Moral education raises risks

On the basis of the Central Council of Education’s October report, the education ministry has revised the course of study at elementary and junior high schools to introduce moral education as an official subject beginning in fiscal 2018 and 2019, respectively. The ministry stresses that the focus of moral education, which has been taught since 1958 as an informal subject, should change from reading of related materials to teachings that encourage thinking and discussion by schoolchildren.

The revised course of study also says that moral education should not lead to imposing certain ways of thinking on the schoolchildren. However, a close examination of the plan reveals contradictions and problems. Grading of the students in moral education — even in descriptive forms — carries the inherent risk of casting children’s ways of thinking into a mold.

The Abe administration has cited serious cases of school bullying, including one that led to the 2011 suicide of a junior high school student in Otsu to justify the introduction of moral education as a regular school subject. The updated course of study calls for teaching schoolchildren about “treating a person free of one’s own likes and dislikes” and “treating a person without prejudice and in a fair and equitable manner,” for first and second graders, and third and fourth graders, respectively. One wonders why teaching such virtues requires upgrading moral education to a formal subject.

According to the revised course of study, the goal of moral education is to “nurture children who can think how to live and act on the basis of autonomous judgment” and “live as independent beings together with others.” But at the same time, it lists 22 keywords such as gratitude, common courtesy, public-mindedness, understanding right from wrong, honesty and sincerity as items to be taught in moral education classes. Care needs to be taken so that the classes do not result in unilaterally imposing such virtues on the students but encourage them to think on their own.

The ministry’s plan takes up such issues as “information morality,” “sustainable development of society” and “relationship between progress of science and bioethics.” Discussions on these matters will hopefully enhance schoolchildren’s understanding of these issues and contribute to developing their abilities to think deeply about other matters as well.

But the plan’s call for education of “love of one’s country” is problematic. It says the moral education should nurture “independent-minded Japanese” who, among other things, “respect tradition and culture, love the country and their native region” and contribute to creating a “culture rich in individuality” and “a peaceful and democratic country and society,” and “respect public values as well as other countries.” It does not appear designed to teach children to think critically about their own country. The aim of such education should not be to instill in children a blind love of their nation.

Textbooks used in moral education classes will be screened under a standard to be developed by the education ministry — a process that could result in the texts reflecting moral values endorsed by the government. Textbook publishers might exercise self-censorship to pass the screening. Once moral education is introduced as a formal subject, the ministry might change the course of study in the future to more strongly reflect values convenient to those in power.

The Diet should scrutinize the direction of moral education, and concerned citizens should state their opinions to the ministry, which is accepting public comments through March 5.

  • Merrylsenuri

    Moral education in schools are necessary now a days so that students will be able to learn morals. It will help them know maintain good relationship with others.

    Merryl
    Edubilla

  • Toolonggone

    If the MEXT really wants to introduce moral education, first thing they need to do is spare more hours on field trip and outside-the-class engagement. Don’t give a crap about using the exactly same metrics to evaluate students by distributing a same old textbook with MEXT rubber stamp.

  • Richard Solomon

    Teaching children to get along with their peers with respect and compassion for differences is certainly a good idea. Teaching them ‘to love country’ at the expense of the ability to think analytically and critically about the government’s policies and actions, however, is another matter. I suspect PM Abe’s unspoken agenda is the wish to have children accept without question his attempts to rewrite Japan’s unsavory actions during the Great Pacific War. Eg, its treatment of ‘comfort women in Korea, the atrocities the military committed in Nanking, etc.

  • Michael Craig

    Kids learn morals from their parents, relatives, grandparents, teachers, community and religious leaders, etc. They don’t need a textbook to do that!

  • leconfidant

    There is some kind of recent sentiment that if we teach any kind of morality at all, this will somehow prevent people thinking for themselves. Would we say the same of any other subject? Would teaching science or mathematics somehow hamper scientific curiosity in those areas?

    And if we don’t teach one type of morality or another, should we therefore expect that by teaching no type of morality at all, young people will naturally create a wonderful awareness of morality by their acute sense of personal uniqueness?

    There is a legitimate concern among westerners that ramming a one-size-fits-all morality onto everyone, the resulting loss of freedom of individuality will prevent genuine compassion. Fair enough. But what kind of moral culture do you expect to encounter when we abstain from any kind of moral education at all?

  • Dipak Bose

    Japanese education system is Utilitarian at its worse. In schools, they learn only horrible Chinese pictures and mathematics; they have little idea about history or geography. They do not know how to write an essay. In the university, they sleep in the class, write a few words as answer in the examination, no body fails. Because employers only look at the name of the university and smartness of the candidates but not at the grades or knowledge of the students. Chinese universities are much worse. They do not have qualified professors or basic facilities like Main Frame Computers with software. Chinese students in China do not know anything about their subjects. However, Chinese students in China learn at least English whereas 90 percent of the Japanese university students do not know English either. Kanji is the only thing they know. .
    To improve the education system of Japan, Mt Abe must abolish Kanji, a language of its enemy country China, from Japan. In that case students in schools would have more time to study other subjects. Objective style testing also should be reduced as these are harmful for the students, if Japan wants to develop ability for the students to critically analyse an issue or a mathematical problem. University professors should have adequate qualifications, at least a PhD, which most of them do not have. There has to be research facility and encouragements, In current situation in Japan, promotions and recruitment are based on who knows whom and popularity, nothing to do with qualification or research achievements.
    There are much works for Mr.Abe.

  • Dipak Bose

    Japanese kids and adults have high moral values. They are the best in the world.
    If you walk on Japan streets you can see streets where orange and apple trees have fruits which you can touch from the pavements. Even the teenagers in Japan do not touch these. Girls can come back from work at mid night, no body attacks them. Little children can go to schools alone.
    I have never seen these in any other country. Japan has a lot to teach to the rest of the world.

  • Softclocks

    Whoever wrote this article seems to imply that Japanese schools have not had an official moral education class or standardized textbook, which is woefully inaccurate.