Middle school kids
From age 12, children proceed to middle schools. At this point, about 5.7 percent of students attend private schools. The main reasons why parents choose such schools are high priority on academic achievement or because they wish to take their children out of the high school selection rat-race since such schools allow their students direct entry into their affiliated high schools (and often into the affiliated universities). [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com **]

Attendance for the three years of junior high school education is compulsory. More than 90 percent of junior high schools are public coeducational institutions. Each year students are assigned to a homeroom with a maximum of 40 students (the average class size in 2010 was 29.4), with whom they take their classes. For the most part, classes are not segregated based on ability, but some schools have implemented streaming systems for math and English classes. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

The standard curriculum includes the following required subjects: Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, a foreign language elective (almost always English), music, fine arts, health and physical education, and industrial arts or homemaking. Requirements also include extracurricular activities, a moral education course, and integrated study.

Preparation for high school entrance examinations is the main focus in middle schools. Almost all 15-year-olds go through “examination hell” in order to take the entrance examination for academically ranked high schools. To be competitive, many middle school students attend juku (cram school) after school. To ease the intensity of the competition, the Ministry of Education (MOE) suggests diversifying criteria for high school admissions. To mitigate the rigid uniformity of middle school education, students can take several elective classes, and “integrated study,” whose content is designed by each school with the goal of stimulating students’ individuality and imagination. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In 2003 there were 3,748,319 students in junior high schools. All public middle schools follow a standard national curriculum that is stipulated in the MOE’s Course of Study. The 1998 Course of Study for 2002 onward states that the purpose of middle school education is for “whole-person education.” “Whole-person education” emphasizes students’ physical and mental development. Each school helps students to nurture “energy for life” (ikiru chikara), to learn and think independently, and to develop their knowledge, individuality, and creativity. ~

Middle Schools in Japan

All children from seventh to ninth grade (ages 12-15) attend middle school after six years of primary education.1 The continuing decrease in the number of childbirths has caused the number of middle school students to drop from 6,106,000 in 1986 to 3,748,000 in 2003. In 2003, there were 10,358 public middle schools, 700 private middle schools, and 76 national middle schools affiliated with national universities, in addition to 183 newly established six-year secondary schools (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Every three or four years the teachers are rotated from one school to another in order to maintain a consistent quality of instruction. Less than half of all teachers (40.9 percent) are female (Monbukagakusho- 2004a), and in 2001 the average teacher was 41.8 years old (Monbukagakusho- 2003a). Almost all middle school teachers teach only one subject in which they specialize. ~

In 2003, the maximum class size was 40 students, with an average of 31.3 students per class. The average student-teacher ratio is 14.9:1 (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Reduction of the 40-student class has been strongly considered, in order for teachers to pay closer attention to the needs of individual students. The MOE announced that it would limit class sizes for English, mathematics, and science in middle schools to 20 students, and subsidize temporary teachers (AS May 20, 2000). The MOE began subsidizing additional teachers for these smaller classes in the 2001-2 school year, and plans to hire 22,500 new elementary and middle school teachers within five years (Monbukagakusho- 2003b:126-127). The Yamagata prefectural administration intends to limit class sizes in all of its middle schools to 21 to 33 students in a few years, as the first experiment with smaller classes for all middle school students in the country (AS April 13, 2002). The teachers’ unions and a MOE Research Survey Group have asserted that teachers are most attentive to individual students when classes are limited to 30. ~

Team-teaching and classroom aides will also help reduce the problem of overworked teachers. There is a large pool of retirees, homemakers, and community volunteers that have the educational qualifications to work as classroom aides. Starting in the 2001-2 school year, the MOE began hiring 50,000 teachers’ aides for elementary and middle schools over the next three years, and to invite volunteer assistants to participate in classes and after-school extracurricular club activities and to work in the library and on school grounds (Monbukagakusho- 2003b:62-63). In the 2001-2 school year, 32 percent of elementary schools and 12 percent of middle schools had volunteers working as school librarians (AS February 19, 2004). ~

