This is an interesting little news item, at least to me.
The education ministry has decided to craft curriculum guidelines for undergraduate programs setting minimum knowledge and techniques required for graduation, with the aim of maintaining the quality of education at universities, ministry sources said Tuesday.
It all sounds so enlightened and progressive! But I know what happened the last time the ministry tightened up on their guidelines. Their idea of quality education is more time spent in classrooms, which meant that they suddenly decided that there had to be fifteen weeks of classes per semester and no fewer. They came down very hard on this at one place I work (the women's university), and the result was that suddenly our semesters got longer and all the teachers had to dream up something to fill an extra class or two. Also, the teachers could not have sick days any more, unless they made up the classes later.
But the best bit was that when the Ministry inspected the university and discovered that semesters had not been fifteen weeks the year before, they insisted that school nurses or kindergarten teachers, who had ALREADY GRADUATED and HAD JOBS, had to come back and sit through one more lecture, to make up the shortfall, otherwise they would lose their licenses. I was lucky, as my courses were not relevant for this requirement. Other teachers were not so lucky, and had to come in during their holidays to teach one more class. I do not know how many of these graduates actually attended, but I would not be surprised if there was a high level of absenteeism. Probably not on paper, though. I am sure that on paper this worked perfectly, and kept the standard of education (according to the Min. of Ed.) really, really high.
So the end result of the last attempt to improve education by the Ministry was completely ineffectual as far as education was concerned, but extremely annoying for teachers. At the women's university, since there is now an unofficial rule that we cannot fail the students (I am fairly sure the Min. of Ed. does not know about that one), and attending two thirds of the classes is the only requirement for passing, what it has meant is that the only requirement for graduation is that students keep seats warm for ten out of fifteen classes instead of nine out of fourteen, for four years.
(Incidentally, at that university, when I told a student that listening to music on her portable music player was not acceptable during my classes, she got all hurt and indignant. "But everybody does it!" she told me. "None of the other teachers mind. Why is this class any different? Why are you picking on me?")
On paper, these students are getting their quality education, as prescribed by the Ministry of Education.
I predict that the new curriculum guidelines and evaluation standards will also be followed faithfully, on paper. Dozing students will be lectured at on any number of fabulous things, and the tests (which everybody will, of course, pass) will look much harder.
The really interesting bit of this article, however, is right at the end:
The move also reflects Japan's apparent bid to streamline university education evaluation standards since the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is considering launching a study to assess university educational outcomes using the world's standardized criteria and Japan is set to take part in the study.
It will be very interesting to see how the Min. of Ed. gets out of this one. Will they cherry-pick the universities and students to take part in this study? I cannot see any other way they can avoid an ABSOLUTE DEBACLE.