High school attendance is optional. In 2010, 98 percent of all junior high school graduates entered high school, and about 74 percent of all high schools were public. High school entrance is based on exam performance and the competition is intense for favored schools. Students attending unified junior high and high schools avoid the high school entrance exam pressure, but there are still relatively few such unified schools in the public school system.

The high school core curriculum includes the following required subjects: Japanese language, geography and history, civics, mathematics, science, health and physical education, art, foreign language, home economics, and information. Extracurricular activities and integrated study are also required. Students in special vocational programs also take courses in their area of study (business, industrial arts, agriculture, etc.) while spending less time on the core curriculum than regular students. [Ibid]

In April 2003, 97 percent of 15-year-old middle school graduates entered high school, including evening high schools (Monbukagakusho- 2004a), and are expected to graduate with only a 2.6 percent dropout rate (in the 2001-2 school year).2 In the 2001-2 school year, students gave the following reasons for dropping out: unfit for high school life (38.2 percent); desire to change their course of life (36.3 percent); low educational achievement (6.4 percent); delinquency (4.5 percent); family problems (4.4 percent); disease, injury, or death (3.5 percent); economic reasons (3.3 percent); and others (3.4 percent) (Monbukagakusho- 2002b).[Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

History of High School Education in Japan

The enrollment rate for high schools more than doubled during the years of the economic boom, from 42.5 percent in 1950 to 90.8 percent in 1974. College enrollment rates for 18-year-olds rose nearly fourfold from 10 percent in 1960 to 37 percent in 1975. Many sons of farmers became college-educated, white-collar employees, constituting a new middle class by the 1970s. Since 1975, during the period of slowed economic growth, high school enrollment and college enrollment rates have risen at a much slower pace, up to 97 percent and 45 percent in 2003, respectively (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

The 1999 high school education Course of Study for 2003-2012 is designed to further deregulation, diversity, individuality, internationalization, and information technology. The Course of Study also encourages moral education, volunteer service, and employment experience. The Course of Study reduces class hours, consistent with the five-day school week, and creates more elective courses. Regular high schools have 30 hour-units (one hour unit is 50 minutes) a week for 35 weeks a year, beginning in April 2002. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

With almost all junior high school students now going on to high school regardless of their desire and willingness to learn, high schools are looking for ways to reduce student apathy and the number of dropouts. As part of this effort, new and more diverse models of high school education are being introduced to better respond to the different abilities and interests of individual students. Examples of such new models include creditbased high schools, where graduation is based on accumulated credits rather than completion of a set number of full academic years, and integrated-program schools, where students have more flexibility to take electives based on their individual interests and abilities. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Japanese High Schools

High school students are sorted into three hierarchically ranked types of high schools: academic, vocational, and new comprehensive high schools. High school students enjoy extracurricular activities and work part-time after school. Almost two-thirds of high school graduates enroll in colleges and specialized training colleges. However, securing admission to higher educational institutions is not especially difficult. Perhaps only the top 20 to 30 percent of high school students study hard to enter prestigious colleges. More than half of the high school students study for only an hour or less a day.

Most of the 5,450 high schools are public schools under the jurisdiction of the prefectural board of education. About one-fourth (24 percent) of high schools are private, in addition to 15 national high schools affiliated with national universities, and 104 newly combined six-year secondary schools (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). As of 1997, 50.8 percent of private schools and 4.3 percent of public schools are single-sex institutions (Kimura 1999:47). In addition to regular daytime high schools, there are correspondence high schools and evening high schools. Special high schools for disabled children serve children with visual impairments, hearing impairments, orthopedic disabilities, mental retardation, and/or chronic illness. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

About 73 percent of high school students attend academic high schools for college preparation. One-fourth of high school students attend vocational high schools. Vocational high schools fall into three categories: technical, commercial, and agricultural. Some academic and vocational high schools have special departments for comprehensive course programs, home economics, nursing, fishery, social welfare, information science, science, physical education, arts, music, international relations, and English (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

Vocational high schools are losing their students, as more 15-year-olds prefer academic high schools. Some vocational high schools are making the transition to comprehensive or academic high schools in order to attract higher achieving students. Moreover, the decreasing number of high school students has caused some less popular high schools to close down or merge with other institutions. Technical high schools and high school nursing programs have gained popularity under the recent economic recession, probably because many students prefer attending job training to attending low-ranked academic high schools. ~

Concepts Behind High School Education in Japan

The correlation between socioeconomic status, the educational level of parents, and the rank of their children’s high schools confirms the theory of reproduction. According to reproduction theory, dominant groups perpetuate their privilege through education, although education is not in itself a simple reproduction machine. A 1995 analysis of a social mobility survey confirms that for male children their father’s education and occupation affect their son’s choice of high school, as well as their choice of profession. Those who attended elite high schools and are in professional or managerial positions are more likely to have fathers in similar positions (Nakanishi 2000). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

High schools consist of students of comparable levels of academic achievement. Typically, students in elite academic schools are all college-bound, studious, and well behaved. These schools often have a competitive atmosphere with high educational aspiration and expectation from peers, teachers and parents. Less selective academic high schools have “average” students who are less driven, who enjoy extracurricular activities, and who look forward to attending four-year colleges, junior colleges, specialized training colleges, or to work. ~

Vocational high schools have “average” and “lower achievers” who do not plan on higher education, and enjoy extracurricular sports clubs and a social life. Technical high schools, known as “boy’s schools” are overwhelmingly male. Female students comprise the majority in commercial high schools, and almost all the student body in nursing and home economics departments of high schools. Vocational and low-ranked high schools tend to have students with more delinquency problems and a higher dropout rate. ~

