Two was first introduced in 1996 in its experimental phase and became developed into a full-scale program (curriculum) by 1997. The curriculum, however, evolved over time. According to a teacher whom I interviewed81, over recent years, the school had reformed its Sōgōtekina-gakushū program and made conscious efforts to introduce continuity in the curricular content across the school grades (1-3 nensei or 7th-9th grades). Instead of making students engage in a three-year program of discrete themes organized in three successive tiers (which replace one another and do not overlap in the same year. See the tables below), the reformed program offered “elective” sessions that spanned all school grades, which the students were allowed to choose and retake in subsequent years at their own discretion82. The organization of the resultant product resembled much that observed at JP One.
Original three-tier Sōgōtekina-gakushū program at JP Two, 1997-99:
School grade 9th grade 8th grade 7th grade
Three-tier programs organized by themes *Environment *International study *Human rights, social welfare and voluntary work
(* indicates fixed themes to be covered)
The informant was the research head and subject teacher of the school. Interview conducted on September 25, 2002. 82 This applied only to “Living Together Time” sessions. The zemi (seminars) for Communication and Skills were organized separately in homerooms (large class).
Reformed Sōgōtekina-gakushū program organized as “zemi” at JP Two, 2000-02:
School grade 9th grade 8th grade 7th grade
Some 20 “zemi” under various sub-themes
1 2 3
(zemi were more fluid learning topics defined within the original themes of the 1997-99 program) The sessions were termed zemi, or “seminars”. In the case of Communication and Skills zemi, this often took the form of student’s participating in discussion groups (within a normal homeroom class) under two teachers-in-charge. Only one teacher would act as the main instructor while the other played an auxiliary role, without actively giving instructions.
Communication and Skills zemi were newly integrated into JP Two’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum (starting 2002). These took up only about 16 school hours on the yearly schedule, compared to 60 hours for Living Together Time sessions83. The teacher informant commented that this account of time allotted to Sōgōtekina-gakushū had been appropriate since the school also had to readjust itself to the new 5-day school week which was recently introduced to all public schools, removing Saturday activities from the original schedule.
In responding to my question why Communication and Skills was introduced, my teacher informant cited reasons which included the promotion of “self-dignity”,
In other words, JP Two devotes about 76 school hours each year to its Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum. This is only marginally higher than the 70-hour minimum required of all junior high schools.
communication skills and interpersonal skills in dealing with people in general84. There was an additional objective. According to the teacher informant, Communication and Skills could serve to familiarize students with particular learning/research skills85 and develop their ability to make choices about how to approach his or her own project or research topic. In some way, Communication and Skills zemi helped to streamline the process of making students’ skills more relevant to Living Together Time, in which student learning tended to be more spontaneous and individualized.
Teaching and learning approaches seemed to be quite flexible but dependent on individual teachers’ own decisions since each of them was fully in charge of his or her tasks of developing curricular materials and delivering them to particular zemi86. During the observations, the teachers’ approach to teaching varied from one class to another. The approach used might involve initiating a learning topic87, delivering background concepts, and provoking student interactions. Although I had seen teachers dominating (lecturing) the class while initiating a topic, there was signs that this might not necessarily be the most common mode of teaching as the class was later split into groups (about 5-6 students each and together about seven groups in one class) to carry out various activities such as group discussion88.
“Tairitsu” (対立). Examples of this might take the form of a student trying to secure some volunteer work at local small businesses or welfare facilities. He is supposed to handle his tasks independently— from looking up a contact in Yellow Pages to making actual phone calls and negotiating with the host of a cooperative body. Students were said to have been “a little weak” in such skills (teacher informant, interviewed on September 25, 2002). 85 Including the use of visual aid (pictures and maps) in addition to texts. 86 Each teacher is in charge of one zemi in Communication and Skills. Usually they are the homeroom teachers of the classes they teach for normal academic subjects. 87 In Communication and Skills, these included such broad but generally stimulating titles as “Exiting the moon” (discussing the risks and dangers in space travel), and “Points and lines” (introducing new perspectives in observing physical objects). 88 The class was the one that worked on “Points and lines”. After initiation, worksheets prepared by the teacher-in-charge were distributed to the groups. A group then began internal debate about the pros and
For Living Together Time sessions, students from 7th through 9th grades were free to choose any one zemi as long as a particular quota was not filled89. These zemi were different from those in Communication and Skills in that the class unit was different from that of a homeroom class. Teachers did not “co-teach”; a single teacher would take over the entire duty of developing the zemi’s curriculum and organized all the internal and external activities involved. This division of labor in curriculum development apparently had given rise to a large number of learning sessions which were so diverse that nearly every zemi engages its student differently in activities with different forms of inquiries (refer to the “summary of zemi” below).
Summary of the “Living Together Time” zemi at JP Two, 2002 Title (nature of activities)
3 4 5 6 7
手話を学ぼう＆朗読テープを作ろう (learn sign language and produce audio-tapes of book reading for the visually impaired or blind) 語り部になろう (present and articulate ideas on various themes which include human rights, “international study” and the environment ) 国際ボランティア活動 (be exposed to conditions in the third world and participate in domestic volunteer work) 共生を宣伝しよう (produce short movie clips using digital tools to present and discuss “global” problems) 物語を伝えよう (translate popular comics stories into written form, and render that further into Braille texts) 子どもと大人との共生 (learn about children’s rights and welfare through external visits and inviting talks) まち自慢 (study about the local neighbourhood’s living conditions for people with special needs including the elderly, children, foreigners and the handicapped) 言葉を通して考えよう (study and produce a report about national and local languages in relation to their origins, characteristics and cultures)
Subject teacher’s teaching area Japanese
Quota on no. of students 30
Japanese Japanese Japanese Social Study Social Study Math
20 20 20 30 20-25
cons of a particular student’s propositions. Occasionally this could generate a lot of noise. I had asked if this kind of seating arrangement also applied to normal subject-teaching classes and the answer was affirmative. 89 There were exceptions to this. For example, one session on computer skills was restricted to 7th graders. Students were not allowed to retake it after joining for one year.
10 11 12
19 20 21
ホントーかどうか確かめてみよう！(investigate and report on a self-chosen subject from the mass media or the internet, which involves collecting, processing and analyzing information90) 生ゴミ研究 (study and produce a report about the productive use of organic waste in domestic households) 点字で音楽ボランティアに挑戦しよう (translate famous music scores into Braille texts for the blind) 自然環境の観察・実験とビオトープづくり (visit tidelands91 and forests to observe and study the quality of the natural environment) 台所を科学しよう (experiment with creating foodstuff, investigate the sides effects of chemical detergents, and study about waste problem in consumer culture) 海外交流 (establish English correspondence with foreign students through letters and the internet to discuss matters such as national and schooling cultures) ソーラーカーをつくろう (build a solar energy-powered motorcar and learn about energy problems in the world) 身近な環境活動について調べよう (conduct surveys to gauge public views on “environment activities” in the school and local community) サッカーを通して「共生」を考えよう (discuss the significance and related problems of the World Cup and participate in external visits such as that to a J-League92 team) メッセージソングを通して共生を考えよう (translate foreign songs into Japanese with understanding of its cultural background, etc., and render that into musical performance) 表現してみよう (express and present oneself through multiple means including visual art, music, language, and dance) リユース・リメイク(repair or restore used objects that would otherwise be disposed of, and discuss environmental problems ) 様々な人の生き方に学ぼう (share stories about people who have lived “extraordinary lives” through hardship and produce a report) ものづくりを通して「共生」考えよう (create objects and devices from recycled materials with a mind to improving the environment or welfare of the local handicapped) 花 (plant trees and flowers, study their growth at every stage and discuss their relationship to the environment) 絵本の森 (be immersed in picture books through visits to libraries, bookshops, and kindergartens, and create students’ own works) 食生活を考える (discuss and produce a report on world issues related to food, which include pollution, food production, and food cultures) コンピューターの活用 (master a wide variety of computer applications, including the internet, data processing, word processing, graphic creation, chart representation, presentation tools, etc.)
Math Math Science
20 30 25
Art Art Physical Education Physical Education Physical Education Physical Education Home Economics Technology
30 30 15
30 43 (7thgraderonly one year zemi)
情報の集め方・まとめ方・読み方(jōhō no atsumekata, matomekata, yomikata) 干潟 (higata) 92 The Japanese Soccer League
Nevertheless, it was evident that curricular content overlapped in some of the zemi, though how the teaching and learning was done might vary significantly from one class to another. Among the main learning areas in Sōgōtekina-gakushū officially approved by the Ministry of Education93, welfare (zemi 1, 3, 5, 11, 22), regional affairs94 (zemi 6, 7, 17, 20, 22) and environment (zemi 10, 12, 22, 25) were the ones that seemed to appear frequently in JP Two’s curriculum. Very often a zemi might have multiple learning aims. For example, zemi 1 seemed to satisfy the purpose of linguistic and communication development and helping promote students’ awareness about the handicapped – with sign language being a very popular subject of Sōgōtekina-gakushū among the many other schools I visited. Not to be overlooked, zemi with strong inclination to investigative or “creative” activities were also very common. Zemi 15, one of the more established and popular zemi, featured year-round student efforts to construct a motor-car powered by solar energy, which, in observation was conducted fairly informally, with well-motivated students executing their tasks (assembling, for example) in small groups while the supervisor was also present to actively participate in the process of construction. Another zemi (zemi 12) required students to form small groups to work on a subject of investigation about
Though the exact nature of these areas are not spelt out in the new Guidelines of Study (published in 1999 or 10th year of the Heisei reign), the Ministry states that during Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan (total integrated learning periods), “experiential and problem-solving learning activities focusing on  practical exposure to the natural and social environments,  observation and experimentation,  immersion through visits and surveys, should be conducted around integrated or cross-subject themes” [横断総合的な課題などについて，自然体験や社会体験，観察・実験，見学・調査などの体験 的な学習，問題解決的な学習を行う]. (“Atarashii Gakushūshidō-yōryō no nerai no jitsugen ni tsuite,” The Ministry of Education, <http://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/shotou/youryou/index.htm>, accessed September 2002 and January 2003). Schools are allowed to reinterpret these either as part of their existing programs (such as “special activities”, 特別活動) or entirely new programs if there are no precursors to Sōgōtekina-gakushū activities in a particular school. 94 This refers to learning areas that focus on “practical exposure to the natural and social environments” with a strong geographical emphasis on the immediate local or regional conditions. For example, the urban-setting schools in metropolitan Tokyo are likely to engage in “regional affairs” learning activities quite different from those of the schools in Kansai which organize their own program in more rural settings.
microorganism in the school’s “observation pond”. After observing and recording the samples, the students were asked to present their findings in front of the class95. Some students presented with the aid of a large drawing paper on the blackboard containing descriptions of their findings. However, such presentations were rather informal. It was uncommon for teachers and other non-presenting students to ask questions or venture feedback. In fact, when a group was presenting, uninterested groups might not be attentive to the presentation at all, but rather engaged themselves in unrelated, nonproductive activities. The teacher, during observation, did not intervene or discipline. In other classes, the level of teacher intervention varied but in general, it tended to be minimal.
Assessment and evaluation, as in the case of JP One, did not seem to be very central to JP Two’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū program. Though some effort was made to help students record their own study progress on a folder (a collection of schedule and “evaluation” materials in the form of worksheets96) through the school year, these did not seem to amount to “self-evaluation” since the records were done in very descriptive or impressionistic ways. A typical record would include the date of a particular zemi session, the title of a task (“decide theme” or “water quality study”, etc.97) and a short comment (“Today, we decided the theme and hopefully we would be working towards it next time” or “After the observation and experiment, we found out that that the water was very dirty,” etc.98) . Teachers did inspect these folders periodically and typically conferred their recognition by chopping a red stamp on them. They rarely give any direct written feedback that would constitute evaluation.
This was conducted during a later second observation (October 7 2002). ふりかえシート(furikae shīto) 97 テーマ決め；水質調査。[reproduced as stated on one of the students’ folder] 98 体研[sic]前の水はとてもきたないということがわかった。[reproduced as stated on one of the students’ folder]. The mistake appearing on the record was not corrected by the teacher.
At JP Two, Sōgōtekina-gakushū’s curricular content was deliberately separated from that of the academic subject-teaching curriculum99. The reason was cited as the high levels of technical complexity involved for teachers to ensure continuity between the two curricula. Certain zemi, such as zemi 15 (construction of solar-energy-powered motor-car), had long been introduced in Sōgōtekina-gakushū as a stimulating experience for students interested in the scientific concepts and theories involved, which were not considered highly relevant to testable skills and knowledge in an academic curriculum100. The school and teachers seemed to recognize the significance of such learning experience in the children’s overall development and were thus affirmative about the continued existence of such zemi.
Case: JP Three
Depopulation in urban areas during the past decade had taken its toll on this public junior high school located in metropolitan Tokyo101. There were only four
The separation of academic subject teaching and Sōgōtekina-gakushū curricula was said to be an arrangement insisted upon by a former school principal at JP Two, who was otherwise noninterventionist in teachers’ decisions on how to design and develop the their own Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum (in the zemi, for example). (Teacher informant, September 25, 2002) 100 Note that the teacher-in-charge of zemi 15 was in fact an English subject teacher. 101 According to the school principal (one of my teacher informants interviewed on September 26, 2002), metropolitan Tokyo used to have about 160,000 junior high school leavers (that is, 9th grade graduates) each year in the mid-1980s. Today, that number drops below 80,000. Public schools in Tokyo are facing particularly fierce competition from private schools, which are in general academically focused, and enjoy partial freedom of decision over the recent educational reforms promoted by the government. As the future of many of these reforms (such as the five-day school week reform) still remains uncertain, public schools are doubly disadvantaged as they tend to conform more to the Ministry’s of Education’s reform directions, forcing themselves to curtail their own academic curriculum in some cases, which is by far still very important in parents’ judgment over a school’s standards and performance. The ward in which JP Three was located is one of the wealthier Tokyo districts, which is home to many corporate headquarters, diplomatic establishments, and well-to-do households. Local parents are said to be selective while the private school sector absorbs nearly half of the 7th grader intakes in the case of junior high schools – significantly above the national average.
classes in the whole school102, consisting of less than a hundred students103. Survival was understandably an urgent concern and the school’s preoccupations were not only about offering a reasonably attractive academic curriculum but also about “repackaging” itself and becoming more responsive to local parents. There were, to be sure, signs that it did follow the Ministry of Education’s “minimalist guidelines”104 in developing a Sōgōtekina-gakushū program of its own. On the surface at least, the program seemed less sophisticated than those seen in JP One or JP Two, with the learning activities being organized on a more individualized basis but with less teacher supervision and assessment.
Like most public junior high schools, JP Three introduced its Sōgōtekinagakushū about two years ago (starting 2001). In the initial experimental phase, the number of hours designated as Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was 15, whereas in the current full-scale program (from 2002), the number was about 70. As result of this significant increase, school teachers were said to be encountering problems in properly preparing the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum105.
