Japan has 23,633 elementary schools, 11,134 junior high schools, 5,450 senior high schools, 995 schools for the handicapped, 702 universities, 525 junior colleges, and 14,174 kindergartens (May 2003 figures). School attendance rate for the nine years of compulsory education is 99.98 percent. [Source: Education in Japan website ]

As of 1994, Japan has a total of 65,000 schools of all kinds for its total population of 124.3 million. This includes approximately 25,000 elementary schools (grades one to six), 12,000 junior high schools (grades seven through nine), 5,500 senior high schools (grades ten through twelve), 1,100 colleges and universities (including two-year junior colleges), 6,700 vocational colleges (mostly two-year), 15,000 kindergartens, and 1,000 special schools for handicapped children. The rate of actual participation in required education has been as high as 99.9 percent since around 1910, although the length of mandatory education was much shorter before 1945. These statistics exclude some 1,200 heavily handicapped children and an estimated 100,000 prolonged absentees due to illness and unwillingness to participate. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 ++]

About 20.7 million students (May 2003 figures) were enrolled in educational institutions in Japan from the kindergarten to university levels. Enrolment of the population of students may be broken up into: A ) 1,760,442 in kindergartens; B)7,226,911 in elementary schools; C) 3,748,319 in junior high schools; D) 3,809,801 in senior high schools; E) 250,065 in junior colleges (usually two years); F) 2,803,901 in universities (four years) and graduate schools; G) 57,875 in technical colleges; H) 786,135 in special training schools; and I) 189,570 in other types of schools.

Different Kinds of Schools in the U.S. and Japan

In the United States, 11 percent of students attended private schools in 2002 (NCES 2003a). In addition, more than one million students are home-schooled (TIME September 11, 2000). The issue of school choice has entered the political agenda. In 1999, 24 percent of students in grades 3-12 attended either public or private schools chosen by their parents, not their assigned neighborhood schools (NCES 2001b). Through school choice, parents can influence the quality of education for their children, and tend to be more satisfied with and interested in their children’s schooling. School choice has led to schools competing for students by improving their programs (Fuller et al. 1996:11-12). In 1996, 69 percent of the public supported school choice, and 44 percent even favored choosing a private school over public schools (NCES 2001b). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

School choice, including the creation of magnet schools and charter schools is popular among parents of all income levels. Many middle-class parents can choose their city, town, or suburb of residency based on the quality of the local public schools. However, many low-income residents in inner cities or rural areas have restricted educational choices. ~

Magnet schools and programs can take students beyond their assigned school districts. In 2001, 1.5 million students were enrolled in over 5,200 magnet schools (DOE 2002). The principles of magnet schools include parental choice, competition, and institutional autonomy. Students have a variety of programs that both parents and students have interest in, such as biotechnology, and fine arts. These schools offer innovative pedagogies such as open classrooms, individualized education, and accelerated learning (Blank et al. 1996:161). One of main purposes of magnet schools is to promote desegregation. The first magnet schools appeared in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled that northern cities, like many southern schools, had to desegregate (Fuller et al. 1996:5). ~

Since 1992, charter schools have been public schools created through a contract with a state agency or a local school board. Charter schools administer themselves, and create their own curricula, but must achieve the goals set out in the charter, such as the improvement of student performance, within a specific time. Seventy percent of charter schools are newly created schools, and eleven states out of the 36 with charter school laws allow private schools to convert to charter schools. Since the first charter school opened in 1992, nearly four percent have closed (DOE 2000a). In 1999, there were 1,605 charter schools with more than 250,000 students. Most charter schools are small schools with an average of 137 students. The median ratio of students to teachers is 16:1, compared with 17.2:1 in all public schools.

In Japan, the government subsidizes private schools whose tuitions at the high school level are about three times as expensive as that of public schools. About one-quarter of high school students are enrolled in private high schools of varying levels of academic quality. Private middle schools emphasize academic achievement and preparation for students to enter prestigious colleges, and have gained popularity, particularly in metropolitan areas. Almost one-fourth of elementary school graduates attend private middle schools in Tokyo, though 95 percent of middle school students in the nation attend public schools. Furthermore, since September 2004, the local governments can establish “community schools,” recommended by the National Commission on Educational Reform. Principals appoint a management team and teachers, and the school conference established by the local government monitor school management and results (Kokumin Kyo-iku 2000; AS February 28, 2005).

