Respect for a student’s individuality will be the key to reforming school education in Japan — known for its uniformity and conformity — for the 21st century, an advisory panel to the education minister said May 30.

With that in mind, the Central Council for Education is proposing the introduction of a six-year secondary school system and the relaxation of the age requirement for university enrollment, according to a summary of the council’s nine-month discussions released the same day. It also recommends Western-style autumn matriculation at universities in addition to Japan’s spring entrance, and the upgrading of admissions offices to enable them to carefully select applicants through diversified means such as interviews and letters of reference.

Because government council reports generally reflect government thinking, the summary indicates that the Education Ministry itself acknowledges that there are flaws in the education system and is aiming to orient it around the individual to develop what the report calls a “genuinely mature” society. Respect for individuality is not a new ministry goal. The concept appeared as early as 50 years ago, according to Toyokazu Urano, dean of the University of Tokyo’s education faculty.

Education is one of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s six targets for structural reform, but it is uncertain how smoothly the reform can be put into practice, especially in conservative circles of academia. The council plans to submit a formal recommendation in late June based on the summary after hearing the opinions of various organizations, including those for educators and business leaders.

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