There was not one common curriculum per se for the classes, as students were allowed to carry out their activities in a rather laissez-faire approach. The emphasis of the learning activities varied for the 7th grade and the 8th-9th grades. The
Two 9th grade classes, one 8th grade class and one 7th grade class. The number of new student intake was expected only to shrink further in future across the entire ward, according to JP Three’s school principal (interviewed September 20, 2003). 103 There were 98 students in total: 7th graders (26), 8th graders (20) and 9th graders (42). Of these, 60 were boys and 38 girls. 104 For example, the Ministry recommends that Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan (number of school hours devoted to Sōgōtekina-gakushū) should range between 70-130 hours. JP Three’s program used the minimum of 70 hours. In addition, Sōgōtekina-gakushū can be arranged in two ways according to the Ministry, namely, “classes” to be arranged in alternate weeks or in consecutive weeks. JP Three’s program followed the latter case. 105 Teacher informant (subject teacher and research head) interview, conducted on September 26, 2002.
former seemed to be focusing on welfare (fukushi-gakushū) and the latter on the mixed themes of job preparation (Shokugyō-gakushū) and social interaction (fureai)106.
The 7th grade class (only one class) was conducted under the charge (26 students) of a homeroom teacher. Welfare was the main theme for the 7th graders. I did one observation of the class. Students were asked to report on the volunteer work they had done during the summer vacation, which served as an extension of Sōgōtekina-gakushū outside the school. Individual students107 were apparently given prior choice to decide on the type and nature of volunteer work that they wanted to do. Such work included helping out at a kindergarten, picking up garbage on the streets, cleaning up public toilets, and learning to make Braille texts for blind people. The students were supposed to be independent in arranging the contacts and negotiating with the hosts of cooperative bodies if any were involved (though, in fact, the local community’s businesses and welfare facilities, for example, might have already given prior consent to the school to allow student visits)108. Students came in front of the class to present their own summer volunteer experience, often with strips of “prompt notes” in hand for self-reference. The presentations, however, tended to be descriptive about mechanical processes, which were usually followed by brief comments by the student (kansō) about his or her experience109.
Although it was not cited by the teacher informants in my interviews, a few students chose to work on “report topics” that seemed to carry titles akin to “international study” (kokusai-rikai). Examples of these included “Hong Kong” (Hon-kon), “The history and culture of dance” (dansu no rikishi to bunka), and “The relationship between world’s fairy tales and imaginary creatures” (sekai no dōwa to kūsō no seibutsu no kakawari). 107 Occasionally, students worked in pairs. 108 This is also the case with JP Five. 109 An example of a student’s comment: “It was tough but I think there was something worthwhile about the work” (つらいのだが遣り甲斐があると思います).
Teaching style in this class could be described as non-authoritative, and moderately interactive. There were “question and answers” sessions in between presentations and students were reasonably engaged and attentive during these sessions. The supervising teacher110, while not always actively encouraging student comments or giving feedback to every presenting student, did on some occasions, attempted to clarify unfamiliar concepts and backgrounds (such as the mechanism involved in preparing Braille texts). Still on other occasions, the presenting students were expected to supply those concepts and backgrounds themselves.
There was one issue remaining in supervising a class such as this, namely, that the teacher did not necessarily monitor students’ external progress closely enough. As a result, very enthusiastic students might benefit more from their own involvement in the experiential learning whereas less motivated students might turn out to spend their time less in ways that were more productive or relevant to the expected learning tasks. For example, one student reported that he did “chobbora”111 (“a tiny volunteer work”), which turned out to be helping out an elderly woman to cross the street in a single incident. Subsequently both the teacher and his fellow students challenged him on what should properly constitute volunteer work. However, it was clear that previous and timely feedback from the teacher could have been more helpful.
According to my teacher informant, the school had no intention to introduce co-teaching in future 7th grade classes, citing the very diverse interests of the students and that an additional teacher was unlikely to change the quality of supervision very dramatically. In addition, it was said that at this school “Sōgōtekina-gakushū was first
A Japanese language subject teacher. Highly colloquial expression for chotto shita borantia (ちょっとしたボランティア).
and foremost the children’s own work to learn through investigation” 112 . The arrangement of supervision by the home-room teacher was considered more a merit than otherwise since, according to the teacher informant, familiarity between the teacher and students from the same home-room made it easier for students to seek help113.
Students in the two senior grades had a larger chance to explore their own specific interests by conducting a year-long114 mini-research project, locally known as “Sōgōgakushū no kojin tēma”115 (individual themes for integrated learning). In the case of the 9th graders (42 of them), the two classes were “merged” and students were allowed to conduct their on research more or less on a single-person basis. Although I had seen students gathering in small groups to perform teamwork such as sharing information or discussing a topic, each student had his or her “individual theme” named and designed independent of other fellow students.
“Individual themes” of learning/research activity of 9th graders at JP Three (2002)
1 2* 3 4 “Themes” サッカー (Soccer) 金閣と銀閣 (Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji temples) 捨てられた動物たち (Stray animals) ヴェネチアガラス (Venetian glass) Remarks116 Regional but non-Tokyo related Community-related “International study”-related
総合はあくまで子供達が自分で発見する。(Teacher informant, interviewed on September 26, 2002) 113 聞きやすいから、授業はこれからもずっとこのように行います。(Teacher informant, interviewed on September 26, 2002) This could extend into a second year if the student started to work on the same project in his or her 8th grade. 115 総合学習の個人テーマ 116 Themes marked with an asterix “*” are directly or partially related to localities in Kyoto in the Kansai region. “Regional” (chiiki) refers to that the theme deals with particular cultural or historical feature in a locality. “International study” (kokusai-rikai) here refers to themes loosely related to a foreign topic (such as history or culture as seen in the table above). “Community” and “welfare” themes seem to be ones that deal with cross-region (not necessarily local) or national issues.
5 6* 7 8 9* 10 11 12 13 14
16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26* 27 28 29 30 31 32* 33 34 35* 36
37 38 39 40 41 42
香港 (Hong Kong) 東大寺 (Tōdaiji temple) すし (Sushi) バスケット (Baskets) 清水寺 (Kiyomizudera temple) 刀剣 (Swords and blades) クリスマス (Christmas) 手話 (Sign language) カラス (Crows) 保育園と幼稚園のちがい (A comparison between nurseries and kindergartens) 保育園と幼稚園のちがい (A comparison between nurseries and kindergartens) 老人介護 (Home care for old people) ギター (Guitar) ギターとピアノについて (Guitar and piano) 沖縄の歴史と文化 (The history and culture of Okinawa) 茶 (Tea) 天然石 (Natural rocks) アイスクリーム (Ice-cream) ケーキ (Cakes) 音楽建築について (Acoustics) 庭園 (Formal gardens) 北野天満宮 (Kitano-mantengū shrine) 食べ物の公害 (Food poisoning) 座禅 (Zen meditation) 昔から現代の乗り物 (Transport mediums now and in the past) ふれあいと反逆について (Social interactions and rebellion) 子どもの遊び (Children’s games) 東京と京都の事件の違い (A contrast of events in Tokyo and Kyoto) スポーツの発生の地 (The origins of sports) 三国志の歴史 (The history of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms) 石庭 (Zen gardens) 世界の童話と空想の生物の関わり (The relationship between the world’s fairy tales and imaginary creatures) 心理療法 (Psycho-therapy) 児童心理学 (Child psychology) 着物 (Kimono) 呪い (Cursing) ダンスの歴史と文化 (The history and culture of dance) [Title not stated]
“International study”-related Regional but non-Tokyo related
Regional but non-Tokyo related
Regional but non-Tokyo related
Regional but non-Tokyo related Community-related
Regional but not limited to Tokyo “International study”-related “International study”-related Regional but non-Tokyo related “International study”-related
During 8th and 9th grades, students were practically given full freedom to choose or design their own “individual themes” (subjects). This implies that no single one teacher would be able to handle supervision of even a small group of students, given the diversity and specificity of their projects. During the observation, I had asked three individual students (9th graders), whether they thought that their supervising teachers had played an important role in their projects (which included helping them decide an “individual theme” and giving other forms of feedback in the course of their projects, etc.). Nearly all students responded negatively. Two students (individual themes 10 and 17) commented that there was “no need” for them to consult teachers. A third student (individual theme 9) said that he did ask a teacher at one point regarding how to organize his findings. He also had approached the teacher for advice on which topic (individual theme) to choose but eventually decided on it at his own discretion. Teacher-student interactions in the course of the students’ investigations or other projects, therefore, seemed to be fairly limited.
A number of problems regarding Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan had been cited by the teacher informant and the school principal117 of JP Three. These included the (1) varying student abilities in designing and managing their own “individual themes”; (2) relatively low level of experience and skill of the teachers to instruct and supervise students, and therefore lack of feeling of self-efficacy on their own part; and (3) concerns for maintaining the quality of academic subject teaching which competes with Sōgōtekina-gakushū for time and resources. In the case of the first problem, it was said that students came with quite different levels of motivation and skills, which affected how much they could learn within the Sōgōtekina-gakushū as the activities
Interviewed on September 25, 2002.
were so individualized. One area students might encounter difficulties was how to decide a feasible individual theme. Secondly, the teachers were said to lack the ability to “teach” Sōgōtekina-gakushū118. Consequently, the effectiveness of the Sōgōtekinagakushū program was not rationalized since teachers did not input as much in developing and delivering the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum as they would in the case of academic subject teaching. Thirdly, according to the school principal, the simultaneous introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū and 5-day school week in the junior high schools had strained certain school’s ability to teach academic subjects, with Sōgōtekina-gakushū being sometimes attributed as a factor in falling academic standards. It was said that Sōgōtekina-gakushū, being different in curricular objectives and content, distracted schools from teaching and learning activities that would otherwise be focused on the academic curriculum. Nevertheless, JP Three’s teachers were said to be generally supportive of the introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū, which, according to the school principal, should not be subordinated under academic subject teaching. He claimed that there were other public schools which “cheated” by, for example, using up to 3 or 5 hours of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan for English classes under the name of “international study”.
Case: JP Four
This public school is located in a medium-sized urban center in the eastern Kansai region119. It is the only junior high school for the school catchment area120 it
先生たちは指導力がない。(Teacher informant, interviewed on September 25, 2002) This area, where JP Four, JP Five and JP Six are located, is demographically rather peculiar in that it does enjoy a net population growth from trans-regional migration over the recent decade whereas childbirth rate declines nationally. Demands for basic education actually grow in response to this local trend.
serves, and takes students regardless of intake quality. Consequently, it seemed to suffer from the problems of overpopulation of students121 and strained resources122. Average academic attainment of the students was said to be not as high as most other local public schools. A lack of ability to “teach”123 Sōgōtekina-gakushū had been cited by teacher informants themselves which was manifested in many ways during observation ranging from teacher inaction to discipline, low levels of supervision and feedback, to a general apathy towards the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum itself.
A common Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum was being used for all students. The curricular content or learning focus varied from 7th through 9th grade. Many of these home-room-based classes offered opportunities for students to perform voluntary work or make external visits to “understand” better the local social and natural environments. Thus, Sōgōtekina-gakushū at JP Four seemed to emphasize experiential learning, which tended to exploit learning opportunities afforded by increased interactions between the school and the locality around it. The specific learning activities involved aimed at developing students’ abilities to “explore, exchange and express” 124 . In addition, the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum was
This means that nearly all primary school graduates from the same school catchment area have no choice but to go to this particular junior high school. 121 There are about 890 students, making JP Four the third largest school in the nearby region. This compares unfavorably with national public schools (such as JP One and JP Two which have about 300 students each) and other local public schools I visited, such as JP Five. Average class size at JP Four is about 36-39. 122 Particularly space since Sōgōtekina-gakushū generally requires individualized or group-based activities whose student size is ideally smaller than what would be in homeroom teaching. 123 Shidōryoku (指導力) 124 These were original translations by the school for 探求する力 (tankyū suru chikara), 交流する力 (kōryū suru chikara), 表現する力 (hyōgen suru chikara). “Tankyū suru chikara” was defined as the ability to “decide on a question to be investigated, conduct research, analyze and solve [problems]” [自 分で課題を見つけて調べて考えて解決していく力]. “Kōryū suru chikara” was defined as the ability to “communicate and discuss with people and carry out activities related to surveys and experiential learning”[人と相談して調査・体験活動などを行う力]. “Hyōgen suru chikara” was defined as the ability to “express one’s thoughts through various means, and inform people effectively
expected to produce a certain “desired image” of the students, namely, one that was “sympathetic and kind”125 and “independent and well-motivated”126. The curriculum in practice was broken down into three stages, to be covered roughly in the 7th through 9th school grades. This arrangement seemed to reminiscent of JP Two’s old three-tier Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum 127 , which devoted the separate years to groups of related skills, values or knowledge to be mastered in the learning activities.
Grade-specific curricular objectives and activities of Sōgōtekina-gakushū at JP Four (2002)128 Grade Types of activities General objectives 7th 課 題 設 定 (determining a 課題に気付く、発見する喜び (acquiring a sense of theme or topic) satisfaction from becoming sensitive to one’s own activity topics and making discoveries) 8th 追 求 方 法 (methods and 興味・関心を維持する力。粘り強く取り込む力 approach for inquiry) (developing the abilities to maintain a consistent interest and pursue with great perseverance) 9th 生 き 方 を 見 つ め さ せ る 視野を広める (broadening one’s view or perspective (learning to become “fit to [in particular, about socializing the child into the adult live” or socially well- world or dealing with the local community]) adapted)
According to my teacher informant, the school had entered a cooperative relationship with local small businesses (banks, factories, small retailers, etc.), welfare and health facilities (hospitals, government health agencies, employment offices, centers for the handicapped, old folks homes, etc.) and environment-related bodies (water treatment plants, aquaculture farms, local museums, etc.). Through these, the students were allowed to conduct visits or other forms of inquiry with the assured the support and help from external bodies. One recent activity was known as “machi
and clearly”[自分の思いをさまざまな方法で表す、相手にわかりやすく伝える力]. Teacher informant, interviewed on September 30, 2002. 125 思いやりのある子ども(omoiyari no aru kodomo). 126 意欲的に活動する子ども(iyokuteki ni katsudō suru kodomo). 127 Referring to the table “Original three-tier Sōgōtekina-gakushū program at JP Two, 1997-99” in this chapter. 128 Adapted from the school’s 2001-2002 “Research Report” (研究紀要) which involved internal research on the school curriculum and teaching of specific. Such research practice and output are common to all Japanese schools but a feature not found in their Hong Kong counterparts.
tanken” (exploration of the local town), which aimed at exposing students to the local landmarks and historical heritage and cultural features129. Students were thought to be otherwise too “protected” in their home or school environments.
