Japan, Education, MEXT and the IBO.

As an Englishman married to a Japanese woman, as a father to two mixed-race children and as a teacher in an “International” school, I`d like to share my experiences and opinions on working, living and life here in Japan.

In Japan people involved in public education have to work under the auspices of The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). Those in the private school system (like me) may have to work under their control to a lesser extent. The level of involvement or control MEXT have at a private school is largely dependent on whether that school has “Article One” status, defined as;

“Article 1 Education shall aim for the full development of personality and strive to nurture the citizens, sound in mind and body, who are imbued with the qualities necessary for those who form a peaceful and democratic state and society.”

Under MEXT, there are four basic policy directions (my explanations in parentheses)

  • Developing social competencies for survival (Independence and collaboration)
  • Developing human resources for a brighter future (make leaders who initiate and create change, increase competition, establish environments conducive to improve abilities
  • Building safety nets for learning (make learning accessible for all, lower cost, make safe and secure learning environments
  • Building bonds and establishing vibrant communities (nurturing society, creating networks to collaborate and participate more fully)

As can be seen, the descriptions are somewhat vague and open to interpretation, and the paths for teachers to achieve these goals are unclear.

The education provided under MEXT has been criticized for not improving lack of motivation from students, long learning hours, the number of low academic performers, its response to coping with globalization, challenges regarding young people not interested in studying or working abroad, educational inequality, and a lack of desire from schools to draw out individuals abilities

Accountability for past failures in “First Basic Plan”, and therefore the need for the “Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education”, has been laid at the feet of the schools and in some cases at individual teachers` feet. This is partly due to the fact that MEXT is so large, bureaucratic and political, that it allows for diffuse responsibility.

At my school, we are currently in the process of trying to gain accreditation from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) as a Primary Years Programme (PYP) World School whilst maintaining MEXT Article 1 status.

The central tenet of the PYP is to produce Internationally minded students. One of the main ways in which IBO PYP World Schools try to ensure this is through the Learner Profile attributes. These attributes are ten characteristics that a group of international schools in Switzerland (The precursor group to the IBO) decided that internationally minded people have in common. The profile aims to develop learners who are:











At first glance these attributes appear agreeable to all and most people want to be like this. Of course, in order to get the IBO accreditation the systems, policies, values, curricula, staff, students and management of the school should strive to reflect these attributes. Crucially, the documentation of these efforts needs to be provided.

However, when we realize and take into account that Japan only opened its doors to foreigners in 1854, arguably through gunboat diplomacy, also that discrimination is a real issue for non-Japanese still today then to become truly internationally-minded may take more time and a general change in attitudes. Hopefully, MEXT can lead the way in this by “internationalizing” higher education and attracting talented students from overseas.

To date,  gaining accreditation from both MEXT and the IBO has not been achieved by any elementary school in Japan. So when our school manages to align these two philosophies and cultures, it will be a truly special place.



Key facts about the PYP. (2016). International Baccalaureate®. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from http://www.ibo.org/programmes/primary-years-programme/what-is-the-pyp/key-facts-about-the-pyp/

Key facts about the PYP. (2016). International Baccalaureate®. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from http://www.ibo.org/programmes/primary-years-programme/what-is-the-pyp/key-facts-about-the-pyp/

MEXT : Basic Act on Education(Provisional translation). (2016). Mext.go.jp. Retrieved 27 April 2016, from http://www.mext.go.jp/english/lawandplan/1303462.htm

MEXT : The Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (Pamphlet). (2016). Mext.go.jp. Retrieved 27 April 2016, from http://www.mext.go.jp/english/lawandplan/1355571.htm

Nakai, K. (2016). The Debate over Japan’s Academic Decline. nippon.com. Retrieved 27 April 2016, from http://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a00601/

Osaki, T. (2015). No-foreigners landlord case shows Japan ‘utterly unprepared’ to fight discrimination: expert | The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/09/national/social-issues/anti-discrimination-laws-sub-par-expert/#.VyLHuz_M9n5

Sakoku. (2016). Wikipedia. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakoku

Security Check Required. (2016). Facebook.com. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/mextjapan/

Taniguchi, T. (2016). MEXT: What is it Good For?. nippon.com. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from http://www.nippon.com/en/column/g00042/

文部科学省 MEXT (@mextjapan) on Twitter. (2016). Mobile.twitter.com. Retrieved 29 April 2016, from https://mobile.twitter.com/mextjapan


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