SWOT Diagnosis

1. Attracting the most suitable candidates into ITE programmes

In spite of the challenges of declining population, ageing workforce and increasing urbanisation, Japanese society continues to place a high value on education and teachers are well-paid compared to other professions.

Intrinsic value of the profession

The profession is generally held in high regard and there is strong interest in education in Japanese society.

Job security

In the current economic climate, the promise of a secure job in the public service is very attractive in many regions in Japan, especially in rural areas.

The salary gap is narrowing

In the past, keeping teachers’ salaries higher than other public positions to raise the attractiveness has been a policy priority. This gap is now shrinking, making the teaching profession less attractive.

High work load, increasing responsibilities and “invisible tasks”

The demands on both new and experienced teachers are ever growing in the face of new technologies, new social challenges in schools (e.g. truancy, bullying, etc.) and high demands from parents.

Proposed initiatives to reduce teacher workload

The proposed initiative to hire support staff in schools should help relieve teachers of tasks not related to teaching, leaving more time to teaching.

Some projects are raising awareness of profession and dissemination of the advantages of being a teacher

Though no proof of effect or comprehensive policy approach.

Opportunities to increase the status of teachers

There are opportunities to increase the status of teachers, for example, through post-graduate level qualifications, teacher competency frameworks and grass root initiatives.

Imbalance between school education and home education

There is a limit to what students can learn in school, and what they have to learn at home. Some parents expectations from teachers and schools are very high, and a failure to recognise the pressure this puts on teachers may lead to teachers leaving the profession.

Waves of reforms

There has been many reforms targeting teachers and their work in recent years. Many teachers have expressed fatigue from constant changes in their work and the number of changes could be a threat to teachers’ happiness. All reforms should be necessary and evidence-based.

Budget constraints

In the current economic climate, funding for school education, including teachers’ salaries, may be further reduced.

2. Selecting the most suitable candidates into ITE programmes

Selection into higher education in Japan, including ITE, is characterised by a growing number of universities competing to attract students and a knowledge-based high-stakes national university entrance examination with programme-specific exams.

Entrants’ high level of academic knowledge

National university entrance examinations ensure a solid foundation of academic knowledge.

Customisation of selection filters

Teacher education institutions can create additional selection filters to suit local needs, for example this can include interviews focusing on motivation and personal characteristics of teacher candidates.

Selection focus on academic knowledge only

This occurs in both national university entrance examinations and in selection filters at entry to initial teacher education. This could overlook the importance of personal characteristics.

Uneven selection filters across teacher education institutions

The variety and autonomy of ITE providers can mean that not all providers using suitable selection filters. This may entail selection of individuals who are not motivated or suitable for teaching.

Reform of the national university entrance examination

Discussions around the revision of the national university entrance examination in Japan can provide opportunities for reflection on ITE selection filters.

Growing stakeholder awareness of the need for multiple selection filters in ITE and over a teacher’s career

There is a growing awareness in stakeholders (i.e. ITE providers, Boards of Education, etc.) of the need to align and link selection filters along the ITP pathway (at entry, during ITE and in teacher recruitment).

Demographic changes

The degree and effectiveness of entry selection can be influenced by a shrinking student population, increasing teacher turnover due to retirement of senior teachers, a variety of programmes from which students can choose – with local variation based on supply and demand.

Balancing autonomy and quality of ITE providers

It is difficult to strike a balance between the autonomy of teacher education institutions (which might be affected by local supply-demand ratios and institutional priorities) with the need to ensure ITP quality (selecting high-level entrants), efficiency (selecting entrants who will stay in the profession) and effectiveness (selecting entrants that are motivated to teach).

3. Equipping teacher candidates with what they need to know and do

Initial teacher education in Japan is provided mostly by private and national universities through education faculties or the Open System. Universities develop their own curriculum based on national guidelines, focusing on subject knowledge with increasing coverage of pedagogical topics and 2-4 weeks of practical training.