In class observation, however, there was no sign that teachers had a systematic teaching plan as to what and how the class should be conducted. Many classes, particularly of the 8th graders, tended to degenerate into non-productive activities (students chatting, shirking group duties, running out of the classroom, etc.) while the teacher’s presence did not seem to be an effective deterrent to this.
It also seemed that teachers did not make much attempt to adjust their teaching approach for the classes130. During the session for “machi tanken”, for example, many classes were conducted in ways that bore little difference to subject teaching classes. Teachers might simply ask students to read out parts of the text written in a tourist pamphlet, which, unfortunately, was not produced specifically for educational use and, on close inspection, did contained major mistakes 131 . While in a few incidents
teacher-student interactions did occur in some classes, they were utterly absent in some others. My teacher informant and the school principal indicated that teachers’ general apathy towards Sōgōtekina-gakushū had directly affected how the program was carried out in individual classes. Some teachers might even contend that more emphasis should be put on academic subject teaching. This meant that the school
This was done with the help from a local tourism office. A set of maps and printed pamphlets describing the local environment was donated by the office to be adopted as part of the teaching materials. Teachers used these as supplementary “textbooks” in the classroom to prepare students for visit or help consolidate their knowledge. 130 I visited mainly 8th and 9th grade classes. Duration of the observation sessions ranged from about 5 to 15 minutes. Classes within the same grade were supposedly conducting similar activities on the same weekly schedule (for example brainstorming, discussion, etc) though they might progress at different pace (owing to discipline and variations in student ability). 131 In one of the passages, for example, an early period of the Meiji reign was cited as the late 1980s.
teachers did not have a consensus on the value of introducing Sōgōtekina-gakushū, let alone what or how to teach in it.
According to the school principal, school teachers lacked confidence in teaching the new program because, unlike in the case of conventional subject teaching, there was no authorized textbooks to serve as a convenient basis on what to teach in Sōgōtekina-gakushū. In a similar light, the Ministry of Education’s Course of Study provided no specifications regarding the practice of teaching in Sōgōtekina-gakushū in a classroom. When I asked my teacher informant if the school’s current teaching situation could be improved if more information from the Ministry was made available, she argued that the more useful type of information should concern practical knowledge in teaching132, which might come from educational specialists in research institutions and universities, though their number was still too few nationwide to date. Again, findings from the interviews with my informants only confirmed a general lack of readiness among school teachers for the new program. Understandably, assessment and evaluation played a much marginalized role in Sōgōtekina-gakushū at JP Four. The source of the problem was often said to be a lack of time for teachers to properly undertake supervision of the rather large homeroom classes (averaging 36-40 students each). The lack of “ability to teach” (shidōryoku) in general was also cited, which might concern non-learning issues such as discipline.
Resources constraints were felt in other ways. The school had a standard-size library, which had to be shared by the whole student population whether or not the activities were related to Sōgōtekina-gakushū. The number of computers available
was only 40, barely able to cope with more than one single homeroom class to conduct activities together. The budget for activity spending (such as that related to external visits) allotted to each grade per year was said to be a meager 10,000 yen (about US$80) in 2002. As was the case at other public schools, JP Four did not receive extra finances or subsidies from the local government 133 for spending in Sōgōtekina-gakushū.
The current state of how assessment and evaluation for Sōgōtekina-gakushū was being done was unclear. The teacher informant, originally the leader in a team of teachers developing the first Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum during the experimental phase134 in 2001, was no longer a member in the development team. According to her, the current program no longer required teachers to carry out evaluation (in the form of evaluation sheets given to the students, as in the case of all other schools visited). Teachers were free to decide if the practice fitted the needs of their classes. The net result, however, seemed to a further erosion of teachers’ awareness of the importance of practicing evaluation in Sōgōtekina-gakushū. Since every class was required to produce some form of reports on the year’s investigation or other activities (external visits, surveys, for example), students’ performance in Sōgōtekina-gakushū was measured in terms of the quality of presentation 135 , written accounts and other exhibits near the end of the school year. Some of these student works were displayed along the corridors for interested students to view, which resembled very much the way presentation might be done in the other schools visited. I had not been able to
That is, the local board of education or kyōiku iinkai (教育委員会). The number of hours devoted to Sōgōtekina-gakushū was 30 during the experimental phase and about 60 under the current program. This is in fact below the minimum amount of time (70 hours) recommended by the Ministry. 135 I was unable to conduction observation of student presentations in class because my travel schedule was outside the school’s timetable for such activities.
collect information on how systematically the overall assessment (particularly through in-class presentations136) was done due to time constraints in my visit schedule.
Case: JP Five
A public school located in the same region as JP Four with a somewhat more rural setting, JP Five’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū program also contained a strong emphasis on experiential learning. By contrast, however, the school seemed more ready to invite external professional help in organizing learning activities within the school. A number of short interviews which I conducted with school teachers showed that most teachers had an much more positive attitude towards of the reformed program than in the case of JP Four. Certain practices of teamwork that had been proven useful in subject teaching were taken over in developing Sōgōtekina-gakushū.
The types of learning activities for Sōgōtekina-gakushū found in JP Five might not appear fundamentally very different from those at JP Four. A clear common emphasis was put on experiential learning which promised to expose students to interactions with the local environment. At JP Five, these took the form of wholeclass visits to local facilities, workshops and talks by specialist guests and various forms of surveys and studies carried out by students on local conditions.
Broadly speaking, the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum was divided into three categories. Within each category, there were a number of related sub-categories targeting different types or levels of skills and knowledge. Both the categories and
As in most other schools, in-class presentations by students were mostly carried out around October and November. Schools such as JP Two mainly used the period between January and March to help students make decisions in choosing “classes” (zemi).
sub-categories can be seen as involving (I) local or regional environment, (II) individual’s social role and relationship with society, and (III) non-local-specific issues on welfare and public well-being.
Summary of categories and sub-categories of Sōgōtekina-gakushū activities at JP Five 2002 Grade Categories Sub-categories or titles of activities Activity time under subcategories (Total number of hours)* 7th I 豊 か な 郷 土 (explore the local April – mid-July (34) hometown) 7th II Mid-July – October (25) 職場訪問学習(visit the workplace) th 7 III 共に生きる―障害を持つ人への November – March (26) 理解を深めよう (“living together”learn to become more sensitive to the handicapped) 8th I 身 近 な 都 市 (explore the April – June (37) neighboring cities and towns) 8th II 職場体験 (experience work at the Mid-November – March (25) workplace) 8th III 暮らしやすい町を考えよう (create September – mid November (23) a town more friendly to people of special needs) th 9 I 私たちの日本 (explore and study April – June (35) the country) 9th II 自分の進路を考える (learn to plan July – September (14) about future study and work) 9th III エ イ ズ に つ い て 考 え よ う January (5) (understand AIDS) 9th III ボランティアを通して生き方を October – December (22) 考 え よ う (get familiar with volunteering as part of life) 9th n.a. セミナーのまとめ (review personal February – March (9) folder [work portfolio], present and evaluate own work) * Activity time does not include August, which is the usual period for school summer vacation in Japan. Total Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan for each grade is 85 hours.
This organization of the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum was quite peculiar to JP Five. No other schools visited designed a curriculum in similar ways so as to allow (or require) students to re-engage themselves in a sub-category activity previously undertaken. The purpose of this seemed to be to develop the students’ abilities progressively through school grades and ensure that their knowledge and skills were
properly consolidated before embarking on more advanced studies or more demanding activities. As the school grades progressed, the scope of study also expanded. For example, in the case of category I activities, 7th graders were supposed to learn on themes related to the school’s immediate rural vicinity; their 8th fellow students were to work on themes related to a nearby urban center; and 9th graders’ studies were concerned with themes involving an even larger geographical scope (regional or national). This arrangement thus seemed rational and quite well-designed to expose students to learning activities of multiple purposes, providing both diversity of activity content and some common curricular framework. However, unlike the cases of JP One, JP Two and JP Three, student choice about the types of activities was made virtually impossible by the design of the program.
Like the case of JP two, the activity sessions were known as “seminars” (seminā) but were organized within the homerooms. A number of teaching approaches were said to be adopted to suit the learning activities in different stages during the school year. For instance, during the induction or orientation period of a sub-category activity, the whole-class approach137 would be used more frequently, with teachers directly instructing the class to impart basic or background knowledge. At later stages, a certain “zone” arrangement would be used instead in which groups of students interacted closely for discussion and other forms of teamwork.
In actual observation, however, it seemed that the teaching approach might also depend on the teachers’ own teaching style (as adopted in subject teaching). In
一斉学習 (issei gakushū)
one class138, the teacher instructed by lecturing throughout the whole session. Still, in most other classes, teachers might be willing to adopt a more interactive approach. In one such class139, a teacher used a “school grade newsletter”140 (curricular material collectively developed by school teachers on a periodic basis) to explain features of a nearby lake (Biwa-ko), provoking questions along the way when certain new terms appeared. Later, he also distributed clippings from a local newspaper, which contained survey charts (opinion polls) about house design for the elderly. Students were promptly asked questions regarding the content while trying to interpret the chart data. Discipline was well under control. In general, students responded spontaneously, without even raising hands. They talked freely while the class appeared reasonably in order. The class was conducted in a very lively manner. In another class141 next door, the teacher was instructing the class about “universal design” in urban living, the main task of the day being the discussion of how userfriendly were public places to people in need (particularly the elderly, handicapped and pregnant women, etc.). Seating of the students was quite casual though no deliberate group-seating arrangement was observed. The teacher asked his students individually to cite desirable features or problems of accessibility they had seen or encountered in local public facilities (government buildings and health centers, for example). He then encouraged students to think up suggestions to help make public space more user-friendly. The students were generally well-disciplined, cooperative and willing to share their own ideas. While the class could be described as being conducted in a relaxed lively atmosphere, both the teacher and students managed to
7th grade class. There was no special seating plan. The teacher “dominated” over the class, raising key points and making clarifications. The teaching content seemed very organized. There was no discipline problem. 139 th 8 grade class 140 学級通信 (gakukyūtsūshin). The particular newsletter used in class was issue number 83, indicating that the school had been developing such materials for quite some time. 141 Also 8th grade class
maintain it at a sensible noise level. Boys tended to be relatively more responsive and talked spontaneously. In two 9th grade classes, which were incidentally covering skills and knowledge on “planning one’s future”142, the session was much quieter with minimized interactions. On teacher used a booklet143 for “guided reading” to familiarize students with the procedure of high school admissions. The was no evident attempt to invite questions or interactions. The class was in general conducted in good order though the teacher did make a point to discipline two restless students – something that in fact rarely occurred in most Sōgōtekina-gakushū sessions observed. The emphasis of teaching in these particular classes seemed restricted to giving precise details.
Despite the general success of Sōgōtekina-gakushū at JP Five, teachers were aware of some of the limitations in its present form. For instance, while students were said to be showing encouraging evidence of development in skills related to presentation, their skills or abilities in self-learning remained relatively weak. Consequently, many students might not be able to advance to higher levels of study or learning in Sōgōtekina-gakushū144.
5.3.4 Summary of the Japanese Cases
A number of interesting features had been displayed in the curricular objectives, content, teaching approach and organization of the reformed programs in the Japanese cases. One salient feature of the Japanese cases was perhaps the
自分の進路を考える A booklet on high school admissions apparently prepared by the school, and updated periodically over each school year. 144 発表の工夫が十分に見える。マナーも少し学んだ。ただ、自分で学びを進める力はまだ弱 くて、深めることが欠けている。(Teacher informant interview, conducted on October 2, 2002)
remarkably low levels of government involvement (both financially and technically) in systematizing and disseminating progressive practices among the school. The reason for this may not be treated in this study given its limited scope. Regional differences were certainly present and affected how Sōgōtekina-gakushū was being utilized as a means to promote skills, values and knowledge not directly linked to academic study. In some cases, problems with the introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū in junior high schools arose as a result of teachers’ general lack of skill and experience (for example, in developing, teaching and assessing curriculum). The intensity of these were magnified in the more extreme cases of JP Three and JP Four, which, interestingly, were confronted by the challenges of coping with student size and abilities put forth by opposing demographic forces in urban Japan.
Student choice and diversity in curricular activities
One common feature of the three schools in the highly urbanized area of metropolitan Tokyo and Kantō was the emphasis on student choice and a high level of diversity in curricular content. In the case of JP One, JP Two and JP Three, the programs seemed to be organized in such a way that school intervention in students’ decisions related to Sōgōtekina-gakushū was kept to a minimum. Student choice was respected as long as their choice of activities fell within the school’s guiding themes for learning145, which, in most cases, were essentially re-interpretations of the Ministry of Education’s guidelines in local contexts. At the two national public schools, Sōgōtekina-gakushū “classes” were formed by students opting into a
Welfare, volunteer work, regional issues, environment, international study, etc.
particular “elective”146. Students were then required to undertake some individual or group-based projects devoted to self-chosen topics of study or investigation.
The reforming of JP Two’s 1997-99 Sōgōtekina-gakushū program into its current shape meant that the school’s organization of its curriculum had converged with JP One’s model, with a high emphasis on making the activities more diverse and possibly more relevant to individual student interests.
In the case of JP Three, students were given a similar level of autonomy to choose their subjects of interest (“individual themes”) and conduct a year-long study on their own or in small groups. The content of the curriculum was left entirely open to the 42 students who made up the 9th grade.
At the two Kansai public schools, JP Four and JP Five, student choice was less obvious because the Sōgōtekina-gakushū “classes” were organized within subject teaching homerooms. A common curriculum was adopted for all students, its content being defined by a number of broad themes variable through the school grades. Student choice existed not over the broad themes of learning but only within activities of the individual homeroom classes, as they were allowed, at some stage of the common program, to choose topics of personal interests for study or investigation. To be sure, diversity of curricular activities did exist in Sōgōtekina-gakushū at the two Kansai schools though more often than not they tended to have a bias for experiential learning in closed local contexts.
Called zemi (ゼミ or “seminars”) at JP Two and simply sentaku-gakushū (選択学習 or “electives”) at JP One. Note that Communication and Skill at JP Two, a new component of the curriculum, was organized within the homeroom.
Investigative work or learning through experience?
There is no reason to think that investigation-based study147 and experiential learning are mutually exclusive on the priority list for developing Sōgōtekina-gakushū. However, resource constraints in Japanese schools were always a realistic concern. There is evidence that schools might want to promote certain types of learning activities more extensively if they were deemed more appropriate or productive in relation to local resource accessibility and student needs. Obviously, in the long run, a Sōgōtekina-gakushū program is likely to produce students who are more advanced in particular skills or knowledge if the curriculum is skewed towards related learning activities that promote them, and vice versa.
