Miyagi town excels in national test amid education reforms




The Japan Times



While Miyagi Prefecture has been striving to improve the academic performance of its elementary and junior high school students, the town of Ogawara in the prefecture stands out, with students’ scores topping the national average in the National Achievement Test. This year, to the surprise of the education community, the average percentage of correct answers in the test by the town’s sixth graders was one of the highest in the nation. Among the factors behind the success was the town’s school education that draws out independent thinking of the children and its interactive communication with their families. During a math class for the third graders at Ogawara Elementary School in late September, a teacher introduced two formulas: 75x5x2 and 5x2x75. “Make groups of four students each and write on the board what you found out about the same and different points of the two formulas,” the teacher called on students. “The order of calculation is different,” one student said, followed by others who made such comments as: “The three numbers and the answer are the same,” “You can calculate in your head if you make 10 out of 5x2 first,” “That’s great.” The students actively shared their opinions, deepening their understanding. Such a class is one of the examples of the town’s teachings that respect the independent thinking of students. In 2021, the local Board of Education began to improve elementary school classes from the oneway instruction style of the past to one in which students can deepen their learning by actively thinking and discussing the subject matters by themselves. The town also introduced a teaching method that emphasizes the so-called PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Action) cycle, which is used in corporate management, to improve teachers’ instructional skills. Hiraku Ichikawa, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Miyagi University of Education, who is invited by the town’s education board to train teachers, praised the teachers’ efforts. “They continue to pursue an improvement in classes in straightforward manner, rather than using small tricks to raise scores,” he said. “As a result, more children have become able to retain what they have learned.” Active involvement by the schools in encouraging students to study at home is another factor behind the success. According to a survey conducted at the same time as the achievement test, the ratio of sixth graders in the town who attend cram schools was 27.0%, much lower than the national average of 45.6% and the prefectural average of 36.7%. Meanwhile, those who study at home for one hour or more a day accounted for 82.7% in the town, far ahead of the national average of 57.1% and the prefectural average of 54.5%. “The school provides a study guide and a fair amount of homework, which is helpful,” the mother of a sixth grader at Ogawara Elementary School said, adding that such support includes kanji practice, independent study materials and special study gear for weak points, as well as weekend assignments. The handouts from the school have comment sections for parents to fill in, so teachers and parents can communicate about the progress in children’s studies and their attitude at home and school, the mother said. The town’s education board has also established rules to limit the time for using the internet and playing games by children until 7:30 p.m. and up to 90 minutes a day. “Eighty to ninety percent of the families follow the rules,” one teacher said in explaining how students in the town can secure study time and curb their dependence on smartphones. These steady efforts have led to a leap in the average scores on the National Achievement Test. Normally, the results for each municipality are not made public, but the town’s education board revealed details to a general question by Shin Sudo, a member of the municipal assembly, during an assembly session in September. According to the board, the town’s average score in Japanese was 75.0% this year, higher than the 72.3% marked by Akita and Ishikawa prefectures, which topped the list by prefecture rankings. In arithmetic, the town scored 67.0%, the same level as topranking Tokyo and Ishikawa Prefecture, and ahead of the 62.0% achieved by Sendai, which usually scores high among municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture. “A combination of multiple factors led to the leap,” Hiroshi Suzuki, the head of the education board, said. “If students learn interactively by respecting their classmates and experience the joy of understanding, they will be motivated to study more, and a positive effect can be expected to reduce truancy and bullying,” he said. “We will strive to maintain the quality of the entire teaching staff even in the event of their transfers.” This section features topics and issues from the Tohoku region covered by the Kahoku Shimpo, the largest newspaper in Tohoku. The original article was published Oct. 30.