More to Japan than A-bombs

17th December 2004 at 00:00
First it was Germany and now Japan. Another of Britain's World War Two foes has contacted the Government with concerns about how their country is being portrayed in history lessons.

Japanese diplomats in London are unhappy that lessons on the history of their country only cover wartime events such as Pearl Harbour and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.

They have been in talks with the Department for Education and Skills, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and the three main exam boards about remedying the situation.

Atsuyuki Asano, Japanese educational attache, told The TES: "We don't want to interfere in your curriculum because we are foreigners. But if your students knew more about our country I think both countries would benefit."

The German government has said it was worried about the negative image created by concentrating on Hitler and the Nazis in history lessons.

But the Japanese are more concerned that pupils seem to learn very little about their history at all.

Mr Asano contrasted the approach taken by the Japanese curriculum where pupils have to study the subject until they are 18 and tackle a wide range of British history. A world history textbook for 15 to 18-year-olds, covers everything from Alfred the Great to Margaret Thatcher and most periods of British history.

His embassy suggests other periods of Japanese history could be studied here such as the Meiji restoration in 1868 which led the country to open up to the West as its emperor was restored.

He said he accepted there was a difference between styles of teaching in the two countries. In Japan history tended to be wide-ranging with an emphasis on facts and dates. British history was better at studying topics in depth but tended to have a narrower focus.

Few materials on Japanese history are available and teachers had not been taught the subject themselves.

A QCA spokesman said: "Anecdotally it is probably correct to say that the focus tends to be more on British and European history rather than countries outside the continent."

They were the topics that teachers had most experience of and therefore the ones that were taught, he added.

Sean Lang from the Historical Association said that he could understand concerns that the current curriculum offered a skewed view of Japan.

But the only way there would be room to add more Japanese history would be through a thematic approach, studying topics such as revolution, he said.

Invisable history

Opportunities to study Japanese history:

* Key stages 1 and 2 : none

* Key stage 3: two world study options. Japan under the Shoguns and Tokugawa Japan are two of 18 examples given for study before 1900. The emergence of Japan as a world power is one of 26 options for world study after 1900.

* AQA GCSE and A-level history specifications do not mention Japan

* One of Edexcel's three history GCSEs includes the causes of the outbreak of war in the Pacific and the reason for Japan's defeat. But the topic only amounts to a third of one of six options. Japan is not mentioned in Edexcel's history A-levels

* Japan is included in a core section of one of OCR's history GCSEs on international relations between 1919-1989, mainly in the inter-war period.

* OCR A-levels hardly feature the country but it does come into a topic on the causes of WW2, where it is part of one of 44 topic options

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