High School Students and Teachers in Japan

In 2003 there were 3,809,801 students in senior high schools. About 98 percent of 15 year-old middle-school graduates go on to high schools or private specialist institutions. A high-school diploma is a considered the minimum for the most basic jobs in Japanese societies. The rate of students who advance on to senior high schools was 97.0 percent in 2002. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com **]

One-fourth of students attend private high schools, a small number of which are elite academic high schools. Over 97 percent of high-school students attend day high schools, about three-fourths are enrolled in academic courses. Other students are enrolled in the one or other of the 93 correspondence high schools or the 342 high schools that support correspondence courses. **

Since 1990, the number of students has been rapidly decreasing due to the falling birth rate. In 2003, there were 3,810,000, 120,000 fewer than in 2002. Since 1998, the maximum number of students in a high school class is 40 students. The student-teacher ratio is 14.7:1 (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Only one quarter of teachers (25.2 percent) were female, and the average high school teacher was 43.8 years old in 2001 (Monbukagakusho- 2003a). The MOE plans to add 7,008 high school teachers in the five years since 2002 (Monbukagakusho- 2003b:210). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

High School Curriculum in Japan

High schools adopt highly divergent high school curricula, the content may contain general or highly specialized subjects depending on the different types of high schools. To view a sample curriculum of a high school (Ikoma High School), visit the following link. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com **]

The Course of Study states that the current 80 units required for graduation are to be reduced to 74 units, including 31 required units and 25 elective units. The required subjects for general education are: Japanese language arts; world history; Japanese history or geography; contemporary society, ethics, or political science and economics; mathematics; basic science, physics, chemistry, biology, or geology; physical education or public health; music, arts, craftwork, or calligraphy; oral communication or English; home economics or daily life technology; and information science. In addition, all high schools are required to teach three to four units (105 to 210 hour-units) of integrated study. Also, all high schools have hour-long homeroom classes. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Each school can create one “school-specific subject” based on the needs of its students. High-ranked academic high schools provide advanced courses. In comparison, vocational high schools provide basic academic courses and specialized vocational courses, such as electrical engineering and business. Comprehensive high schools offer unit-based courses for both academic and special vocational subjects, in which the students can create their own curriculum (Monbusho- 1999a). ~

The reduced number of class hours and the changes in mathematics and science curricula may cause a shortage of scientists and engineers in the decades to come. Many science and mathematics teachers worry that the reduction of content in academic subjects for the sake of a “yutori” (relaxed) curriculum will undermine the academic ability of high school students. More universities and colleges need to provide remedial classes. The business community echoes the cry for the importance of a highly trained and globally competitive workforce. Many educators fear that Japan might lose its pre-eminent position in mathematics and science in the future. ~

Responding to this outcry, the MOE decided to subsidize 1,500 elementary, middle, and high schools with more than 1 million yen for science education promotion, and to designate 20 “super science high schools” funded with grants of 30 million yen per school. The schools will invite college professors as lecturers, have adequate laboratory equipment, and promote scientific club activities (AS August 19, 2001). ~

High School Curriculum (Subject areas: Subjects) 1) Japanese: Basic Japanese Language; Contemporary Japanese Language; Classic; Classic Reading; Japanese Language Expression II; 2) Geography and History: World History A; World History B; Japanese History A; Japanese History B; Geography A; Geography B, 2; 3) Civics: Modern Society; Ethics; Politics and Economy; 4) Mathematics: Mathematics I; Mathematics A; Mathematics II; Mathematics B; Mathematics III; Mathematics C; General Mathematics, 3; 5) Science: General Science A; Physics I; Physics II; Chemistry I; Chemistry II; Biology I; Biology II; 6) Health and physical Education: Physical Education; Helth Education; 6) Art and Music: Art, Music I; Fine Art I; Calligraphy I; Music II; Fine Art II; Calligraphy II; 7) Foreign Language: English I; Oral Communication I; Oral Communication II; English II; Reading; Writing; English Exercise; 8) Home Economics: Basic Home Economics; 9) Information Education C; 10) Comprehensive Studies. [Source: ikeda-h.oku.ed.jp/en/info_e/frame_club.html]

School Life in Japanese High Schools

As in elementary and middle schools, the homeroom is the core of high school education, except in credit-based comprehensive high schools. Academic subject teachers come to homeroom classrooms to deliver instruction. High schools do not have government-subsidized school lunches, like elementary and middle schools do. Many students bring a lunch box and eat in their homeroom classroom. Other students go to the school cafeteria. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The students clean the classrooms, corridors, and school grounds every day in small fixed groups, known as han. Two class leaders, one male and one female are elected every trimester, and many students are assigned to specific task committees in their homeroom class. Homeroom teachers are in charge of morning and afternoon homeroom times, as well as a weekly one-hour long homeroom period. They also take responsibility for counseling students’ behaviors and future plans. Homeroom teachers discuss college admissions or employment with the students and their parents in parent-teacher conferences. ~

A teacher at one private school wrote: “Instead of the trimester system, our school has had the two semester system for a long time. The first semester is from April to September, and the second semester is from October to March. The two semester system has many advantages, such as only four test periods in one year and therefore, more time for classes and school events. In our curriculum, the first-and second-year students take required subjects, and the third-year students choose their classes from a variety of electives, academic subjects and so forth. This is because we want our students to acquire a higher and broader knowledge of subjects in order to prepare them for their future lives, and also to consider deeply their future course of studies. For this reason the third-year students do not follow the traditional set science, or liberal arts curriculum, but rather choose their own classes, in effect designing their own curriculum in accordance with their future prospects. [Source: ikeda-h.oku.ed.jp/en/info_e/frame_club.html]

