Japanese students might be among the best in the world, according to international assessments, but how well do they really understand the material they’re learning? Not that well, says a new study.
The study, done by the Mathematical Society of Japan, demonstrated that while university students had no problems doing calculations for standard formulas, they were unable to explain why the calculation methods were used, reports The Yomiuri Shimbun, via the Bellingham Herald.
The five-question test was given out to students following a rising number of complaints from professors that students’ academic ability has been falling in recent years. Just 1.2 percent of students were able to answer all the elementary- and middle-school-level questions correctly. About 20 percent of students majoring in science and technology didn’t understand the concept of an average.
A type of teacher professional development that has existed in Japan for a century is recently becoming more popular in the United States, reports Chicago’s WBEZ. The so-called “lesson study” technique, which involves teachers watching one colleague teaching a model lesson and debriefing afterwards, has worked its way into Chicago schools and was included in Florida’s winning Race to the Top grant application.
WBEZ took a look at a lesson study in progress on Chicago’s northwest side, describing the scene:
A provisional classroom has been set up. A white board sits at the front of the room, and 20 eighth graders are seated at library tables. Math teacher Michael Hock is giving a lesson about the distributive property.
Scattered throughout the room are some 30 other teachers. They aren’t wearing lab coats—but they might as well be. They clutch clipboards and carefully monitor kids’ reactions to the teacher’s explanations, peering over students’ shoulders as they write answers.
Visiting that day was a professor of math education in Japan, Toshiakira Fujii, who explained how common lesson study was in his country. “You can see [it] everywhere in Japan,” Fujii said. “In Tokyo in the case it’s Wednesday. Wednesday [we] usually finish at lunch time. Then one class stays, and the other classes dismiss. And then every teacher comes to that one class and observes. Even the school nurse and school counselor also join to watch the lesson—that’s our traditional way.”
Fujii added that teachers view these lessons as a way to prove their abilities to colleagues.
Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is setting aside more funding for scholarships to send its high school and college students abroad. It aims to fund study abroad experiences for 5,000 in fiscal year 2012, according to The Mainichi Daily News.
The ultimate goal is for the ministry to be able to provide financial aid for 10,000 students by 2017. “According to the ministry, the number of Japanese studying abroad reached 82,945 in 2004 before steadily dropping to 66,833 in 2008, down 11 percent from the year before. High school students studying abroad totaled 3,190 in 2008, down 18 percent from 2006,” the Daily News reported.