You are on page 1of 17


Introduction of International Baccalaureate Curriculum to Japanese National Schools: A Policy

Case Study

William Kralovec

Lehigh University

Introduction of International Baccalaureate into Japanese National Schools: A Policy Case Study

Part 1. Policy Description


The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, commonly known

by its abbreviation, MEXT, directs national education policy in Japan. In June of 2011, MEXT

announced its plan to introduce the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB DP) to

200 local secondary schools within 5 years. Dubbed the IB 200 Schools Project, it is targeting

Japanese local high schools, both public and private, to adopt the DP into its national curriculum

in grades 11 and 12. The ultimate goal of the policy is to internationalize education in Japan and

the target population (Schneider & Ingram, 1993) is Japanese grade 11 and 12 students. There

are 3,704 secondary schools offering the mainstream comprehensive track as of May 2012, so

the 200 schools is a modest 5.3% of all schools in the country. (MEXT, 2012) MEXT is

encouraging, not mandating schools to adopt the IB DP.

MEXT is taking direction from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who since taking office, has

been implementing system changes to improve the Japanese economy. He refers to the

aggressive fiscal and monetary policies and structural reforms as arrows, aimed to take Japan

out of a decades long, stagnant economy. (McBride & Xu, 2017) The government sees Japan as

losing its competitiveness internationally, being overtaken by more open societies such as

Singapore and China, in the ever more globalized economy. (Cukier, 2011) By implementing

major structural reforms in education, the idea is to produce young people who can thrive in a

competitive global economy. The Japan Business Federation, Keidanren, has officially

recommended for schools to move away from the traditional exam system of Japanese education

and for a more modern education system. (Cave, 2007) Another factor is demographics. Japan is

the oldest society on earth, on track for over 40% of its population to be over the age of 65 very

soon. The lack of students entering university has taken steam out of the exam system and

pushed Japanese universities to look for international students and reevaluate admission policies.

(Marlow, 2017)

Introducing the IB DP is just one of several initiatives to produce an educational

environment that corresponds to globalization. (MEXT, 2014) MEXT is mandating adding

more English classes in elementary schools and moving to an emphasis on social language skills,

instead of the traditional focus on grammar of the popular EIKEN () a practical English

skills assessment many students take. MEXT also is providing many funds to universities in its

Top Global University Project, with the goal of producing graduates able to contribute

immediately to the global economy. (Maruko, 2014) Other goals for the Top Global University

Project are to move away from ranking universities based on exam scores and instead on

research output and content of what is being taught. They are also seeking ways to entice more

foreign students to study in Japanese universities. Added to the initiative started in 2014, is the

Super Global High School (SGH) project, an inducement program(McDonnell & Elmore, 1987)

for secondary schools to offer curriculum with a global outlook. Local schools apply for grants

to initiate programs in schools that promote global citizenship.

Another driving factor in Japan for globalization are the preparations for the Tokyo 2020

Summer Olympics. (Emerging Strategy, 2014) The government is urging citizens to improve

English language skills and create an environment in Japan more friendly to foreign visitors. The

Olympics are one of those focusing events that often drive policy.

Policy Context

The International Baccalaureate educational foundation was started in the 1960s in

Switzerland to provide a high school diploma that was accepted internationally for expatriate

families in diplomatic, business and other fields. The qualifications earned at an IB school

would support high school graduates attending university systems throughout the world. The

Diploma Programme curriculum is a two-year course students completed in grades 11 and 12.

Students select classes in six disciplines, including English, foreign language, humanities,

experimental sciences, mathematics and the fine arts. There is also a core requirement for a

major research paper (Extended Essay), a community service component (Creativity, Action,

Service) and a Theory of Knowledge course, which is an epistemology class. Students complete

3 of the subjects at a Higher Level (240 hours) and 3 subjects at a Standard Level (150 hours).

