By Erika Nakayama
On September 26th, 2014, The University of Tokyo officially announced the switchover to the 4-term system from the current semester system, and both students and faculty members cannot help but more or less confused. This change in the school calendar, which applies to every student at Todai, is a part of the “Comprehensive Education Reform” which has been promoted by President Junichi Hamada since 2011. According to the Office of the President, the aim is to make students more globally competitive by allowing them to reduce their time attending classes and giving them longer breaks, which makes it much easier for them to participate in overseas programs overseas and various social activities.
How exactly is our school life going to change?
First of all, from next April, two school calendars will run simultaneously. They are roughly divided between the arts faculties and the science faculties (Figure 1). Type I will have a month of summer vacation and three months of winter vacation, while Type II will be the opposite. Some faculties will start with Type I, but then eventually switch to Type II. To secure enough class time, some faculties may hold classes on Saturdays and Holidays.
Another major change will be the extension of class time by 15 minutes to 105 minutes. Morning classes will start 30 minutes earlier, at 8:30 a.m., and normal classes will end 35 minutes later, at 6:35 p.m. (Figure 2)
In addition to these, each faculty can decide their own policies concerning early graduation, curriculum revisions, reduction of credits needed for graduation, and the cap system (limiting the number of credit obtainable per year).
Although the university emphasizes the advantages of this new term system, students’ impressions on the new school calendar system is not very good, according to a small-scale online questionnaire conducted on both April-entry and PEAK students from Nov. 2nd to 6th. Twenty-two people out of 30 April-entry students said they were more or less “against the 4-term system,” while 3 out of 12 PEAK students said the same. Those who were against the reform mainly gave the following 2 points.
First of all, the university’s explanation that the new system will promote participation in overseas programs is questionable. This is apparent not only from the fact that less than one-third of April-entry students answered that they wanted to spend their entire three-month break attending school as an exchange student in foreign universities, but also because the curriculum of some universities that has University-wide Student Exchange Programs with Todai, such as Princeton University and Peking University, do not match the new schedule at Todai.
Secondly, 105 minutes of class seems simply too long for both students and professors. True, this class time may be inevitable as a result of realizing efficient learning by keeping the semester 2 weeks shorter than other national universities while making class time equivalent to those, as the university says. However, it will not be so effective if students cannot concentrate as well as they did in the 90-minute classes.
Although both of these are valid points, it became clear from the questionnaire that the main issue was not the content of the reform, but the way it has been promoted. In the questionnaire, the majority of both the April-entry and PEAK students answered that the announcement of the new curriculum was “too late.” Moreover, many students felt the university just went ahead with the decision without listening to concerned voices. Even one of the very few to express a positive reaction to the 4-term system, a 1st year April-entry student, says although the content of the reform itself is good, “the university should have asked for students’ opinions.” No matter how good the new curriculum itself may be, “the change in policy will not positively affect the international outlook of the students unless it is properly explained and justified in the Todai community,” as a 2nd year PEAK student stated.
It is possible that the university could have done more to listen to the students’ and professors’ opinions. However, now that the 4-term system is beginning, the best thing we can and should do is to stay informed on this issue and to try to deliver opinions to the school office when necessary.
According to the Student Affairs Group, further information about the 4-term system in Japanese will be updated on a dedicated web page that will open up soon on the Student Page of the University of Tokyo Website.However, they also say, the availability of information in English will vary among faculties.
Erika Nakayama is a second-year student at the University of Tokyo.