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Looking For Answers: Japanese Educators Wonder If Their Schooling Approach Should Change

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In the second part of NY1's series on education in Tokyo, the station looks at a typical day in a Japanese middle school. While some experts worry the Japanese teaching style has become outdated, when it comes to student health, there's a lot New York could learn from its sister city. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

TOKYO - While 8 o'clock in the morning can be a rough time for a teenage brain, at Wada Junior High School in Tokyo, minds churn and pencils fly. Students tackle 230 basic arithmetic problems in three minutes, as a jump-start to a long day.

A teacher explains that the daily drill trains students not to think but to develop quick processing skills.

But to prepare students for the future, many education experts and policy makers say Japanese education needs to make some changes. They say the system was set up to train workers for an industrial economy, but to succeed in the information age, students should be focusing less on memorizing and more on analyzing.

That message has not yet translated to change in the classroom.

Education expert Kazujiro Fujihara says through an interpreter, "The teacher has the correct answer and 'broadcasts' it out. Knowledge is delivered from teacher to student. The desks are in rows; students are expected to pay careful attention."

Though academic instruction is just one piece. The motto of the Japanese education system is "head, heart, health," and teachers say health and moral education are just as important as the academics.

Food is actually integrated into the academic day, with lunch is brought right into the classroom. Desks become dining tables and students take turns serving their classmates. Every school has a nutritionist, who comes up with healthy menus.

Students spend three hours a week stretching, running and jumping in physical education class. Most are also involved with sports teams and athletic clubs.

Of course, studying, exercising and contributing to the school community can take a toll.

"Tired, tired. I'm tired because I'm busy," a student says.

And they stay busy through the evening, with many students in Tokyo going straight from school to test prep centers.

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