There are no wrong answers, as long as you’ve got the right question.

Japanese educators are often criticized by the international community for being overly rigid. And really, some of those accusations of excessive pedagogy are hard to defend against, such as when students are being told the statements “Shadows change directions because of the rotation of the earth” and “12×25=300” are incorrect or otherwise imperfect.

But it’s always important to remember that Japan is a big country that’s made up of all sorts of people, including, believe it or not, open-minded teachers with flexible attitudes about learning. Even in a subject like arithmetic, perhaps the field most conducive to thinking in terms of absolutely right and wrong answers, some teachers are willing to let their students think outside the box, as shown in this tweet from Japanese mom Tomoko Takagawa (@darkmatter_tomo).

A mother of two living in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, Takagawa’s youngest son is in the first grade of elementary school. In keeping with his young age, his class’ math test has colorful animal illustrations. One question shows four ducks playing in a pond, with one more friend walking up to join them. Another shows two fishbowls, one with one fish and another with two, being poured into a large shared tank.

“Added together, how many ducks/fish are there?” the test asks. Takagawa’s son’s answers were: six ducks and four fish.

Those are obviously wrong, aren’t they? Except, the kid got full credit for both answers. Why? Because for the duck question, he drew a picture of a second duck approaching the pond, and showed his work as “4+2=6.” Likewise, he drew a single fish already in the large tank that the two fishbowls were being poured into, and wrote his equation as “1+3=4.”

So while the boy’s responses may not have matched the official answer key for the test, they were perfectly correct for the revised questions/illustrations he’d prepared (if you look at the top right of Takagawa’s photo, you can also see that her son got a perfect 100 on the test).

“You often hear about overly strict teachers marking kids’ questions wrong for strange reasons,” Takagawa tweeted. “But I can’t help but feel a little bad for my son’s teacher. Is it really OK to be this flexible?” the mom asked, with tongue at least slightly in cheek. The overall response from other Twitter users has also been overwhelmingly positive, with comments praising both the teacher’s attitude and understanding, as well as the young artist’s added illustrations.

Oh, and you’ll notice that, as a truly open-minded educator, the teacher didn’t get hung up on how the boy wrote the numeral 4 either.

Source: Twitter/@darkmatter_tomo via IT Media

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s sort of sad to know that this six-year-old Japanese kid is a better artist than he is.