National

Japan's junior high school teachers face longest average working hours in OECD survey

Kyodo

Japanese junior high school teachers worked the longest hours on average among 48 countries and regions surveyed by the OECD, it said Wednesday.

Junior high teachers in the country worked 56 hours per week on average, compared with 38.3 hours a week among all of the participants in the “2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey.”

It is the second time in a row that the OECD has found that Japanese teachers work the longest hours, and their hours increased an average of 2.1 hours from the previous survey in 2013.

Similarly, primary school teachers in Japan worked 54.4 hours a week, longer than their peers in 15 countries and economies surveyed.

The survey for Japan was conducted by the Paris-based institution from February to March 2018, with questionnaires sent to 3,568 junior high school teachers, 3,321 elementary school teachers and around 400 principals.

The education ministry decided in January to cap overtime for teachers at 45 hours per month, or 360 hours over 12 months.

A junior high school teacher spent an average of 7.5 hours per week on students’ extracurricular club activities, compared with the overall average of 1.9 hours a week, while administrative work took up 5.6 hours, compared with the total average of 2.7 hours.

Primary school teachers in Japan spent longer on planning, preparing lessons and paperwork than those in other countries. Such teachers devoted an average of 0.6 hour to extracurricular activities.

Japan’s new curriculum guidelines promote deeper learning through independent and interactive means, but the percentage of secondary school teachers who frequently or always gave “tasks that require students to think critically” was 12.6 percent, the lowest figure and a far cry from the 61 percent average among all the countries surveyed.

Further, only 16.1 percent of teachers in Japan presented “tasks for which there is no obvious solution,” compared with the 37.5 percent average among all the countries surveyed.

A 57-year-old teacher at a public junior high school in Saitama Prefecture said much of the overtime at his school is not recorded. As a veteran teacher, he is loaded with tasks, such as helping managers and taking care of younger teachers. He arrives at work just after 6 a.m. and finishes work at 7 p.m. at the earliest. On his busiest days, he works until around 9 p.m. He sometimes has to clear his backlog of work before and after the school’s extracurricular activities that he supervises on weekends.

A board of education in his local area has set a goal of not exceeding 80 hours of overtime per month, which is regarded as the threshold for karōshi, or death caused by overwork. His school introduced a system to keep track of teachers’ work hours about six months ago.

The teacher’s amount of monthly overtime topped 80 hours in April, yet his managers only prodded him to leave work as early as possible, and the school has shown little intention of overhauling teachers’ assignments in detail.

The man has since learned to record fewer hours than he has actually worked. Many of his colleagues do likewise.

“The number of work hours has decreased, when you take it at face value,” the teacher said. “But that is meaningless.”

Another teacher at a public junior high school in Tokyo said he now has reduced workloads related to extracurricular activities and other tasks.

But the 35-year-old still works 80 to 100 hours of overtime per month. He said he spends a lot of time attending to students’ parents and other things.

“The amount of work for teachers has been increasing for the sake of students. We should consider what it really means to ‘serve students well’ and review our work,” he said.