Changing university admission system in Japan

Changing university admission system in Japan

by Rui Murakami(14)

   The Japanese government is planning to reform the National Center Test for University Admissions ( “Center Test”) and introduce a new achievement test to assess academic achievement of applicants to universities more accurately.

As one of the high school students affected by the introduction of this new standardized test, I am eager to know when it will start and what it will be like and furthermore, why is the new test system being launched now?

According to the protocol, the Center Test aims to assess test takers’ basic learning and performance in high school to help public and private universities evaluate how well applicants are academically prepared for college. How the test score will be used is up to each university.

One of the major criticisms of the Center Test is that it is only offered once a year. Even if the test takers miss the exam due to illness or any other reason, it can not be rescheduled and they have to wait until the next year. Their efforts over the years are in vain in such cases. The second problem is its multiple choice format. It is often said that you might get a right answer in the Center Test by rolling a pencil as a dice and get a high score by chance.

The new test will use the frameworks of the GCSE level and the GCE-A level in Britain, the SAT in the US and the baccalaureat in France as references. However, every test has pros and cons. Therefore, I interviewed young British journalists of Headliners, Children Express (CE)’s sister organization, who had taken GCSE during my visit to three Headliners offices as part of CE’s summer program in 2013.

131025_test970   One of the major differences from the Japanese Center Test is that the British test is divided into two levels: the GCSE level and the GCE-A level. The first one is designed for ninth grade students in junior high school and the score can be also used to prove qualifications for those who do not continue on to college and seek a job. Some of them may choose vocational schools, but they are not so popular because of the expensive tuition. For young people who start working right after school, the GCSE score is the only certified qualification. Regarding the disadvantage of the system, those who had already taken the test as well as those who are preparing to do so said unanimously, “It is too early to decide your future at that age.”

After taking the GCSE, the next stage is the GCE-A level, a prerequisite for university admission and similar to the Japanese Center Test. Test takers can choose the subjects depending on their chosen college enrollment requirement. On the one hand, it enables them to discover their competencies and inspires their curiosity given a broad range of subject choices; but on the other hand, if they change their mind on what to do in the future after starting preparing for the test, they may also need to change the subjects. Although it is possible to do so, in reality it is difficult to catch up with the studies afterwards.

After interviewing those who had taken the GCSE and the GCE A level, I found that in Britain, high school students have to decide what they want to do in the future early as they have to choose the subjects they will study for the exams. Many of young journalists of Headliners whom I interviewed felt that the Japanese center test is better than the British test system; if you make continuous efforts on study, you will get good scores in Japan and even when you have no idea what the correct answer is, at least you can pick up one answer randomly from multiple choices. However, the majority thought that the British style encourages students to think about their future career early.

I discovered that the British government is planning to reform their test system by implementing “international baccalaureat” for middle school and high school students which can be granted after completing the education program certified by International Baccalaureat Institution. To learn about the reform, I contacted the Ministry of Education.

The main purpose of this reform is to meet the demand from the universities and employers with stricter verification of the precise level of the applicants’ achievements. The historical survey of the British tests shows that applicants’ academic levels have not always matched their selected majors in the universities. The new test will be designed to focus more on the applicants’ intellectual activities than their test skills in order to assess their deep knowledge and intelligence.

While Japan is trying to overhaul the university admission test system, the British test system, one of the model systems for Japan, is also going through transformation. How the Japanese new test is reformed and when such a new test is introduced should be announced well in advance to students, schools and prep schools to reduce their anxiety and unnecessary confusion.



Anyone can be a leader

Anyone can be a leader

Mariko Iinuma (17)

     In Japan, there is a long-held social tradition whereby whoever attracts attention like a nail sticking up will be hammered down, pounded back into conformity. Because of this trend, people tend to avoid taking leadership. In a survey of 33 youths by Children’s Express, there were only a handful who had received leadership education at school or outside of school.  Recently, however, people in Japan are clamoring for leadership.  College admissions tests and employment exams place high priority on leadership skills, and new employees are expected to show initiative. US schools already conduct leadership education, as do schools in the UK. Therefore, I researched and conducted interviews regarding the differences and similarities in leadership education in Japan, the US, and the UK in order to answer the central question: “What is leadership?”