In 1997, there were 34 night middle schools in eight prefectures to serve 3,344 students, according to a survey done by the Research Association of National Night Junior High Schools. There are also more than ten unrecognized night middle schools operated by volunteers. The majority of students are foreigners: Chinese returnees and their descendants (34 percent), Koreans (27 percent), and other foreigners (7 percent). In addition, there are 1,022 Japanese (31 percent) including adults who have not completed their middle school education, and youths who have not graduated from middle school because of school refusal syndrome. Since 1991, the number of students per class at night middle schools has been reduced from 40 to 20 students because of the extra attention that foreign students require. The Research Association has requested that the MOE assign teachers who can speak foreign languages and open public school education to foreign residents who are past the traditional school age (YS February 9, 1998). ~

Private Middle Schools in Japan

Private middle schools have gained popularity among students in metropolitan areas because many provide six-year elite education, and a fast track to a prestigious college. In 1996, about 600 schools, five percent of middle schools had both middle and high school sections. In Tokyo, about 21 percent of middle schools have been merged with high schools, and about 24 percent of students in Tokyo attend six-year secondary schools (Fujita 1997:81). Almost one-fourth (23.1 percent) of elementary school graduates went to private middle schools in Tokyo in 1994 (Ogawa 2000:195). Private middle schools offer a flexible curriculum geared to preparation for college examinations. They have been successful in sending many of their graduates to selective universities. Fifteen of the top twenty high schools that sent most of their graduates to the University of Tokyo in 1989 were private six-year schools (Amano 1996:282). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Furthermore, private middle schools have “escalators” (free passes) to their parent universities through a quota system for admissions that reserves space for graduates. Keio University reserves twenty percent of its openings each year for graduates from its escalator high school, while Waseda University sets aside ten percent from its escalator high school (Amano 1996:100). ~

The popularity of private middle schools has risen as their success rate in sending students to leading universities has increased. Students admitted into exclusive private middle schools are more likely to have an urban upper and upper-middle class background. In order to compete with private middle schools, the Shinagawa Ward of Tokyo allows parents to choose an elementary school and a middle school from schools in the larger school district (AS September 25 1999). Furthermore, in April 2002, the board of education of the Setagaya Ward of Tokyo began to invite public high school teachers to public middle schools in order to attract students (AS February 7, 2002). This practice, however, may create inequality among public middle schools. The results of school choice remain to be seen. ~

Choosing a Middle School in Japan

The results of a survey-questionnaire sent to schools of 6th grade parents in 2 Tokyo wards showed in 2005: 1) Parents who select a private junior high school for their child tend to be parents with time and economic influence (home-makers or self-employed with one child) base their decisions and place top priority on academic achievement. The most common reason for sending their children to a private junior high school was that they wanted their children to achieve a higher level of academic achievement. 2) Parents who select public junior high schools make their choice on the basis of location, incidence of bullying, and personal guidance. Among parents who selected a public school outside the school district, 45 percent reported that a particularly important criterion was little incidence of bullying and truancy, indicating that bullying was a crucial consideration. The most important criteria for these parents in selection were distance to school, environment and whether good friends also attended the school. 3) A large percentage of parents (65.1 percent) tend to select the school based on hearsay. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com ]

In February 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Private middle schools are taken drastic reform measures, including shifting to more intensive studies aimed at getting into high school, to attract students. The 220 private middle schools in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture that began their entrance examinations Feb. 1 showed fewer exam takers than last year. According to a cram school chain, the number of entrance exam takers at private middle schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area has been declining since last year. This is apparently due to the nation’s economic slump and because the reputation of public middle schools has improved due to the government’s move away from a cram-free education policy. On the other hand, the cram school chain said the number of exam takers has been rising at highly competitive schools, schools affiliated with universities and so-called renewal schools.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 9, 2013]

