Lesson Study Is Not A Success Story of Japanese Education by @ManabuWatanabe1

Critical Thinking about Overseas Education Reports

After having read educational discussions for the past few years, I have learned that the education theories and ideas based on experiences of different countries are often unreliable. Especially, the experiences of countries where “educational pluralism” can be seen are more than likely to be misreported. Therefore, educators are strongly advised to apply their critical-thinking ability to those reports instead of swallowing them. It is not fascinating that people’s discussion is driven by wrong stories.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Manabu Watanabe and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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This time I would like to discuss Lesson Study (or Jugyokenkyu in Japanese), a teacher training method of Japanese origin, which is gathering attention now.

Lesson Study as Success Story outside of Japan

Lesson Study is a professional development method in which teachers collaborate with each other through planning, observation, discussion, etc. It was first introduced widely abroad in the late 1990s in the book titled “Teaching Gap” written by two university professors in the US. Since then, this method has been known overseas as a secret of Japan’s educational success. Many educators have been involved in the seminars and workshops on it. Several study groups have been set up and conferences have been held. Thus this movement has succeeded in raising awareness of the Lesson Study method among overseas educators to some extent.

Lesson Study as Unsuccess Story in Japan

However, this success story of the overseas Lesson Study movement must sound very strange to the people who have just experienced the grand educational failure in Japan, which is, for example, described in the below articles.

By searching the Internet with the phrase “yutori education”, you can find other discussions on this policy, none of which call it successful most probably. In fact, it is a national consensus in Japan that this long-standing yutori education was a big failure. It was so devastating that the Japanese word “yutori”, which used to have only positive meanings, has earned a new meaning that is very negative. For example, “Are you yutori?” in casual conversation means “Are you an idiot?” now. Accordingly, so many students resort to shadow education that is called juku in Japanese. Now we should scrutinize and overhaul the whole school system including teachers’ trainings.

Under these circumstances, nobody can possibly argue that the Lesson Study method succeeded in Japan. Rather, some may suspect that it hindered students’ learning. Or are there any arguments that this method alone was successful in midst of the overall collapse of school education? I wonder how the experts think about the role played by the Lesson Study method in this recent failure of school education.

Collaboration between Schools and Jukus after Educational Failure

The government is gradually shifting away from yutori education, and school educators as well as policy-makers are now struggling to seek a new direction. Under these circumstances, some of them are looking to jukus for help, as seen in the below articles. (Please seek assistance from the Internet translation service for understanding the below articles written in Japanese)

Junior-high principals who are positive about the collaboration with jukus are increasing (in Japanese). http://www.asahi.com/edu/articles/TKY201309240321.html

To respond to these demands, some juku companies have prepared school-support services and some are involved in school reform programs carried out by local governments, as can be seen in the below articles for instance.

School-juku collaboration is being accelerated (in Japanese). http://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S12045861.html

Takeo city in Saga prefecture launched the public-private school system exploiting the know-how of a juku (in Japanese) http://www.sankei.com/life/news/140417/lif1404170039-n1.html

I have been talking about the dual structure of students’ education in Japan. And now maybe we are witnessing the similar structure developing for teachers training.

Lesson Study Doesn’t Guarantee Success

The recent Japanese educational situation doesn’t provide any evidence to prove that the Lesson Study method was successful. Rather, it can testify that it failed to work. Therefore, it is incorrect to insist that this method succeeded in improving students’ learning in Japan. It would be dishonest to play up this method while shutting eyes to the failed Japanese school education. Probably the proponents of this method including the authors of the above book are making the same mistake with the NY Times.

However, just because Japanese Lesson Study failed to work, it doesn’t mean that this method always fails everywhere. Ingredients of the method such as planning, observation, discussion, etc., are neutral in nature. In other words, it doesn’t automatically guarantee either success or failure by itself.

In this sense, Japan’s experience of Lesson Study can be an important case study. Although it is unfortunate to take up Japan’s case as unsuccessful, it is worth discussing the reason why it failed to work in Japan in order to find out problems in its implementation and seek the ways to solve them. I hope that such a discussion will deepen the thought on Lesson Study.

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