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A bout 2.32 million sixth graders and third-year middle school students took part in the education ministry’s nationwide scholastic tests Tuesday. The tests, which cover Japanese and mathematics, followed similar tests that were carried out last year for the first time in 43 years. The ministry says that the purpose of the tests is to grasp the scholastic ability of individual children and to help teachers improve their academic guidance of individual children. But why is it necessary to make these tests nationwide in order to achieve these goals? Sampling tests and tests given at individual schools would be sufficient.

Committees were established in each prefecture and major cities to improve teaching guidance on the basis of last year’s test results. But, absurdly enough, they made public plans for guidance improvement just before the end of fiscal 2007. By that time the students who sat for those tests had already graduated.

The nationwide tests will probably fuel excessive and unnecessary competition. Education officials, teachers and parents will likely focus their efforts on raising children’s test performances, distorting the desirable direction of education. Since all children take part in the tests, the scholastic performance of each class will be known. This will pressure teachers to focus their efforts on helping children to achieve high marks on the tests.

Commercial educational materials aimed at helping children get high marks in the nationwide tests have already appeared in stores. One such item carries the recommendation of Mr. Eiichi Kajita, head of the education ministry’s panel for the nationwide tests and vice chairman of the Central Council for Education. His endorsement runs counter to what he said earlier — that the tests should not be used for grading schools and should not lead to excessive competition. The tests only measure a portion of children’s abilities, but clearly some educators have become preoccupied with getting children to excel at them.

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