Egalitarianism in Japanese Middle Schools

Middle school education emphasizes egalitarianism, and thus far has rejected ability grouping. There are no classes based on educational achievement or special classes for children with learning disabilities. Teachers as well as the public are opposed to tracking because it stigmatizes low-achieving students, and discourages them from studying rather than helping them learn more efficiently at their level. Also, students considered as low-achievers could receive an inferior quality of instruction from teachers with low expectations. However, these egalitarianism principles were questioned in the 2000 report by the National Commission on Educational Reform, which recommended the introduction of ability grouping based on educational achievement, and allowing students to skip grade levels, as in the United States (Kyo-iku Kaikaku 2000). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In the United States, ability grouping for English and mathematics is common in middle schools. According to a 1993 survey, 82 percent of American middle schools used some type of ability grouping, although 36 percent of schools reported that they were considering eliminating it (Mills 1998). ~

Discrepancies in academic achievement are already distinguishable when students enter middle school. Students who cannot understand academic subjects are labeled as ochikobore, or “slow learners.” They do not enjoy classes, and often end up going to a low-ranked high school and obtaining a low-status occupation. Teachers do not have enough time to give special attention to those who cannot keep up with academic classes because they are busy taking care at least 30 other students, completing endless paperwork, and supervising extracurricular clubs. The MOE has begun to recognize learning disabilities, and will eventually provide remedial education for children with learning disabilities and those who are behind. At present, no teachers’ aides or additional teachers have been assigned to those who have trouble learning. Some teachers voluntarily remain after school to tutor them. Systematic remedial education is needed for slow learners and learning disabled children. It should not be difficult to provide such education for students who have trouble learning, if schools look to the resources in their own communities. ~

The “whole person education” stipulated in the Course of Study is eclipsed by preparation for high school entrance examinations. Teachers and students are most concerned with the test scores in Japanese language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and foreign language, usually English, all of which are part of high school entrance examinations. Subject teachers deliver textbook-based lectures, and the students copy what teachers write on the blackboard into their notebooks. Educational achievement is tested through midterm and final examinations in each trimester, and eventually by a high school entrance examination. The pedagogy is blamed for stifling children’s natural curiosity and enforcing conformity. Therefore, the principles of integrated study encourage active engagement in education rather than passive learning and memorization. ~

Middle School Curriculum in Japan

The middle curriculum includes Japanese, mathematics, social studies, science, English, music, art, physical education, field trips, clubs and homeroom time. Students now receive instruction from specialist subject teachers. The pace is quick and instruction is text-book bound because teachers have to cover a lot of ground in preparation for high-school entrance examinations. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com **]

The curriculum from 2002 includes Japanese language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, foreign language, music, arts, industrial arts and home economics, physical education, moral education, special activities, and integrated study (so-go-tekina gakushu- no jikan) (Table 3.1). Starting in April 2002, elective classes have been increased to a one-hour unit per week for the seventh grade, two- to three-hour units a week for the eighth grade, and three- to four-hour units for the ninth grade. Computer classes and integrated study are required for middle school students. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Middle School Curriculum and the Prescribed Number of School Hours per Subject in the 2002-3 School Year (Subject: hours in 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade): A) Japanese Language Arts: 140, 105, 105; B) Social Studies: 105, 105, 85; C) Mathematics: 105, 105, 105; D) Science: 105, 105, 85; E) Music: 45, 35, 35; F) Arts: 45, 35, 35; G) Physical Education: 90, 90, 90; H) Industrial Arts and Home Economics: 70, 70, 35; I) Foreign Language: 105, 105, 105; J) Moral Education: 35, 35, 35; K) Special Activities: 35, 35, 35; L) Elective Subjects: 0-30, 50-85, 105-165; M) Comprehensive Learning Activities: 70-100, 70-105, 70-130; N) Total Classroom Hours, 980, 980, 980. [Notes: 1) A classroom hour unit is 50 minutes. 2) Special activities hours are used for homeroom activities. 3) Hours for elective subjects can be used for elective subjects as well as for special activities. 4) The Course of Study will decide the hours used for elective subjects for middle schools. 5) The curriculum for the new 2002 Course of Study published in 1998 has been in effect since April 1, 2002. Source: Monbusho- 1998b ~]

The MOE allows each school to design its own curriculum for integrated study in order to promote educational diversification and deregulation. Social-experience pedagogy supplements the lecture-centered instruction of middle schools, and helps the students think and learn on the basis of their personal experiences, research, and discussion. Since 2000, many schools have already introduced integrated study courses. However, many teachers and schools are still struggling to find the best means of teaching integrated study. Some teachers question the efficiency and benefits of integrated study at the expense of the lecture-style instruction of academic subjects. ~

