The education ministry is set lay out new school curriculum guidelines that for the first time urge elementary and junior high schools to teach students that the disputed Senkaku Islands and Takeshima islets are “integral parts of Japanese territory,” a draft revision released Tuesday said.
The changes in the legally binding guidelines follow the ministry’s revision of nonbinding manuals for junior high school teachers in 2014 that urged instructors to teach that the two island groups are Japanese territory.
The new guidelines, revised about once every decade, will be fully implemented in elementary schools in the 2020 academic year starting that April and in junior high schools a year later.
“We believe it’s extremely important for children who will lead the country in the future to have the correct understanding of the nation’s territories,” said Taichi Kaneshiro, an assistant director with the ministry’s school curriculum division.
“It’s important for all the children to have the same understanding (over the territorial issues) during their compulsory education years,” he added.
The Japan-administered Senkakus in the East China Sea are claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands. The Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan are controlled by South Korea, where they are known as Dokdo.
The new elementary school guidelines say instructors should teach that both island groups are integral parts of Japan. The junior high school guidelines, meanwhile, urge teachers to instruct students that “no territorial dispute exists over the Senkaku islets,” and that Japan is “making efforts to peacefully resolve” issues over Takeshima and a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.
The Northern Territories are already mentioned in the current junior high school guidelines.
To ingrain in children the government’s stance on the territorial issues and to avoid confusion, schools should refrain from teaching students about the positions maintained by other countries, Kaneshiro said.
Meanwhile, English education in schools will see a major revamp under the new guidelines as the country seeks to bolster the English communication ability of children amid an increasingly interlinked world.
English will be taught as a regular subject for the first time in elementary school starting from the fifth grade, with the introduction of reading and writing exercises.
The shift will double the annual number of English classroom hours to 70 from the current 35. To squeeze in the extra hours, the ministry’s advisory board suggested extending class hours or holding classes on Saturdays or during the summer vacation period.
Along with these changes, the so-called foreign-language activity classes currently taught only to fifth- and sixth-graders will become mandatory for third- and fourth-graders.
At the junior-high level, the number of vocabulary words being taught will rise to around 1,600-1,800 words from the current 1,200. The guidelines also say that English classes, in principle, should also be taught in the language.
Apart from English, computer programming will also be introduced in elementary schools for the first time.
School curriculum guidelines are revised about every 10 years to review teaching priorities in line with changes and advances in society.
The current guidelines were last revised in 2008, when the government’s much criticized “relaxed-education” policy was scrapped and textbook pages were instead drastically increased.