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2009年8月26日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25(IHT/Asahi: August 26,2009)
EDITORIAL: Improving education

Japanese teens shone at the International Science Olympiads for high school students this summer, winning a record 12 gold medals in five subjects. Every one of the 23 Japanese participants ended up with a medal.

We hope these results will generate momentum for improvement of science education in Japan.

At the International Science Olympiads, gold medals are awarded to the top 10 percent of students and silver and bronze to the next 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

This year's International Biology Olympiad was held in Japan for the first time, with four Japanese students participating. One of the four won Japan's first gold medal in this category, and the rest won silver medals.

Next, in the International Physics Olympiad, two of the five Japanese contestants won gold medals. In Mathematics, five of the six contestants won gold medals, and one had a perfect score. In overall performance, Japan placed second after China.

As for Chemistry and Informatics, two of the four Japanese participants won gold medals.

The International Science Olympiad started with Mathematics in 1959. Physics, Chemistry and Informatics were added later. The first Biology Olympiad was held in 1990.

Lately, top-ranked nations, territories and regions include China, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and Russia. China has made participation a national priority. Students chosen to represent China are given many perks. Nearly every Chinese student brings home a gold medal.

Japan is a latecomer among advanced nations. It first participated in the Mathematics Olympiad of 1990, followed by Biology in 2005 and Physics in 2006. Until then, Japanese education authorities worried that Japanese students could not compete with their overseas peers because of the low level of science education here.

Nowadays, Japanese contestants use global-standard textbooks to relearn their subjects. They prepare for the big day with special lab training rarely provided at Japanese high schools.

These efforts clearly paid off this year. Also, many of the participants were experienced. Another factor was that more teens have participated in the preliminary rounds since the government began supporting the Olympiads in fiscal 2004.

But we should not become complacent. Participation in international competition has reminded us again of the flaws in our education system.

A bronze medalist at a past Chemistry Olympiad scored less than 10 out of a maximum 60 points on a test right after returning to Japan. We believe this was because Japan's chemistry education stresses textbook knowledge rather than a fundamental understanding of the subject.

By teaching science systematically and raising the nation's overall level of science education to global standards, we hope more teens will come to love science.

At the week-long International Biology Olympiad in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, high school students from around the world spent more than 10 hours grappling with theoretical and practical problems. But the teens also got to experience Japanese culture and enjoy outdoor activities by going to a summer festival and traveling to Nikko, a well-known tourist resort.

We believe it was greatly significant that young people from around the world competed intellectually in Japan and made new friends.

Tokyo is scheduled to host next year's International Chemistry Olympiad. We hope it will prompt high school students to take a greater interest in the world.


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