Nationally consistent curriculum

Japan has a strong and explicit national curriculum in schools (for students). MEXT sets strong guidelines based on this curriculum for teacher education institutions to follow.

Strong subject knowledge

The “Open system” allows people with strong subject knowledge to become teachers. There is a strong focus on subject knowledge, and an increased focus on pedagogical knowledge in initial teacher education programmes. School leaders say that new teachers have a good foundational level of knowledge.

Consistency between training & practice

Trainee teachers use the same process of lesson study that they will use for professional development throughout their careers. This process helps them continuously reflect upon and improve their practice.

Not enough practical experience throughout training

There is not enough exposure to how schools operate, how to interact with students and how theory should be applied in practice. Practicum often occurs too late for trainees to know whether they have the right skills and motivation to become teachers. The majority of stakeholders interviewed want new teachers to have more experience in schools.

Collaboration between education faculties and subject specialist faculties

Many universities have multiple ITE programmes that are independently organised and operated. Most education faculties do not interact with other faculties who provide subject specialist training. This is inefficient, especially for organising practicums.

Continuous improvement of curriculum to reflect contemporary issues

Some universities are reforming their ITE programmes by adding more courses, skills, practical training, or localised content. Some are defining general competencies for teachers. There is an opportunity to encourage this kind of continuous improvement across all ITE providers and programmes.

Continue enhancing collaboration

There are initiatives to enhance collaboration between universities (JANU, Tokyo Gakugei University joint projects), between universities and Boards of Education (Joint Councils), and between universities and schools (affiliated schools, internships volunteering). There is an opportunity to spread these practices more widely, deepen the exchange of ideas and information, and research which models are most effective.

Ability to reform undergraduate ITE programmes

Most undergraduate ITE programmes have operated for many years and it is hard to change embedded practices and ways. Implications of change also need to be considered. For example, it may be inefficient to provide more practical experience for the large number of students that undertake teacher training but never become teachers.

Trying to put too much into teacher training

Putting too many topics into teacher training will result in too much breadth and not enough depth of understanding in teachers. Teacher training needs to focus on what is best learnt at university, and leave out what is best learnt during induction or later in a teacher’s career.

4. Delivering ITE programmes effectively (quality assurance)

Competitive entry into higher education and Teachers’ Employment Examinations, combined with the regular evaluation of teacher education institutions and ITE programmes against national standards and annual reporting, help drive quality in initial teacher education programmes in Japan.

Accreditation process for all universities with strong consequences

A national accreditation process is mandated for all universities every 7 years. It involves an external evaluation performed by a national accreditation committee amongst others. There are accreditation standards that set the minimum requirements.

Publication of ITE programme information

All ITE programmes must publish an annual report containing information about their courses, financing, student enrolment and employment destinations. In addition, MEXT has started publishing ranking of national universities and departments of education by the percentage of their graduates in employment.

No formal direct feedback loops between schools and universities

There are no formal structures to enable schools to provide regular feedback to universities to help improve their programmes (e.g. current issues facing the school that should be covered in training). The Ministry is working to improve collaboration between universities and BoEs (Joint Councils).

No measure of quality of teachers produced

There is currently no way to assess which universities are producing the highest quality teachers across all competencies required for teaching. The Ministry is working on a teacher competency framework and a core curriculum for ITE programmes.

Collegial review (university-to-university)

Universities are starting to engage in meaningful collaboration on joint research projects. To improve quality across universities there could be structures that enable universities to provide collegial review feedback to each other to share ideas and jointly solve issues.

Enhance feedback on student practicum

Most schools complete evaluations of trainees following a practicum placement. This could contain richer information about how the trainee teacher (pre-service) can improve, for example A-D ratings on a set of competencies.

Trade-offs between ensuring quality and autonomy

There are trade-offs between ensuring quality, and facilitating university autonomy and innovation. Too many mandates and rigid standards can stifle innovation and local contextualisation. Systems can waste time collecting and sharing too much unimportant data.