The academic level of classes is roughly on par with a first-semester university course. A similar

curriculum in the United States is Advanced Placement (AP). The pedagogy driving the content

and skills development is a constructivist, inquiry-based approach that is student-centered and

values creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills over rote memorization and a

teacher-centered approach to education.

The IB started with a few international schools in several countries offering the DP

curriculum in 1968. In the 1990s, the IB added the Primary Years Programme curriculum for

elementary school and the Middle Years Programme for grades 6 through 10. Today there are

4,655 schools offering 6,068 IB programmes in over 100 countries (IB, 2017). The International

Baccalaureate is growing at an incredibly fast rate, moving from previously only authorizing

international schools to now welcoming local national government schools. From 2012 to 2017,

IB programmes being offered by schools around the world increased by 39%. (IB, 2017) Growth

is coming from the international school sector, with the addition of numerous new international

schools in Asia and the Middle East applying for authorization. The IB is also partnering with

national governments to facilitate IB curriculum adoption in government schools. (IB, 2017b). A

similar policy to the IB 200 Schools Project was implemented in Ecuador and a cross-country

comparison, or vertical case study may shed light on possible future directions of the policy.

(Bartlett & Vavrus, 2014)

MEXT views the Diploma Programme as a tool to foster critical thinking, autonomy in

learning, problem solving skills and international-mindedness. (Yamamoto et al., 2016) Dr.

Yamamoto and the team of researchers commissioned by the IB to evaluate the progress of DP

implementation in 2014, described how leaders from the Japanese business community put

pressure on MEXT to develop Japanese youth to support the globalized economy of the future.

The Japanese education system is traditional, with large class sizes, often up to 40

students in a classroom, and teacher-centered instruction. The focus of much student learning is

towards passing examinations for entrance into high schools and universities. Elementary

education begins at age 6 and ends at age 12. Junior high school education is from age 13-15.

Starting with high school at age 16, the examination hell begins. (Poole, 2003) All high

schools and universities are ranked according to examination results and students select schools

they believe they can get into based on their previous academic achievement. The final year of

junior high school and high school are devoted to preparation to pass the examination of the

school they are applying to and the regular school curriculum is put to the side. Additional

preparation comes in the form of juku or cram schools. (Mawer, 2015). These are private

companies that offer evening and weekend classes to help students score higher on entrance

exams. The students are under a lot of pressure to do well on these exams. Businesses align

themselves with universities based on the rankings. Often, a high school or university will

determine the trajectory of their working career. Japanese students do extremely well on

international standardized tests. Japan finished second in science, fifth in mathematics and eighth

in reading in 2015. (OECD, 2016) It is not due to a lack of performance on standardized tests

that the government wants to change the educational system. In fact, it is focus on exams and

formal assessment that they want to move away from.

With such a different pedagogy and academic tradition, much capacity building

(McDonnell & Elmore, 1987) needs to be undertaken to facilitate implementation of the DP.

MEXT has financed numerous teacher professional development through offering IB teacher

certification workshops and training. These are held in Tokyo and throughout the country, with

expenses covered by MEXT. They also hired two program coordinators to manage the

professional development, communication and support of Article I schools, promote IB with

parents, schools and universities. Article I schools are officially recognized by MEXT and are

required to offer the national curriculum. International schools are classified as miscellaneous

and are not subject to the national curriculum.

MEXT originally only offered the IB DP in English, but found that local schools lacked

language skills to adopt it. In 2013, MEXT partnered with IB to create a Dual Language

Diploma Programme, which was a systems change (McDonnell & Elmore, 1987). Curriculum

subject guides and other teacher and student materials were translated into Japanese with the

financial support of MEXT. The three working languages of the IB are French, English and

Spanish. As of April 2017, translations of history, geography, economics, biology, chemistry,

physics, mathematics, music and visual arts have been completed. (Hoshino, 2017) The dual

language diploma allows students to complete four of the six subjects in Japanese. (IB, 2013)

The IB 200 Schools project was adjusted again in 2015 to give schools more flexibility in

meeting requirements of the national curriculum while simultaneously completing the DP. The

MEXT Curriculum Flexibility Scheme (Hoshino, 2015) aligned more DP subjects with national

curriculum subjects. The alignment process is slow because curriculum requirements are

determined by the prefecture, not the national government. The timeline for reaching 200 schools

was extended from 2016 to 2018.

