“Historic” Change in Japan’s High School Curriculum: Introducing Modern and Contemporary History

This spring, superior faculties about Japan are rolling out a groundbreaking needed training course combining modern day Japanese and entire world heritage. A superior school principal explores the new curriculum and its guarantee of university student-centered, competency-dependent understanding.

Japan’s high faculty history curriculum is undergoing an interesting alter. Commencing in April 2022, significant schools throughout Japan will provide a new compulsory system that seeks to combine Japanese and globe history, essentially altering the way both equally topics are taught.

The standard curriculum for Japanese elementary and secondary educational institutions is outlined in the Courses of Review, a established of pointers drawn up by the Ministry of Schooling, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). Underneath the previous tips for substantial college social research, there were just two obligatory classes, entire world historical past and modern culture. In the latest suggestions, these are replaced by a few new expected subjects: rekishi sōgō, or modern and up to date history chiri sōgō, or geography and kōkyō, or civics (actually, “public”). Together, the three classes are developed to cultivate a balanced knowing of Japan and the planet from a chronological, spatial, and social standpoint.

As described in MEXT’s curriculum pointers, present day and modern record discounts with the present day historical past of “the planet and Japan in the earth,” from the eighteenth century to the current. The intention is for learners to receive “a sweeping and interactive grasp” although establishing the next competencies: (1) the means to understand record, (2) the capability to look into and synthesize historical information and facts of many styles, (3) the capability to look at, clarify, and talk about the nature and significance of historical phenomena from several angles, (4) an desire in investigating historic phenomena with a perspective to increasing society, and (5) a consciousness of Japanese identity, a enjoy of Japanese heritage, and an recognition of the relevance of respecting other nations around the world and their cultures.

The new historical past curriculum is groundbreaking in two respects. To start out with, it marks the first time in the record of Japan’s public secondary education process (recognized in the second 50 percent of the nineteenth century) that Japanese and environment heritage have officially been blended in a single study course. Second, it represents a change from information-based mostly instruction centered on rote memorization to competency-dependent finding out centered on the cultivation of expertise and characteristics.

Desegregating Historical past

The treatment of Japanese background as a thing separate and distinctive from earth heritage goes back again to the Meiji period (1868–1912), when the initially countrywide guidelines for education were proven. Japanese record, or Nihonshi, was put in as a core matter in the major grades, wherever it was meant to instill patriotism and reverence for the emperor (as set forth in the 1881 Tips for the Course of Examine for Elementary Educational facilities). Environment historical past, then identified as bankokushi, was taught largely in the greater grades and originally centered on the Western entire world as the middle of “civilization and enlightenment.” From the very first classes, dealing with historical mythology, Nihonshi and bankokushi went their individual different methods, never ever intersecting.

In 1902, in the wake of the Very first Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), the Education and learning Ministry included a independent Jap element to the middle college bankokushi curriculum, citing the will need for pupils to study about Asian international locations in light of their deep historic ties with Japan. Tokyo Imperial College, meanwhile, divided its heritage application into three departments, Nihonshi, Tōyōshi (Japanese heritage), and Seiyōshi (Western history). The apply distribute, until eventually the compartmentalization of history into three individual branches was firmly entrenched in Japanese academia.

Sekaishi debuted in the Japanese higher college curriculum soon after World War II, with the institution of the new secondary faculty technique. Sekaishi introduced Asia (minus Japan) back again into the study of earth heritage, but Japanese background continued along its own different path. Generally, high schools made their students choose either Japanese or planet record, the much better to emphasis on the handful of subjects they would be examined on in the all-important college admissions exams.

In 1989, the Instruction Ministry designated earth record a necessary system for substantial university learners, citing globalization and the have to have to educate internationally minded citizens. But this policy lifted objections on the grounds that leaving learners ignorant of their very own nation’s historical past ran contrary to the ministry’s stated goal. This in switch sparked the opposing worry that generating Japanese historical past mandatory would guide some regional universities to extremely aim on the subject matter at the expense of educating students planet background.

In 2011, in an hard work to fulfill the two sides in the discussion, the Science Council of Japan proposed melding Japanese and earth historical past into 1 training course. Deliberations inside of the Training Ministry’s Central Council for Schooling ultimately led to the institution of rekishi sōgō, or modern day and up to date record, as a essential significant school subject matter.

Change to Competency-Based Finding out

Japan’s outdated strategy to earth heritage had its execs and downsides. On the as well as facet, it made available a comprehensive and systematic overview, as a substitute of disregarding large swathes of the world deemed irrelevant (as was the exercise in lots of international locations).

On the destructive aspect, Japan’s superior faculty planet background textbooks have been crammed total of names, dates, and phrases, any of which were being most likely to pop up on the environment record portion of the college entrance exams. In addition, the list of phrases to memorize saved growing—particularly from the 1980s on—as textbooks included modern activities with each other with new details drawn from these kinds of specialties as Center Eastern and Southeast Asian studies. A superior university environment history textbook revealed by Yamakawa Shuppansha in 1952 contained 1,308 historical conditions in its index. The similar publisher’s 2003 entire world heritage textbook stated extra than 3,379 items. The topic of planet historical past arrived to be involved with unlimited memorization, and much less and fewer significant university learners elected to sit for the earth background part of the nationwide university admissions exam.