After the five-day school week was introduced in April 2002, classroom hours and academic content were reduced. The 1,050 classroom hours in 1984 were gradually reduced to 980 hours in 2002. Academic content in the 1998 Course of Study for 2002 onward was reduced by approximately 30 percent. Moreover, 20 percent of classroom hours are assigned to review sessions. These “relaxed” (yutori) classes are promoted so that many students who fall behind academically have a chance to catch up with their peers. It is said that only half of middle school students have a thorough understanding of the academic content of their classes (Ogawa 2000:212). ~

However, many teachers are concerned about the possibilities of diminished academic achievement as a result of the reduction of instruction time. This is particularly true for mathematics and science teachers who are opposed to the 70 unit-hours reduction among mathematics classes, and to the 25 to 60 unit-hours reduction for science classes for ninth graders. They argue that students will lose their leading international position in scientific knowledge, and that the internationally recognized superiority of Japanese students in mathematics and science will come to an end. ~

In response, the MOE officially declared the Course of Study as a “minimum standard” model and suggested that teachers use more advanced instructional materials. For the first time, the MOE approved the mathematics and science of high school textbooks for the 2004-5 school year that include more advanced contents than those in the Course of Study. The MOE plans to allow all textbooks for elementary, middle and high schools to include more challenging materials than those of the Course of Study for the 2005-6 school-year textbooks (AS April 9, 2003). Furthermore, in the 2002-3 school year, the MOE took the unprecedented step of introducing special education for advanced students in 946 model elementary and middle schools, through providing additional teachers, mostly in the fields of English, mathematics, and science (AS August 18, 2001). ~

School Life in a Japanese Middle School

The homeroom is the heart of middle school education. The students study, eat lunch, and play in their homerooms. In contrast to American schools, in which the students change classrooms at the end of each lesson, in Japanese schools the teachers go to the students’ classroom. However, students do not stay in their homeroom all day. There are special rooms for music, arts, crafts, home economics, the computer lab, the gymnasium, the playground, and a science lab. Homeroom teachers are in charge of morning and afternoon homeroom times, a weekly hour-long special activities class, and moral education, in addition to their regular subject of instruction. They review the journals of students and the han (fixed group), and track student development as well as behavioral problems. Furthermore, they visit the home of each student early in the first trimester, and also see parents on the school’s visitation day, at the PTA, and in parent-teacher conference at the end of every trimester. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The han is a small multi-purpose group of six to seven students. The members of the han study, eat, work, and engage in planned activities together. The purpose of the han is to build group solidarity and cooperation. The leaders of the han monitor the other members and encourage them to work together. Group discussion and activities in the han are conducted in Japanese language arts classes, social studies classes, and during laboratory work for science classes. The han take turns every week to see that all of the daily tasks are done, and lead the daily afternoon homeroom time when students reflect on their behavior at the end of the school day. Each han is assigned to cleaning tasks, and the han in charge of monitoring checks on how other hans clean, and grades them during the daily afternoon homeroom time. For example, if one han did not clean the classroom or hallway thoroughly or some members of that han failed to do so, the han in charge of monitoring can ask them to reflect on their misbehavior during the daily afternoon homeroom time. The han also take turns delivering and serving school lunches, and the members of a han eat lunch together. All students learn to cooperate with others in the han, and to take responsibility for the actions of everyone in the group. ~

The homeroom class has several committees, each of which is in charge of specific tasks. The members of these committees learn how to accept responsibility. Classroom leaders, one male and one female, are elected every trimester, and represent their class at the meetings of class leaders and in the student council. In addition, many students are assigned to other committees, such as the cleaning committee, the transportation committee, the cultural committee, the physical education committee, the public health committee, and the school lunch committee. ~