Stakeholder Assessment

The most important stakeholder in any educational policy are the students. The

International Baccalaureate is a quality high school credential with years of results and research

that backs it up. The partnership of the IB and MEXT to make and implement policy at the local

level is the key relationship in the success of the program. They need to communicate effectively

with local schools to ensure a successful adoption of the DP. With both MEXT and IB being

non-profit organizations, they both have the best interests of the students at heart. The

International Baccalaureate Association of Japan (IBAJ) can play are more active and official

role in this process. Figure 1 shows the different levels.

Figure 1

Part 2. Policy Analysis

Implementation and Scale

In 2006 the Minister of Education (MOE) of Ecuador and the IB set the goal of as many

of the 1,400 secondary schools in the country to adopt the IB DP curriculum as possible. (In

2015, the MOE announced that 200 schools were implementing the IB with a goal of 500 by the

end of 2017 (IB, 2015). The rate of implementation was slow, with Barnett in 2011, identifying

17 authorized state schools with 9 others in the authorization process. Contrast that with the 15

Article I schools adopting IB curriculum after 5 years in Japan, and the rate is approximately

equal. Barnett found that the majority of Ecuadorian educators thought the IB improved their

school and it also had high approval ratings from parents. Today, 11 years after the project was

first announced, there are 263 DP authorized schools (19% of total schools) in Ecuador. This

may be an indicator that Japan will reach its goal of 5% of schools authorized to offer the DP.

The differences in language, culture and economy between Japan and Ecuador is a limitation to

this vertical case study.

Continuing to analyze the Barnett study, it is interesting to see that Ecuadorian students

in government schools performed significantly lower than the IB world averages in all subject

areas. (Barnett, 2013) Ecuador does not participate in PISA exams, but neighboring Colombia

performed significantly below the OECD average. That may indicate that Ecuadorian students

are also behind world average. Further research tracking students scores on the DP will be

needed. Another limitation of this analysis is information on the rapid growth from the time of

Barnetts study to today. Going from 15 schools to 263 in 6 years is rapid growth.

The IB authorization process is quite demanding and it is a costly program to run, and

this is a barrier to implementation. The annual DP fee schools pay to the IB $11,650 and exam

fees per student are another $1,200. (IB fees, 2017) In order to be authorized, schools must have

all teachers trained in the past 5 years. Although MEXT is sponsoring numerous workshops, it is

insufficient to train everyone. There is a lack of Japanese language trainers, thus limiting the

amount of workshops. Schools also need invest in infrastructure. A reliable and fast internet

connection and computers are necessary to run the program, both of which are not often used in

Article I schools. Installing the wi fi internet infrastructure can be costly. Within Article 1

schools, not all students choose to do the IB DP so class sizes are smaller, thus increasing the

costs. One study showed that only 6.1% of students enrolled in grade 11 at a local high school

applied for the IB DP. (Yamamoto, 2015) IB also requires science laboratories to have adequate

ventilation, safety showers and other lab equipment that are additional expenses.

There are also logistical barriers to implementation. IB DP final exams are administered

in May for northern hemisphere schools and November for southern hemisphere schools. The

Japan school year starts in April and ends in March. Both of the exam periods are impractical for

government schools and modifications need to be made. Foreign teachers are not certified to

teach in Japan at article one schools and therefore can only work for a short time at Article I

schools. MEXT is working with the prefectures on a timely credential recognition system, but an

efficient process of recognizing teaching credentials for foreign studies is not in place. (Hoshino,


Another large barrier is university recognition of the IB Diploma Programme. Despite the

work of the Top Global University program, many of the most prestigious universities in Japan

are slow to recognize and recruit IB DP graduates. They prefer to stay with the examination

system. This has been shown in the Yamamoto study at the five schools studied, a higher

percentage of girls entered the IB DP, mostly because they did not have family expectations to

enter a highly selective university.