Japanese School System

The schooling years in the Japanese education system are segmented along the lines of 6-3-3-4: 6 years of primary or elementary school; 3 years of middle or junior high school; 3 years of high school; and 4 years of university. In October 2005, the government announced that it was intending to make changes in the Education Law to allow schools to merge the 6-3 division between elementary and middle schools. The key purpose for this change is to allow elementary and middle schools to pool or share their resources, with special regard to making available specialist teachers of middle schools to elementary schools. [Source: Education in Japan website ]

Many private schools, however, offer a six year programme incorporating both junior high school and high school. Specialised schools may offer a five year programme comprising high school and two years of junior college. There are two options for tertiary education: junior college (two years) and university (four years).

A school year has three terms: summer, winter and spring, which are each followed by a vacation period. The school year begins in April and ends in March of the following year. An elementary school (from 6 years) and junior high school (3 years) education, i.e. nine years of schooling are considered compulsory.

This system, implemented by the School Education Law enacted in March 1947 after WWII, owes its origin to the American model 6-3-3 plus 4 years of university. Many other features of the Japanese educational system, are however, based on European models.

Compulsory education covers elementary school and junior high school. A break from the past, modern public schools in Japan today are mostly co-ed(more than 99 percent of elementary schools). The Japanese school year begins in April and students attend school for three terms except for brief spring and winter breaks and a one month long summer holiday.

School Culture in Japan

Children learn early on (beginning in preschool) to maintain cooperative relationships with their peers; to follow the set school routines; and to value punctuality (from their first year in elementary school). Classroom management emphasizes student responsibility and stewardship through emphasis on daily chores such as cleaning of desks and scrubbing of classroom floors. Students are encouraged to develop strong loyalties to their social groups, e.g. to their class, their sports-day teams, their after-school circles, e.g. baseball and soccer teams. Leadership as well as subordinate roles, as well as group organization skills are learnt through assigned roles for lunchtime (kyushoku touban), class monitor or class chairperson and other such duties. [Source: Education in Japan website **]

Despite the assigned leadership-subordinate roles, group activities are often conducted in a surprisingly democratic manner. Teachers usually delegate authority and responsibility to students. Small-group (han) activities often foster caring and nurturing relationships among students. **

The teaching culture in Japan differs greatly from that of schools in the west. Teachers are particularly concerned about developing the holistic child and regard it as their task to focus on matters such as personal hygiene, nutrition, sleep that are not ordinarily thought of as part of the teacher's duties in the west. Students are also taught proper manners, how to speak politely and how to address adults as well as how to relate to their peers in the appropriate manner. They also learn public speaking skills through the routine class meetings as well as many school events during the school year. **

Noisy and lively classrooms, the absence of teacher supervision along with the effective use of peer supervision are most often noted of elementary school classrooms. Homework workload is not overly heavy at this stage, daily portions typically comprise kanji (Chinese characters) or kokugo (Japanese language) worksheets and one or two pages of arithmetic worksheets. Various after-school hamako or club activities or remedial classes may be held by individual home-room teachers (or schools) as they see fit. **

Middle-school (i.e. junior school) instruction of academic subjects shifts gear into intense, structured, fact-filled learning and routine-based school life. Small-group han are dispensed with during academic classes. Hierarchical teacher-peer and senior-to-junior relationships as well as highly organized, disciplined and hierarchical work environments such as various established student committees, are observed at middle schools. **

High school environment shifts the student to a lecture-centered and systematic learning mode which is alternatively lauded for its high levels of achievement in math and science and criticized for its monotony and lack of creativity during a time geared towards competitive examinations when an intensive selection process occurs. From middle-school to high school years, students are affected more by the after-school activities and juku culture. 59.55 percent of middle-school students attend juku usually the large-scale cram school chains (1993 MOE survey) compared to the 23.6 percent figure for elementary school students. **

Peer Group Culture in Japanese Schools

Peer group culture or school culture is at its peak during high school years. Entrance examinations play a strong differentiating role here. High school culture tends to be distinctive and markedly different depending on the type of high school. At this stage, students become aware of the nature and ranking of high schools that influence their future, and career opportunities, and hence of the differentiation or sorting that is taking place. [Source: Education in Japan website **]

An elaborate hierarchical labyrinth exists in each school district in which high schools are ranked, based on the difficulty of admission. Different high schools also have markedly different missions, preparing their students for different destinations. Consequently, different high schools develop distinctly different subcultures. **

