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To ease the pressures typical to schoolchildren in Japan, an advisory council to the Education Minister said Monday that schools should be given more freedom to practice their own teaching methods and to make decisions based on the needs of their students.

The Curriculum Council’s revised draft of the government’s curriculum guidelines, to be used after the 2002 introduction of a five-day school week, suggests the nation’s educational system will likely become more individualized, empowering local schools to make many of their own decisions for the first time. The council, tasked by the ministry in 1996, plans to compile its final draft of the report in July.

“(With the report,) Japanese education has made a major turn, as schools shift from ‘a place (for teachers) to teach’ to ‘a place for students to actively learn,'” said Shumon Miura, chairman of the advisory panel, after submitting the report to Education Minister Nobutaka Machimura on Monday afternoon.

According to the council’s report, schools will be able to determine the amount of class time allotted to each subject, instead of following the current rule of having uniform 45- to 50-minute classes for all subjects.

A school could then decide to allot, for instance, 75 minutes for laboratory science classes and use 25 minutes for teaching English.

In its report it also recommends that students in third grade or higher receive more than two credit hours per week for newly introduced general studies classes — during which time schools can teach whatever they see fit to foster students’ learning abilities and broaden their knowledge of subjects that are not already covered in the curriculum.

Students should also have more choice in what classes they take as they get older, said the report, which proposed increasing the number of elective courses in both junior high and high schools.

The council also urged that schools plan teaching schedules on a two-year basis, instead of the current one-year basis, to encourage greater flexibility. “(The report) will create rooms for schools and teachers to give full play to their creativity,” said Manabu Sato, Tokyo University professor of education, “which also means that their real abilities will be tested.”

To cope with the end to Saturday classes and the implementation of a five-day school week planned for 2002, the council proposed a cut of two credit hours per week at all levels: from 25-29 credit hours per week to 23-27 in elementary schools; from 30 to 28 in junior high schools; and from 32 to 30 in high schools.

To further reduce the workload for students, the council recommends the contents of some mandatory subjects — such as Japanese language, mathematics and science classes — be narrowed.

The report calls for schools to cut certain advanced criteria from their curriculum. In mathematics, for instance, about a third of topics now being covered will be cut, including complicated calculations in elementary schools, and quadratic equation formulas and statistics in junior high schools.

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