On the micro scale, a case study of my school will be informative. I am the head of the

Osaka International School (OIS) of Kwansei Gakuin. Our Two Schools Together ethos and

special relationship with the Japanese language Senri International School (SIS), gives our

school a distinct identity. OIS and SIS have a shared program, with students from both schools

together in music, physical education and visual arts classes, as well as a shared extracurricular

program. OIS was the first school in Japan to offer the three academic curricula of the IB, the

Primary Years Programme (PYP) for grades K-5, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) for

grades 6 - 10 and the Diploma Programme for grades 11-12. SIS is a Super Global High

School and both schools are owned by the non-profit Kwansei Gakuin Educational Foundation

(KG). KG manages several K-12 schools, but their main focus is a 24,000-student university,

which is one of the Top Global Universities in the MEXT project. OIS works closely with SIS to

support them in their offering IB DP courses.

Even with the close relationship to an experienced IB World School such as OIS, SIS has

been very slow in offering IB DP courses. The two schools aligned their schedules to allow SIS

students to complete the OIS IB DP. SIS has many returnee students, which are students

whose parents worked abroad and they have repatriated to Japan. Returnee students often come

back with excellent English and experience in the IB style of education. There has been much

trial and error in SIS students completing the required credits of the national curriculum and the

IB requirements. The learning style and level of academic research and writing have been a

challenge for some SIS students in the OIS IB DP. Extra language support classes were added to

address their deficits.

With the pedagogy and teacher style so different, most of the SIS teachers, despite being

IB-trained and able to observe IB DP classes, do not feel comfortable in offering DP courses.

Starting in August of 2017, history and physics will be offered in the IB DP in Japanese. A

detailed list of courses needed to be completed by SIS students in grade 10 has been completed

in order for them to concentrate on the IB DP in grades 11 and 12. Progress is being made and

for the 2017-2018 school year, six SIS students are planning to enroll in the IB DP.

OIS is also a member of the International Baccalaureate Association of Japan (IBAJ).

Heads of School of member institutions meet two times per year and regularly receive updates

from the IB. The group historically consisted of only international schools, but recently with the

IB 200 Schools Project, government schools are becoming members of the association. IBAJ is

struggling with the role IB international schools can play in supporting MEXT and government

schools. Barnett, 2013, cited the undefined role private schools serving as mentor schools for

government schools, as a recommendation to improve policy implementation in Ecuador.


The Japanese government educational system is one of the highest performing in the

world. (PISA, 2015) A continued effort in globalizing the focus of schools is predicted. A change

in government is unlikely to change the plan because of the influence of the business community.


The IB is not very well known in Japan and both MEXT and the IB need to do a better

job of communicating the strengths of the program. This includes meeting with parents,

university admissions officers, prefecture education officials and other key stakeholders.

A more systematic approach should be taken with the IB Association of Japan. The

experience and expertise of long-standing IB World International Schools can be invaluable for

Article I schools seeking authorization. Barnett in the Ecuadorian study in 2015 indicated there

was much goodwill from private schools, but not a system in place to deliver assistance to

government schools. MEXT should work closer with IBAJ leadership to plan support programs.

MEXT should use the Super Global High School (SGH) program to promote the growth

of IB DP. As a member of Lehighs CIE 406 class suggested on July 13 in the roundtable

discussion, SGH can be viewed as local schools moving towards international-mindedness in its

own terms. (Thulare, T. classroom discussion, Lehigh University CIE 406, 2017) The 123

schools awarded funding the past three years are evidence that their is a desire by Article I to

embrace globalization of the curriculum. (SGH, 2017). In speaking with the Senri International

School SGH coordinator, many of the activities supported in a typical SGH school align well

with IB DP programs (Tsudaka, 2016). The inducements of SGH could be pitched towards IB

DP in later stages of the program.