<“Center of the Circle”>

a     Research was conducted at Y-PLAN, an organization that runs a leadership education program at the University of California, Berkeley. I interviewed Deborah McKoy, the director of Center for Cities and Schools, the parent organization of Y-PLAN, and Jessie Stewart (28) the Y-PLAN coordinator. Y-PLAN is a program where youths engage in a real city reform project with authentic clients, and present their ideas to them. With great confidence Ms. Stewart says, “You are given the opportunity to stand up and present your ideas to the panels that have the power to implement those ideas. This gives you more confidence that you can become a leader and make a change to the community.” According to Ms. Stewart, qualities essential for a leader are “compassion and the courage for risk taking. A leader needs to think about the whole group, and not just yourself. Also a leader needs the skill to listen to other conflicting ideas and create a balance because not everyone is going to agree with you.” The reason leadership is considered important in the US is because, “In the US, wealthy people who earned a degree at an institution of higher education became leaders; but as globalization spreads in the common society, whether you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, anyone needs leadership skills in this era” says Ms. Deborah.

Some Japanese students have participated in Y-PLAN, including one hundred high school students who were victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March, 2011. In the group’s 2012 report on their Y-PLAN experience, one participant says, “A leader is not someone who stands on the apex of the triangle, but someone who stands in the center of the circle and organizes everyone’s ideas to make a nice round circle.” There were also many positive thoughts such as “One thing that I changed most is, I am not afraid to speak in front of people, and I am able to express my opinions to others.”

<Effect of Group Projects>

b     Children’s Express visited a leadership organization in London called Changemakers, as well as a branch of “Headliners,” a sister organization of Children’s Express.  Changemakers was established in 1994 by specialists in education and NGO’s, with the purpose of unlocking leadership potential in youth, developing a desire amongst youth to improve their surroundings, and instilling the values young people need to become a leaders. According to Suraj Vadgama (26), one of the coaches at Changemakers, “after youths participate in their program, they gain confidence, communication skills, motivation, and ambition”. When I told them about how people avoid taking leadership in Japan, Suraj commented, “To gain support from others, you have to be accepted by everyone and strongly appeal that you are here as a leader to support everyone.”

At Headliners in London, when I asked about the qualities necessary for a leader, most everyone mentioned confidence, the ability to listen to others, and valuing teamwork. Gabriella (17), one of the reporters at Headliners, has been a leader at a program where youths establish their own business. Through this program, “It was a struggle to gather the diversity of people in one whole group and lead them to the goal. But independence and the sense of responsibility grew in me,” Gabriella recounted. When I told my interviewees that there are not many group projects at school in Japan, and that people are shy to become leaders, the youth reporters at Headliners were surprised. They pointed out that you can learn communication skills through group projects and you can learn how to cooperate with others, so Japan should employ group projects more often. Even without such projects, though, leadership may be developed by embracing a certain worldview.  Naomi (18) from Belfast said, “Leadership can develop even if you don’t participate in leadership programs because you gain leadership when you lead your own life.”  Deanna (18) had a universal perspective, saying that “If the leader is absent, you need another leader from the rest of the members. So everyone needs leadership. Being a leader is not special.”c

The current generation of US and UK youth both agree that a leader is not someone who leads everyone from a position at the head of the group, but someone who is in the center, gathering the team and being accepted by others as he goes around and listens to different opinions. US and UK educational institutions emphasize that leadership roles are open to all members of society and that youth is the best time to practice leading. In this way, young people come to understand that leadership should be a common form of social interaction, not something special. If Japan introduces this educational approach, there will likely be far more world leaders “made in Japan.”



飯沼 茉莉子(16)


  カリフォルニア大学バークレー校でY-PLANという教育を行っているCenter for Cities and Schoolsのディレクター. デボラ・マッコイさんと、コーディネーターのジェシー・スチュワートさん(28)にインタビューをした。Y-PLANとは、若者が地域の活性化プロジェクトに参加し、自分たちのアイディアを市長や企業に直接プレゼンテーションをするまでを行うプログラムだ。スチュワートさんは「ここでは、自分の意見やアイディアを表現する場が与えられるため、自分がリーダーとなってこの地域を変えてみようという自信をもつことができるようになる」と自信たっぷりに語った。リーダーになるための要素は「周りへの思いやりとリスクを取る勇気。リーダーは自分のことだけではなくグループ全体のことも考えなければいけないし、反対意見も聞いてグループをバランスよくまとめる能力が必要なの」と指導のコツを教えてくれた。なぜリーダーシップが重要視されているかを尋ねると、「アメリカではこれまで、高等教育を受けた裕福な人たちがリーダーになっていたが、グローバル化した今、金持ちか貧乏か、教育をうけたか受けてないかは関係なく、誰もがリーダーシップスキルを持つ必要がある時代になった」とデボラさんはいう。