The schedule at the school mentioned above: 1) April: Entrance Ceremony; Election for Student Council; 2) May: Study Camp for New Students; Day School Excursion (2-3grade); Sports Day; 3) June: First Mid-term Test; Achievement Test; Practice for Student Teachers; Extra-curricula Event; 4) July: School Festival; Summer Training Camp; 5) August; 6) September: Achievement Test; Election for Student Council; First Final-Term Test; 7) October: School Excursion; Day School Excursion(1-3grade); Practice for Student Teachers; Sports Day; 8) November: Achievement Test; 9) December: Second Mid-term Test; 10) January: Application for Entrance Examination; 11) February: Entrance Examination; Graduation Ceremony; 12) March: Second Final-Term Test.

Types of High Schools in Japan

High schools in Japan may be classed into one of the following types: 1) Elite academic high schools collect the creme de la creme of the student population and send the majority of its graduates to top national universities. 2) Non-elite academic high schools ostensibly prepare students for less prestigious universities or junior colleges, but in reality send a large number of their students to private specialist schools (senshuugakko), which teach subjects such as book-keeping, languages and computer programming. These schools constitute mainstream high schooling. 3) Vocational High Schools that offer courses in commerce, technical subjects, agriculture, homescience, nursing and fishery. Approximately 60 percent of their graduates enter full-time employment. 4) Correspondence High Schools offers a flexible form of schooling for 1.6 percent of high school students usually those who missed out on high schooling for various reasons. 5) Evening High School which used to offer classes to poor but ambitious students who worked while trying to remedy their educational deficiencies. But in recent times, such schools tend to be attended by little-motivated members of the lowest two percentiles in terms of academic achievement.

Academic High Schools in Japan

Each academic high school is ranked according to the number of graduates who enroll in prestigious colleges. Elite academic schools send almost 100 percent of their students to a renowned four-year university, while the least competitive academic schools send very few of their students to such institutions. Middle school students know which high schools provide the best chances for admission to a selective university. The highest-ranking public academic high schools attract the highest achievers from the district’s middle schools. The majority of academic high schools include students who plan to attend less competitive colleges, junior colleges, or specialized training colleges, with a few students seeking employment after graduation. Many low-ranked private academic high schools accept low-achievers who failed to pass the examination for public academic or vocational schools. After the late 1970s, some academic high schools began to offer ability-grouping classes, especially in the prefectures where the influence of JTU is weak (Kariya 1998:101). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Private high schools, comprising 24 percent of all high schools, are also hierarchically ranked. The tuition for private high schools is usually about three times as much as that of public high schools, which for the 2001-2 school year amounted to 111,600 yen per year (YS December 28, 2000). Many elite private academic schools provide a six-year college preparatory curriculum. Some of them are “escalator” schools, whose students may automatically go on to private universities like Keio University. Elite private academic high schools attract many of the best students. For example, among those who entered the University of Tokyo, the nation’s most highly respected university, 64 percent of new entrants, including 93 percent in Tokyo in 1999 came from national or private six-year academic high schools, an increase from 26 percent in 1965 and 50 percent in 1985 (Nihon Keizai 2001:195). ~

In metropolitan areas, where many elite academic high schools are concentrated, private high schools are more popular than high-ranked public academic schools. Highly educated parents want to send their children to private middle schools with a fast track to the best universities through the “escalator” system. Twelve-year-olds compete to enter these six-year private schools. In contrast, low-ranked private schools have an important role in accepting students who failed the entrance examinations for public high school. These private schools accept almost every student. ~

The curriculum for academic high schools prepares students for college entrance examinations. Classes are based on textbook-centered lectures and rote practice examinations. Many academic high schools divide their students between humanities majors and science majors. The students may be also divided into homerooms according to their interest in attending a national university or a private university. National universities require five subjects for the entrance examinations, while private universities usually require three. Some schools offer advanced classes for their most qualified students. However, the majority of academic high schools are not very rigorous. Enrolling in a low-ranked college, junior college, or specialized training college does not require much hard work. Many colleges admit their students through school recommendation without college examinations. ~

Vocational High Schools in Japan

Vocational high schools provide basic academic courses and special training for students who plan to work after graduation. Technical high schools offer courses in civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, information science, chemical engineering, programming, and ceramics technology. Commercial high schools teach business, marketing, accounting, and computer programming. Agricultural high schools teach agronomy, animal husbandry, and biotechnology. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The popularity of vocational high schools has waned, as more high school graduates prefer going to academic high schools. Prior to the 1960s when the overwhelming majority of students joined the workforce after high school, vocational high schools attracted many students who wanted to obtain specialized skills for better employment. In 1955, 40 percent of students attended vocational high schools, which by 2001 had dropped to 25 percent. In order to attract higher quality students, some vocational schools have become academic schools or comprehensive high schools. ~

However, vocational high schools still have an important role in rural areas. In rural areas where far fewer students go to college than in urban areas, the enrollment at vocational high schools is higher because vocational schools can provide job-related skills and help students to find jobs through the school referral system. ~

The majority of students who attend vocational schools now do so simply because they thought they could not enter public academic schools. Students in vocational schools enjoy high school life with less pressure from teachers, parents, and peers. Because teachers do not expect as much from these students academically, they teach less demanding courses. Students enjoy friendships and extracurricular activities. Students in vocational high schools tend to come from the lower-middle class and working class families. According to the 1995 survey on Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM survey), children whose fathers were not professionals or in managerial positions are on average more likely to go to vocational high schools (32.4 percent/22.6 percent in the average). The majority of those who attended vocational high schools or low-ranked academic high schools went to work after graduation, half of them becoming “blue-collar” workers (Nakanishi 2000:52). ~

