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A considerable number of children do not understand their lessons, many have weak study habits and their attitude toward learning is not necessarily based on a desire for knowledge, according to an education ministry white paper submitted to the Cabinet on Tuesday.

While the overall scholastic performance of students is generally good, there are lingering concerns over the nation’s slipping academic record, according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

The ministry also admitted there are problems in areas such as natural science studies, and said it is trying to address these shortcomings by designating some schools as “super science high schools,” in which classes are formed according to students’ level of proficiency and the curriculum focuses on math and science.

The report includes photos of last year’s Nobel Prize laureates Masatoshi Koshiba and Koichi Tanaka in a bid to demonstrate that Japanese researchers have a high level of competency.

Koshiba shared the 2002 Nobel in physics with two other scientists, and Tanaka shared the 2002 Nobel in chemistry.

The ministry report was based on nationwide surveys on academic performance that were conducted in 2002. The results were then compared with international levels.

An hour of English

About 56 percent of sixth-graders in public elementary schools in Japan engaged in English conversation sessions at school in fiscal 2002, a survey released this week by the education ministry shows, with an hour per month spent in such classes.

The results indicate more elementary schools have introduced English-conversation lessons in response to calls to strengthen education in the language at an early age.

Teaching English has generally started in the first year of junior high school as part of the regular curriculum. However, critics say this may be too late for many students to acquire conversational ability and such a delay may hamper the country’s internationalization process.

The nationwide survey by the Education, Culture, Sports and Science and Technology Ministry, which did not provide the number of respondents, also found that 54 percent of fifth-graders in public elementary schools are receiving English-conversation lessons, as are 52 percent of fourth-graders and 51 percent of third-graders.

An earlier survey found that in 2001, only 42 percent of public elementary schools had English-conversation lessons.

English conversation was taught at the elementary schools during time allocated for “comprehensive study.”

More than 100 such hours are allocated to sixth-graders a year, but students took advantage of only 12 hours in receiving English-conversation lessons on average, or roughly an hour a month.

About 63 percent of public elementary schools spent from one to 11 hours a year on English conversation lessons, 23 percent spent 12 to 22 hours, 12 percent 23 to 35 hours, and 2 percent 36 to 70 hours.

Meanwhile, classes in several disciplines that depended on student ability were offered by 63 percent of public elementary schools and 65 percent of junior high schools, a jump from 39 percent and 31 percent, respectively, in a survey in fiscal 2000, according to the poll, which provided no further breakdown.

Such classes were mainly offered in mathematics and English.

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