In the 1990's, in response to a changing global economy, Japanese education authorities realized they needed to make major changes to their education system. One of these was to change the curriculum to include an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning, critical thinking, problem solving, and international relations.
With a very prescribed curriculum, the trick was to find a place for these new skills. The answer? A new focus on "integrated learning."
The integrated learning courses are intended to give more flexibility to schools in teaching these skills and for designing them locally to meet the needs of their own students. Allowing schools the freedom to design this coursework would hopefully lead to increased engagement of students and teachers. The intent was also to increase the discussion of key themes like nuclear power, the environment, international relations, and other topics that were not being taught under the central curriculum, but are relevant to Japan's future.
Today, Japan has seen the greatest progress in teaching creativity and on attitudes toward learning according to the OECD. And although test scores initially declined after these changes were made, today Japan is back on top as one of the top-performing countries on PISA.
Watch this OECD/Pearson Foundation video to see the integrated studies course in action.