The high school rankings also correspond strongly to the relative wealth and privilege of the students. Students with more privileged backgrounds (in terms of parental occupations and income) concentrate at the higher-ranked schools while those with less privileged background congregate at lesser ranked schools. **

A key feature noted of high school culture is the competitive socialization that takes place towards university entrance examinations. Since high school institutions play the role of selecting young people based on their academic achievement, identifying some for leadership positions and others for subordinate positions. The competitive nature of university entrance examination exemplifies the selective function and ultimate sorting role of Japanese high schools. **

Elite High Schools offer well-prepared one-hour lecture-style text-bound classes. Such schools have few disciplinary problems and students are spirited and well-rounded or active in after-school extra-curricular activities. Vocational High School students, on the other hand, often suffer low morale problems. Disciplinary, truancy, and delinquency (smoking and vandalism) problems are common. **

Views on School Culture in Japan

Various viewpoints exist on school culture in Japan but the main ones may be summarized as the consensus theory and the conflict theory. The former explains the school culture as being an important aspect of fostering the relative stability, consensus and harmonious nature within Japanese society. Viewed from this perspective, societal problems tend to be addressed by attempts to create more caring environments within schools. [Source: Education in Japan website **]

“The latter view sees the school culture as responsible for socializing children into accepting the dominant ideology, and for legitimizing school versions of knowledge, values and worldviews, as well as the existing inequalities across society. Schools, according to this view, recognize and reward certain types of ability in children, conduct differentiation based on so-called merits and have the effect of differentiating children into leadership and subordinate positions, thus preserving inequality across generations. **

Incidentally, the consensus theory tends to correspond to the interpretative viewpoint of the Ministry of Education while the conflict theory reflects that of the teachers' union and intellectuals. The interactionist approach adopts the viewpoint that it is the participants, i.e. the students, families, teachers and other significant players in schooling who interact with the school in diverse ways and shape the schooling experience and outcomes. **

PE Class Deaths Injuries in Japan

A Yomiuri Shimbun editorial reported: “Over a 12-year period ending in fiscal 2009, 470 students lost their lives due to accidents during PE or club activities. In the same period, 120 students suffered injuries that resulted in serious disabilities, according to a report compiled by a panel of experts at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. Sudden deaths account for more than 70 percent of fatal incidents involving students at schools, particularly in such sports as basketball and running. Most reported sudden deaths occurred when students collapsed during long-distance runs or relays and suffered cardiac arrest. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 6, 7, 2012 /~\]

“Twenty percent of children who died suddenly reportedly had illnesses such as heart disease. If instructors had paid extra attention to such students, fatal incidents could have been avoided. Due to scorching heat this summer, many students have collapsed during their club activities in the summer recess. To prevent such incidents, it is essential to have students take in an adequate amount of water and salt and take breaks. On extremely hot days, vigorous exercise should be avoided. /~\

“The report also referred to the danger of brain damage. In particular, such sports as judo and rugby--in which players often come into violent contact with each other--are risky. A shock to the head can tear a vein between the skull and the brain, resulting in a hemorrhage. /~\

“From this fiscal year, students will be required to study a martial art as part of PE classes at middle school, with 64 percent of the nation's schools opting for judo. Many of these schools will launch their martial arts class this autumn or later. Female students are also required to take martial arts classes. Extreme attention must be paid to implementing proper safety measures. The number of serious injuries and deaths among first-year middle and high school students during judo club activities is particularly high. Attention must be paid to accidents involving beginners of judo who have yet to learn how to fall properly. PE teachers must take a safety-first approach to prevent head and neck injuries. An education ministry survey revealed that as of the end of April there were about 800 schools whose facilities for judo classes were not safe. /~\

Food Allergies and Schools in Japan

In June 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Following the death of a primary school student from food allergies after eating school lunch, the education ministry has decided to ask schools and kindergartens nationwide that are offering lunch to individually compile manuals to address children’s allergies. The measure will cover about 40,000 primary and middle schools as well as kindergarten, regardless of whether they are run by the state, local governments or private entities, according to sources. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun via News of Japan, June 9, 2013]

“The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to first conduct a survey targeting all schoolchildren on their allergies, starting in the summer 2013 ministry will then ask each school to establish a system to check children for allergy-related conditions and stipulate steps for administering an epinephrine injection when necessary to treat children for their acute allergic reactions, with the aim of preventing any serious accidents.