After a decade of economic recession, more people have come to appreciate the importance of vocational and technological skills. The popularity of technical high schools and nursing departments has risen among middle school graduates who would obtain useful job skills. Many adults and even college students attend specialized training colleges or take evening classes to learn technical skills. Some vocational high schools provide evening classes for adult students in the community. Once vocational high schools show that they can produce graduates who can obtain good jobs, the schools will regain their former popularity. ~

Comprehensive High Schools in Japan

Comprehensive high schools (so-go- ko-to- gakko-) are credit-based schools similar to public high schools in the United States. Established in 1993, they offer both academic and vocational subjects. Every prefecture was required to build at least one comprehensive high school by 1996. In 1999, there were 124 schools in 46 prefectures (Monbusho- 1999b:261). In 2003, 104,665 students, or 2.8 percent of all high school students were enrolled in comprehensive schools (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). These students have greater freedom in choosing their classes, can transfer credits from other schools, and can even graduate early if they fulfill the required units, a new feature in the Japanese educational system. Comprehensive programs have trendy names like “international studies,” “information science,” and “ecology.” However, students do not develop as much group solidarity because of the lack of interaction with homeroom classmates and a homeroom teacher. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Comprehensive high schools, modeled upon American community high schools, were introduced during the post-war Occupation. However, comprehensive high schools never took root in Japan. By the 1950s, the current system of academically ranked high schools prevailed over comprehensive high schools. Responding to the increasing diversity of ability and aptitude of high school students, in 1971 the Central Council of Education recommended that high school curriculum be diversified. The National Association of Prefectural Superintendents proposed credit-based high schools, joint high schools, boarding schools, and six-year high schools in 1978. Comprehensive high schools were reintroduced, and tested in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1991, the Central Council of Education proposed the synthesis of academic and vocational programs, known as “comprehensive courses.” In 1993, the Committee for the Enhancement of High School Reforms recommended a credit system, inter-school cooperation, and admissions criteria: interviews, recommendations, and schools reports (Shimahara 1995a). ~

Despite the government’s promotion of comprehensive high schools, the majority of schools, especially the traditional high schools, are skeptical about the quality of comprehensive high schools. Very few public high schools are adopting comprehensive programs. Only some less selective high schools have become comprehensive high schools. Some vocational high schools became comprehensive high schools in order to combine vocational programs with academic programs. ~

The basic structure of high school education has not changed. Like other high schools, the reputation of a comprehensive high school depends upon the percentage of graduates who attend college. Comprehensive high schools are more likely to have mediocre students who might otherwise have attended non-elite academic high schools or vocational high schools. Moreover, comprehensive high schools provide credit-based courses and flexible time schedules for older or nontraditional students whose education was interrupted. ~

Six-Year Secondary Schools in Japan

In recent years, the government has promoted establishing six-year secondary public schools in order to replace the high school “examination hell” with a continuous six-year education with yutori (a “relaxed atmosphere”). The 1998 Amendment to the School Education Law makes it easier for middle and high schools to convert into six-year secondary high schools. The government plans to establish 500 more six-year secondary schools, at least one in each high school district in the near future. These schools follow the model of credit-based comprehensive schools, including vocational training and internships. The high school department of a six-year school can take graduates from other middle schools. Also, several middle schools and one high school can be combined to provide a six-year secondary education. Sixth graders can enter six-year schools without examination. Middle school graduates can enter the high-school department of a six-year secondary school through a grade check and aptitude tests (Monbusho- 2000a:28-29). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In 2003, there were 183 middle school sections and 104 high school sections in newly combined six-year secondary schools. Among them, 50 middle schools and 50 high schools were combined at the secondary school level while 133 middle schools and 54 high schools exchanged teachers. There were also 16 six-year schools (2 national, 5 public, and 9 private schools) with about 3,105 students and 382 teachers (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

The National Commission on Educational Reform, commissioned by Prime Minister Yoshiro- Mori, recommended a radical plan to replace half of all high schools with the six-year schools (Kyo-iku Kaikaku 2000). Will a new type of six-year secondary school resemble the existing national and private elite six-year schools, even though the new six-year secondary schools do not require written entrance examinations? Just like other high schools, the popularity of six-year secondary schools will be judged by the number of graduates enter selective colleges. It will be difficult to do away with “examination hell” unless the college admission policies are overhauled and Japanese society abandons its obsession with educational credentials. ~

Evening High Schools in Japan

In 2003, 110,000 part-time high school students attended evening high schools, which are usually affiliated with daytime high schools (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Students take four 50-minute classes on weekdays, and graduate in four years. Since 1988, students have been allowed to finish the course in three years. Most evening schools hold classes from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. However, in the past ten years or so, more evening schools have become credit-based evening high schools, and added daytime classes for a more varied student population. The popularity of daytime classes in evening high schools is rising among students who dropped out of regular high schools and students who had school refusal syndrome. Twenty-five prefectures plan to open at least 30 evening high schools with daytime classes. In May 2000, 135 evening high schools had daytime courses, mostly for the students who worked at night (AS March 29 2001). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The curriculum is the same regardless of when it is offered. The instruction resembles that of low-ranked high schools, because many of the students had been unsuccessful in daytime high schools. Since classes are smaller, students have more individual attention from the teachers. Teachers may offer extra help to students who hope to attend college, and who are struggling to keep up with their classes. In addition to studying, there is a snack or meal interval between classes. Extracurricular clubs like badminton, basketball, table tennis, photography, and computer clubs meet until 10:00 p.m. The school also provides special events such as field trips. ~

