An international survey shows that Japanese high school students remain at the world's top levels in science and mathematics, but their reading skills are poor.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, assesses performances in science, mathematics and reading of 15-year-olds around the world every three years.
The results of last year's survey were released on Tuesday. About 600,000 students from 79 countries and economies were surveyed.
Japanese students ranked fifth in science, down three places from the previous survey. In mathematics, they were down one notch to sixth. But in reading, they dropped seven places to 15th.
Chinese students from Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang topped all three categories. Other top countries include Singapore and Estonia.
The survey has had a significant impact on Japan's education policy. When the 2003 survey showed a decline in reading skills, it led to longer class hours, a bigger selection of materials taught and revival of a nationwide scholastic aptitude test.
Japanese education ministry officials say they will study why reading skills have declined with the goal of improving education quality in its new teaching guidelines.
Hiroyuki Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, says it takes time to develop reading skills but teachers are now too busy teaching English, morals and other new additions to the curriculum. He says what is needed are measures to trim the curriculum.