Primary and Middle School Exams in Japan

Study aid, sushi-scented
and -shaped erasers
Middle schools often have their own entrance exams and they are often scheduled around the same time, often the same day, so it can be tricky deciding which school to apply to.

An increasing number of primary school children are taking entrance exams for middle school. In 2007, 18.9 percent of sixth graders in the Tokyo metro area took such exams, putting an increased burden on children and parents but creating opportunities for cram schools that have popped to meet their needs. In the past only 12 percent to 13 percent sixth graders took the test. The increase is attributed the number of kids who want to avoid public schools and attend private school. In 2008 the number of applicants to positions in the school was 3:1.

More and more high school entrance exams ask students to express their own opinions on various topics rather than just repeat facts. Some educators have suggested that this is one reason why Japanese students are ranking higher in the OECD rankings. In one of the new questions students are asked to express their thoughts on what is important for human being in the future. In another they are shown a picture of a chimpanzee offering another chimpanzee a drink and are asked to comment on the picture and make comparisons and contrasts with this behavior and that of human beings.

Achievement Tests and Cheating in Japan

studying hard
National achievement tests are given to primary school third graders and sixth graders. Achievement exams given to 3rd years high school students have sections on ethics, geography, Japanese and world history, politics and economics, Japanese language, English, math, with section fo physics, chemistry, biology and earth science. Typically students get between 50 percent and 70 percent of the questions right with the highest percentage in Japanese language (68.1 percent) and the lowest in politics and economics (49.7 percent).

National achievement tests are given to primary school sixth graders and third year middle school students. In some cases the test require students to not only give an answer but show their calculations.

Akita Prefecture records the highest exam scores in Japan. Enthusiastic teachers, cooperation between teachers and parents, small classes, supplementary lessons are offered as reasons why test scores are so high. Akita’s performance is especially noteworthy considering the prefecture ranked 41st among 47 prefectures in income level. One school system in Akita in northern Japan that does well on nationwide scholastic tests uses teams of two teachers---one to lead the lesson and another to help individual students when they can’t keep up---and uses a highly competitive exams in hiring and has rigorous training for new teachers.

One question on achievement tests goes; “On Thursday, all cakes are sold at a 20 percent discount. On Sunday, cakes that are less than ¥320 are sold at ¥200 each. If you want to buy a piece of cheesecake, priced at ¥300 and a piece of chocolate cake, cost ¥400, how much will you save on each day?”

In December 2008, it revealed that a high school in Tokyo manipulated the scores of entrance examinations in 2006 of two “troublemakers” so they failed when in actuality they passed. The two boys involved had been students at the school but were kicked out for violence and principal of the school at the time ordered the scores change to keep them from stirring up trouble again.

Teachers at a school in Tokyo said they were told by their principal to help students cheat by alerting them to mistakes while taking achievement tests in April 2006. The school’s ranking jumped from 44th place to the top among the 72 schools in its area. School budgets and rankings in that area are determined by test scores. The teachers said they walked around while students were taking tests and pointed out mistakes on their test papers.

Eiji Uemura, a law school professor at Keio University who helped to put together the new bar exams, was dismissed by for providing his students with tips on taking the same exam he helped design.

Saturday Classes Could Be Restarted in Japan

In August 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Aiming to restart Saturday classes at all public primary, middle and high schools nationwide, the education ministry has decided to establish a subsidy program to encourage schools to invite instructors from local communities. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is aiming to reintroduce Saturday classes starting on a monthly basis by the 2017 academic year in an effort to improve students’ scholastic ability. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 29, 2013 >><<]

“The subsidy program, which is also intended to strengthen ties between schools and their communities, is scheduled to begin next academic year. Under the program, the state will partially cover the costs of Saturday classes, including payment for instructors and fees for educational materials. >><<

“Reintroducing Saturday lessons would require one of the ministry’s ordinances to be revised. The current ordinance, which was issued to coincide with the introduction of a five-day school week, stipulates that schools are in principle closed on Saturdays, except in the event there is a “special need” for them. In autumn, the ministry plans to revise the ordinance to allow local governments to decide on their own initiatives whether to hold Saturday classes. >><<

