Forces of Destruction: grades in school, merit system, incentive pay, business plans, quotas.
Focus on rankings hurts children's education
Kyoko Kishida, a celebrated character actress who died at 76 last December, wrote in an essay that she used to be partial to children who had strong personalities. She was delighted, she recalled, whenever she came across a youngster who was too individualistic to keep pace with his or her peers.
But, Kishida went on, all that changed when she became a mother. "Hurry up and finish your meal," she would snap at her child. "Have you done your homework?"she would nag. She worried about her child not being accepted by peers. From her writing, I can almost hear her sighing at herself in dismay for having become "another typical adult."
However, I imagine parents just can't help being "typical adults," nor can they ignore the results of the education ministry's latest nationwide survey of primary and junior high school students' scholastic ability.
The survey reveals exactly where each prefecture ranks in scholastic aptitude. Although the rankings were made by city, town or village as well as by school, the results were not officially announced. I should think many parents are feeling uneasy, imaging what the results of their children's school was.
Education boards of lower-ranked prefectures are not happy. "I was shocked," said a board member in lowest-ranked Okinawa Prefecture. A board member in Osaka lamented, "I thought we'd done everything we could think of for our kids." And a Kochi board member sounded like the commander of a defeated army, saying the board should "apologize to the kids."
It is difficult to analyze the results of a survey with complete accuracy. But rankings are easy to understand, so people tend to focus on them and talk about them, proudly or dejectedly, depending on where they stand.
The survey in question has been much touted by the education ministry. But I can't really see anything positive in it, if all it does is make parents and educators around the nation happy or miserable over what may only be superficial phenomena.
To go back to Kishida: By her own account, she could not do division even in her upper years in primary school. But when her mother helped her understand what it meant to divide a number, a whole new world opened up for her.
The education ministry will conduct another survey next year. This worries me. I just hope it will not result in schools becoming overly zealous to teach youngsters how to score higher in tests to improve their national rankings, and consequently depriving them of the thrill and joy of understanding something new.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 26(IHT/Asahi: October 27,2007)