The Third Great Reform of the Japanese Education System: Success in the 1980s Onwards


Just over a decade ago a doctoral student at Oxford University conducted a study of the Japanese policy making system, using the attempts at education reform as a means to demonstrate the ‘immobilism’ in the Japanese system. That study was subsequently published in 1991 (Schoppa 1991), and for many, as it was so convincing, it seemed to be the end of the story. The Japanese education system cannot change and will not change.

Two and half years ago, I presented a paper at the Nissan Institute in which I argued that the system was changing and that this was largely due to the influence of Nakasone Yasuhiro. That paper was based upon my own doctoral research, which I subsequently updated and was published in 2001.

Without doubt in recent years there has been an increasing awareness outside Japan that the system may be changing. This started about five years ago with my own research and that of Marie Roesgaard (1998), and has now become more widely accepted.

There are three key points that we need to consider. First, why is it the ‘third great’ education reform? Second, what is actually meant by the term ‘reform’? Finally, what do we mean by ‘success’?

‘The Third Great Reform of the Japanese Education System: Success in the 1980s Onwards”, in Can the Japanese Change Their Education System? by R. Goodman and D. Phillips (eds.), Symposium Books (2003), pp73-85, ISBN 1-873927-59-2.

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