In April 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “As much as 79 percent of the public hopes six-day school weeks will resume, while 84 percent support making ethics a school subject, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey. Forty-one percent of respondents in the survey, which was conducted on March 30 and 31, said Saturday classes should be held every week at public schools and 38 percent said they should be held once or twice a month. When asked about the reason for supporting a six-day week, to which respondents could give multiple answers, the largest group, 63 percent, said it will lead to academic development. In the face-to-face survey on education, 3,000 eligible voters were randomly chosen. Valid responses were given by 1,472 people, or 49 percent. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 19, 2013]

According to a 2002 survey, 59 percent of the general public opposed the idea of a five-day school week. Respondents were also concerned about diminished educational achievement because the educational content had been reduced by 30 percent (AS July 23, 2002). In the 2004-5 school year, five public high schools in Tokyo had regular classes on Saturday, and for the 2005-6 school year, 17 public high schools in Tokyo plan to do so (AS December 18, 2004). In the 2004-5 school year, twenty prefectural administrations allowed public high schools to open supplementary classes on Saturday (AS January 12, 2005). [Source: Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

School Summer Vacation in Japan

The author the Education in Japan website wrote: “The Summerbreak has just begun, and my daughter has a punishing schedule of badminton club practices as well as tournaments ahead, which also means lots of support and preparation on the part of parents like myself, with bento lunches and two to three water flasks each day to be filled. Then there are homework drillsheets, readings, etc. for the kids to stay on top of (my job the last-minute procrastinators in the family don’t get to leave it all to the stroke of midnight). My son has colleges to visit, and to knuckle down to tackle his entrance exam prep in the “exam hell” year beginning about now. In Secondary and High School, summerbreaks are usually a time when children also get special remedial help from juku cram schools, or intensive revisionwork and special exam prep. towards school or college entrance exams. [Source: Education in Japan website **]

Families coordinate with teachers over when is the best time to take time off to travel back to their hometowns or overseas, or to go for summer camps or to take family time off. The upside, is that academics-wise, parental support is expected as a matter of course, and the student work sheets duly prepared by the teachers are all very well-laid out, efficiently scheduled and organized. Year-upon-year, pretty much the same method of dispensing work is carried on, there are few surprises and in the typical Japanese spirit, a traditional “way” and standard practice of dispensing revision or remedial self-study work is established. We (and the students) know when to start on their drill sheets, their book reports or essays or projects, when to return to school to water the plants or feed the animals (where pets are kept), and of course, when to attend their scheduled club activities or sports practices and tournaments. The downside? From upper school onwards, we have seldom been able to book our flights early, due to the late releases of the summer schedule and calendar only just before the summerbreak. **

There is no talk at Japanese school PTAs or parent-meet-the-teacher sessions about “summer learning loss”, because scheduled homework drills, jiyukenkyu summer projects, book or travel reports and essays have been the standard or universal practice, thanks to the uniform national curriculum. There are tick-off checksheets or charts for parents, so that the more lackadaisical students don’t get away by using their homework sheets as kitty litter, or that our little procrastinators don’t get caught out leaving it all to the stroke of midnight. Some teachers also have a week or two of remedial programs where they see fit to conduct them. Teachers are not overbearing but it is just expected that we would all comply and get it done without complaining. Nike’s “Just Do It” motto must have been invented in the Japanese schooling system! **

In articles like “Summer Learning”, Japan is cited as a case where students are given loads of homework to do during the break, I guess it is all relative … if you come from a system where you’ve never had to a jot of work, well, then what the Japanese are given will look like a lot of work to you. However, in our experience, the kids never have to do more than 5 minutes a day of drillsheets at primary level, other work typically involve writing one book report or an investigative essay into a country, or travel report, or usually a project of one’s choice. And this jiyukenkyu summer project is usually something that most kids look forward to, a chance for a creativity at an art-and-craft project or imaginative writing, to investigate some science topic deeper, or to write about and explore one area of interest and passion. All very manageable, and it teaches kids how to manage their free time and meet the submission deadline. Intermediate and high school kids have heavier schedules and concerns, being saddled with entrance exam revisionwork and prep. **


a juku
In addition to regular school many Japanese children attend juku, a profit-making prep and cram school established mainly to help children prepare for the high school and college entrance exams. About 90.8 percent of the parents send their children to a juku or cram school, and those whose children attended cram school four or more days a week accounted for 65.2 percent. About 65 percent of all middle school students attend juku classes (for anywhere from two to fifteen hours a week). About 6.2 percent of first graders attend juku.

