School kids weak at filtering data to produce own conclusions: study

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

The nation’s primary and junior high school students lack the skills to sift through and link information from multiple sources to solve problems, even though they can easily understand spoon-fed, pre-filtered information, a government study has found.

In what education officials called the first test of its kind on elementary and junior high students, the education ministry tested the students’ information retrieval skills using various presentations of data, including made-up web pages.

One analyst said the findings, released Tuesday, highlight how far behind Japanese children are in information literacy compared with other nations.

For example, only 9.7 percent of the elementary school students who perused the pages could correctly tell which day of the week residents of a fictitious city should set out a plastic CD jewel case for trash collection. Students were allowed to browse through the fictitious city’s web pages to find the details of its garbage collection regime.

The pages were laced with irrelevant information, such as an interview with a disposal facility worker or details on collection days for other kinds of trash, to force students to view more than one page and combine multiple pieces of information to obtain the answer.

Of junior high students asked a similar question, only 12.2 percent answered correctly.

On the other hand, the elementary and middle school students showed much better performance in understanding information disseminated in an organized way.

A multiple-choice question asked them to choose the statement that correctly reflects what was said by whom. For this question, the students were allowed to refer to a list of four people showing what each had said.

As many as 62.4 percent of the primary school students and 84.3 percent of the junior high schoolers answered correctly.

“Some students tend to trust the very first information they see online without checking other sources,” said Kazuo Nagano, a professor at Tokyo’s University of the Sacred Heart who studies information literacy education.

The poor information literacy in Japan represents a weakness of the Japanese education system, he said. Although students are good at learning things that are spoon-fed to them, they lack the ability to evaluate information independently, he said.

They need to acquire skills to filter disorganized pieces of information to find solutions, whether online or in the real world, he said.

Nagano said instead of teaching one concrete answer to one question, teachers should “give more opportunities for students to contemplate various alternatives to solve an issue independently,” he said. Compared with other countries, such opportunities are rare in Japan, he added.

The study covered 3,343 fifth-graders and 3,338 second-year junior high students who attended public and private schools from October 2013 to January 2014.

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