Educational Reforms in Japan : Impacts, Innovations, and Challenges

In the same year that National Education Policy 2020 was published in India, major educational reforms were also carried out in Japan. The 2020 educational reforms have brought major changes to Japan’s education system. The shift to flexible forms of learning, the promotion of STEM education, and changes in evaluation methods have received particular attention. This article will delve into the specific changes and their impacts, while also addressing the potential drawbacks associated with these educational reforms.


1. Transition to a Flexible Learning Format 

 The educational reforms implemented in FY2020 mark a shift from the traditional simultaneous class structure to embrace a more flexible learning format. This includes the introduction of “active learning” to foster independent and deep learning, and “curriculum management” to tailor education to local realities. The goal is to emphasize self-directed learning and to enable children to think independently and acquire problem-solving and communication skills.


Specific Changes : 

– Traditional independent study for each subject has been replaced by thematic and project-based learning across multiple academic disciplines.

– Students are now able to select learning methods and themes based on their own interests and concerns.

– The role of the teacher has transformed, from being an instructor to acting as a supporter and facilitator.


2. Promotion of STEM Education 


 The promotion of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) was identified as an important component of the 2020 education reform. The goal of STEM education is to cultivate problem-solving skills, creativity, teamwork, and logical thinking.

Specific Changes :

– Increased emphasis on experiments and hands-on activities in schools, promoting the seamless integration of theory and practice.
Computer science and programming studies were introduced extensively to the curriculum.
STEM-related extracurricular activities and events were actively developed.


3. Changes in Assessment Methods 

 The educational reforms implemented for the 2020 academic year also brought in changes to the method of academic evaluation. Instead of relying solely on the traditional simple written tests, a comprehensive approach has been introduced to assess a variety of skills and abilities. As a result, not only knowledge but also thinking, expressive, and problem-solving skills are now included in the evaluation process. 

Specific changes : 

– The scope of academic evaluation has been widened, and methods such as presentations, creation of works, and group discussions have been adopted in addition to written examinations.

– Academic evaluation methods that do not rely on examinations have been introduced, and evaluation methods that emphasize individual learning processes and growth have been adopted.


4. Examples Illustrating Things Introduced by the Changes

1. Reform of University Entrance Examinations (Shift from the Center Test to the Common Test)

Background and Factors : 

 Traditionally, Japan’s university entrance examinations were primarily based on a nationwide common test known as the Center Test. However, the Center Test imposed the challenge of encompassing all university entrance examination requirements in a single examination, which was sometimes burdensome for some students. There were also concerns that the evaluation method of the Center Test was biased, focusing predominantly on assessing knowledge only through a single test.

Introduction of the Common Test :

 To address these issues, a new test called as the “Common Test for University Admissions” was introduced in 2020. The Common Achievement Test aims to comprehensively evaluate a wider range of academic skills and abilities than the previous Center Test. Specifically, the inclusion of four skills (reading, listening, writing, and speaking) in English, along with writing tests in Japanese and mathematics were considered.

Future Prospects :

 With the introduction of the Common University Entrance Test, students will now be required to undertake multiple tests. They will need to adapt and prepare to become accustomed to this new test format, and take measures to ensure the fairness of the examination. Furthermore, it is hoped that adjustments and improvements in the content and evaluation standards of the common test will help to establish a more efficient and effective university entrance examination system.


2. Making English Language Education as a Subject in Elementary Schools

Background and Factors :

In today’s globalized society, English language proficiency has become an important communication tool. However, traditional English education in Japan has typically started with intensive English language studies from junior high school, resulting in time constraints and an excessive learning burden.

Making English Education as a Subject

Starting from FY2020, there has been a reform in English education in elementary schools. This involves incorporating 35 hours of “foreign language activities” per year in grades 3 and 4, and 70 hours per year in grades 5 and 6. In addition, English has become a subject in grades 5 and 6 under the category of “foreign language studies.”

This is expected to enable students to start learning English at an earlier stage fostering the development of fundamental English language skills. Additionally, the introduction of English as a foreign language subject is expected to enhance student motivation through the implementation of grades.

Future Prospects :

 As English education evolves into a dedicated subject of study, elementary school teachers will be called upon to enhance their English proficiency and adapt to the changing educational environment. In addition, it is expected that ongoing research and improvement of the content and methodologies in English education will lead to the development of a more effective English learning environment.


3. Establishment of New Programming Education in Elementary Schools

Background and Factors :

 Programming is becoming increasingly important in today’s society as information technology continues to advance. However, programming education has been noticeably absent from the conventional educational curriculum, leading to concerns about the inadequacy of students’ information technology skills.

Establishment of New Programming Education :

 Programming education has been made compulsory in elementary schools since FY2020. The purpose of this education is not solely to learn programming techniques or languages, but to focus on the development of logical thinking and problem-solving skills, known as “programmatic thinking.” Moreover, programming is integrated into various subjects rather than being treated as a stand-alone subject, encouraging students to apply programming thinking across different areas of study.

Future Prospects :

 With the introduction of new programming education, students will have the opportunity to develop logical thinking and problem-solving skills. In the future, it is expected that more students will be interested in information technology, potentially leading to increased participation in specialized fields that demand advanced programming skills. In addition, it highlights the importance of conducting research on how to enhance the information technology skills of teachers and facilitate the effective implementation of programming education in the broader educational landscape.


5. Harms and Challenges of Educational Reform 

– Increased burden on teachers : 

New educational methods and subjects will require teachers to acquire new knowledge and skills, and in some cases, they may feel burdened to prepare for and adapt to the demands of this new educational landscape.

– Disparity issues : 

Disparities may arise among regions and schools during the implementation of educational reforms. Particularly, it may be challenging to provide equal educational opportunities in regions and schools where the infrastructure and environments related to programming and STEM education are not well developed.


These are some of the major changes in Japan’s educational setting for FY2020, providing a comprehensive overview of the changes. While the educational reforms explore new directions in education, such as flexible learning, the expansion of STEM education, and diverse evaluation methods, it is essential to acknowledge and address challenges and adverse effects, such as increased burden on educators and potential educational disparities. Focusing on improving the quality of education and ensuring fairness is crucial as efforts continue to navigate these challenges and enhance the educational system.



The educational reforms introduced in Japan in FY2020 paint a vivid picture of a nation committed to shaping its future through innovation and equity in education. Embracing flexible learning formats, the reforms empower students to become independent thinkers and problem-solvers, laying the groundwork for a dynamic workforce. By prioritizing STEM education and integrating hands-on activities, Japan demonstrates its dedication to fostering the skills needed for success in the digital age. Moreover, the overhaul of assessment methods to include holistic evaluation reflects a progressive approach towards nurturing well-rounded individuals. Despite challenges such as teacher adaptation and regional disparities, Japan’s resolve to improve educational quality shines through. Through these reforms, Japan emerges as a forward-thinking nation, poised to lead in the global arena of education and innovation.


For those who want to know more about Japanese education

Shin Edupower provides programs that enable online exchange and collaboration between schools in India and Japan, as well as study tours to Japan for educators and students. If you would like to know more about education in Japan, please feel free to contact us here.

Last Updated on 2024-06-10