Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

Elementary and junior high school teachers in Japan work the longest hours in the world, but the bulk of that time is not spent on actual teaching or improving their skills, a survey showed.

The survey, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), highlighted not only the tough and perhaps inefficient working environment for Japanese teachers but also underscored the snail pace of reform in the nation’s compulsory education system.

The results of the OECD’s 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) were released on June 19, and they grabbed the attention of the education ministry.

“We are taking the survey results extremely seriously,” a ministry official said. “We will respond with a sense of crisis.”

The survey asked teachers and school leaders in 15,000 schools across 48 countries and regions about their working conditions and learning environments.

Junior high schools from 48 countries and regions, including OECD member nations mainly from Europe and the United States, and elementary schools from 15 countries and regions participated in the survey.

In Japan, the questionnaire was sent to teachers and principals of 393 national, public and private elementary and junior high schools.

The results showed that junior high school teachers in Japan spent an average of 56 hours a week on job-related tasks, exceeding the total average of 38.3 hours among the countries and regions surveyed. Teachers in all other participating countries and regions worked less than 50 hours a week.

Japan’s junior high school number was also 2.1 hours longer than the time reported by Japanese teachers in the OECD’s previous survey in 2013.

However, actual teaching time at school accounted for only 18 of the 56 hours worked a week, or less than one-third. Japan ranked 10th from the bottom in this category. The total average for actual teaching was 20.3 hours a week.

Instead, Japanese junior high school teachers spent 7.5 hours a week on extracurricular activities, such as supervising after-school sports and cultural clubs.

The Japanese figure was easily the highest among participating countries in the survey and far exceeded the overall average of 1.9 hours.

Japanese junior high school teachers also spent 5.6 hours a week on general administrative work, including communication, paperwork and other clerical duties. The number was, again, the highest in the survey and nearly double the overall average of 2.7 hours.

Japanese teachers also used 8.5 hours of their weekly working time on individual planning or preparation of lessons either at school or outside the classroom. The total average was 6.8 hours.

The workload and content were similar for elementary school teachers in Japan.

Their weekly work hours totaled 54.4, of which 5.2 hours were spent on general administrative work and 8.6 hours were used to prepare lessons. All three numbers were the highest among participating countries and regions.

Japan did finish last in one category in the survey: total hours spent a week on professional development activities to improve individual skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as teachers.

Japanese elementary school teachers spent 0.7 hour a week on this endeavor; the figure was 0.6 hour for junior high teachers.

As for teaching content, 15.2 percent of elementary school teachers and 16.1 percent of junior high school teachers in Japan answered they often “present tasks for which there is no obvious solution” to students.

Both numbers were extremely low, especially in light of the total average of 37.5 percent for junior high school teachers.

Only 11.6 percent of elementary school teachers and 12.6 percent of junior high school teachers in Japan said they often “give tasks that require students to think critically.” Both ratios were the lowest among participating nations and regions.

Among elementary school teachers in Japan, 24.4 percent said they often “let students use ICT (information and communication technology) for projects or class work.”

Only 17. 9 percent of Japanese junior high school teachers said they did so, staggeringly lower than the overall average of 51.3 percent.

The education ministry has prioritized reform of working practices among teachers in its push for “proactive and interactive in-depth learning.” But with their plates already full, Japanese teachers are far less likely than their overseas counterparts to adopt such perspectives in their teaching methods, the survey showed.

The ministry will implement new curriculum guidelines in elementary schools from fiscal 2020 and junior high schools from fiscal 2021.