In order to prevent student delinquency, everyone is expected to follow the rules and to make sure that others are doing the same. There are strict rules about how students must present themselves at school. Most schools prohibit earrings, makeup, and permed hair. Male students have to maintain short haircuts. The length of skirts is regulated. School counselors or psychologists are not yet common in Japanese schools, so classroom teachers are responsible for guidance counseling and helping troubled students. The teachers on the counseling and guidance committee deal with disciplinary issues and troubled students in consultation with the students’ homeroom teacher, a nurse teacher, and the teacher in charge of their extracurricular club. Parents expect teachers to correct misbehavior. If necessary, the counseling and guidance committee will also contact the youth center and the municipal police. As a result, the teachers have extra work, but teachers are not only expected to improve students’ minds, but also to improve their moral character. In 1995, the MOE, concerned with the rising rate of juvenile delinquency, began to deploy school counselors. The number of school counselors has been increasing. These counselors also help reduce the workload of classroom teachers.

Japanese Middle School Club and After-School Activities

After school, the majority of students participate in extracurricular clubs where they develop their physical or artistic abilities, while learning group consciousness and responsibility. According to a 2000 survey, 69 percent of male students and 45 percent of female students joined after-school athletic clubs, while seven percent of male students and 31 percent of female students belonged to cultural clubs (Naikakufu 2001b). Athletic clubs have an hour or two of daily training, and some clubs have training even on the weekend. Among cultural clubs, brass band clubs and choir clubs have daily practice, while painting clubs, volunteer clubs, and academic clubs (such as the chemistry club or the reading club) meet several times a week. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Students who are active in clubs agree that the extracurricular activities are the most enjoyable part of school. They stay involved in club activities until the summer of their senior year, when their attention turns to preparation for high school entrance examinations. Only a few middle school students join the children’s association in their community (6.4 percent for boys and 6.2 percent for girls) or a community sports association (12.2 percent for boys and 5.5 percent for girls) (Naikakufu 2001b) because most prefer the clubs at their school. ~

After returning home, middle school students study for about an hour and watch television or play games for about an hour. According to a 1999 survey, middle school students studied for 30 minutes (22.4 percent), one hour (24.6 percent), two hours (13.9 percent), or three hours (3.9 percent) at home on the day before the survey, while 34.8 percent said they did not study at all. More than one-fourth (27.7 percent) of middle school students watched television or videos or played games for two hours, 22.7 percent did so for one hour, 21.9 percent did so for three hours. More than half of all surveyed middle school students (57.4 percent) did not play with their friends on the day before the survey (So-mucho- 2000b:64). According to a 2000 survey, among ninth graders, most of whom took the high school entrance examination, 13.8 percent studied for more than two hours a day, while 39.5 percent studied occasionally, though not everyday, and 11.9 percent did not study most days (Kariya 2001:64, 66, 120). ~

Community service and volunteering are promoted by the MOE. In 1997, the MOE suggested that volunteer services be considered as a criterion for high school admission. The National Commission on Educational Reform suggests that elementary and middle schools require students to complete two weeks of volunteer work. In practice, community service has not become popular. However, schools, in cooperation with social welfare agencies, have initiated visits to nursing homes, special schools for disabled children, and group homes for adults with disabilities. Some students are regularly involved in community service or other extracurricular volunteer clubs. ~

Middle School Juku

“Juku” are private educational organizations; the term is usually translated as “cram school.” Many large-scale juku, which prepare students for the high school and college entrance examinations, are called “shingaku juku” (cram school for entrance examinations) or “yobiko-” (preparatory cram school for college examinations). These schools employ many full-time and part-time juku teachers, and operate in urban areas. However, most juku are simply study classes taught by retired teachers or homemakers in their houses a few times a week in the late afternoon and early evening. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Juku provides middle school students with supplementary lessons several times a week, if not every day, and helps them to prepare for the high school entrance examination. According to a 1993 survey conducted by the MOE, the majority of middle school students attended juku to review academic subjects and to improve their school performance (So-mucho- 1998:313). English juku and mathematics juku are operated by retired teachers and part-time juku teachers in their homes or in rented offices several evenings a week between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Some of the more professionally-run juku may provide not only English and mathematics, but also all five academic subjects. Many college students take part-time jobs as juku teachers in these juku companies. ~

