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Educational reforms should put priority on respecting a child’s individuality and giving local authorities more autonomy to correct “excessive equalization,” according to the 1999 White Paper on Education released Tuesday. In the report, submitted to the day’s Cabinet meeting, the Education Ministry said the system has concentrated too much on providing unified education, with schools “cramming knowledge” into children in a one-way manner. This approach does not give children enough opportunities to develop individual abilities, has weakened moral education and is a factor behind the increase in bullying and truancy, the report says. With various reforms now being introduced and continuing into 2002, the education system will provide a framework in which children will have more room to learn, think and act on their own, it says. This year’s report outlines the government’s education reform efforts since 1984, when then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone established the National Council on Educational Reform, an advisory panel to the prime minister. Based on four sets of recommendations submitted by the council to the prime minister as of 1987, the Education Ministry has introduced reforms such as a gradual shift to a five-day school week, an increase in elective classes at junior high schools and six-year schools combining junior high and high schools. Changes still to come under the current sequence of reforms include new teaching guidelines that will cut school hours by 30 percent and complete the shift to a five-day school week, the report says. Ken Terawaki, director of the policy planning and coordination division of the education minister’s secretariat, said the main feature of this year’s report is the question-and-answer format used to explain the ministry’s stance on issues ranging from bullying and a decline in academic standards to classroom collapse. “The white paper deals with issues that have never been raised before,” Terawaki said, noting the ministry also tried to write it in an easy-to- understand way without using “bureaucratic jargon.” On bullying, the white paper says there were 36,000 reported cases at elementary, junior high and high schools during the 1998 school year; the number marks a decline for the third straight year. The most important point in dealing with bullying is for parents to listen to children and encourage them to talk about it with teachers or school counselors, the ministry said in reply to a question posed in the report, adding that teachers have a responsibility to protect children who consult them about being bullied. On the so-called classroom collapse, in which children ignore the teacher and do as they please, the report notes this phenomenon is seen only in some schools. However, where it does exist, it is not caused by a single factor but by an accumulation of many. “There is no special cure for this problem,” the report says, noting that the only way to properly deal with the situation is on a case-by-case basis.The ministry explains in the report that the decline in collegians’ average academic standards stems from the rise in the number of students attending university, noting that only a handful of elite students were enrolled in universities some 50 years ago. Another key problem is the decline in students’ general motivation for learning, the report says. Universities must provide incentives for students to learn by revising their curricula and teaching methods, and they also need to correct the current system in which students only need to pass exams to graduate, it says.

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