南雲 満友(18)

 リーダーシップって何だろう。 そしてそれを育むリーダーシップ教育とは何だろう。2013年8月1日から8日まで日英記者交流でイギリスを訪問した際に、チルドレンズ・エクスプレスの姉妹団体であるHeadliners(ヘッドライナーズ)の記者とユースワーカーたち14名(ロンドン局7名、ベルファスト局4名、フォイル局3名)、さらに日本の若者34名に取材をした。それを通して見えてきた「リーダーシップ」についてまとめた。











瀧澤 真結(15)




 最後に将来自分のやりたい職業に就くために大学は必要かと尋ねると、ほぼ全員が「必ずとは言えない」と答えた。理由は、企業はどのような学科や大学を卒業しているかよりも、経験を重視するからだという。ロンドン局のガブリエル君(17)は、記者になりたいと思って、文系の学科などに入って勉強をしても、HeadlinersやChildren Expressなどの子ども記者団体に入って実際に記事を書いたほうが良い記者になれると語った。ただし、医者や先生などの特定の職業に関しては大学は必要だと答えていた。

 各局への取材を終えて、イギリスの制度にも日本の制度と同じようにメリットとデメリットが存在することが分かった。また、日本がマークシート式なのに対して、イギリスでは記述式を重視した試験にしているという違いも知った。イギリスで取材した際、多くの学生がマークシート式の方が当たる確率が高いから受けやすいと答えていた。それに対してフォイル局のケイティーさん(17)は、マークシート式は答えの選択肢が似たりよったりしているので、正確に答えを知らなければいけないから難しいと語った。取材の最後にイギリスの制度と日本の制度のどちらが良いか、最初に聞いたが意見が変わったかと聞いた。結果は完全に変わったという人は少なかったが、どちらの制度にもメリットとデメリットがあり、学生たちのことをよく考えて作られてあると語っていた。 日本の教育制度がこれから変わろうとしているが、どの制度にもメリット・デメリットは存在する。それよりも、私たちの学生にとっては、将来の職業や専門につながる勉強や経験を重視した教育をすることが大事なのではないだろうか。少なくともイギリスはそういう方向であることが感じられた。日本の文科省の判断を待ちたい。



村上 類(14)











毛利 真由(16)

 2013年日本政府は大学入試のセンター試験を廃止して新たな試験を実施する検討に入っている。次に用いられる統一試験方法はフランスのバカロレアやイギリスのGCSEを参考にするともいわれる。日本では、なぜ長年続けたセンター試験を見直すのか、そのメリット・デメリットは何なのか。GCSEやA―LEVEL を受験しているイギリスの学生を現地で取材した。








The Shadow of the Mandatory Education System in Cambodia

The Shadow of the Mandatory Education System in Cambodia

May 19, 2013                                         By Nako Yoneyama (16)

During my stay in Cambodia from March 24 to 29 of this year, I was fascinated by the views of gorgeous hotels decorated with exquisite carvings, the skyscrapers, flashing neon-lighted buildings, and streets flooded with foreign cars and motorbikes.  Though Cambodia displays signs of remarkable development, its education system is still struggling with difficulties.  I explored the present state of Cambodian education by interviewing Mr. Kevin Doyle, chief editor of the newspaper Cambodia Daily, and by speaking with currently employed school teachers.

 130517_2_1    The standard way to become a teacher in Cambodia is to complete the governmental teacher training standard curriculum to obtain an official teaching certificate.  However, according to Mr. Doyle, there are non-official teaching certificates which are not properly authorized by the government, some of which can simply be purchased.  Such purchasable certificates and diplomas include PhD and Master degrees not certified by the government.  So, the academic backgrounds and teaching certificates claimed in candidate-submitted resumes are not reliable. Actual interviews are necessary to judge candidates’ qualifications.

     Supported by high tuition fees, affluent private schools can hire talented teachers through careful selection processes.  By contrast, public schools often employ teachers with non-official certificates leading to low quality education.  When a national education system was introduced after the Pol Pot regime, those who had only finished secondary school were able to become teachers.  At present, high school graduates are supposed to enroll in a public training center for two years to obtain a teaching license.