The textbooks for Japanese heritage had been terminology-weighty in their personal correct (while much less daunting, given that superior faculty students went into the subject with prior understanding gathered in elementary and junior higher faculty). But seldom did the key principles highlighted in the earth record textbooks determine at all prominently in the Japanese history curriculum, even when they had obvious relevance. For instance, in environment background, students realized that in the wake of Earth War I, a “new diplomacy” emphasizing international cooperation emerged, existing aspect by facet with the “old diplomacy,” which was grounded in imperialism. But these competing currents are hardly mentioned in the Japanese heritage curriculum. Appropriately, one’s understanding of Japan’s posture going into the Washington Naval Meeting of 1921–22 is probable to differ substantially dependent on irrespective of whether just one acquired about it in the context of earth heritage or in that of Japanese record.

Supplied this deficiency of overlap and the weighty emphasis on rote memorization in both of those topics, a key challenge going through the curriculum designers was to mix Japanese and environment background without having doubling the volume of facts to be memorized. The remedy was to design a competency-primarily based curriculum that emphasizes historic imagining and interpretation, concentrating on three big themes in modern-day background: (1) modernization, (2) increase of mass democracy and the altering international order, and (3) globalization. This signaled a significant departure from the encyclopedic approach of prior high university background curriculums.

Record and Significant Contemplating

Modern-day and present-day record as it stands is a single two-credit rating study course (two 50-moment courses per 7 days), but it has lofty ambitions. It proposes a departure from the set up sample of higher school heritage classes, the place the instructor dispersed photocopied handouts and lectured, although the learners furiously scribbled historic phrases in the margins—terms that they memorized for the following exam and then speedily forgot. The idea now is to have college students go through historic resources, talk to thoughts about the adjustments taking place in the interval beneath research, and look for for solutions to those queries.

The textbooks created for the new curriculum are sprinkled with sample concerns and challenges for additional study. For example, Shōjutsu rekishi sōgō (Jikkyō Shuppan, 2022) indicates that students evaluate Japan’s early techniques towards modernization in late Edo time period with comparable tendencies in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Thailand, or Qing dynasty China. In addition to having pupils to believe far more deeply about sweeping historical traits, inquiries like these aid build connections between Japan and the rest of the globe.

The textbooks also stimulate learners to read through and interpret supply components and hone their considering and conversation competencies as they contemplate the issues of the working day from several angles. For example, Meikai rekishi sōgō (Teikoku-Shoin, 2022) speaks of the shifting tide of general public opinion on the Washington Naval Convention and asks college students to examine a up to date Japanese newspaper editorial that lauds the convention as a stage toward disarmament and globe peace.

In this way, the new curriculum promises a actually “historic” change from rote memorization for its very own sake to understanding as a foundation for significant thinking and interaction.

Needs Perform

That explained, the contemporary and present-day background curriculum is a work in development, and significant troubles continue being to be resolved. For a single issue, shifting emphasis notwithstanding, the new textbooks keep on being densely packed with factual information and facts. If the writers of Japan’s university entrance examinations scour these textbooks for particulars on which to check examinees (as they are wont to do), the end result will only be much more rote memorization and cramming.

A further trouble is that in numerous instances the textbooks drop back again on parallel narratives (“meanwhile, back in Japan”) rather of providing a certainly built-in world-wide perspective.

For illustration, Japanese textbooks demonstrate Japan’s swift expansion era practically completely in terms of inner elements devoid of speaking about these kinds of broader international trends as the intercontinental division of labor that emerged throughout the Cold War or the economic resurgence of East Asia as a complete. If we concentrate narrowly on factors unique to Japan in detailing the Japanese miracle, then how can we comprehend the economy’s subsequent stagnation, besides as a circumstance of “system fatigue”? Even though the compartmentalization of historical past into three individual branches continues at Japanese graduate schools currently, a a lot more integrated analytical technique is rising in the type of “global historical past.” Far more operate is desired to accomplish truly dynamic integration of Japanese and environment background in the high school curriculum as nicely.

Finally, I think that a person of the plans of the new curriculum should be to foster a more college student-centered, collaborative approach to understanding. Right until now, heritage courses have modeled on the impression of a teacher with vastly outstanding information who unilaterally enlightens the pupils. But as I see it, every single pupil has his or her very own perception of record grounded in a individual history and worldview, and no one’s feeling of historical past is inferior to everyone else’s. To be certain, I could have a deeper fund of historical know-how and far more experience grappling with historic troubles. But I have gaps and insufficiencies in my comprehending, just as my learners do.

I consider we should handle our students as fellow explorers. For me, the new curriculum is an possibility for teachers and pupils alike to engage with historic questions that have no suitable or incorrect response. That is my personalized goal for the new modern and modern day record curriculum.

(At first revealed in Japanese. Banner picture: Clockwise, new higher faculty textbooks for geography, civics, and modern day and present-day background. © Jiji.)