Some parents force their children to attend juku, while some students go to juku to socialize. Parents are happy to pay the tuition because they believe that juku helps their children improve their school performance and increase their chances of passing the entrance examination of the high school of their choice. Most parents can afford juku. Nevertheless, well-educated upper and upper-middle class parents are more likely to send their children to juku than are lower-class parents. ~

By middle school, differences in school achievement among students appear. Some students are already far behind when they enter middle school, and have already given up on schoolwork. These students are unlikely to attend juku. But the majority of students who want to enhance their chances of going to a better high school attend juku, hoping that it will help boost their test scores. According to a 2001 survey, fifth to eighth graders who attend juku score much higher on the examinations for Japanese language arts and mathematics than those who do not attend (AS March 17, 2002). Of course, many students excel in their schoolwork without juku. For the majority of students, juku is part of their “school” life, and supplements their school performance. Attending juku is not stressful. The problem of tense and exhausted children comes from the rigid educational system and the Japanese emphasis on credentials. The juku merely offer children assistance with their schoolwork so that they will perform better on their entrance examinations. ~

According to the 2000 Survey of Expenditures in Education for Children, 37 percent of elementary school students, 76 percent of public middle school students, 37 percent of public high schools, and 45 percent of private high school students attended juku (Monbukagakusho- 2002c). Children in urban areas were more likely to attend juku than those in rural areas, because many highly educated parents in urban areas place higher emphasis on the educational achievement of their children. Moreover, the competition for high-ranked high schools or even private middle schools in metropolitan areas is fiercer than in rural areas. Therefore, 42 percent of children in the fourth to ninth grades in the metropolitan areas go to private study classes or preparatory schools, in contrast to 28.4 percent in the rural areas who do so (So-mucho- 1996:171). The number of juku for elementary school students has risen from 18,700 in 1981 to 51,100 in 2001 despite the decrease in the number of elementary school students, from 11,958,000 in 1981 to 7,265,000 in 2001. Nowadays, small-scale juku with several students have gained popularity. The popular juku corporation operates three-student classes for 79,000 elementary school students whose parents pay about 300,000 yen tuition per year (AS March 28, 2003). ~

Japanese Middle School Students and Their Future Plans

Middle school students, especially ninth-graders, are serious about their future, and study hard to enter their first choice high schools. Parents help them prepare for the exams by sending them to cram schools (juku), and by making sure that they have a quiet study area. Two-thirds of students have their own study rooms at home (So-mucho- 1996:26). More than half of middle school students plan to continue on to higher education, and study hard to enter higher-ranked academic high schools. According to a 1999 survey, 63.5 percent of male students plan to pursue higher education (50.4 percent to enter college and 13.1 percent to enter junior college or specialized training college), while 30.6 percent of male students plan to work after high school and 1.4 percent plan to work after middle school. In contrast, 76.6 percent of female students plan to pursue higher education (42.2 percent to enter college and 34.4 percent to enter junior college or specialized training college), while 18.8 percent of female students plan to work after high school, and 0.8 percent plan to work after middle school (So-mucho- 2000b:61). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

For future careers, male students hoped for jobs as company employees (8.8 percent); sports professionals (8.5 percent); programmers, architects, technicians, or interpreters (8.1 percent); and civil servants (7.6 percent), and 44.5 percent of boys surveyed were undecided. Female students were interested in becoming nurses or nursery caregivers (13.8 percent); designers, artists, musicians, novelists, or comic writers (9.3 percent); and preschool/kindergarten, elementary, middle, or high school teachers (8.2 percent), and 37.5 percent of girls were undecided (So-mucho- 1996:72-73). ~

According to a 1999 survey, the majority (74 percent) of parents want their children to continue on to higher education (51.1 percent to college, 8.6 percent to junior college and 14.3 percent to specialized training college), while 19.3 percent want their children to work after high school, and 0.2 percent want their children to work after middle school (So-mucho- 2000b:121). Parents are more likely to assume that their sons rather than their daughters will enroll in four-year colleges. According to a 2000 survey, 66.9 percent of parents of children between the ages of 9 and 14 expect their son to go to a four-year college, while 44.7 percent of parents expect their daughter to go to a four-year college, and 17 percent of them want their daughters to go to a junior college (Naikakufu 2002:104). ~