Although they are not part of the core educational system, academic tutoring schools (gakushujuku) and cram schools (yobiko) also play a significant role in education in Japan. The cram schools focus strictly on preparing students for university entrance examinations. The academic tutoring schools have a more general goal of helping students keep up with and go beyond their regular school work, although exam preparation is frequently emphasized. According to estimates in fiscal 2008 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, academic tutoring schools are attended by 25.9 percent of public elementary school students and 53.5 percent of public junior high school students. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Juku is a multi-billion dollar industry in Japan and some juku schools are huge. There are around 50,000 jukus in Japan and one Tokyo juku is so large it once administered practice exams to 20,000 youngsters. An average Japanese family with two children spends 16 percent of their income on education, in many cases, with most of that money going to juku classes. In contrast, American parents spend only 3 percent of their income on education for their children. It is not unusual for parents to spend $1,000 a month on juku classes, and even more when test time nears.

Most kids begin attending juku when they are in the The 3rd of 4th grade of primary school. By the time they are in 6th grade many parents are spending between $10,000 and $15,000 a year on juku. One mother told the Yomiuri Shimbun that here family spent $70,000 a year on juku and her 4th grade child routinely came home after 9:00pm.

There are a lot jukus out there with their ranking based on how well their students on high school and university entrance exams. Competition is very stiff. Many jukus are beginning to have a hard time as student populations decline and competition heats up.

These days juku is trying to create a niche for itself as a tool for stimulated gifted students as well as helping those left behind. Each years more than 1,000 jukus nation wide administer a standardized test to primary school students that aims to spot talented students as well as find areas that it can support the not so gifted. The test was given in 2007 under the banner “Let’s compete.”

Some educators say the abilities of Japanese students has declined since the move away from cram schools.

Juku Classes

another juku
The material students study in juku is often a year or more ahead of what they are studying in public school. Much of the instruction focuses on test-taking skills and taking practice exams. The teachers often very good, often better and more charismatic than public school teachers.

Describing a juku math class for elementary students Carol Simons wrote in Smithsonian magazine: "The juku teacher rapidly explains algebra problems to 50 fifth graders. He lectures; they listen. In the science class down the hall, a young teacher explains photosynthesis and pretends to be a drooping plant. Seated at long tables, the children listen attentively, occasionally giggling at his antics. It is almost 8:30pm and many of them haven't been home since breakfast.”

A juku director told Simons, "Most of these children like juku better than public school. These children have to study more. And whether they want to or not is beside the point. They must in order to pass exams."

There have been scandals involving jukus and the people who prepare high school and university entrance exams. In March 2004, a former high school English teacher, who helped prepare the tests, was arrested for allegedly leaking some of the test questions from the high school entrance exam to a juku.

Juku Cram School Master Motivates Kids

Some of the best teachers in Japan are at jukus. Motivated by dog-eat-dog capitalism, they are paid by how many fee-paying students they attract to their schools, and hence are rewarded by attracting new students to the schools and keeping them there by making them and their parents happy. This often means preparing interesting lessons, motivating students and making sure they do well on important tests and get into the best schools. The following article is from The Yomiuri Shimbun's Education Renaissance series about the operator of a juku cram school in Yamaguchi Prefecture who always reminds his students of the importance of studying. [Source: Keiko Katayama, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 8, 2011]

"If you see a person you like walking near a pit in the ground, you'd surely say, 'Watch out!' wouldn't you?" Atsushi Honda, 36, asked his middle school students at the juku cram school chain he operates in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Honda's remarks made the students smile. Honda continued: "When your parents say, 'Study!' they have the same [feeling]. Therefore, you should say 'Thank you' when you're told to do so."

This was part of the so-called "Kokoro Toku" (heart talk), which is a major feature of the Mikami-juku Hondaya cram school chain that caters to students from the first grade of primary school to the final year of high school. Honda, the school's director, never misses a chance to straightforwardly discuss the kind of learning attitude his students should develop."If you think it's your natural-born talent that will determine your academic results, you're very much mistaken," Honda said. "If you study, you'll get better at it. Study hard with the belief that you'll get better at it."