Until the 1960s and 1970s, evening high schools had played a significant role in providing high school education for working youths. In 1953, a record 567,000 students, almost one-fourth of high school students, attended evening high schools (AS February 9, 2004). Nowadays, the majority of students in evening high schools are low achievers or youths who had either failed to pass the entrance exams for daytime high schools or been expelled from daytime high schools. Some students had school refusal syndrome in middle school, and young working adults who want to earn a high school diploma. These more mature students are more likely to be enthusiastic about classes, and have better grades. In metropolitan areas, the student population includes refugees from Indochina and the children or grandchildren of Chinese returnees, who have difficulty going to daytime high schools because of a lack of Japanese language proficiency. ~

Kiku Evening High School

In 2001, seventy students (37 male and 33 female) were enrolled in the four-year evening high school courses in the elite academic Kiku High School in Marugame.3 Like other evening high schools, it originally consisted of students who held daytime jobs. Kiku Evening High School even had an outpost classroom in a sewing factory from 1968 to 1978. However, most students enrolled now are those who failed to enter or were expelled from daytime high schools, and those who had school refusal syndrome in middle school, in addition to a few young adults who returned to school for a high school diploma. More than half of all students have a full-time or part-time job. Most of the male students worked in the construction or manufacturing industries, while most of the female students worked in retail and service. Teachers advised students who did not work to take a day job in order to add regularity to their lives. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Kiku Evening High School keeps its curriculum based on traditional homeroom classes, and is currently considering new credit-based evening courses. If a student misses one-third of the class hours in a subject, he/she fails to receive credit. First-year students have the highest dropout rate. About half of first-year students completed the four-year evening program. Among 18 graduates in March 2000, three students went to four-year colleges, one student went to junior college, and two students went to specialized training colleges; the rest kept the same job or found another one. ~

I observed classes on biology and Japanese language arts, and the long homeroom hour. Students do not wear uniforms, and many of the female students wear makeup and have fashionably bleached hair. Teachers emphasize the basics, according to the academic level of students, and the class atmosphere is rather casual. In the Japanese language arts class, there was little student participation, but all the students quietly copied the Chinese poems and the teacher’s comments on the blackboard into their notebooks. At the end of the class, the teacher collected their notebooks. During the long homeroom hour, the young teacher and the students behaved more like friends, and discussed the practice of employment recruitment. Because there are fewer than 20 students in a classroom, the relationships between the students and teachers, especially younger teachers, are very close and friendly. ~

During the snack time between the second and the third periods, the prefectural board of education provides a piece of bread and milk to the students. For extracurricular clubs, the students form teams for baseball, basketball, and badminton, and during the first semester practiced for the prefectural tournament against other evening high schools. ~

Correspondence High Schools in Japan

Students in correspondence high schools study independently at home. They regularly submit papers for their classes, attend school for discussion, experiments, and practical training on assigned days, and take exams to obtain credits. It usually takes four years to obtain a high school diploma; however, a three-year program was introduced in 1988. In 2003, 190,000 students attended 138 correspondence high schools, which included 100 correspondence schools affiliated with daytime regular high schools, in addition to 397 regular high schools, which provided correspondence courses (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

Like the students in evening high schools, most of the correspondence school students are low achievers, students who had school refusal syndrome during middle school, and youths at risk. Some students have physical disabilities and health problems that make it difficult to make the daily commute to school. In addition to the teenagers, the students include adults who want to obtain a high school diploma and credentials for career advancement training, and retirees and homemakers who want to learn academic subjects or vocational training skills. ~

Among the 40,000 graduates, 5,000 attended college, 6,000 attended the specialized courses of specialized training colleges, 1,000 attended the general courses of specialized training colleges, 100 attended public human resources development facilities, 7,000 joined the workforce, and 17,000 did not fit any of these categories (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

After-School Activities for Japanese High School Students

After-school extracurricular activities play a significant role in the lives of high school students. Almost half of boys (42.5 percent) and 26.9 percent of girls participate in after-school athletic clubs. Moreover, 10.7 percent of boys and 29.4 percent of girls join in after-school cultural clubs (So-mucho- 1996:58-59). Many athletic clubs such as baseball and basketball clubs require daily training after school. Students learn to cooperate in teams, build lifelong friendships, and cultivate physical and emotional discipline. Furthermore, they develop interpersonal social skills in the hierarchically ranked relations between seniors (senpai) and juniors (ko-hai). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Volunteer activities and community service are not popular among high school students. According to a 1995 survey, only 15 percent of 15– to 17-year-olds participate in volunteer activities (So-mucho- 1996:91). Volunteer activities and community service have been recently promoted by the government, and are taken into consideration as admission criteria for high school and colleges. Thus, the number of high school students who are participating in volunteer activities has been increasing. The National Commission on Educational Reform recommends one month of mandated volunteer work for high school students (Kyo-iku Kaikaku 2000). The Tokyo Board of Education decided to create one-unit (35 hours a year) “volunteer experience activities” as a required course for the graduation for all public high schools in Tokyo, to begin in the 2007-8 school year (AS November 11, 2004). ~

