Selection into higher education in Japan, including initial teacher education (ITE), is traditionally linked to a standardised high-stakes national university entrance examination, known as the National Center Test for University Admissions (NCT). The NCT is administered once a year in January by an Independent Administrative Institution (IAI), the National Center for University Entrance Examinations (NCUEE), in collaboration with universities (National Center for University Entrance Examinations, 2018). The NCUEE completes test development, testing procedures, guidelines, scoring, and score notifications for the NCT, in addition to conducting research on the improvement of university admission selection filters, including the NCT. Most universities specify the subject areas and subjects to be used for their admissions procedures; and implement, manage and process the results of the NCT. (National Center for University Entrance Examinations, 2015)
The NCT was introduced in 1979 to make standardised examinations available for public universities. In 2015, more than 79% of students were enrolled in private universities in Japan, compared to the OECD average of 31% (OECD, 2017), and there are more than 500 private universities in Japan providing teacher education (Table 1). In 2016, 767 four-year and two-year private and public universities (90%) employed the NCT in their admission processes (National Center for University Entrance Examinations, 2015). The examination is knowledge-based and contains multiple-choice items. However, the Japanese authorities are currently reviewing the NCT to include more open-ended question items (reference forthcoming). The NCT in the 2016 school year covered 30 subjects in 6 major subject areas, in accordance with the latest MEXT curriculum guidelines revised in March 2009:
Notes: Japanese fiscal year starts on 1st of April and ends on 31st. There are 86 national universities in Japan. However, four of them are the universities for graduate education, and thus they are removed from the total number of national universities.
Source: The number of universities using the national university admission examinations is available on the National Center for University Entrance Examinations website (www.dnc.ac.jp)
Diverse selection filters
In 2011, the National Center for University Entrance Examinations published guidance on university admissions, which promoted “individuality and diversification of the admissions systems by universities, through integration of the National Center Test and respective university examinations”. So although the NCT is used by most universities (i.e. Open System) and university departments, including those specialising in initial teacher education, each higher education institution (HEI) can choose to integrate the NCT with other selection filters. These filters are the “First-term” and “Second-term” exams, which are developed and administered by universities, with a prevailing focus on content knowledge. However, ITE programmes in the Open System commonly accept all candidates with the required NCT score, without these additional requirements (National Center for University Entrance Examinations, 2015).
Universities often frame first-term exams as heavily knowledge-focused, while Second-term exams can cover knowledge-based as well as qualitative and personal aspects. Second-term exams, which are scheduled one month after First-term exams, represent a second chance for those who failed First-term exams. These students usually apply to less competitive HEIs than the ones they applied in the First-term. Short essays and/or interviews are commonly used to gauge the motivation and attitudes of candidates, particularly for universities specialising in initial teacher education. However, knowledge-based examinations can also be administered at both stages.
In addition, there are alternative university selection filters in Japan: Recommendation-based and Admissions Office-based (AO). While Recommendation-based Admission allows university programmes to build the student body that is needed to attain the goals set by the university, AO applicants recommend themselves. For example, motivation to become a teacher can be an admission criterion in a university-based ITE programme, and applicants applying through AO must prove their intent. In both alternative admission systems, some universities/university programmes place an additional requirement on the applicant to demonstrate a minimum level of academic skills, using the NCT score. Table 1 presents the different selection filters used to enter departments of education in Miyagi University and Shimane University.
Source: Miyagi University of Education, http://www.miyakyo-u.ac.jp/about/outline/ct9.html, retrieved 11 March 2018; Shimane University, http://www.shimane-u.ac.jp/nyushi/information/application/, retrieved 11 March 2018.
In general, the most highly reputed HEIs attract the highest performing students on the basis of their NCT score. Individuals who wish to enrol in initial teacher education through the Open System or university departments specialising in ITE must submit their NCT score in the required subject area to their HEI of choice. Prospective students typically decide on the HEI by comparing their own test score with those of past applicants – and the reputation of the university or ITE programme.
Usually less competitive public universities require applicants to provide NCT scores on fewer and less fundamental subject areas than national universities and other competitive private universities. In addition, many private and less competitive universities do not require additional (First Term) examinations.
Those universities and university departments specialising in ITE also cap the number of students they admit annually. The competitive admission process thus serves as the bar for selecting quality candidates for ITE programmes.
The OECD Review Team in its review of Japan from 5-9 September 2016 concluded that competitive selection coupled with diverse selection filters into ITE can be a strength because they allow for:
The OECD Review Team also noted that:
This case study describes a “Promising practice” drawn from an OECD review of Initial Teacher Preparation in Japan from 5-9 September 2016.
The OECD Review Team – Hannah von Ahlefeld (OECD), Francesca Caena (University of Venice), Kjetil Helgeland (OECD) and Danielle Toon (Learning First) – identified a number of “Promising practices” in each country. These practices may not be widespread or representative, but seen in the context of other challenges, they represent a strength or opportunity to improve the country’s initial teacher preparation system – and for other countries to learn from them.
This work is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD member countries.
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