The educational level and occupational status of parents affect the educational attainment of their children. According to a 1995 survey, 63 percent of fourth to ninth graders whose fathers attended college planned to go to college, while 37 percent of children whose fathers were high school graduates who had not attended college planned to go to college (So-mucho- 1996:169). According to a 1995 Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) survey, among those who were born in 1956-1975, 41.9 percent of those whose fathers were professionals or in managerial positions, 24.6 percent of those whose fathers were in clerical, sales, or service, 15 percent of those whose fathers were manual workers, and 7.3 percent of those whose fathers were in the primary sector (agriculture, forestry, and fishery) went to high-ranked academic high schools (Kariya 1998:94-95). ~

From Middle School to Work in Japan

Only three percent of middle school graduates do not attend high school. They are usually considered low-achievers, troublemakers, or averse to studying. Poverty no longer has a direct effect upon high school enrollment because public high school education is so inexpensive. However, the students whose education ends in middle school are more likely to have a family background that is characterized by lower socioeconomic status and lower educational levels. In 2003, 10,000, 0.8 percent of middle school graduates (1.1 percent of male students and 0.4 percent of female students) entered the workforce, 6,000 enrolled in the high school and general courses of specialized training colleges, and 1,000 went to public human resources development facilities. Another 19,000 neither worked nor went to school (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). In 2003, 140,000 youths between the ages of 15-19 were unemployed with an 11.9 percent unemployment rate (Naikakufu 2004a). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

More than 90 percent of middle school job seekers obtained employment through the cooperation of their middle schools and the Public Employment Security Placement Center (So-mucho- 1998:378). Almost half of these jobseekers (49.3 percent) found positions in small manufacturing or construction and the rest (43.3 percent) entered the service industry. Ten percent accepted jobs outside of their home prefectures (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). About half (49.3 percent) of middle school graduates who went to work in March 2000 left their jobs within a year, another 14.4 percent (the cumulative total 63.7 percent) within two years, and another 9.3 percent (73.0 percent) within three years (Naikakufu 2004a). ~

In 2003, approximately 6,000 new middle school graduates enrolled in the high school and general courses of specialized training colleges. In 2003, 622 specialized training colleges offered high school courses to 53,000 middle school graduates, including high school dropouts (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Among these schools, 278 schools provided a certificate to take college entrance exams, and about 13,000 (40 percent) went to college with a high school equivalent in 1998 (Monbusho- 1999b:167). In 2003, 1,000 new middle school graduates entered into public human resources development facilities operated by the prefectural government and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). New graduates from middle schools and high school dropouts take one to two-year courses, and high school graduates take six- and twelve-month vocational training courses. ~

81 Year Old Japanese Woman Graduates from Middle School

In March 2013, the Japan Daily News reported: “Ritsuko Kenmoku of the No. 9 Middle School in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo, finally received her junior high school diploma at a ceremony held on Tuesday. At 81 years old, her story is extremely inspiring and adorable, especially after you realize that her 15-year-old grandson also graduated, albeit from a different school, on the same day. [Source: Cherrie Lou Billones, Japan Daily News via Yomiuri Shimbun, March 21, 2013 //\\]

“The road towards that stage where diplomas were being handed out was long and tedious. Kenmoku could not proceed with her studies when she was a young student at primary school because World War II had already broken out and she, as well as her classmates, was left to cultivate fields during class hours. She was unable to continue her education because she was needed at home for housework. As she got older and had kids of her own, she had to give up on the idea of school in order to take care of them. Perhaps one of the reasons she resolved to go back is because she was saddened by the fact that she could not help her children with their homework. //\\

“As she approached 80, she realized that she did not want to leave this world without having received a proper education. Fortunately, there were night classes available, and the rest, as they say, is history. She is now set to begin a part-time high school course in Tokyo come April, then maybe university after that. It’s not far-fetched; if a 98-year-old man can do it, why not Kenmoku? She’s only 81 after all. //\\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~; Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com ; Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), Daily Yomiuri, Jiji Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated Japan 2014

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