Build capacity at the elementary school level instead of starting with the last two years of

high school. Set a goal of 200 IB Primary Years Programme schools. There are no exams and

university placements to complicate adoption of an internationally-minded curriculum. As

stakeholders become more familiar with IB education, this will facilitate furthering the program

into middle school and high school.

The key stakeholder in implementing the IB DP is the DP coordinator position. MEXT

and the IB should support a mentor system, pairing an experienced DP coordinator with a new


Thanks Dr. Anderson! I have a much better understanding and interest in the field of

international and comparative educational policy!


Barnett, E. (2013). Implementation of the diploma programme in Ecuadors state schools.

Columbia University, NY. Retrieved from the International Baccalaureate Organization

website: http://www. ibo.



onofDPinEcuadorStateSchools_Finalreport. Pdf.

Bartlett, L., Vavrus, F., (2014). Transversing the vertical case study: A methodological approach

to studies of educational policy as practice. Anthropology and Education Quarterly.

45(2), 131-147.

Cave, P. (2007). Primary school in Japan: Self, individuality and learning in elementary

education. New York, NY. Routledge.

Cukier, K. (2011). The end of Japanese innovation. [pdf.] Retrieved from

Ecuador Times. (January 7, 2012) 125 Ecuadorian public schools will incorporate the

International Baccalaureate. Ecuador Times.

Emerging Strategy. (2014). Japan creates an English education reform plan corresponding to the

2020 Tokyo olympics. Emerging Strategy. Retrieved from


Hoshino, A. (2017). Recent developments in Japan. Presented at the meeting of International

Baccalaureate Association of Japan, Tokyo, Japan.

International Baccalaureate (IB). (2013). Japanese students obtain greater opportunities to

pursue an IB education. Retrieved from

International Baccalaureate (IB). (2015). Ecuador aims for 500 schools.. Retrieved from

International Baccalaureate (IB). (2017a). Facts & Figures. Retrieved from

International Baccalaureate (IB). (2017b). Government Partnerships. Retrieved from


Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology. (2014). English education

reform plan corresponding to globalization. Retrieved from


Marlow, Iain. (2017, May 03). Japans bold steps. The Globe & Mail. Retrieved from:


Maruko, Mami. (2014). Universities aim to boost their global ranking. The Japan Times.

Retrieved from


Mawer, K. (2015). Casting new light on shadow education: snapshots of juku variety.

Contemporary Japan, 27(2), 131-148.

McBride, J., Xu, B. (2017). Abenomics and the Japanese economy. Council on Foreign Relations.

Retrieved from

McDonnell, L., Elmore, R. (1987). Getting the job done: Alternative policy instruments.

Educational Evaluation & Policy Analysis, 9(2), 133-152.


MEXT. 2012. Statistics. Retrieved from:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2016). PISA 2015 results in focus.

Retrived from

Poole, G. S. (2003). Higher education reform in Japan: Amano Ikuo on the university in crisis.

International Education Journal, 4(3), 149-176.

Schneider, A., Ingram, S., (1993). Social construction of target populations: Implications for

politics and policy. The American Political Science Review, 87(2), 334-347.

Thulare, T. (July 13, 2017). Roundtable discussion. Lehigh University Comparative and

International Education course, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA.

Tsudaka, E. (2016, September). Super Global High School #6. [Audio podcast] Retrieved from

Wright, K. (2015). International baccalaureate programmes: Longer-term outcomes. Melbourne,

Australia: Melbourne Graduate School of Education The University of Melbourne.

Yamamoto, B., Saito, T., Shibuya, M., Ishikura, Y., Gyenes, A., Kim, V., ... & Kitano, C. (2016).

Implementation and impact of the dual language IB DP programme in Japanese

secondary schools. Bethesda, MD, USA: International Baccalaureate Organization.


You might also like