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Public schools should be allowed to hold classes on Saturdays to help students improve their academic performances, an advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on education reform said in its second report released Friday.

The panel also proposed making moral education a formal subject in the school curriculum to instill a sense of public service in students.

The Education Rebuilding Council, comprising 17 members from academia, business and government, met Friday in Tokyo to finalize the draft of the report, which contains a package of proposals to address education problems, including students’ falling academic levels and what they see as declining morality and lack of discipline.

The report was submitted to Abe, who has made education reform a priority issue on his agenda since taking office in September.

The panel, headed by Nobel Prize in chemistry winner Ryoji Noyori, compiled its first report in January. Based on proposals in the report, the government submitted revisions to education-related laws, including the School Education Law and a teacher license law, which are now before the Upper House and are expected to be passed by the end of the current Diet session.

Revival of Saturday classes is a followup to a proposal in the panel’s first report that calls for increasing the number of class hours by 10 percent. The current five-day school system was fully introduced in 2002 as part of the “relaxed” education policy that aimed to ease the burden on students.

In Friday’s report, the panel said the decision to hold Saturday classes — as well as which subjects to teach — should be left in the hands of local boards of education and the schools.

The report also said that moral education at elementary and junior high schools should be reinforced by making it a new formal subject. Some members of the panel said it should be taught with government-screened textbooks.

Currently, elementary schools and junior high schools offer a morals class once a week. But the panel argued that it is not sufficient because many schools use ethics classes for other purposes, like school events. The panel also said some teachers do not seriously teach morality in such classes.

In addition, the panel said schools should provide a weeklong program for elementary school children to have nature and farming experiences, as well as a weeklong “career experience” course for junior high school students to have them experience working at shops and offices.

The latest report by the panel also included proposals to reform university and graduate school education.

One of the proposals says universities should allow more students to enter in September and to accept more foreign students. Another proposal urges the government to create a mechanism to certify that university students have reached satisfactory academic levels when they graduate, using, for example, tests offered by private-sector education businesses.

The panel said it hopes related laws are revised to achieve some of its proposals by fiscal 2008. The Central Council for Education, a key government panel under the education ministry, is expected to discuss the panel’s proposals.

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