As expected, the two national public schools (JP One and JP Two) were more well-equipped to promote activities of an investigative nature with their more able teachers, better resources148 and students of generally higher abilities. However, student abilities did not seem to be a critical factor in the case of JP Three, which also encouraged students to conduct individualized studies and make extensive use of computers and the Internet for research as well as presentation. The shrinking intake size had unexpectedly afforded the school the chance to exploit the use of resources (teachers, computers, library, etc.). Although experiential learning of some sort (volunteer work) was being promoted at the 7th grade, this was wholly superseded at
Such as majority of the electives at JP One and a large number of zemi at JP Two. In terms of school facilities and budget, the national public schools may not be very different from the normal public schools but their relatively small student population, and thus class size, makes possible teaching in more favorable conditions. After all, teachers are the main agents of teaching and learning; a smaller teacher-student ratio would at least favor interaction and feedback which might be necessary in some Sōgōtekina-gakushū contexts.
the 8th and 9th grades by the so-called “individual themes”. The teacher informant at JP Three commented that students actually benefited substantially from the increased use of computers, with “nearly everyone being proficient in basic applications”149. As shown in this case150, volunteer work was done in rather a laissez-faire manner. Since there was no established supervision or feedback system in place for teachers151 to monitor students’ external work, it is unclear how effective this kind of “experiential learning” could be. Despite its many limitations and the challenge of managing student of varying abilities, JP Three’s case seemed to indicate that even less well-equipped schools could afforded to let its students to study independently and at their own pace, which, according to the school, had been proven reasonably successful within the local contexts.
On close inspection, JP Two’s Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum seemed more balanced and conformist to the guiding themes in official policies than JP One’s, in that it did pay more attention to non-investigative and experiential-learning-based activities, which were often integrated in multiple themes (welfare, volunteer work, etc.). According to JP One’s principal and vice-principal152, the current program had been in existence well before Sōgōtekina-gakushū became compulsory for public junior high schools. One might say that school’s special status as an innovative and dissemination center of teaching had granted it certain privileges to be exempt from conforming totally to government guidelines153.
Teacher informant interview, conducted on September 26, 2002. Refer to the account on JP Three in 5.3.3 151 There was only one homeroom teacher in charge and co-teaching was said to be “unnecessary” (Teacher informant interview, conducted on September 26, 2002). 152 Interviewed on September 20, 2002. 153 Notably, the school’s 7th graders did not have to undertake any Sōgōtekina-gakushū activity. This is a very prominent exception among all the other schools visited.
From a regional perspective, experiential learning was clearly not as strongly emphasized at the metropolitan Tokyo and Kantō schools as in the case of the two Kansai public schools (JP Four and JP Five). In particular, JP One did not have any particular “elective courses” that required a high level of interactions between the students and local community or environment. Many of the learning activities were confined to the school compound. Though there were incidents where students might need to travel outside the school and interact with the local community or environment (for example, electives 1, 3 and 7)154, the fact that experiential learning was not organized as “mandatory” and school-wide155 indicates that the school might have other higher priorities in its curriculum.
At JP Four and JP Five, activities were more defined within the broad learning theme decided by the schools. As a common curriculum156 was adopted by the schools, each student had a fair chance to undertake similar activities in the course of their three-year school study. For the same reason that student choice was restricted to individual study at the homeroom level, the schools were better positioned to steer student’s energies and time towards activities that teachers saw as desirable. Experiential learning activities were thus being pursued on a very extensive scale at both JP Four and JP Five, though they might have achieved success to different degrees.
As part of elective 1’s activities, students would, at some point, present their work to young primary school children. To what extent this would constitute “experiential learning”, however, is beyond the scope of this current study. In the case of electives 3 and 7, students do have a chance to explore plants on their school compound, for instance. Assuming this also qualified as some form of interaction with the natural environment, such interactions were almost certainly not organized as extensively as in the case of the Kansai schools. 155 This was the case at JP Four and JP Five. 156 This “common curriculum” was defined more in terms of learning objectives and goals collectively designed by school teachers. Variations of teaching styles, student and teacher attitudes, and discipline are some of the factors that may render the actual activity process and outcomes less predictable.
One feature not found in the other cases was that a close partnership between the Kansai schools and local community had been established to ensure that interests in experiential learning were supported and shared by institutions and individuals (parents, for example) to bring in expertise and resources not found inside the school. However, it was also said that a permanent cooperative relationship with the local community was difficult to sustain, since repeated school or student requests tended to wear the patience or resources of the host bodies157.
Again, student abilities did not seem to be a central concern for the schools to decide whether experiential-learning-based activities should become a dominant form of leaning in the curriculum. Rather, it seemed that schools were making logistical calculations so as to account for their more rural regional settings. With the schools being surrounded by local small businesses and factories, for example, it seemed rational for them to make use of the easy access to these to organize student visits and other kinds of practical exposure. These local features, to a large extent, were unavailable to the schools in metropolitan Tokyo and Kantō. Similarly, in Kansai, the proximity of the nearby Lake Biwa and the many natural water systems provided excellent learning background with good justifications of activity costs (such as transport)158.
While experiential learning activities were tied to interests of the local community, their educational purposes were often multiple. Japanese children, long thought to be over-protected by school and pampered by their parents, were also
Teacher informant at JP Four, interviewed on September 30, 2002. This is also a problem frequently encountered by Hong Kong schools conducting project learning. 158 Observation and investigation activities related to the natural environment were mostly restricted to the school compounds at JP One and JP Two.
sometimes regarded as unprepared for social transactions in the “real world”. This concern was felt even at schools such as JP Two, where students’ academic achievement was generally assured. During one of the observation sessions, for example, my teacher informant refrained from helping a group of students (about six or seven 7th graders) attempting to make a telephone contact, presumably to negotiate with an external host. A few students researched by scanning though a Yellow Page book while their fellow group members waited at the phone. Whether or not teamwork was supposed to be involved, it was said that the students were relatively weak in such practical skills159. Experiential learning could thus serve to help students to learn to deal with demands such as executing tasks independently (without adult intervention) and problem-solving, along with the many social and relational implications in the activity.
Welfare (fukushi)160 and volunteer work (hōshi-katsudō)161 were frequently interlinked themes in many schools’ Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum162, which could be further expanded to include a regional emphasis if that fitted the educational purpose163. To some extent, welfare and volunteer work were also convenient themes
See also the footnote on “tairitsu” in the account on JP Two. 福祉 161 奉仕活動 162 A third theme, human rights (人権), was included in some schools’ curriculum though it seemed to be a less significant theme to school children. 163 Regional (or chiiki) related learning activities are ones that are concerned with experiential learning. By requiring students to walk out of their classrooms and setting up contacts potential hosts for volunteer work, for example, a school can easily make students become more exposed to interactions with the local community, even if the original activities are targeting skills and knowledge more related to welfare and volunteer work. This observation agrees with Cave’s argument learning through
experience and integration with the local community fit well with the activity agenda for welfare and volunteer work (Cave 2003, 97). 189
to be adopted inside or outside the classroom since nearly every region in which the schools were located must have some facilities or services accessible to teachers and students. Japan as an aging society ensures that the need for certain types of welfare service would only continue to grow. Apart from government efforts to promote volunteer work in schools, the there is a growing sense of “awakening” to the need for care related to disability among the regional or local communities. Since most volunteer activities automatically have an experiential component attached to them, these, according to the Ministry of Education164, should at least have a beneficial effect on students’ becoming more caring and responsible individuals. In the mean time, volunteer activities had already been introduced within some schools’ “special activity” (tokubetsu katsudō) periods165 before Sōgōtekina-gakushū came into being. It is thus not surprising that such schools re-adjusted their timetables so as to expand students’ volunteer and experiential learning activities in the reformed curriculum.
The notion of “living together” (kyōsei166 or tomo ni ikiru167) had appeared or featured, in one way or another, in the curriculum of most of the schools which I visited. Some schools indicated a strong intention to incorporate welfare and volunteer work related themes systematically into student activities – notably, JP Four, JP Five and JP Two, whose programs included a whole group of zemi called “Living
Volunteer work and “learning through experience” (taiken-katsudō) are being promoted not under the MEXT section responsible for curriculum development (初等中等教育局) but under the one for “life long learning” (生涯学習政策局). Under the current initiative children volunteer activities, it is suggested that ideally, if not compulsorily, school children should undertake volunteer work regularly after school or during the weekend, which coincides with the curtailing of the normal school weekly schedule to five days. For reference on this, refer to the MEXT at <http://housi.mext.go.jp/>. Accessed January 2003. 165 This usually takes up 35 hours of the total school hours (980 hours) in a year for each junior high school grade, according to the current Course of Study. The range of special activities can be very broad (school “festivals”, group travel, volunteer work, etc.), which aims at developing a variety of personal and social skills. 166 共生 167 共に生きる
Together Time”. Some other schools seemed less enthusiastic about this. JP One, as mentioned, had a well-established elective-based program, whose content the school was not keen to change as it had, reportedly, proved quite successful in promoting skills and knowledge more relevant to the school’s children. JP Three, on the other hand, had given its students free rein over their interests of study. Only a handful of them had chosen to work on a topic related to welfare or volunteer work and presumably this did not necessarily call for experiential learning.
Still, it was likely that students choosing to work on a welfare or volunteer work related topic would confine their activity inside the classroom for at least a significant portion of their time. Certain types of student activities were meant to be sedentary by their nature. For example, preparing Braille texts (tenji)168, one of the popular activities with a strong association with both welfare and volunteer work169, required the students to exercise great patience and skill while remaining seated for long periods of solitary work. Sign language (shuwa)170 could appear either as an isolated subject of learning or as an integrated component in an activity related to welfare or volunteer work (or both). Another topic being brought up in welfarerelated activities was “barrier free” (baria-furī) access for the handicapped (visualmotor handicaps), especially at urban public facilities171. In class, students might be
点字 At JP Two, there were at two zemi that directly involved the preparation of such texts. At JP Three, one 7th grade student (out of a class of 26) chose to work on Braille texts as his summer volunteer work, which was quite unusual since the activity was of a more demanding nature. 170 手話 171 In JP Four’s curriculum, all 7th graders would undertake a common (welfare-related) activity on how to improve the living environment for people of special needs. The wheelchair (kuruma-isu) itself made for a good topic of discussion in many classes here and in other schools. At JP Five, part of the 8th grade Sōgōtekina-gakushū was devoted to similar activities (category III, under the title「暮らしやす い町を考えよう」). JP Five’s activity included conducting surveys (on “people of special needs”), preparing presentation materials and arranging for an open session with some external guests involved in the surveys. The presentation was supposed to be done with PowerPoint.
asked to discuss how accessibility to people of special needs172 could be improved and design their own user-friendly facilities, which, in reality, had very little chance of being implemented outside the school, if at all.
The main purpose behind activities related to “living together” seemed to be cultivating desired personal and social qualities, which were characterized by an active interest in “human rights”, sensitivity to the disabled (and other special social groups), and some general sense of kindness which might, for example, be expressed as “omoiyari no aru kodomo” (emphatic child) in JP Four’s curricular objectives.
Independence by accident or by design
A number of terms and concepts used in the recent policies on Sōgōtekinagakushū173 had been re-cast in curriculum planning at the school level. The notions of “learning independently, thinking independently” and “living independently”174 were particularly proverbial and powerful. Many schools had faithfully borrowed these words in their own annual reports of internal research175 but, in practice, it would be difficult to interpret which activities constitute the growth of learning, thinking and living (as if all three could be attained simultaneously). It is still more difficult to
“People of special needs” refer to the physically disabled, audio-visual-motor handicapped, elderly, and even foreigners in JP Five’s case. 173 Curriculum Council 1998. 174 “自ら学び、自ら考え” (mizukara manabi, mizukara kangae) and “自ら生きる” (mizukara ikiru). The term “ikiru” is particularly problem because it involves a host of open interpretations about what makes up a well-adapted, active, yet perhaps individualistic student in modern living. In fact, in many cases of policy documents, “self-learrning” and “self-thinking” seemed to be prerequisites of “living independently”, rather than parallel or comparable goals. For example, according to the Curriculum Council’s Final Report in 1998 (ibid.). 175 Kenkyū kiyō or kenkyū kiroku. Schools often document their curricular plans, schedules, activities, sample student works in these published volumes. The internal research is usually put in charge of a research head (also a subject teacher).
measure proficiency achieved in a skill – particularly when so many schools had not exploited the potential teacher feedback and evaluation.
Interestingly, however, the idea of “independence”176 seemed to have been reinterpreted in the context of Sōgōtekina-gakushū as a form of student self-reliance or autonomy, free of both teacher intervention and assistance. In many cases during the process of conducting an individual “project” by the student177, teachers absented themselves from giving immediate feedback or guidance at the scene. The practice of co-teaching was avoided at JP Three because student interests were too diverse and “Sōgōtekina-gakushū should be all about students doing their own work [thus additional supervision unnecessary] ”178. It was also interesting to note that all 9th graders at the school were allowed to work on “individual themes” chosen by each of them. Group work, while present in the course of students’ interacting and exchanging information, was not encouraged, contrary to conventional practices in some subject teaching.
Almost invariably, evaluation of Sōgōtekina-gakushū activities, either on session or more long-term basis, was almost entirely done by the students themselves (completing evaluation worksheets being the most common forms). Even though teachers did inspect students’ folders and evaluation materials, if any, it was uncommon for them to give practical advice and comments beyond occasional words of encouragement.
主体性 (shutaisei) For example, in the case of JP Three, and to some extent JP Two. 178 Teacher informant interview at JP Three. Refer to the account on this school.
As observed in class, teaching approaches could vary significantly even within the same school (depending on the activity of the day and personal teaching style) though teachers generally seemed to adopt a minimalist policy towards supervising students. Disciplining was rare179. Teachers might simply ignore the idle students and carry on instructing others. This was also true at schools that were more prone to discipline problems, such as JP Four. In the case of the national public schools, classes were conducted in very good discipline though idling or shirking of group duties might occur as another form of distraction. I had not observed any practice of teacher disciplining in relation to procrastination.
Problems and implications
While most school teachers and principals whom I had interviewed generally held a positive view of Sōgōtekina-gakushū for its potential to fulfill multiple educational goals, some were more frank about its practical limitations and weaknesses. Some of these limitations and weaknesses were linked to teachers’ own skill and expertise in developing and teaching Sōgōtekina-gakushū which, being freshly introduced, had put new demands and expectations on teachers180. Assessment was a frequently cited problem spot – both in interviews with school teachers and on government published surveys – though teachers rarely insisted that radical changes should be made to the ways assessment and evaluation were being done in schools. The other problems were related to the local conditions in which Sōgōtekina-gakushū
Only at JP Five did I observe in a class a teacher openly admonishing two restless students for not paying attention (Refer to the account on the school). 180 This was perhaps less felt to be so at the two national public schools where teachers had been experimenting with their locally developed programs 4-10 years before Sōgōtekina-gakushū was formally introduced.
was being operated: student quality, competing concerns from academic teaching, resources, government aid and support.
