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Radical plans but same old attitudes

JAPAN

TES correspondents review world trends in education this year and look forward to the issues making headlines for 2001

Japan's Bonen Kai "forget-the-year" parties will have a special poignancy this week, as most will be drinking deeply to forget not just one year but a thousand. For unlike their counterparts in the west, the Japanese will be celebrating the emergence of a new century in the early hours of 2001.

Government proclamations have contained calls to forget the biting recession and forge ahead with a creative and e-savvy young generation.

Despite talk of overhauling the education system for an "IT revolution", Japan is badly behind the rest of the developed world in its computer skills, and many technophobe teachers are as ignorant of new technology as the country's latest leader, Prime Minister Yoshinori Mori.

Producing homogenous individuals, rote learning and the tyranny of exams are too much a part of Japanese life to be easily discarded in favour of "nurturing" in the next century, say experts.

However, teachers and schools will be bracing themselves for a year full of change as the government seeks to implement some of is programmes.

This year was also marked by growing concern over increased crime, school violence and sexual promiscuity. There was a shift in the view of childhood from heaven-sent blameless innocence to one more readily recognised in the west - that bad children are a reality to be dealt with.

Earlier this year, when the media seemed saturated with lurid stories of killings and beatings among teenagers, the government successfully passed a bill lowering the age of criminal liability from the current 16 to 14 in November.

Everything from comics to the increase in divorce rates has been linked to the surge in violence and classroom unruliness. Nor has materialism escaped criticism for spawning a lost generation.

Once-strict codes of uniform were cracking at some city schools as many pupils took to painting their skins carrot orange and dying their hair blonde - well, outside of school hours at least. But the influence of "street fashion" has been limited. Most school children still have to have skirt length and sock height measured to the millimetre. As the French and Japanese like to say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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