5. Certifying & hiring new teachers

Students who have completed an initial teacher education programme must apply to their local Board of Education (BOE) for a teachers’ certificate. Certified teachers must then sit a 2-stage Teachers’ Employment Examination administered by BOEs following national guidelines, who hire teachers from a pool based on ranking in the Teachers’ Employment Examination.

Competitive employment examination

The examination is highly competitive and encourages teacher education institutions to continuously improve what they do to ensure that their graduates score highly on the examination. This competitiveness also helps to maintain the status of the teaching profession – competition for jobs is tough, especially in regional areas.

Local examination for local needs

The employment examination is developed by each Board of Education so that local needs can be addressed, for example some BOEs use interviews to assess suitability and motivation for teaching.

Alignment with supply and demand

While many students enter initial teacher education programmes, only those few with requisite skills and knowledge secure a job as a result of the examination, thus ensuring the alignment of supply and demand.

Slight mismatch between the teacher employment examination and the content of ITE

The employment examination does not always reflect the latest developments in the programmes, like risk management and how to deal with parents.

Inefficient recruitment practice

Parts of the Teachers’ Employment Examination overlaps in function with the teaching certificate. If standards in teacher education are high, the teacher certificate should be sufficient to prove content knowledge, so the teacher employment examination could be removed or reviewed.

Rethinking recruitment practices

The recruitment practices are in development as steps are being taken to better assess a prospective teacher’s personality, character and dedication.

Development of teacher competencies framework

Following the development of the teachers competency framework, it should be aligned to the certification and recruitment of teachers.

Mistakes are long-term

As for all civil servants in Japan, once a teacher is hired they are difficult to fire. Getting hiring right is very important!

Weak communication

Weak communication between ITE providers, hiring bodies (BOE) and schools may result in prospective teachers lacking the skills schools need.

6. Supporting new teachers

In Japan, all new full-time tenured teachers must complete a 1-year induction period (300 hours), delivered by Boards of Education. New teachers are also assigned a mentor and a subject-specialist teacher, who use whole-schools approaches, including lesson study, to provide formal support.

1-year induction programme

MEXT provides guidelines for the 1-year induction period for full-time tenured new teachers – involving 300 hours of training, including 120 hours of in-school training – which are implemented by Boards of Education. Participation and documentation of this induction period is extensive.

Promotion of a culture of (co-ordinated) collaboration in the school to support new teachers

Schools are encouraged to use a co-ordinated whole-school approach to training new teachers, drawing on the experience and observation of new and experienced teachers and trained mentors (lesson study).

Culture of seniority

The culture of seniority may make mentoring too directive. In addition, mentors are nominated by school principals on the basis of seniority and subject specialisation, not on other criteria such as leadership or relationship skills.

Mentor teachers overloaded and not trained for the task

Mentor teachers receive limited training to prepare for mentoring. Even with additional support, mentors may have a heavy workload.

Lack of strong filter at the end of induction (i.e. few students fail induction year)

As in other countries, only 1-2% of teachers fail to pass their induction year, the criteria for which is unclear. BOE makes this judgement as the employer. Clarifying expectations and professional competencies of teachers will help to improve the quality of the teaching force.

Tailor induction to teacher-specific needs

The induction programme is currently one-size-fits-all. It could be better tailored to new teachers’ previous experiences and current needs, for example new teachers who have been temporary teachers (“lecturers”) need less training in communication skills and lesson planning.

Work overload and practice shock may result in teachers leaving the profession

A range of stakeholders indicated that work overload for new teachers is considerable. This could include extra-curricular activities and training activities, in addition to regular teaching duties. It is unclear if all new teachers have a reduced workload. This may result in new teachers leaving the profession. A lack of practice training may exacerbate practice shock (i.e. under preparedness).