      I visited two public primary schools, Tropienspai Elementary School in Phnom Penh and Bankyuan School in Kandal province and found both of their classes very dull and monotonous: one student answered a teacher’s questions and all the rest of the students repeated the answer.  Except for answering the question posed, students are not given any chance to think, simply repeating the same answer over and over. According to Mr. Doyle, this is the method typical of the majority of public elementary schools.

     The low salary for public school teachers is another problem.  Mr. Chim Didah (20), teaching at Bankyuan School, and Mr. Sau Wannarom (53), teaching at Tropienspai Elementary School, both admitted that they cannot afford to live on their school salaries alone.  Mr. Doyle pointed out two reasons why this is so.

     First, the government education budget is insufficient. Greater budgets are allocated for military expenditures and public security costs, which shows the government‘s priority on military affairs and public security over national education.  Another reason is the corruption at the local bureaucrat level.  Money for teachers’ salaries is sometimes stolen by local government officials while being transferred from the government to individual public schools.  Payment is often delayed for two to five months.

     Cambodian teachers often farm the land or run small businesses with family members to supplement their meager salary. They also receive money from their students through various means.  Although public school tuition in the primary and secondary schools is free, students’ families donate some money every morning to their teachers knowing that teachers’ salaries are not sufficient.  The amount of such donations is not fixed but depends on the household. Students are also charged for an examination to advance to the senior class. If they cannot afford it, the students automatically fail to be promoted to the next grade level.  To avoid such a situation, some parents are forced to borrow money for the examination fee.  Children from poor families cannot manage to pay for the examination and have no choice but to stay in the same grade or drop out of school.

     The issue of such payment to school teachers has been objected to by the Cambodia Daily, and many others.  During my flight from Seoul to Phnom Penh, I had the opportunity to talk about the problem with a Cambodian woman and Mr. Marin Sok, grant director of the Asia Foundation.  The Cambodian lady related stories of teachers selling answer sheets submitted by outstanding students, and of teachers’ wives selling lunch to children.  Such sales are not approved by the Ministry of Education, but regarded as “informal practices” like “a sort of tax” according to Mr. Doyle. Corruption is rampant among Cambodian officials due to the suppressed salary level, a regrettable fact that is widely acknowledged.

      Cambodian mandatory school education is divided into morning classes and afternoon classes.  Teachers work either in the morning or the afternoon, and teach students for examination preparation during the rest of the time, during which children must pay tuition. Teachers pursue lots of activities to supplement their income.  Many teachers wish to be employed in the big cities populated by wealthy households, avoiding poor rural areas, which face a severe shortage of teachers.

     Mr. Doyle insisted that lifting the salary level of teachers and public servants is necessary to solve these problems; corruption would be reduced and teachers would be paid sufficiently. Once they can live on their salary alone, they will not expect any money from their students, and more teachers will work in rural areas.  If children are robbed of their chances of education, especially in high-economic-growth modern Cambodia, their future and the prosperity of the country dependent on them will be significantly diminished.








Interviews 教育

Autumn Enrollment to be Global

December 16, 2012                                            By Mayu Takizawa (14)

A news article about the University of Tokyo planning to change its enrollment of undergraduate students from spring to autumn caught my eye. Then many questions emerged: What exactly does autumn enrollment mean? Will it have a positive impact on junior and senior high school students? What kind of problems are anticipated?

I had interviews with the University of Tokyo, business people, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the Tokushima University to study this issue.

Ms. Taeko Onodera, Manager for Long-term planning, General Affairs and Planning Department, University of Tokyo

Ms. Taeko Onodera, Manager for Long-term planning, General Affairs and Planning Department, University of Tokyo stated “we have not yet officially decided to change to autumn enrollment, but we are considering this system quite seriously. Mr. Junichi Hamada, the President of our university is eager to support students to be more global minded, having the intelligence and social skills necessary to challenge world taking risks. He believes that autumn enrollment is instrumental towards this goal.”

There are some issues to be resolved in regard to this change including a so-called “gap term” and conflict with the current employment process. Gap term is a new phrase coined by the University of Tokyo meaning the period between April to September when students graduating high school do not have classes to attend. Students are encouraged to participate in volunteer activities during this term.  Ms. Onodera explained the university’s strong commitment saying “We would like to offer students volunteer activity programs and study programs including activities in foreign countries with financial support. Then students can make valuable use of this time. As to employment, companies’ policies are becoming more flexible to hire graduates throughout the year. It is necessary to change our current education system otherwise Japan will lose global competition.  The University of Tokyo is expected to take leadership in globalizing our academic system and driving Japan to reform itself entirely.”

