2014 Volume 81 Issue 4 Pages 423-435
The relationship between preschool education and primary school education has been an issue for a long time. The purpose of this paper is to describe the process of the inquiry into “Yonen-Kyoiku” (early childhood education) in the 1950s-1960s. This concept was mainly used in the educational research conferences of the Japan Teachers Union. With a focus on the teachers’ discourses in the movement, this paper examines various viewpoints from which teachers have inquired into the relationships between preschool education and primary school education. The conferences of the Japan have been a unique space where teachers from the three different sectors (kindergartens, nursery schools and primary schools) met and discussed how to cooperate together.
The conception of “Yonen-Kyoiku” was presented to the teachers in the preschool education session of the conference of the Japan Teachers Union in 1953, by Hiroshi Sugo (Ochanomizu University) and Setsuko Hani (Jiyu Gakuen School) as an ideal to be inquired into. They gave the concept the following three meanings. First, preschool education and the first two years of primary school education should be coherent. Second, preschool education should not become no more than a preparation for primary school. Third, “Yonen-Kyoiku” should be different from existing pre-school and primary school education. In 1957, the preschool education session of the conference was named “Yonen-Kyoiku”. As an advisor, Hani encouraged teachers to join dialogues with the teachers from other sections of the educational system. Many trials to make connection between preschool education section and primary school education section were made in each prefecture.
It seems that dialogue exploring the concept of “Yonen-Kyoiku” was not easy. Many of the primary school teachers’ discourses seemed to be based on the idea that preschool education should prepare children for primary school. Three points emerge from the examination of the teacher discourses. First, kindergarten and nursery school were still in the process of expanding at that time. Second, the perspective of primary school education functioned in the discussions too strongly, and it was difficult to make an equal partnership between the preschool and primary school sections. Third, the conception of “Yonen-Kyoiku” focused on the reform of the existing 6-3-3 educational system. In 1970, as the policy makers made a proposal for school reform called “Yonen-Gakko” (early childhood school) which was similar to the ideal of “Yonen-Kyoiku,” they gave this concept the meaning of early instruction. After that, The inquiry into “Yonen-Kyoiku” was defeated.
However, in reading the texts of the conference attentively, small possibilities in the concept of “Yonen-Kyoiku” for new education emerge. Some primary teachers learned from preschool education and changed their practices. Some kindergarten teachers inquired into approaches to literacy education that were different from those of primary school.
Preschool education has spread among almost all children in Japan. Now, can we imagine another education with the concept of “Yonen-Kyoiku”?