In a recent research report by the Tokyo Professional Teacher Training Center (TPTTC 2001)181, a survey of junior high school teachers on their views of Sōgōtekina-gakushū found that, “communication and cooperation between teachers”182, “assessment and evaluation”, “teaching methods”183, “curriculum planning” 184, “scheduling”, “developing teaching materials”, and “teacher motivation185” were among the many top concerns in schools. In my own interviews186, school teachers also cited “teamwork” as one of the more critical factors for successful implementation of Sōgōtekina-gakushū. Perhaps it was not accidental that the more successful187 schools (JP One, JP Two and JP Five) did feature a high level of teacher teamwork and active participation (especially at the stage of developing of the curriculum188). Teachers at the two national public schools functioned as virtually autonomous curriculum developers, responsible for their own
This report was commisioned by the Center and produced by serving junior high school teachers (there were ten of them, all from schools in metropolitan Tokyo and outlying urban centers within the Tokyo municipality) on an ad hoc team. The teachers conducted the research non-working periods and the entire research spanned about one year. 182 先生の共通理解[or, mutual understanding]や連携 183 教師の指導（支援）方法 – “teaching (and support) methods” 184 Referring to curricular content, activities, etc. 185 教師の意識. Alternatively, this might be translated as “consciousness as a teacher”. Some of such variables were not well-defined in the surveys. 186 Interviews at JP One, JP Two and JP Five. I had used a short questionnaire to ask my informants to name from a list of factors that might have contributed the relative success or failure in their schools’ Sōgōtekina-gakushū programs. 187 I judge this on the quality of teaching and supervision, overall process of teaching and learning in Sōgōtekina-gakushū well as well as some of the student performance and works during observation. It is perhaps unfair to overlook the fact that individual students in other schools did perfrom well in their activities or that the programs might be successful in ways not observable during my visits. However, I have also taken into account of school teachers and principals’ own comments in appraising their state of Sōgōtekina-gakushū. In general, JP Three viewed itself as achieving some moderate success in its own contexts. The interviews at JP Four with the teacher informant and school principal were of a much more critical kind of evaluation. 188 Referring to the design of content and activities. As said, however, many teachers at these schools also adopted a minimalist approach towards supervision and evaluation, as in the case of JP Three and JP Four.
students and activities in the electives (or seminars). JP Five featured a model of collective curriculum planning (and also planning of a common timetable). Its teachers were generally very responsive to my questions189 and well-informed about the state of how Sōgōtekina-gakushū was being run in the school. At the other two public schools (JP Three and JP Four), the sense of teacher involvement was much more diffuse. In the case of JP Three, teachers’ input in developing the Sōgōtekinagakushū curriculum must be relatively low compared to most other schools as this fitted the school’s laissez-faire approach to give students maximized choice and freedom in their learning activities. In the case of JP Four, some teachers were described as “resistant” to Sōgōtekina-gakushū. It did not seem that the teachers had arrived at a consensus about how the program should be organized or run. For example, when my teacher informant was involved in the curriculum development team (resigned from early 2002), the school used to periodically publish a newsletter as some common teaching materials for Sōgōtekina-gakushū, much like the way in it was being practiced in JP Five. However, this newsletter had been removed from the current school year. Self-evaluation forms, commonly used in many schools visited, were recently made optional at JP Four at the “convenience” of some teachers.
Although many teachers whom I interviewed expressed their concern that assessment and evaluation in their current forms might not be done in the ideal way, few contended that radical changes were forthcoming or possible. Even in the more established programs at JP One and JP Two, evaluation was mostly done by the students evaluating themselves. In-class feedback and written feedback during inspection of self-evaluation forms were quite limited. Assessment in many schools
I conducted informal interviews with two school teachers at JP Five besides a more detailed, semistructured interview with my main teacher informant.
might take the form of presentations (“interim” and year-end, for example) and displaying students’ work (along corridors, on blackboards, or by special display arrangements in the classrooms190). I conducted observation191 on one of the presentation days at JP Two. The presentations were characterized by very flexible arrangements – much like a collection of mini-open days by the different zemi. Students (working in groups of varying sizes) made scheduled presentations, so that interested parties could visit them to share the activity. Teachers were not present to monitor most of the time. In general, students seemed to be quite engaged and enjoying their activity. However, since observations of the presentations was not made compulsory, the presenting zemi groups actually presented only before a relatively small audience. As in the case of the earlier in-class observation at JP Two, students’ attention could be difficult to maintain, with some either turning restless or idle. Since a group-based approach was adopted at JP Two for the students’ year-long projects, individuals’ development in skills depended a lot on self-discipline—there was no formal means to deter procrastination or buck-passing. Not surprisingly, at JP Two and JP Five, one of the common problems cited in Sōgōtekina-gakushū assessment was associated with measuring the proficiency of skill192 acquired by individual students. The teacher informant at JP Five commented that teachers “simply had no time” for assessment and evaluation193.
The cases of JP Three and JP Four illustrated most cogently the problem in which student quality affected Sōgōtekina-gakushū. Quality here had its aptitude and
For example, in one zemi (zemi 19) at JP Two which involved “inventing new forms of sports”, students were demonstrating their efforts by performing inside the school stadium. Another zemi (zemi 23) was occupied with tending to plants which the students had grown for their activity. 191 October 7, 2002. 192 熟練度 (jukurendo) 193 Teacher informant interview, conducted on October 2, 2002.
discipline dimensions. Both schools were said to have students with varying levels of learning abilities. Teachers’ teaching approach at the two schools, at least from what was observed, was minimalist. Under these conditions, one may suspect that JP Three’s program performed at similar standards as JP Four’s. However, in terms of school teachers’ own attitudes and appraisal about their home programs, JP Three’s teachers appeared markedly sanguine towards students’ performance or results despite the fact that the school was suffering from operational problems arising from regional population decline. To be sure, the schools started with very different emphasis in the way they organized Sōgōtekina-gakushū. JP Three’s program spanned about 70 hours over the school year whereas JP Four’s contained only 60 hours194, the least of all the five schools. If the relative length of time devoted to Sōgōtekina-gakushū reflected the relative level of confidence that a school had towards its program or students, then JP Three was probably more certain about where it stood. In any case, JP Three did not report the same kind of teacher apathy mentioned at JP Four. In this light, it seemed, an approving or supportive teacher body might help render a reformed program function more successfully. Apart from this, I noticed that students at JP Three were generally more well-behaved (in particular, students of the 9th grades). At JP Four, however, student behaviors were less predictable across the school grades, with certain 8th classes being prone to disorder or idling. On this, my teacher informant at JP Four commented that “It would be good if the teachers try to intervene more. It’s no good without a sense of purpose.”195
60 hours for 7th and 8th graders and 59hours for 9th graders. Under the MEXT guidelines, these were considered below the required minimum Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan for junior high schools. 195 先生方はもう少し指導したらいいが、やはり目的意識がないとだめである。(Interview conducted on September 30, 2002)
The two national public schools were at an advantage as far as student and teacher quality was concerned. Nonetheless, they were not immune to pressures from the need of maintaining their standards in the academic curriculum. JP One, for instance, had deliberately kept the 7th graders out of Sōgōtekina-gakushū. Both JP One and JP Two’s programs contained approximately the minimum level of school hours as required by the Ministry of Education. The need to cope with parents’ expectations in academic achievement might be just as keenly felt at JP Four, where students were known to experience discipline problems even during subject teaching classes. As mentioned, its program contained only 60 school hours196. Since all schools insisted that the Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum should in no part be subordinated to the academic curriculum or be integrated into it, the Sōgōtekinagakushū could well be competing with other teaching concerns on a school’s timetable. This problem was probably aggravated in some schools’ cases by the recent introduction of the 5-day school week.
Resources were sometimes a problem for schools depending on the criteria by which they were being defined. Financially, few schools reported discontent resulting from the costs in operating their programs. Funding for Sōgōtekina-gakushū was usually created from within the schools’ fiscal budget. Although local governments (that is, the boards of education197) had not been directly subsidizing schools to carry out Sōgōtekina-gakushū, a recent initiative198 offering moderate grants had been put in
By contrast, the neighboring JP Five’s program was 85 hours for each grade, the longest of all school visited. 197 教育委員会 198 ゆたかな体験活動推進事業 (“Initiative for the promotion of enriched experiential learning activities”, yutakana taiken katsudō suishin jigyō). A pre-condition on the use of related grants was that activities should be devoted to “exploration of the countryside and nature”. (Interview with an officerin-charge at the Bureau for Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Education, conducted on September 24, 2002)
place to promote activities with a strong link to experiential learning in regional and local contexts. These amounts were in the order of about 100,000 to 140,000 yen (US$800-1,120) per year, which seemed barely sufficient for a large school such as JP Four. In addition, the money was also supposed to be shared with the programs of “Special Activities” (tokubetsu katsudō). Nevertheless, financial concerns were seldom cited as critical. At JP Five, for example, the school attempted to control costs by making students pay for their own transport during trips to welfare and other outside facilities.
In terms of the schools’ infrastructure, most schools felt that they were not well-equipped for the types of activities conducted in Sōgōtekina-gakushū. JP Five’s provisions of facilities and equipments were visibly better than JP Four’s despite the latter’s larger student size. Each homeroom at JP Five had a computer set whereas almost no other schools visited had similar provisions. A typical Japanese school’s computer room had about 40 machines – at larger schools such as JP Four, facilities were clearly strained since other teaching activities also competed for resources. In schools where Sōgōtekina-gakushū was organized around homeroom units (JP Four and JP Five), conditions in class tended to be crowded, with reduced flexibility to adjust teaching and learning approaches (such as adopting special seating).
Another form of resources came as expertise and aid from the local community. Such resources were seen particularly relevant to the curricula at JP Four and JP Five, both featuring extensive programs of activities related to experiential learning. As mentioned earlier, though it was possible for schools to establish a stable partnership with the local community (businesses, welfare facilities, etc.), repeated
requests risked straining the ties while nearby schools might also compete for access or resources. According to the teacher informant at JP Two, national public schools were by far in a better position to elicit help of an academic kind from the universities to which they were affiliated199. The converse was probably true of ordinary public schools (notably, JP Five with its more rural, secluded location), which tended to rely on partnership with public facilities, businesses and individuals within the local community200.
Given that Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was only introduced recently in most junior high schools201, the framework of resources and support for schools and teachers seemed to be still in a nascent stage of development. I had interviewed a number of “assistant superintendents”202 in metropolitan Tokyo and in the Kansai region, and inquired about the state of professional or technical support from the local
For example, the principal of JP One was an academic researcher (PhD) at his own university and took up his current post at the junior high school by rotation. The former JP Two principal was a wellknown scholar of child education and had written extensively on Integrated Learning. Apart from affiliation reasons, most national schools found their paired-up universities readily accessible in term of logistical distance. 200 For example, according to my JP Five teacher informant, the school recently invited an “etiquette consultant” from a local bank (located in a nearby urban center) to conduct a series of workshops at the school. The results were said to be quite satisfactory – “[子供たちは]マナーも少し学んだ” (Interviewed on October 2, 2002). A fee was paid to the guest instructor. 201 All the schools studied, except JP One and JP Two, started their full-scale reformed programs in April 2002, after a one-year experimental phase with much shorter activity hours. 202 指導主事 (shidōshuji). These are relieved subject-teaching teachers from schools who serve contract periods at the local boards of education (various administrative levels) and other government educational authorities. Their job includes, for example, inspecting schools and delivering practical advice on subject teaching not unlike what is practiced by the Hong Kong CDI’s (Curriculum Development Institute) professional team, though the system of assistant superintendents (指導主事制) in Japan has a much longer history than Hong Kong’s case. The interviews were conducted (between mid-September and mid-October, 2002) at the following agencies with the assistant superintendents in charge of matters related to school curriculum and Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan: one ward-level board of education in Tokyo (1), the Tokyo Municipality Board of Education (2), the Tokyo Professional Teacher Training Center (2), and one regional general education center (総合教育センター) in Kansai (1). The number in brackets indicates the number of assistant superintendents interviewed. An additional interview was conducted (September 24, 2002) with an officer in charge of Sōgōtekinagakushū-no-jikan matters (Bureau for Primary and Secondary Education, 初等中等教育局) at the Monbukagakushō (Ministry of Education).
governments. I was told that at regional (municipal203 and prefectural) levels, there were professional training centers204 available to school teachers to enroll in periodic courses devoted to themes of teaching in Sōgōtekina-gakushū. However, the scale of such courses to date, in terms of their class size, was probably not sufficient to cope with actual demands for training in the entire local system. For instance, most individual monthly courses at the Tokyo Professional Teacher Training Center (TPTTC) had a quota of about 60 teachers.
In Kansai, I met one primary school teacher who was on partial leave to conduct her research on Sōgōtekina-gakushū at a regional (prefecture-level) general education center. She was conducting her research full-time while returning to her school205 regularly for practice in collaboration with her colleagues206. She was, however, the only teacher in a “researcher” capacity in the prefecture to devote her time and energy to research on improving curriculum and teaching practice at her home institution. There was no junior high school teacher conducting similar intensive training or research at the said general education center. The primary teacher commented that, at the present stage, the level of sharing experience and information related to Sōgōtekina-gakushū was very limited among schools, especially at the transition between primary and junior high schools. In metropolitan Tokyo, according to TPTTC, junior high school teachers did conduct similar year-long research on Sōgōtekina-gakushū at the training center but not in a full-time capacity. It seemed,
That is, the Tokyo municipality. For example, the Tokyo Professional Teacher Training Center and regional (prefecture-level) general education center in Kansai. 205 JP Six, a primary school in rural setting in Kansai. I did not include observation and interview data of the school in this thesis out of the concern for time constraints in my research. The practice of teaching during Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was actually quite innovative and systematic compared to that in junior high schools. Primary school teachers were also said to be in a better position to develop and integrate school curricula of the type found in Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan. 206 I visited the school on October 4, 2002. Observation data was not included in this study (See previous footnote).
then, that research and innovation devoted to Sōgōtekina-gakushū did take place at the grassroots school level though this had been done in very localized and closed contexts. It is unclear how effective this would be as a means to disseminate practice.
According to the Ministry of Education207, there is a so-called “model schools” (moderu sukūru) 208 system among schools clusters209 in a region in which the schools rotate to undertake experimentation of some form related to school education. The experimentation would last about two years and might deal with issues unrelated to Sōgōtekina-gakushū (such as special activities and moral education). I had inquired of JP Four’s school principal if the model school had in any way proved helpful to their home program. His response was negative, citing that any schools, including JP Four itself, could become a model school through rotation. Schools also needed to account for their very specific conditions and thus experience that had been proved successful in a school might not be copied at another. My teacher informant at JP Four210 also acceded to this view, saying that practical advice and expertise from some academic research institutions might be more worthwhile in helping schools improve their programs, though accessibility had been a problem.