High school students also enjoy dating, shopping, watching TV, and playing video games after school and on the weekends. According to a 1995 survey, the majority of high school students spend weekends with their friends, while one-fourth of boys and one-fifth of girls spend the weekends alone. On the weekend, two-thirds of boys watch TV or listen to music, while one-third of boys play video games, and read comics or books. In contrast, 71.4 percent of girls watch TV or listen to music and almost two-thirds of girls go shopping on the weekends (So-mucho- 1996:84-88). ~

Many high school students have part-time jobs. According to a 1998 survey in the Tokyo metropolitan area, 60 percent of high school students worked at restaurants, convenience stores, or supermarkets with salaries of 820-yen an hour (close to minimum wage) for 90 days a year, earning an average of 300,000 yen (Shokuhin 2000:149-151). According to a 2000 survey of employers of part-time high school students, most work at supermarkets, post offices, family restaurants, or gas stations, for 600 to 800 yen an hour for several days a week, especially on the weekends (AS May 7, 2000). ~

Clubs in Japanese High Schools

A teacher at one high school wrote: “We have a lot of clubs. Our clubs have summer camps every summer vacation, and the three-fourths of the first- and second-year students take part in the summer camps, where freshmen communicate with senior members and graduates, and get a lot of information about universities and higher learning from them. The clubs include; Baseball Club; Football Club; Track-and-Field Club; Tennis Club (boys); Tennis Club (girls); Basketball Club (boys); Basketball Club (girls); Volleyball Club (boys); Volleyball Club (girls); Badminton Club; Japanese Archery Club; Brass Band Club; Cartoon Club; Drama Club; Chemistry Club; Art Club; Photo Club; Literary Club; A cappella Club; String Ensemble Club; Quiz Club. [Source: ikeda-h.oku.ed.jp/en/info_e/frame_club.html]

Lives of Japanese Student Athletes Dominated by Sports Clubs

Kengo Hibino and Akira Fuyuki wrote in Yomiuri Shimbun: At many high schools offering a physical education curriculum, students often major in a specific sport, such as baseball or track and field, in addition to taking regular subjects such as mathematics and science. These students usually join the same club activities as their major. Powerful teams participate in national tournaments and some players subsequently attend prestigious universities through a school recommendation system. [Source: Kengo Hibino and Akira Fuyuki, Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri, January 16, 2013 ^=^]

“As the students study sports and participate in club activities, their lives tend to be dominated by club activities. Their relationships with coaches and senior students become an important facet of their lives. Many students and their parents have said, "If a student quits the club, they have to leave the school." In reality, students can continue studying at their schools even if they walk away from their clubs. However, quitting a club while taking a physical education curriculum means loosing a major portion of their school activities, so many students leave the school when they quit their clubs. ^=^

"Being an athlete is connected with a university and a job, and students majoring in sports have strong ties with senior and junior students," Masayuki Tamaki, a sports commentator, said. "If a student puts all effort into a sport, giving it up requires considerable courage." "Students cannot quit their clubs even if they have difficulty with strict coaches and training, so they have no way out," said a parent of a student on Sakuranomiya High School's basketball club.” ^=^

Rebecca Ikawa wrote in the education-in-japan website: “My son is good at basketball and was invited to practice at his sempai's high school. Subsequently, my son was told by that high school's coach that he could go to that school as a sports suisen if he wanted, but the offer was only good until the beginning of December - just before the important 3rd year, 2nd term grades came out. There would be no entrance exam at all, but he would have to study in the sports course. This meant that he would have significantly less class time and basketball for all but a handful of days during the year. To him it sounded wonderful - all that basketball! However, I discouraged him from accepting. He dreams about going to college in the U.S., but how could he do that if he didn't have any time or energy to study? What would he do at a school he chose only because of the basketball if he got injured? Ultimately, he passed on the sports suisen, but we will never know if it was the right choice. [Source: Rebecca Ikawa and Sandra Tanahashi, education-in-japan.info/sub108.html, 2005 >>>]

Juku and Japanese High School Students

The majority of high school students do not study much at home. According to a 2001 survey, the average Japanese high school students study 50 minutes a day at home or in cram schools during the weekdays, compared with 100 minutes from the 1980 survey. More than half (51 percent) hardly study (AS May 28, 2002). According to a 2002 survey, almost half (41.0 percent) of twelfth graders do not study or barely study, compared with 10.8 percent of sixth graders and 8.5 percent of ninth graders of a 2001 survey. Most (79 percent) think studying is important, but only 39.5 percent said they understand the contents of classes at school well (AS January 24, 2004). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

According to a 2000 survey, more than one-third of high school students attended juku (cram school), and their parents spent on average 200,000 yen a year on juku (Monbukagakusho- 2002c). Many students who planned to take college examinations for competitive colleges attended English juku and mathematics juku, and/or attended preparatory schools for college examinations, known as yobiko- in the evening and/or on the weekend. These students are more likely to be from high-ranked academic high schools and take college examinations for competitive colleges. ~

Yobiko-, a preparatory cram school for college entrance examinations, was originally established for ro-nin students (literally “master-less samurai”) who studied full-time for at least an additional year after high school in order to take college entrance examinations. “Ro-nin” became common in the late 1960s, especially among male students. Each year, 200,000 to 300,000 retake college entrance examinations after failing to be accepted by the college of their choice (Ogawa 2000:106). Large preparatory schools provide year-round lessons. In rural areas without many preparatory schools for ro-nin, academic high schools provide classes for alumni ro-nin for an additional year. Yobiko- tuition is expensive, and some students board at schools and/or rent a room nearby. Yobiko- teachers can be full-time yobiko- teachers, part-time college graduate students, or moonlighting professors (Tsukada 1991). ~

