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Absent From School

Japan is known far and wide for maintaining a rigorous and effective public education system. But a significant number of students are less than enamored with it. A new report from the country's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology shows that the number of students refusing to attend school is rising for the first time in five years.

The Japan Times reports in this story that "a record 138,696 elementary and junior high school students were absent from school for at least 30 days without good reason during the school year that ended in March."

That's a minute percentage of the younger students, but about 3 percent of adolescents are abandoning schooling in a country where education is highly valued and viewed as the only road to prosperity.

The report lists a number of reasons absentees gave for staying away, including delinquency, bullying, relationship and mental health issues, and apathy.

Several years ago the government began instituting significant curriculum reforms to address concerns that schools were not preparing students to succeed in an economy that rewards innovation and creativity. I was there on assignment to report on the changes—which included a 30 percent reduction in content, introduction of integrated courses, and elimination of the time-honored tradition of Saturday school. They were prompted, in part, by a floundering economy and concerns that too many students were becoming more stressed and despondent. Surveys at the time had shown that about half of students did not enjoy school or see the purpose in studying hard.

The changes were controversial, and some parents began sending their children to cram schools to ensure they were learning the essentials. But there was also a sense that focusing on developing the whole student would also have its benefits.

Alas, some cities and towns have rolled back those reforms, citing declining test scores and concerns among parents that their children were not being properly prepared for university exams and careers.

I wonder if the reforms—or the move back to the traditional curriculum—had any effect on students' satisfaction or dissatisfaction with school.

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