In 2009, Honda published his first book, titled Kimi no Seiseki o Gun-gun Nobasu Nanatsu no Kokoro no Tsukurikata (How to develop seven mental attitudes to boost your academic performance). The book, which has been a sleeper bestseller since its release, discusses seven principles for adopting a suitable study attitude. They include "Believe in yourself" and "Appreciate that you can enjoy an environment that allows you to concentrate on studying."

Honda said he realizes, particularly in recent years, how drastically society has changed. It is not surprising anymore that there are some children who do not listen at all to their teachers during classes at school. Moreover, students tend to choose schools to attend not because they really want to be enrolled there but simply because they think they have a chance of passing the school's entrance exam.

Honda believes that the future of local communities and the nation as a whole will depend on whether adults can foster children who pursue lifelong learning. But he is alarmed to find that few adults today can explain to children why it is important to study.At the same time, however, Honda knows that adults like him cannot make themselves understood by today's children if they drive youngsters into competition or force them to study.

Therefore, Honda makes a point of having interactive dialogues with every student at his cram school, especially when teaching small-group classes. On a visit by The Yomiuri Shimbun earlier this year, some of Honda's students were still there at 10:30 p.m. even after the end of their classes, saying they would like to study a bit more. It seemed that Honda's words had reached their hearts, fueling their motivation to work hard.

Impact of Juku on Japanese Education

The educational level of parents and household income account for participation in “shadow education,” such as cram schools, private tutors, and correspondence courses, with parents investing more in boys than in girls, according to the surveys taken in 1980 and 1982 (Stevenson and Baker 1992:1649). According to the 1995 SSM survey, almost 70 percent of those in their 20s whose fathers were in professional or managerial positions took private educational lessons (juku, tutors, and correspondence studies), in contrast to the less than 30 percent of those in their 20s whose fathers worked in agriculture (Aramaki 2000:27). Though juku is relatively affordable, highly educated parents with greater ambitions for their children can invest more in their education. Private tutoring is relatively expensive, and only families from upper, upper-middle, and middle-class families can afford hiring a tutor. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The MOE and many teachers criticize juku for undermining schoolwork because the students are less serious at school, and study more seriously in juku. In reality, many children see juku as a part of their social activities because their friends are also enrolled. The majority of students who attend juku think that juku teachers are more earnest and enthusiastic than teachers, according to a 1997 survey (Japan Information 2002). ~

Juku has also been blamed for taking too much time away from students who are no longer spending as much time with their families. Many parents believe that their children are overscheduled and overburdened. However, they push their children to keep up with their classmates who are also attending juku, and they do not mind paying their tuition, which averages around 10,000 yen a month. The parents of elementary school students paid 119,000 yen for juku a year, those of public middle school students paid 214,000 yen, those of public high school students paid 179,000 yen, and parents of private high school students paid 235,000 yen in 2000 (Monbukagakusho- 2002c). ~

Private tutors and correspondence courses have been popular, especially in metropolitan areas. Private tutors, usually college students, come to the student’s home, and teach academic subjects. Correspondence courses are usually provided for middle and high school students. Every month, the sponsoring organization mails study materials to its subscribers. The children complete worksheets and take mock exams and quizzes at home, which they then return to the correspondence course institution for correction. ~

In 2000, 26 percent of elementary school students, 39 percent of middle school students, 26 percent of public high school students, and 28 percent of private high school students used private tutors and/or correspondence education. Among these students, 39,000 yen was spent by elementary school students, 96,000 yen was spent by public middle school students, and 101,000 yen was spent by public high school students. From the data, it is obvious that the students in private schools spent more than those in public schools (Monbukagakusho- 2002c). ~

Juku is an affordable way for students to receive extra help with their schoolwork. MOE’s recent decision to cooperate with its traditional adversary, the juku, was a surprise. The MOE plans to subsidize the tuition of English juku to supplement English conversation classes in elementary schools, because schools cannot allocate enough time for English conversation classes (AS August 30, 1999). Furthermore, with the introduction of the five-day school week in April 2002, the MOE plans to cooperate with juku managers to provide extra activities on weekends, such as camping, sports, science experiments, and cultural experiences (AS February 1, 2002). This new partnership between schools, the community and the private sector will provide a better and more well-rounded education for students. Schools can entrust after-school programs to community centers or even private educational organizations. ~

Image Sources: 1) 2) Andrew Gray Photosensibility 3) 4) Guven Peter Witteveen 5) 7) Ray Kinnane 6) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 8) June from Goods from Japan

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~; Education in Japan website ; Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; 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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