An education resuscitation conference of the government has proposed introducing a new system of university entrance exams that will place emphasis on the character of candidate students. But the proposal is very vague and likely to cause confusion for high schools and universities. The education ministry’s Central Council of Education should thoroughly examine the proposal and determine whether it is truly desirable and workable.

The conference calls for complete revision of the current nationwide common test given to candidate students by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations. In January 2013, some 540,000 students sat for the Center tests. A total of 840 public and private universities and junior colleges use the results of the common test, as well as those of their own tests, in considering the admission of students.

According to the proposal, the common test will be divided into two parts. The first part will measure students’ basic learning achievement and the second part will gauge students’ ability to receive university education. In the second part, students will be divided into several ranks in accordance with their test results and the scale of points will be abolished. This is ostensibly being done to end an overemphasis on testing knowledge. Students will also be allowed to take the common test several times a year.

The conference also calls on universities to use essays and interviews as well as written recommendations from high school principals, in addition to the results of the newly proposed tests, in determining the admission of students. The aim is to place more emphasis on the character of candidate students.

The proposal contains many problems. First, it is difficult to define what constitutes the basic learning achievement mentioned by the proposal since education at high school is already diverse. Another problem is that if high school students are allowed to take the common tests several times a year, the burden on the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, which administer the tests, will become enormous. High school teachers will be forced to devote much time to preparing students for the tests. This carries the danger of skewing the direction of education at high school toward getting better results in the common test.

Preparing questions for essays and interviews and evaluating their results will also place an enormous burden on universities. It is also unclear how universities can develop objective criteria for evaluating the results of essays and interviews. Currently more than 40 percent of university entrants are admitted through systems in which essays and interviews and recommendations by high school principals play an important part. But many universities have stopped using these systems because students admitted through these systems were found to be not necessarily excellent.

What is important is not for the government to tinker with the entrance exam system but to increase investment in education and create an environment that helps students develop scholastic interests. Japan’ university system should also be made more flexible to allow people with undergraduate degrees to become undergraduates once again if they become interested in a new field of studies.

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