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Japanese Education at the Crossroads (III)-The Problems Intrinsic to Combined Public Secondary Schools 2-

In the previous installment, I focused on the problems of middle school entrance examinations and school selection at the middle school level. This time I would like to consider the problems associated with the introduction of combined public secondary schools which must lead inevitably towards reform of the 6-3-3 system.
Since the issue under discussion is the introduction of combined junior and senior high school education, or that of six year secondary education, I would like to first consider its pros and cons.
The advantages which its proponents argue are as follows: 1) Students in their middle-school years will be spared the pressures of high school entrance examinations; 2) because secondary education will not be disrupted by entrance examinations, flexible, comprehensive education will become possible; 3) we can seriously apply ourselves to the task of creating individual-centered education over the course of six years; and 4) we can look forward to the educational benefits that come from a broadening of contact between students of varying ages.

However, there is no doubt that all of these aspects have disadvantages that will become more numerous as the combined schools themselves proliferate. With regard to 1), it will now be elementary school students who will suffer the pressure of entrance examinations. The adage "jyugo no haru ga naku" (one's fifteenth year is misery) will be replaced by "jyuni no haru ga naku" (one's twelfth year is misery). And, at the same time, as for 4), the drawbacks of contact between students of varying ages will grow as the number of combined schools increases. There is too vast a difference in the development of 12- or 13-year old middle school students and 17- or 18-year old high school students. The advantages of the "privileged schools" like today's private and national combined school have received much attention. However, when these schools expand to serve the needs of a large number of students, the various difficulties associated with student life counseling will obviously increase as we now see from the situation at so-called "educationally difficult high schools" which serve students with learning difficulties or with various disciplinary problems.

As for 2) and 3), the problems of school rank and tracking that now plague high schools will begin at the middle school level. Even though there will be some advantages for elite schools, other schools will be faced with a situation even more difficult than that which confronts today's high schools. Also, school maladjustment problems will be even more serious than they are now. In the years when education first started to become universally available as it is today, it was impossible to educate students of different academic abilities, interests, and future prospects in six years at the same school. While the present system deals with this at the high school level, combined schools, in contrast, bring this down to the middle school level, and cannot fail to magnify and exacerbate the problem. These are the problems faced across the board in countries that have 5-year or 6-year secondary education systems.

In Germany, schools are divided into elite gymnasium and mass-oriented technical, secondary general and comprehensive schools (Realschule, Hauptschule and Gesamtschule, respectively), and tracking occurs at the point of advancement into secondary school.

In France, there are ordinary lyces and vocational lyces. Even in the ordinary lyces, course and subject ranking has grown increasingly problematic, and in the 1990s redress of inequality has become an issue. In Britain, since the 1960s there has been a gradual shift away from a three-track to an integrated system. However, for one thing, the system is plagued with the problem that school choice is no different from discrimination, and tracking ("streaming') within comprehensive (integrated) schools has also become a problem.

In the U.S., there are various systems depending on the state, such as 6-3-3, 8-4, and 5-3-4 configurations. The problems of school choice and tracking have led to criticisms of classism and racism, and experimentation is ongoing.
This is because secondary education is torn between a host of problems stemming from two kinds of contradiction. It is because the problem of reconciling and actualizing these conflicting needs is concentrated at the level of secondary education. These conflicting needs include (1) education that is suited to fostering common basic academic skills versus a curriculum to suit different academic abilities, (2) generalized public education versus education geared towards preparation for various professional careers and (3) the issue of the development of adolescents and young adults versus the unavoidability of selectivity and tracking. And, when we attempt to respond to these needs, there are four guiding concepts we can neither give special importance to or mistakenly underemphasize: efficiency, equitability, self-actualization or cooperative coexistence. If efficiency is emphasized and elitist education and selectivity becomes more widespread, equitability and cooperative coexistence will lose value. If self-actualization and individuality is emphasized and diversity is promoted, cooperative coexistence will be devalued. There are also many contradictions presented by efficiency (utilitarianism) and self-actualization in the marketplace (where choice equals selection).

Consequently, in considering policies of how to best organize the nation's educational system, the important thing is to think about how to better implement these values comprehensively. I would like to place my trust in the responsible discretion and prudent choices of our policy-makers.
[Source: This article was originally written for "Shinken News" June, 1997 issue published by Benesse Corporation]
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