In a review of the current five-day school week currently being used in public schools across Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said it is considering Saturday classes and a re-introduction of the six-day school week that was phased out between 1992 and 2002.

New curriculum guidelines mandating increased classroom hours resulting from a re-examination of the Ministry’s Yutori Kyoiku, (pressure-free education) program were introduced to elementary schools last year, and fully implemented in junior high schools this year. In seeking the use of Saturdays, the Ministry hopes to improve the academic ability of the nation’s youth by securing more teaching hours. It also hopes to dispel concerns of a widening “education gap” between public schools and private schools, many of which continue to implement Saturday classes.

Though a ministerial ordinance designates Saturday as a “holiday,” regulations also provide an out, stating that classes can be held on Saturday provided “there is a special need.” Taking advantage of this regulation, Tokyo and some other districts have held Saturday classes since 2010. In 2012, 565 elementary schools (43%), and 292 junior high schools (47%) in these districts held classes on at least one Saturday a month. Nationwide, 1,100 elementary (5.7%) and 590 junior high schools (6.4%) are conducting classes on Saturdays, most ten or less times a year. Elementary and junior high schools holding 11 or more classes a year on Saturdays amounted to less than one percent of the total.

In addition to relieving the weekday burden by also using Saturdays to teach subjects such as math and Japanese language, the Ministry also hopes to increase the total number of standard instructional hours per year currently set at between 850 (first year elementary) and 1,015 (third year junior high).

Voices within the Ministry say its Central Council for Education, an advisory organ, will need to consider the proposal, and it is expected that details concerning the timing and method of introduction of Saturday classes will be determined there. By law, teachers work a forty-hour week, meaning new teachers would have to be hired in order to start Saturday classes. This, and other problems must first be solved before the plan can be implemented.

In a survey conducted by the Tokyo Elementary School PTA Council, 86% of parents and 38% of teachers were in favor of Saturday classes while 7% and 52% respectively were opposed. Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said, “I would like to determinedly introduce Saturday classes, and, within the Ministry, solve issues such as gaining national understanding.”

Source: Mainichi Shimbun