Apart from government budget constraints, direct technical support from local governments did not seem to be very common or adequate for the following reasons: (i) local boards of education do not have a specialist section devoted to professional support for Sōgōtekina-gakushū; (ii) most assistant superintendents are teachers with
Interview with an officer-in-charge at the Bureau for Primary and Secondary Education, Ministry of Education, conducted on September 24, 2002. 208 モデルスクール 209 For example, there were seven schools in the particular cluster in which JP Four belonged, according to the JP Four’s school principal (interviewed September 30, 2002). 210 Interview conducted on September 30, 2002.
expertise in subject teaching and might not be able to give cogent advice to schools on Sōgōtekina-gakushū; (iii) inspections and visits to school are infrequent or arranged on a “request” basis, while the inspected schools’ agenda may deviate from Sōgōtekina-gakushū in favor of higher priority issues; and (iv) most schools seemed to be content with their autonomy afforded them in Sōgōtekina-gakushū which, by definition, is a form of decentralized curriculum development under the government’s minimalist guidelines.
5.4 Comparison between the Japanese and Hong Kong Schools
Comparing the reformed programs in Japanese and Hong Kong schools is possibly the most interesting and challenging part of this study. The fieldwork conducted in Japan and Hong Kong revealed a diversity of school practices not reported in policy documents and most other government sources. There are certain broad trends (such as reformed curricular objectives) where comparisons may be made between schools in the two systems. In terms of the governments’ approaches to introducing and implementing reforms, quite significant differences exist, even though schools are nearly always given a high level of autonomy over the design and running of their programs or curricula. The availability of professional and technical support is also an area with which schools’ performance seems to be strongly correlated. The problems arising from assessment are broadly common in the two systems as the reformed programs focus on skills or abilities not previously accounted for in academically oriented school curricula.
Qualities being sought in children
Most schools in Japan and Hong Kong were explicitly citing the student abilities to think, report data, and present as areas to be promoted in their programs. This applies to the two project learning schools in Hong Kong and all Japanese cases. HK Three seems to be an odd case because the school-based curriculum targeted a special group of students whose primary needs, according to the school, were to master tailored subject materials in order to re-enter the mainstream academic curriculum. Many school teachers in Japan whom I interviewed seemed quite conscious of the reform policies’ language and were able to relate immediately to such as the terms as “learning independently, thinking independently, and living independently” (though their interpretations might vary). There same level of general sensitivity to policy discourse might not be said of the Hong Kong cases; some teachers simply dismissed the need to be familiar with reform policies for their frequent “lack of relevance” to local needs. In general, the study skills involved in activities of an investigative nature were seen as essential goals of learning (as in the two project learning Hong Kong cases and the Japanese cases). However, the boundaries between the terms such as “think”, “analyze” and “understand” might not be very well-defined in the course of teaching and learning through the local languages.
Another set of skills commonly expected of children in Japan and Hong Kong were linked to development in social, communication, and problem-solving areas. These might be either explicitly spelled out as curricular objectives or implicitly approved during the learning activities. In most Japanese cases, for example, living
together themes (welfare, volunteer work, human rights, etc.) tended to involve activities of experiential learning, allowing schools to fulfill multiple educational purposes through their programs, in particular those that aimed at promoting students’ interactions with the local community. In Hong Kong, project learning was said to have helped improve teacher-student bonds through intense and interactive group work (HK One). The skills thus promoted in the programs are best described as life skills, which were somewhat more emphasized in Japanese than Hong Kong schools.
As mentioned earlier in the chapter211, “independence” seemed to an essential quality sought in Japanese school children by their teachers. Such expectations were especially clear in schools where investigative study was being stressed strongly (JP One, JP two and JP Three). In terms of teaching approach, classroom practices such as minimalist teacher intervention also suggested a teacher conception that “leaving children alone” was an important requirement for cultivating students’ independence. Some schools, in fact, discouraged group work or co-teaching, thereby increasing the level of need for individual work (JP Three). As a rule, self-evaluation was practiced in all Japanese schools studied, which might be also connected to the same idea of reducing teacher’s presence in the learning activity. In Hong Kong, attempts were made to adjust the teaching approach for project learning and school-based curriculum programs, though it did not seem that teachers actively encouraged independence through exiting their role as supervisors or monitors. Teachers at HK One, for example, seemed to have become more willing to give up their authoritative role and act as co-learners of the student groups. However, observations suggest that teachers were conscious to remain engaged in the activities, frequently giving
Summary of the Japanese Cases, 5.3.4.
feedback and help to students. The situation in HK Two was one that showed a tendency for teachers to revert to authority role and lecture-style teaching. Therefore, student independence did not seem, at least in practice, to be as strongly promoted in schools in Hong Kong.
A certain “communal consciousness” was another quality quite peculiar to the Japanese schools. This consciousness was related to a student’s ability to empathize with special needs groups and to interact with or even contribute positively to the local community. Many of the Japanese schools studied (except perhaps JP One and JP Three) indicated a strong inclination in their curriculum to include or promote the said quality through a variety of activities related to “living together” themes and experiential learning. There were no Hong Kong schools reporting a similar interest in promoting it systematically.
Creativity and individuality are student qualities that were much coveted in Japanese policies. Yet schools seldom referred to these terms explicitly in their Sōgōtekina-gakushū curriculum. At the project learning schools in Hong Kong, these were possibly more clearly spelled out as expectations of the learning activities. Both in policy and practice, project learning was taken to be a process of “knowledge creation”, even though the validity of this use of the term was seldom questioned. Clearly, the qualities of creativity and individuality were less articulated in the curricular objectives of the Japanese cases. It is possible that they become interpreted more frequently in the contexts of student’s ability to conduct investigative work and learn independently by his own choice. I had not been able to seek most school
teachers’ clarification on the above relationship as a result of the inherent limitations in my study.
Design and operation of the programs
Policy requirements provided an interesting contrast in the rationale for reform between Japan and Hong Kong. Official statistical evidence on how widespread project learning is in Hong Kong has not been available, since it was being promoted in an indirect manner. The figures on SBCD practice were limited to participantschools on some of subsidy schemes, even though certain well-equipped schools, such as HK one, have actually developed their own school-based curricula in recent years in the light of subject integration. All junior high schools in Japan, in principle, were required by government command to install Integrated Learning Time (Sōgōtekinagakushū-no-jikan) regardless of their local conditions (resources, student abilities, teacher readiness, etc.). Their Hong Kong counterparts seemed to be more autonomous in their decision to introduce project learning or SBCD programs. To start with, Hong Kong’s Education Department212 is rarely in a position to force curriculum policy on schools; the local curriculum has long been controlled through the system of public examination rather than through elaborate mandatory guidelines such the Course of Study in Japan. Consequently, the Hong Kong schools decided their curriculum change largely out of considerations based on their local needs. It also seemed that certain “trendy” educational developments would attract enough attention from school management leadership that reforms could begin spontaneously, if with the right provision of resources and support (such as the case of the QEF
Now reconstituted and absorbed into the structure of the Education and Manpower Bureau.
project for integration and project learning at HK One). Nevertheless, one may argue that the Japanese mechanism succeeded at least in ensuring wider implementation of the particular reform through its more direct, power-coercive approach.
In Japan, while as noted the inclusion of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan was mandatory to all schools, the Ministry’s minimalist guidelines213 had meant a free rein for them over the curricular content and organizational approach – whether or not the activities operated in fixed schedule inside the school and were continuous throughout the year, for example. A comparable level of school autonomy in all the three Hong Kong schools was observed in their decisions over curricular content (HK One, for example) and curriculum organization (HK Two, for example, which “taught” project learning as a school subject), in addition to their local freedom over timetabling (all Hong Kong cases). To some extent, this autonomy among schools fits well with the notion of decentralized curriculum development, though a distinction should be made on the macro-level of school control by the governments. The school reforms in Japan, except perhaps in the cases of national public schools studied, seemed largely brought on by coercive means. However, since most Japanese schools claimed their nominal receptiveness to the introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan, one cannot rule out the possibility that certain Japanese schools might have started similar reformed programs even without government directives. For one thing, Special Activities (tokubetsu katsudō) had been in operation in most schools’ curriculum, and tended to promote activities related to experiential learning akin to that in some schools’ Sōgōtekina-gakushū. Meanwhile, elective courses (sentaku gakushū) had been developed before Sōgōtekina-gakushū at certain better-equipped schools (for example,
Stipulation applied only to the amount of time involved in Sōgōtekina-gakushū.
JP One), which served as a basis for developing and organizing the later reformed programs.
One area in decentralized curriculum development where some Hong Kong schools and most Japanese schools might depart was the conceptualization of the relationship between their reformed program and the academic curriculum. In the case of Hong Kong, only one school showed a genuine effort to detach the academic emphasis from the reformed program (HK One). The other two were displaying either a partial (HK Two) or no inclination (HK Three) to de-emphasize academic study activities in their overall school curricula. Obviously, this is related to the kind of curricular objectives that the schools seek to fulfill, with non-academically oriented programs being more interested in promoting new criteria of assessment such as those about generic or life skills and vice versa. In the case of Japan, the need to separate the Sōgōtekina-gakushū and academic curricula was almost unfailingly cited by schools and teachers, echoing an official policy by the government. To some extent, one might say that the Japanese educational authorities were relatively successful at least in getting this particular message across to schools and, in particular, school teachers who played vital roles in the processes of developing curriculum and teaching. With some exceptions (probably due to a lack of preparation or motivation), school teachers generally tried to adjust their teaching approach in class. Sometimes this might even manifest itself as an overemphasis on developing children’s independence (shutaisei) through conscious non-intervention or minimalist supervision.
Support, resources, and infrastructure
In general, I found that the schools in Hong Kong were better supported as a result of the availability of external help (professional assistance and finances in the forms of non-renewable grants or renewable subsidies). Hong Kong’s QEF (Quality Education Fund) served, to some extent, to encourage school experimentation on a voluntary and competitive basis. It was sometimes thought “prestigious” for a school to successfully compete for the grants, as it carried a brand effect on the particular school endeavors involved. Inside the school, this might help improve the morale and the level of motivation of teachers in project activities as a form of general recognition. The teachers whom I met and interviewed at HK One and HK Two seemed to be a case of this. Apart from the QEF, the Education Department (or through the administration of the Curriculum Development Institute, CDI) provides a number of subsidy schemes directly related to SBCD at schools while still some others are open to both project learning and SBCD. These were valuable external resources and financial incentives to schools as they offset some of the cost risks in the case of a failed attempt in experimentation. Besides material support, the CDI’s professional teams (the Project Learning and SBCD sections) gave specialist advice and technical support of some form to schools engaging in the relevant curriculum development or teaching activities. Help from the CDI was thought to be very important during the school-based program’s initiation stage at HK Three, for example.
In Japan, however, the support and resources from the government seemed much more limited and less varied. Although schools had recently started to be given
moderate-sized funds for experiential learning-related activities214, there were no direct external financial sources to date specifically for Sōgōtekina-gakushū. The local boards of education and professional teacher training centers215, roughly counterparts of Hong Kong’s CDI, had not established a special section devoted to helping schools in Sōgōtekina-gakushū. Most assistant superintendents (shidōshuji) remained specialists only in their profession as subject teachers and might not have the expertise to give schools the relevant assistance. As such, schools in Japan seemed to adopt a self-reliance strategy: national public schools took advantage of their special ties with affiliated research institutions while ordinary public schools reached out to the local community for partnership or aid. The system in which school teachers became temporarily relieved to join professional teacher training centers or general education centers for research (as in the case of JP Six’s teacher) seemed to be a very positive development in helping transform school practice. Nevertheless, in its present form, its impact is likely to remain highly localized and confined to individual schools, until more government efforts are made to involve a larger number of teachers which, of course, would call financial budget into question among other implications.
The schools in the two systems were quite similar in terms of physical resources at home (activity and teaching space, computers, etc.), though the abilities of school teachers (themselves the main form of school resources), might be a difficult area to compare and is beyond the scope of this current study. Since the schools’ facilities were basically designed for subject teaching, schools tended to encounter problems (for example, HK Two and JP Four) when the activities
Under yutakana taiken katsudō suishin jigyō. See this in the discussion of “Problems and Implications” in Summary of the Japanese Cases, 5.3.4. 215 Or general education centers (総合教育センター) at the prefectural level in regional cases.
demanded or warranted a change in teaching and learning approach. Computer provisions were almost always thought to be inadequate to the needs of large groups of students involved in investigative work.
Problems and challenges in the school curriculum
Apart from resources constraints, the problems and challenges in the school curriculum were inherently linked to other school conditions in a local context. Broadly speaking, teacher readiness and student quality were important factors that affected the quality and shape of teaching and learning. Approaches being adopted to teaching and assessment might be closely related to student’s performance in learning both in the short term and long term. While teaching approach (personal teaching styles and use of co-teaching, for example) did sometimes vary among schools in Japan and Hong Kong, there were certain patterns in these within individual schools depending on the nature of learning activities. In general, Japanese teachers seemed more ready to adjust their teaching approach, even though, from an observer’s point of view, the ways in which their classes were conducted did not always produce evidence that the learning activities had been accorded optimal levels of supervision or feedback. Student abilities were taken into account in schools’ calculations in selecting curricular content and activity approach, though this might not always be the case (JP Three, for example, where the reformed program was organized in a totally laissez-faire manner at the two senior grades). Disciplining concerns and pressures from the academic curriculum had often interfered with the effectiveness of reformed programs in Japan and Hong Kong.
One conspicuous area of concern identified by teachers in Japan and Hong Kong was their own lack of relevant skills and experience in developing and teaching the curriculum in reformed programs. Most subject teachers were not equipped with professional knowledge about the new or alternative approaches to teaching and assessing reformed curricula. Time constraints were sometimes cited to justify lower teacher interest in even more well-equipped schools (HK One and JP Two). Relevant professional training (noted only in the case of HK One among the schools studied) might be thought difficult or unavailable due to practical or financial reasons. A low level of teacher readiness seemed to have hindered the development of the reformed programs at certain schools (HK Two and JP Three), while in some extreme cases teacher resistance might contribute to the actual setbacks in curriculum development (JP Four).
Student abilities and discipline were major issues especially for schools whose priorities in the curriculum and teaching lay more in maintaining equitable achievement standards among their students (HK Three, JP Four, and to a lesser extent, JP Three). In schools with students of varying abilities, school expectations tended to be moderated, while the learning activities and their objectives might be biased towards a narrower set of student skills or attitudes deemed more urgent or relevant in the local contexts. Disciplining or the lack of it could affect the performance quality of both individual students and an entire class though the consensus among Japanese teachers seemed to point to a general acceptance of the minimalist approach.
