Published Research

Planned Educational Change in Japan: The Shift to Student-Centered Elementary Science

From Educational Leadership, Volume 55, Issue 6.


Available evidence suggests that Japanese elementary science education has shifted, in recent decades, away from lecture-style, rote “teaching as telling” toward ‘teaching for understanding.” How has this change been accomplished? Drawing on our ongoing study of innovations in Japanese elementary science instruction, we describe three features of the Japanese system that may facilitate planned change. First, we describe Japan’s broad national goals for elementary education and the alignment of textbooks with these goals. We point out that Japan’s national goals focus on the whole child (social, ethical and intellectual development), a breadth which, we speculate, may reduce the kind of pendulum swings between goals of academic and social development that have plagued some other countries’ educational policies. In addition, we note that the national goals are abstract and are translated into classroom practice through the collaborative work of teachers. Second, we describe three routes through which the national goals are translated into classroom practice: research lessons, teachers’ research groups, and national elementary schools. Finally. we speculate on some elements of the educational context (for example, collaborative habits and norms, beliefs about the pace and nature of change, and the practice of self-critical reflection) that may support planned educational change in Japan.


Japanese education, elementary, science