From High School to Work in Japan

In 2003, one sixth (16.6 percent) of high school graduates (cf., 35.2 percent in 1990), the lowest rate on record, went directly into the workforce (Monbusho- 2000b; Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Around 30 percent of high school graduates entered the workforce in the northern part of Japan, while in Tokyo only 6.6 percent of high school graduates did (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). Among the 213,000 high school graduates who went to work in March 2003, most found jobs in the manufacturing and service industries (Table 3.2). The percentage of professionals and technicians was much smaller than the national average, and more high school graduates were employed in secondary industries, such as manufacturing. The majority of them were employed in small- and medium-size firms in their hometowns. About one-fourth (26.3 percent) of high school graduates in March 2000 left their jobs within a year, another 14.7 percent (the cumulative total 41.0 percent) within two years and another 9.3 percent (50.3 percent) within three years (Naikakufu 2004a). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Occupations for High School Graduates Who Went to Work After Graduation in 2003: A) Male (118,917), Female (93,946); B) Manufacturing and Processing: , 55.2 percent male , 18.5 percent female; C) Service: 13.3 percent male, 29.5 percent female; D) Sales: 9.6 percent male, 18.1 percent female; E) Security: 6.9 percent male. F) Professional, technical: 4.2 percent male, 5.2 percent female; G) Transportation, Telecommunication: 3.5 percent male; H) Clerical: 3.1 percent male, 24.3 percent female; I) Other: 7.9 percent male, 4.4 percent female; ) (Source: Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

Among the high school graduates in 2002 who sought employment through schools and placement centers, the ratio of job openings to job applicants was 1.26:1, the lowest on the record. The number of job openings for new high school graduates decreased from 1.67 million in 1992 to 240,000 in 2002 (Kosugi 2002:17). According to a survey by the MOE, the rate of employment was only 86.3 percent, the lowest since 1976. Approximately 218,000 graduates who sought employment started to work in April 2002, and more than 30,000 high school graduates graduated in March without any job prospects (AS May 11, 2002). ~

Job Hunting After High School in Japan

Most high school job-seekers use the school referral system to find a job in their community, while some use personal networks. Teachers in vocational high schools help students find jobs in local companies through institutional networks between schools and local companies. These employers have, over the years, developed a network with vocational schools, and employers and schools cooperate to match high school graduates with suitable jobs. In 2001, 80 percent of those who obtained employment found a job through the school referral system, and 96 percent of those who used the school referral system succeeded in finding a job (Kosugi 2002:101). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The 1947 Employment Security Law stipulates that the Public Employment Security Office (PESO) under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and other nonprofit organizations, including schools can provide job placement assistance for youths. For job information for high school graduates, 64.3 percent of schools cooperated with the Public Employment Security Placement Center to help students obtain job information, while 29.9 percent of high schools, mostly vocational high schools, had their own school placement centers in 2000. In addition, 5.8 percent of high schools relied on the Public Employment Security Placement Center for job information (Naikakufu 2001a:303). Most vocational high schools, which are attended by the majority of job seekers, have their own placement centers. ~

Under the school referral system, employers who want to employ high school graduates fill out a recruitment card, giving the name of the company, the job description, and labor conditions, including wages and benefits. These cards are then approved by the Public Employment Security Office, and are sent to schools for job referral assistance. Employers consider academic achievement the most important criterion. They want to employ graduates from higher-ranked high schools, and graduates with good grades in academic subjects. Employers determine how many students they employ from a particular school, judging from their past records and experiences. If the graduates from a particular school have worked well in the company, the company develops a mutual trust with the school and is more likely to send out its recruitment cards in subsequent years. Vocational schools have several full-time or part-time teachers at the school placement center who help students find a job. ~

At the beginning of the senior year in April, schools provide new seniors with information about jobs and employment placement procedures. Students choose several companies they would like to work for from the recruitment cards, and consult their homeroom teacher, parents, and friends. By late August, the teachers at the school placement center, homeroom teachers, and the dean decide which companies are best suited for which students, based on students’ preferences, academic achievements, extracurricular activities, parents’ wishes, and family background. They use academic achievement as the main criterion to decide which students acquire their first choice of company if several students seek employment at the same companies. After placing students in suitable companies, the teachers in the placement center teach students how to take recruitment exams, and prepare them for their interviews. In September, the students take recruitment exams at the companies that the school chose for them. Teachers in school placement centers can help unsuccessful job-seekers until the end of May, two months after their graduation. Afterwards, schools are prohibited from helping them find a job (Rausenbaum and Kariya 1989; Okano 1993). ~

The institutional networks between schools and local companies match high school graduates to suitable companies because employers and placement counselors share information on students and companies. The school referral system also provides a network for disadvantaged students who do not have strong social networks and useful family connections. The criteria for selection are based on academic achievement and grades. Therefore, it is a relatively objective way to select students. The system has obviously worked so far since the employers keep returning to schools with recruitment cards. However, employers yield to schools in the selection process, and are obligated to employ whoever the schools nominate. Students have to compete with each other for these nominations, and cannot appeal to the companies directly. Moreover, students are pressured to perform well at their workplace; otherwise, their school’s reputation suffers. ~

In 2002, the MOE and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare decided to relax the “one applicant for one company” school referral system and allow high school students to apply to several companies. In the 2003-4 school year, 36 prefectures abolished the “one applicant for one company” school referral system, and in the 2004-5 school year, all prefectures abolished it (AS November 25, 2003; AS September 9, 2004). ~