Finally, pressures from teaching academic subjects and concerns for managing a viable timetable were clearly felt in almost all schools. In Hong Kong, this had reduced the potential of project learning as a student-centered learning approach in some schools in the light of their re-emphasizing subject content (HK Two). In some other schools, school-based curriculum was confined to a “remedial” status despite the proven relative success in the local contexts (HK Three). Most Japanese schools, including the two national public junior high schools, were adopting the minimum level of Integrated Learning Time (Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan), a sign that schools were concerned to maintain a reasonable emphasis on subject teaching. Since the Sōgōtekina-gakushū and academic curricula were officially pronounced separate pursuits, the two continued to directly compete for time and school resources. Nevertheless, some schools had reported positive effects of Sōgōtekina-gakushū in helping students apply and integrate learned skills in subject teaching work or assignments, in particular, with regard to presentation (JP Two and JP Five). In Hong Kong, among the project learning schools, the appraisal by teachers on the utility of project learning activities broadly echoed the view in Japan, citing a relevance to long-term study or life skills but caution about an immediate connection to academic study.
CHAPTER SIX CONCLUSION
As stated from the outset, this study is interested in the conditions and developments in and through which decentralized curriculum development has become part of the practice of Japanese and Hong Kong schools. The subjects immediately falling into my consideration are the rationale, practices and processes, problems and implications of the reforms, particularly at the school level, since it is where re-interpretations of policies and individual actions tended to take place. Discussion of some of these has been dealt with in the previous chapters.
Despite the differences in organization, the systems of both Japan and Hong Kong have hitherto been operated in ways whereby centralized curriculum development effectively dominated what went on in schools. The school curriculum, teaching approach, and assessment were designed and pursued in such a way that the systems were meant essentially to prepare student to cope with examination concerns defined by perhaps a rather narrow set of subject interests. Institutional traditions (teacher readiness
in terms of their perceptions and awareness of alternative teaching styles, and their relevant abilities to develop, teach and assess the curriculum, for example) for school-based evaluation or assessment geared towards non-academically-oriented skills and knowledge are generally lacking. It was thus not surprising that most schools, both in Japan and Hong Kong, reported difficulties of varying levels and forms during the introduction of the reformed programs, all of which were effectively school-based.
On the question of why decentralized curriculum development was adopted in the case of project learning and SBCD programs in Hong Kong secondary schools and in Japanese junior high schools, I would like to argue that the two factors of (1) the historical development of reform policies in the two systems and (2) the local school attempts to realize their autonomy in school curriculum development in local contexts have provided a window of opportunity for both government policy and school aspirations to converge on a consensus favoring a decentralized approach.
One of the main causes for the shift to decentralized curriculum development seems to relate strongly to the fact that governments have become increasingly deficient or ineffective in their role of providing timely leadership and information so as to keep
abreast with demands for curricular change. The historical development of the reform policies in Japan might be seen in the context of this change. Calls for educational reform in Japan to bring more elements of individualization, internationalism, and I.T. into the school education had been heard since the 1980s during the Nakasone period. Since then it has taken the country nearly a decade to determine the introduction of Sōgōtekina-gakushū. By 2001, when most junior high schools had entered their experimental phase of the reformed programs, many concerns of schools and teachers were centered on the lack of concrete guidelines (as in the form of a Course of Study) for developing and organizing the curriculum in Sōgōtekina-gakushū. The Ministry of Education’s response had been, among other things, to produce volumes of model school practice to be distributed to schools. No attempt was made to date to publish such materials by electronic means1, while in their course of anticipating information from the government before and during the experimental phase (2001 for junior high schools), some schools had grown to dismiss such information as irrelevant to their local needs2. In other words, the Japanese educational authorities seemed unready or unwilling to accord great importance to the financial and technical support systems for
According to interview with an officer-in-charge at the Bureau of Primary and Secondary Education, Minitry of Education, conducted on October 2 This was revealed by school teachers and principals alike on several occasions of my interviews in Japan.
initiating and subsequently sustaining Sōgōtekina-gakushū among the schools, although
the reasons for this may not be treated in this study. In the apparent absence of any
prospect of major institutional change at the Ministry to account for school demands, a minimalist policy seemed logical, since it both helped divert attention from the Ministry’s intention to delegate duties in the curriculum development process and legitimized the increased role of schools in their curriculum development decisions. As if non-intervention was inherently good for school development, this minimalist policy had permeated into the school support systems, such as the assistant superintendent system (shidōshuji-sei) within the local boards of education.
In Hong Kong, few would argue that the local central agent for curriculum development (the CDI and previously the Education Department through their teaching syllabuses) commands an authority over schools that is comparable to the Japanese Ministry of Education, despite growing influence in education through expansion of professional support systems. Although systematic efforts had been made towards constructing a central curriculum through the professional teams of the CDI, there was yet evidence that the government was also interested in devolving itself from part of the curriculum development process so as to allow some degree of flexibility in the school
curricula3. In terms of professional support, the current systems of CDI’s support to schools could be seen as a visible improvement from what they used to be about a decade ago, according to scholar of the Hong Kong curriculum, Paul Morris 4 . According to Morris, there had been encouraging signs of candid attempts by educational authorities in Hong Kong to rationalize the relationship between policy and practice in decentralized curriculum development – not only had policies by both the EC (Education Commission) and the CDC (Curriculum Development Council) stressed the importance of project learning and SBCD in the development of more diversified school curricula, but a professional support system had also been put in place to do justice to CDI’s enlarged role to help schools beyond subject teaching matters. This seeming government readiness or consciousness, at least in the light of support, contrasts strongly with the Japanese case. To some extent, one may argue that the implementation mechanism in Hong Kong was more a case of bringing about change through incentives, while the Japanese case tended to be more a power-coercive or top-down approach. However, the question of which being more effective remains to be seen in a long-term perspective since the relevant curriculum reforms had only been introduced very recently.
Interview with CDI’s Chief Executive, Dr K.K. Chan, conducted on August 19, 2002. A semi-formal interview conducted on August 15, 2002. (See full transcription in Appendix).
In Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent in Japan, schools seemed to have a natural tendency to rationalize their autonomy through taking control of their own curriculum. This could only be more so, if the curriculum concerned was one not related to academic teaching and examinations. Suffice it to say that local conditions for schools to start reform were not always favorable in Japan. Yet the majority of the schools which I visited showed their general approval of the introduction of
Sōgōtekina-gakushū-no-jikan. The better-equipped national public schools claimed that their programs had virtually been developed independent of government policies or other whims. Ordinary schools, on the other hand, seemed conscious of their very local needs, conditions and expectations. The diversity in the curricular content and approach to organization was probably an indicator of some of their new-found confidence in developing school curriculum, with higher-status or better-performing schools being more confident about engaging themselves in innovations. In Hong Kong, the relevant reform in schools was carried out in more or less spontaneous and autonomous ways. The availability of external financial and technical support possibly constituted an incentive, as a result of which schools saw relatively little to lose in venturing decentralized curriculum development. Nevertheless, the extent to which project
learning and SBCD were being practiced in Hong Kong cannot be thoroughly assessed because government statistical evidence on this had mostly been limited to schools which participated in some kind of grants or subsidy schemes, etc.
Ongoing developments in curriculum reform and interfering factors resulting from policy changes have made generalizations sometimes difficult in my study. Despite its many limitations, I tend to view the reform developments in Hong Kong and Japan in a positive light though improvement can certainly be made to the ways the current systems are being run. Decentralized curriculum development trends have seen schools and teachers now move into new roles and functions that they have previously neglected or been unable to realize due to a lack of incentives. The occasional confusion and practical difficulty notwithstanding, experimentation in the reformed programs or curricula at least dispels some of the myths that local schools could only operate around their narrow interests in an academic curriculum defined by central guidelines and examination motives. The recognition of certain desired learning or life skills, attitudes and values defined in the reform contexts seems to indicate a slow conceptual change in the notion of what constitutes proper child education in an intricate fabric of evolving socio-economic contexts. These contexts, despite their occasional international tone in
the light of globalization, were in fact still much bound within local conditions and developments. With some exceptions in policy interpretations, one may say that the current reform in Japan and Hong Kong should, in the long run, help schools enhance their educational capacity though that may still require some more fine-tuning or even overhaul to realize its full potential.
Interview with Professor Pual Morris, HKIEd (August 15, 2002)
(1) On situation and trends of the curriculum: The Llewellyn Report (Llewellyn et al. 1982) described the Hong Kong curriculum as being overly academic, geared towards competition and dominated by examinations – observations that you have similarly made in your own studies (Morris 1990; Morris 1995). To what extent have these conditions about the curriculum changed or not changed during the past twenty years? Morris: I clearly think that it [the system] has changed compared to twenty years ago but that has not been any radical change. We still have a system that is strongly driven by assessment though we have to be careful of not assuming that it is just all bad because it [the assessment-based system] has certain useful functions to society, especially that of social mobility. Without public examinations, I am not sure if Hong Kong would have social stability in the 60s and 70s because it [the assessment-based system] was seen to be an objective way of achieving social mobility that was not linked to connections, corruption and nepotism.
(2) On problems in the curriculum problems: In previous interviews with a CDC senior member and a PTU [Professional Teachers’ Union] leader, it was revealed that a gap seems to exist over their conceptualization of what constitutes our major curriculum problems. In your opinion, what are the most pertinent or urgent problems concerning the curriculum that confront our system today? Morris: I would say the most critical problems are long-standing ones. What people see is the purpose of schooling, the nature of knowledge and the appropriate ways of acquiring them. In reality, we have a society which sees knowledge in a very narrow way, an examination system that rewards that, and a university system that reinforces it. It [the educational system] has rewarded basically compliance – people provide the answers that the [other] people expect them to provide; it has not really rewarded or encouraged such things as independent thinking and critical thinking. (That is a general comment on the curriculum.) Along with that is a system that has highly segregated pupils according to bands that label them, which is divisive because the more able students get more and do better than the less able ones. This creates the third problem and the system is not very good at dealing with pupils who are less academic. [This is] because the conception of what is “success” is very narrow. If you do not fit into that conception, one strongly driven by [such subjects as] Maths, Science and Languages [and] if you are not in those areas, the system defines you as a failure. The concepts of being different types of intelligence and different activities that are valuable (music, sport, etc.) – these are not being rewarded in the system. Therefore, we are losing a lot of talents. We also have a large number of pupils who are not good in this narrow area that is defined as “valuable” even though many of them are extremely talented. Then, you have the old problem that we are not actually sure that the system we have is
assessing the pupils efficiently. Evidence around the world suggests that many pupils, (many very able) do not necessarily do very well by the ways their abilities are tested in the exams. Taken as a whole, that narrow definition of what is valued in school creates a problem that pupils who do not fit into that are not well-catered-for. [In the case of] pupils who are gifted in terms of music or art, they may have to get private tuition, because these are not valued areas of activities and that is, in a sense, reflected in the society (reflected, for example, in the universities where it [education] is defined by a very narrow conception of “academic”.) Hence, I think, the most pertinent or urgent problems really are [how to] try to devise a system that does not tell some pupils, very early, that they are failures and to broaden the types of activities that we once tried to develop in schools. I also think that we have to work on the assumption that all, or at least most, pupils have an ability at something and the school system is there trying to give them a feeling of success as well as to develop their basic skills. At the same time, the assessment system does not prevent but reinforces the narrow perceptions about academic education while the nature of the assessment we have – paper-and-pencil tests – rewards (places a high premium on) testing procedural and established knowledge. In other words, you test what is known, you do not test the pupils’ ability to do things and you basically test objective bodies of knowledge, which is what public examinations tend to do. Furthermore in Hong Kong, those examinations, because of the language problem, have drifted towards multiple choice and “true-false” questions. All of that puts a premium on “information”. “True-false” is not a [way of] thinking, it is something else. Having said that, however, I would not blame it all on the exams because, as we know it, in schools [even] if you remove the exams, teachers do not suddenly change their teaching, which is a deeply established part of [the system]. It is quite an epistemological question of what society, teachers, pupils and parents think is worthwhile knowledge; the concept of objectivity [of public assessment] is also very powerful and deeply ingrained.
(3) Further background to change: What, in your opinion, are the strengths of our local school teaching (that is, with regard to pedagogy and the curriculum)? Morris: One of the strengths of local schools is their capacity to manage large cohorts of pupils in a small space. It is quite amazing when you look at a primary school with its [large] number of pupils in a physically small place managing to co-exist without major injuries or problems. Secondly, despite the problems I mentioned earlier, the large majority of the schools do manage to cope with the young adolescence (especially S1-3) in a fairly reasonable way. Given that many of them, through the curricula and the system, are not feeling any great sense of success or achievement, schools do their best to look after these kids (despite the curriculum). Thirdly, I would say that people who do come out of schools with quite strong basic skills in some areas – Mathematics, Science, etc.; in computational skills of these areas, they have basics which are quite strong if you compare internationally. Fourthly, I would say that it [the educational experience] comes with quite a strong sense of right and wrong (Who knows what the influences of the family are?).
But in general, [individuals] have quite strong sense of taking into account other people’s point of view. They do not come out of the school thinking that everything is everybody else’s fault. Instead, they are quite sensitive and they quite strong sense of right and wrong (sometimes black and white). Another point is a very strong sense of diligence (that hard work is valued) and the system does encourage people to be diligent. Whether they always see it as efficient use of their time is another matter. Researcher: The mentioning of the first strength is quite interesting because if you put Hong Kong into comparison with other systems in the region (say, mainland China, Taiwan and Japan where you also find schools trying to manage very large classes), the local system may not be called unique. This is probably because the system had been first developed in some earlier periods when the society was not having enough resources to provide for the people1 [though the large class pattern has now outlived that history]. On the other hand, the recent reforms are trying to promote certain skills or cater to certain individual needs; a very large class is not necessarily the ideal setup for such reforms. Perhaps the government is likely to face some difficulty in this area? Morris: This [large class in small space phenomenon] could be a strength but it could also be a weakness. In the classrooms of Asia, pupils operate as a social unit and teachers deals with a “class” much more than they deal with “individuals”. That [is the basis to] allow large classes to operate. I remember years ago doing some research, it was quite clear to me that teachers tended to think about classes a collective group. Whereas in the West, teachers will differentiate much more between individuals in the class and they will be able to recognize individuals (partly because they have smaller classes, obviously). I think, however, it [the phenomenon] reflects a different function of schooling in Asia, which is Durkheimian, in the sense that the expectations (or functions) of schooling are to get people to fit into society and maintain the cohesiveness and smooth running of society, not necessarily to develop individual proclivities, etc. (I mean, Durkheim’s description about schooling is very true in the Asian context.)