Ms. Tomoko Hasegawa, Deputy Director, Public Relations Bureau, Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations), said Keidanren is also aiming to support the cultivation of globally-minded people and welcomes the autumn enrollment as a measure for internationalizing Japanese. However, she does not agree with all Japanese universities’ changing to fall enrollment. Keidanren is ready to support those colleges which are heading for internationalization.

Mr. Shun Shirai, Deputy Director, University Promotion Division, Ministry of Education

According to Mr. Shun Shirai, Deputy Director, University Promotion Division, Ministry of Education, the Ministry is going to endorse the introduction of autumn enrollment. However, they need to work with the business community and other relevant ministries to solve the conflict with current recruitment procedures and the national examination calendars. In addition, it is not easy to provide a subsidy for the operational cost of such introduction because such subsidies come from taxpayers. That said, making Japan adopt a global standard is significant and the Ministry is going to cooperate with universities as much as possible.

Mr. Yoshihisa Takaishi, Vice President, Executive Director for Education and Students Affairs, the Tokushima University said “Today the issue of globalization is a common topic throughout Japan. As a whole, the country must move forward to become global. Our graduate program has already started to adopt the autumn term enrollment as a measure of globalization.”  The Tokushima University is ready to introduce the autumn enrollment system for undergraduates, too if there is public support to cover transitional costs and solve the national examination scheduling problem, the Tokushima University is a regional public university which has many science courses including medicine, dentistry, pharmacology, and engineering.

What obstacles are expected from the introduction of the autumn enrollment? One is the corporate recruitment procedure. The University of Tokyo and Keidanren realize that many corporations are hiring new graduates throughout the year, but the Ministry of Education said that most newly hired employees start working from spring and recruitment throughout the year is exceptional. As to the national examinations held only once a year, graduates in the autumn enrollment system would have to wait for the next year’s examination. Students who finish high school in spring will not have a stable position nor identity until autumn and this point must be clarified. If they find temporary jobs and gain some income during the gap term, they would surely have to pay social security tax. Can we solve all these issues?

Throughout these interviews, the recognition of the autumn enrollment system was the same; it is a measure to globalize Japan. Japan is aiming to be more global to beat competition with foreign countries.  Some universities are for the autumn enrollment and others seek alternative measures to be global.  We should keep tabs on their various approaches.



Interviews 社会

Dural-surname System, Pros and Cons

September 2, 2012                                               By Nana Hanta (17)

According to the survey conducted by the Cabinet in 2001, 29.9 % of the respondents felt that married couple should always use the same surname and opposed any revision of the current law, down from the 39.8 % who felt this way in 1996. The percentage of those who favored allowing married couples to use separate surnames even in the household registers, however, rose from 32.5% to 42.1%.

Dural-surname System, Pros and Cons
Fujiko Sakakibara, lawyer and professor of Waseda Law School

The result indicates an increased interest in dual-surname system in Japan. So I interviewed three people on this issue; Fujiko Sakakibara, lawyer and professor of Waseda Law School who advocates for the change, Tsugio Watanabe, who is married but not registered to keep individual surnames, and Lower House member Shizuka Kamei who opposes any changes.

Sakakibara said there are three major advantages to dual-surname system. “First, people do not need to give up their original names which may be the symbol of their identity. They also can protect from others their privacy on marital status. Next, changing surnames risks losing credibility on past business performance but the dual-surname system allows people to avoid such troubles and encourages women’s social advancement. Finally, under the single-surname system, the custom of women giving up their original names persists, but the dual system fosters the sense of gender equality, symbolizing the equality between husbands and wives.”

Watanabe said, “All we want is the right to choose separate surnames. It will not affect the couples who favor single surname, so I see no disadvantages.”

On the other hand, Kamei was the one who virtually blocked the implementation of the dual-surname system amid the big chorus of politicians demanding the change during the Hatoyama administration. Kamei, who has been active on the front lines of this issue, said, “I don’t see the point of discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the dual-surname system, since it is not an absolutely necessity. The current system is convenient so why should we abolish it and cause needless chaos?”

On May 16, 2012, The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in “World Health Statistics 2012” that the birthrate in Japan was 1.4%, ranking 175th out of 193 member nations. With the falling birthrate, marriages of people without siblings increase, causing the ends of “family names.” Sakakibara pointed out that “Many couples want to retain their surnames because they regard the names as inheritance from their parents and ancestors.” Dual-surname system is an incentive measure for marriage and birth. It is time for us to take some concrete steps.


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