In the United States, high school graduates do not use school networks to find a job. According to a 1983-1984 survey, fewer than 10 percent of high school seniors entering the workforce reported that their high school helped them find their job, while in Japan 75 percent of high school graduates found a job through their schools. Most high school graduates in the United States found jobs through friends and relatives or through direct applications to employers. Employers do not trust grades or references from high schools for hiring, and emphasize the importance of interviews as well as social skills from extracurricular activities more than grades (Rausenbaum and Kariya 1989). ~

Vocational Training at School in Japan

For vocational training, specialized training colleges under the jurisdiction of the MOE, as well as human resources development facilities and polytechnic colleges under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, have gained popularity with adult students. Many job seekers have returned to these schools to obtain new technical and vocational credential certificates. Among new students in the professional course in specialized training colleges in 2003, 7.7 percent (26,000) were returnee students who have a degree from a college or a five-year college of technology (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare supervises the newly established polytechnic junior colleges and four-year colleges, which provide two-year specialized courses and/or two-year practical training courses for both adults and recent high school graduates. Many polytechnic colleges have a small campus with several hundred students. They teach people who are studying to become mid-level technicians in civil, mechanical, electrical, and systems engineering. In addition, they offer vocational training seminars for working adults and the general public. In 2002, 2,280 students studied in polytechnic junior colleges, and 35,040 students were enrolled in polytechnic colleges (Naikakufu 2003a:129). The graduates of polytechnic colleges have a very high rate of employment, thanks to the high demand for technical workers. ~

The Employment and Human Resources Development Organization of Japan under the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare operates 60 Centers for the Promotion of the Development of Vocational Skills, which provide vocational training seminars and courses for adults who are unemployed, looking for another career, or learning new technical skills for career advancement. The Service Center for the Development of Vocational Skills in each prefecture provides free consultation for the development of vocational skills. The Lifelong Human Resources Development Center (The Ability Garden) was established in 1997 for the development of vocational skills for white-collar workers. The Ability Garden conducts research on vocational development, provides satellite courses for vocational development, and operates an online network for information and communication. ~

Public human resources development facilities run by the prefectural governments and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare provide one- to two-year courses for middle school graduates, and three-month to two-year courses for high school graduates and adults. Kagawa prefecture runs two prefectural vocational schools in Takamatsu and Marugame. They offer vocational training, based on the Law for the Promotion of the Development of Vocational Abilities and Skills. They have one-year courses for middle school graduates, one-year or two-year courses for high school graduates, and three-, six-, and twelve-month courses for adults who are looking for a career or are planning to change careers. As a more convenient and inexpensive way to learn vocational skills, evening high schools and correspondence high schools are also open to adults who want to learn liberal arts and vocational skills. Some evening high schools also provide short-term public lecture courses for people who want to learn computer skills and other vocational skills. ~

Specialized Training Colleges (Senshu- Gakko-)

In 1976, specialized training colleges (senshu- gakko-) that offer vocational and technical training in skills were upgraded from “miscellaneous schools” (kakushu gakko-) and granted formal recognition. Specialized training colleges have three types: general-program courses open to the public, advanced-program courses for middle-school graduates, and specialized-program courses for high school graduates (called senmon gakko-). Specialized training colleges have to provide at least one year or more of course work, and 800 or more class units, and have 40 or more regular students in order to keep their formal school status (Monbusho- 1999b:167). Most specialized training colleges serve high school graduates. Others also offer courses for middle-school graduates, and general courses for the public. In 2003, approximately 786,000 students attended 3,439 specialized training colleges (91 percent private) (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Specialized training colleges provide practical vocational and technical training for high school graduates and adults. Recently, not only 18-year-olds, but also adults, including college graduates, are attending in specialized training colleges in order to gain skills for career advancement. Specialized training colleges became open to applicants without high school diploma. High school graduates who attend specialized training colleges come from the middle- and low-ranked academic high schools, and vocational high schools. Many have given up on attending a four-year college or failed to enter a four-year college. Some students have chosen to attend specialized training colleges to become fashion designers, artists, hairdressers, cooks, and dieticians. In 2003, new students in specialized courses (338,000) included new high school graduates (71.2 percent) and college graduates (7.7 percent). The students take courses in medical studies (26.8 percent), humanities and liberal arts (21.1 percent), engineering (16.5 percent), public health (11.7 percent), commerce and business (10.3 percent), education and social welfare (8.5 percent), home economics (4.8 percent), and agriculture (0.3 percent)(Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

Despite the tight job market, the employment rate is better for graduates of specialized training colleges than for graduates of junior colleges and lower-ranked four-year colleges. In 1999, the rate of employment was 91.8 percent (Monbusho- 1999b:307). In 1997, 18,800 college students attended courses in specialized training colleges, a large increase from the 2,600 college students who attended courses in 1988, probably because technical skills and certificates from specialized training colleges were more marketable (Agata 2000:127). ~

Since the 1991 reform, units earned in specialized training colleges can be transferred to colleges. Since 1995, the title of “technical associate” (senmonshi) have been granted to graduates of specialized training colleges. Beginning in April 1999, graduates of these institutions can transfer to four-year colleges. In 2003, 1,800 transfer students were admitted to four-year colleges (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). The promotion of the transfer system from junior colleges and specialized training colleges into four-year colleges gives late bloomers a chance to attend four-year colleges and helps ease fears of “examination hell.” If selective four-year colleges have a quota for transferred students from junior colleges and specialized training colleges, similar to the transfer system from community colleges to four-year colleges in the United States, many students can attend junior colleges or specialized training colleges, study hard and earn good grades, and then transfer to four-year colleges. ~ 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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