(4) On Reform direction: The last two major documents by the CDC (CDC 2001; CDC 2002) did not open with an explicit discussion of the educational problems / weaknesses we face in the system (such as those associated with the curriculum and assessment [likely to be] mentioned above) though many recommendations on curricular changes were put forward in the spirit of promoting life-long learning (or “learning to learn”). Could you comment on this absence of the discussion on the problems / weaknesses? Morris: I do not know whether this not mentioning was strategic. One possibility was that, in the past, a lot of documents (educational policy documents) have started with a heavy-duty critique like the Llewellyn Report (“This is wrong; that is wrong; rote
For Japan, see Wray 1999.
learning, etc.”). That [critique] is, perhaps to a degree, accurate but it seemed like that policy-makers were constantly criticizing the local schools and teachers. If strategically you deliver that kind of documents saying “You should do this. You should do that”, it does not really work. You do not all get people to change by first criticizing them. Moreover, I think that there was perhaps a realization of the government that future documents might have more chance of influencing teachers and schools if they took the strategy of not starting with a heavy-duty critique but trying to talk about the way forward, building on strengths and concepts like these. This is what I suspect about this strategic decision and, possibly, I think, that [strategic decision] is right because teachers in Hong Kong would get fed up with all these documents telling them how awful or bad they were. (In short, it might be a sort of policy strategy.) In this respect, it is very interesting to compare Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore has a very clear policy (about four or five years old) that the government does not criticize schools or teachers; it talks them up, it talks them up the good things they are doing, etc. and tries to make them feel good and then it feels [as if] they can have more influence. In Hong Kong, they have a strategy of government being very critical of teachers, hoping that criticism will change them. I think that these documents may also represent the recognition that starting by telling people what a bad a job they have done is not the way to bring about change. Researcher: This is interesting because in Japan the “sense of crisis” about the educational system is constantly there, at least in the recent decades. Whether or not the government takes on a critical stance, the public and the media will have their fair share of criticizing. Morris: In Hong Kong, the criticism comes from the government and the media together. The notion of trying to create a “sense of crisis” is interesting; I think, that has been part of the strategy in the past and it has not really worked (especially when the object of criticism is the teachers).
(5) On curriculum integration: Our curriculum has long been considered overcrowded (Llewellyn et at. 1982) and thus recent reviews were made to cut and combine existing discrete subjects to make room for more worthwhile learning (BoE 1997; EC 2000; CDC 2001; CDC 2002). What would be the major obstacles in achieving the goals of related reforms? Morris: The question of Curriculum Integration is indeed a very interesting one. Ever since I have been here [at the HKIEd], there have been attempts to combine school subjects, to reduce the overload and to reduce duplication. In the early 70s, it started with Integrated Science and Social Studies (which never got off the ground; minority schools used it) and then there was Liberal Studies later at the secondary [level]. The most recent and good example of the attempts to combine subjects was that to combine the subjects of (World) History and Chinese History. Flora Kan has done a recent study on Chinese History and parts of it look at the various attempts to
merge (World) History with Chinese History. (That, I think, may provide an answer to your questions of what would be the obstacles.) Clearly, the obstacles are ones that relate to status, territories and power – subject groups (people who teach a subject are a community) want to protect their territory and that territory is the timetable. Every time they put subjects together, you would have groups of teachers saying “This is awful! It’s the end of the world because we were discrete subjects and discrete communities. We don’t want to be merged with Physics, Chemistry, Geography or whatever it is. We’ll lose our identity.” That argument with Chinese History, of course, has also got some political and patriotic overtones because Chinese History portrays itself as the protectors of culture and national identity. Ironically, in fact, Chinese History was a product of the colonial government as it was a very special kind of Chinese History that they were teaching (very ancient classical stuff). I think that it is really a political issue: you have got groups of people, not just teachers – inspectors, examiners and people in the CDC – a whole community whose career depends on the subject being a subject. You take it away and they want to protect it (They want to protect it very powerfully). The government in the past had never the courage to force things through because they did not want conflict. Even with Chinese History, this government seems to be backing off. That is a straight question of subjects being like an industry. People do not want their industry to decline. (It is primarily a political question, not a curricular one.)
(6) On Project Learning / Project Work: Over the past decade or so, quite a number of schemes and initiatives have been created to support the schools’ endeavors in project learning including SBCPS (in some cases), QEF (under Effective Learning), and DTNS (District Teacher Network Scheme; also in some cases). Do you see any continuity in goals among these schemes and how would you comment on the effectiveness of such a dissemination strategy for project learning? Morris: I do not see any continuity in all these various projects. I would say the QEF attempted to throw money into problems but they were not quite sure [what to do with them]. They set up the QEF and then asked people to get bits of it. Many of these bits really went to getting equipment like computers and IT materials in schools (though probably if the QEF had not been there, it would come through another budget line). I do not the get the impression that there is any strategy going on with these various funds but there is a very loose idea, which is not well articulated, that project learning, integration are part of school-based curriculum to try to move away from what we have now (That is the basic root idea) and try to encourage pupils to learn in ways that are more enjoyable and in ways that break down many of the boundaries. One of the key features about Hong Kong schools and curriculum is very powerful boundaries: boundaries between subjects, boundaries between primary and secondary [curricula], boundaries between teachers and pupils, boundaries between [the] academic and less academic, and so on. It is these boundaries that many of these reforms are trying to break down. Project learning, theme-based learning, integration are a way of breaking down what Bernstein called the boundaries between subjects. If you have a project, the implication is, hopefully, that you will draw on different bodies of knowledge to look at while developing that project. But of course, it is quite
possible for this to be subverted and the project just become an extension to Chemistry – a “Chemistry project” as opposed to the original idea that a project is to try to create some cross-disciplinary enquiry using different subject areas. Teachers are very strong in protecting those boundaries – the history teachers do not want to talk to the English teachers, the EPA teachers, Chinese History teachers, etc (Everything is in Nappy’s narrow boxes). In short, I would say many of these forms of school-based project learning are different ways of trying to reduce the boundaries between the subjects (very powerful boundaries). To go back to the earlier question, those barriers are very strongly linked to teachers’ desire to protect their territory and their territory is linked to the subject. Subjects are things on the timetable. When you have subjects, you have jobs, you have promotion posts, and you have a career (So, that is a tough one). If you look at the primary school curriculum, [they have] quite strong boundaries – Chinese English, Math, etc. – and it continues into the secondary school. Teachers’ identity is with the subject. The Art teachers here do not want to be primary teachers; they want to be English teachers in primary schools; they want to be Chinese teachers in primary schools (They do not mind that). They want a subject identity.
(7) On central involvement in SBCD: In a discussion on SBCD in the late 1980s (Morris 1988), you argued that in order for SBCD to develop in Hong Kong, where foundations for decentralized curriculum development have been weak, central support would prove particularly critical. In a similar light, how would you comment on the nature and quality of support which the government has tried to provide over the last decade? Morris: The nature and quality of support which the government has provided over the last decade is certainly far better than it used to be. (I have not gotten into much contact now as I used to but) essentially, back in the 1980s you used to have schools being told to do school-based curriculum development with really no support to do it and it ended with just producing worksheets of discrete subjects. I get the impression now that, since the creation of the CDI, the way CDI is operating is working much more closely related to the schools’ [ways] to develop their own projects and to build on the projects in schools. They [CDI] have various teams going out. I think that they are less centralized ad are working with schools and teachers much more than they used to. I think that has changed but I am not sure we yet have a strong culture in the schools where they have the self-confidence to do this [school-based curriculum development] themselves. There was a study by Lo Yiu-chun on school-based curriculum development in the mid-1990s. It tended to suggest that much of the school-based curriculum development was adaptive (adapting the main curriculum), not really a very fundamental change.
(8) On SBCD and Project Learning: Project Learning and SBCD are rarely discussed in connection with one another in the government discourse. The recent CDC Basic Education Curriculum Guide (CDC 2002) also treated them in separate sub-topic
volumes with very little effort to clarify their relationship. While Project Learning was described as offering a “curriculum [that] is open, without prescribed content [and] is always put in the context with KLAs” (CDC 2002, vol. 3C, p2), in current school practice, however, it seems it neither has clear teaching and learning objectives nor a well-defined assessment system. Is this the major reason why Project Learning and SBCD (as they are generally perceived as discrete concepts by many local educators) are receiving differential attention and commitment from the schools? Morris: I think, in a number of ways, your comment was right. [Nevertheless], this goes back to what I said earlier that there is not clear understanding of what project learning and SBCD mean and what exactly is being promoted. These mean very different things to different people. I think that there is an element of rhetoric about it. If I say “independent learning” or “project learning”, people would not object to it. Obviously, these involve learning from projects and doing school-based activities. There is also an element of slogan about it. Therefore, people do not disagree with them [the various concepts about SBCD, project learning, etc.] for they are sufficiently broad terms to allow different people to do different things. I think that you have to remember that in educational and curriculum policy documents, you have to use a language that people agree with but often, that language is so broad and vague that they are agreeing to very different things. In this way, project learning to a science teacher might mean doing a project in the lab in Chemistry while the same term for other teachers (say, of some integrated humanities) might actually involve cross-disciplinary integrated enquires. It is important [for] educational and curriculum policy to have a language that does not upset people and that everyone agrees. However, the agreement is often at the expense of clarity. These terms [SBCD, project learning, etc.] are of that nature; they are colorful terms that teachers would nod to even when they mean very different things. What you cannot afford to have, as far as the government is concerned, are statements (in fact, too many statements) that people are going to disagree with. You might, therefore, end up with statements that people agree with but they mean totally different things. That is what it is a language’s job: a very vague language that has very various meanings for different parties. But in so doing, the government move forward with curriculum development by slowly trying to get some “common views” or move into a particular direction which people may not initially agree with. They are not necessarily wellconnected. I do not think anyone would argue that SBCD and project learning are exclusive. Sometimes (and often) a project would appear in the context of SBCD and vice versa but you also might have SBCD that does not involve project learning or project learning which is not part of SBCD. I think an interesting empirical question to pursue in schools is that “When teachers do projects or do project learning, what is it they do? What range of activities is being given this label?” Our teachers are now saying “Your project tonight is…” while they used to say “Your homework tonight is…” (You really do not know [what they want to mean]). It is really a linguistic tool or a form of rhetoric trying (if you like) to encourage a breakdown of barriers and a different form of learning. They [the government] know the direction and that these are all those tools to achieve it but of course, the teacher can play the same game – they can call homework “projects” now. It may not involve real change: what they used to do in group work they can now call
“project work”; when they used to their worksheets, they now call it “SBCD”. Whether they are actually producing any fundamental changes in the classrooms, that is another question.
(9) On teacher professionalism: How would you qualify the role of today’s teachers in the school curriculum and what would be the major limitations and challenges outside and inside the school, if a genuine school-based approach to curriculum development is to become part of general practice? Morris: Teachers have tended to see themselves as the deliverers and the adapters of the central curriculum; they have not really seen themselves as fundamentally developing new curricula. I do not necessarily see that a bad thing, however – there are many advantages of having a central curriculum and in many societies that moved away from central national curricula, they [societies] move back to them, like Australia and the UK. But fundamentally, if you talk to teachers, [they would say that] there is a curriculum. It is written down either as a body of topics to be covered or a list of contents set down by the CDC (CDI) and the examination authority. Their [teachers’] job is to deliver to the pupils and help them take the exam at the end (That is how they see their role). They would see themselves adapting and modifying to help pupils but they do not really want to, for example, get involved in assessing pupils. In a way, their view is that “Here’s a curriculum and there is an exam at the end. My job is to help you understand this, learn it and do well in the exam.” There is a sort of reluctance (which, in a sense, is admirable) that teachers say it is somebody else’s job to assess them [pupils] and their job is to help the kids, not to assess them. That is always going to be a barrier to school-based curriculum development because with fundamental school-based curriculum development, it probably involves a high degree of continuous assessment, teacher assessment, teachers making professional decisions – therefore, the assessment becomes teacher- or school-based as well. Teachers have so far remain reluctant; they do not want to judge the pupils. I mean, they judge all the time but they do not want to make final judgment on them because their job is to help them. In a sense, that is quite admirable. Of course, there is also a very deep-rooted notion in Hong Kong that a fair objective system of examining pupils (as exams do determine pupils’ life chances) should be external to the process of teaching and learning and it should be free of favoritism, nepotism, bribery, etc. As I have said earlier, a very strong part of Hong Kong’s social psyche is the idea that everybody would get a chance and everybody could make it, and that it would not be a question of who they [individuals] know or whether their teachers likes it but it would rather be decided by people [examiners] who just have a number in front of them. That makes it fair and objective. There is this concern by teachers and society that it is fairer to have a student externally examined. When the student is externally examined and assessed, it would always be a constraint on school-based curriculum development because that part of the curriculum remains external and, of course, remains what drives the internal [school] curricula. Therefore, what is “school-based” tends to be at the margin. I think, I would not totally criticize teachers for the ways they see their roles. For example, you also always have the government all the time saying “Tertiary institutions, please accept pupils on the basis of more than their academic
qualifications, if they are good citizens, good sports people, community workers, etc.” But of course, the next thing that comes up the newspaper is [the opinion] that judges all the universities according to only their A-level results and implicitly criticizes anybody who do not take pupils with just their A-level results (So, there are double standards). Similarly, schools are asked to look for other competencies but then they [pupils] are judged according to their exam results (Again, there is an element of hypocrite inconsistency).
(10) On School-based adaptations: The Policy Address by the Chief Executive (HK SAR Government, 2001) proposed to create the post of Curriculum Officer in schools to “lead internal curriculum development” (p10), which was generally well-received by local critics (Wong Hin-wah, 2001). To what extent do you see this development as significant or otherwise, to school-based curriculum planning (in particular, regarding SBCD, Project Learning, Curriculum Integration) and school teaching culture as a whole? Morris: On of one hand, that is a good thing but on the other it could be a dangerous thing (I do not know how it is working). All teachers have got to be involved, to a degree, in making curriculum decisions. You do not want to create a situation in schools where it becomes the responsibilities of one person. (That is not necessarily going to happen but), for example, the English, Math and Chinese teachers need to be making decisions all the time discussing curricular matters. If the Curriculum Officer is a person who is leading this in the school and making sure this is happening as a senior teacher, that could be a good thing. One of the problems we have traditionally in Hong Kong schools, especially primary schools (though it applies to secondary), is that the post of the “head of department” is not well-defined. There is a senior person (for example, in a primary school) who takes responsibilities for Chinese language teaching. They [school teachers] take it in turns to be panel chair but it [their operation / function] is administrative. They do timetables, they do the textbooks but they do not provide leadership or sit down and have meetings about teaching methods, helping kids with problems, or the exams. Therefore, one of the things we need along with a senior person responsible for curricula (which should be someone like a deputy principal), is people in the schools who take on the role of curriculum [development] leaders in particular subjects, not just the administrative leaders. If go visit some schools overseas (for example, Australia), you will find very quite strong curriculum middle management (somebody is responsible for the English teachers and somebody is responsible for the Math teachers). Here, that role is very weak. I think, this proposal [of Curriculum Officer] is trying to put somebody into position and strengthen it. Still, it [curriculum development in schools] needs to be not just one person; it needs a larger pool of teacher inputs. At this stage, if you look at Hong Kong primary schools, it is very flat: you have a principal and perhaps some kind of deputies, and then the rest of the teachers, who take turns to be the panel chair. We need to create people (senior people) who are in a promoted post to take responsibilities or to head a department. That, I think, is what this [Curriculum Officer proposal] is trying to do.
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