A new class covering unconventional subjects will appear in the nation’s elementary and junior high schools as early as next April, the Education Ministry announced Wednesday.

The class, called “general studies,” allows schools to cover topics such as social welfare, environmental studies, foreign language conversation and information systems that are not included in the ministry’s curriculum.

The class will be one of the first steps toward the so-called unique education mapped out by the ministry’s revised courses of study. The guidelines, published in December, call for the fostering of children’s “ability to learn” in kindergarten, elementary and junior high school.

The courses of study will go into full effect in the 2002 academic year, when the five-day school week begins.

However, experts have expressed concern that some schools will not be ready to offer a general studies class.

Besides the class, other aspects of the new guidelines to go into effect from next April include the guidelines’ stipulations on moral education and special activities.

The guidelines call for elementary school students to learn to “distinguish between good and evil” in their morals class. Junior high school students are expected to integrate this knowledge into their lives through volunteer or environmental activities during special activities class.

The guidelines call for elementary schools to teach the de facto national anthem “Kimigayo” in every grade. This is expected to draw public criticism at a time when many citizens’ groups are opposed to the government’s plan to designate “Kimigayo” as the nation’s official anthem.

The guidelines also call for junior high school students to learn Japanese classical music.

The courses of study, which are revised every 10 years, shape the nation’s education by instructing teachers what to teach and how to teach it. Textbooks that do not follow the ministry’s guidelines can be rejected during its screening process.

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