EDUCATION SYSTEM IN JAPAN: BUREAUCRACY, SOCIETY AND INTERNATIONAL RANKINGS

EDUCATION SYSTEM IN JAPAN

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typical Japanese
elementary school
More than 90 percent of all Japanese students graduate from high school and 100 percent of all students complete elementary school. About 50 percent of high school students go on to study at higher education institutions, including university or junior college. Japan has a near 100 percent literacy rate. Adult literacy rate: female 99 percent; male 99 percent (Compared to 34 percent for females and 64 percent for males in India; and 99 percent for male and females in Russia, the United States, and much of Europe). Japan is repeatedly said to have achieved 100 percent literacy and to have the highest literacy rate in the world since the Edo period. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com ]

According to the Fundamental Law on Education and the School Education Law enacted in 1947 the education system is divided into six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, three years of high school, and two or four years of university. Elementary and junior high school attendance is compulsory. There are also kindergartens (attended from one to three years), five-year technical colleges for junior high school graduates, special training schools for junior high and high school graduates, and special schools for handicapped persons. Universities include undergraduate colleges, junior colleges, and graduate schools. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Almost all children from ages 6-15 receive uniform and compulsory public education. There was no grouping of elementary and middle school students according to their ability, because the public and teachers believe such grouping damages low-achieving children. However, in the 2002-3 school year, the MOE implemented a program of special education classes in English, mathematics, and science for advanced elementary and middle school students. This is to be done by adding one more teacher per school for advanced classes. In 2003, 74.2 percent of elementary schools and 66.9 percent of middle schools practiced grouping students based on their educational achievements. [Source: Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Almost all 15-year-olds are admitted to academically stratified high schools on the basis of their performance on written examinations. In 2003, 97.3 percent of 15-year-olds were enrolled in high school and are expected to graduate with only a 2.3 percent rate of dropouts. Higher education has become universal education, as 63.5 percent of high school graduates went on to postsecondary schools (44.6 percent to colleges and 18.9 percent to specialized training colleges) (Monbukagakusho- 2004a). ~

Japan spends 3.3 percent of GDP on education, the lowest among 28 member nations surveyed in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Slovakia and Chile are the second and third lowest. The Japanese take a hierarchal, top down approach to education. The Ministry of Education (Monbushu) makes most policy decisions, and sets guidelines for textbooks, curriculum, standards, testing, and finances in private as well as public schools throughout the nation.

Compulsory education in Japan is nine years for children aged 6 to 14. In January 2006, the government said it wanted to expand compulsory education from nine years to 10 years or 11 years by making kindergarten required. In 97 percent of Japanese choose to go to high school after their compulsory education is completed.

Good Websites and Sources: Education in Japan education-in-japan.info ; Education in Japan, a First Hand Look with Photos amphi.com/~psteffen/fmf ;MEXT, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology mext.go.jp/english ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Education Chapter stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp

Education System Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Education Japan.org educationjapan.org/jguide/education_system ; Education System in Japan , Case Study Findings www2.ed.gov/pubs/JapanCaseStudy ; Japan’s Modern Education System mext.go.jp/b_menu/hakusho ; List of Schools and Universities Broken Down by Prefecture okumedia.cc.osaka-kyoiku.ac.jp

Education Topics Moral Education in Japan hi-ho.ne.jp/taku77 ;Wikipedia article on Secondary Education in Japan Wikipedia ; Education Cost boingboing.net ; English Language Education in Japan doshisha.ac.jp/~kkitao/online ; Wikipedia article on Juku Cram Schools Wikipedia ; Exam Hell uniorb.com ; Exam Hell, Now Not So Hot japantimes.co.jp ;

Links in this Website: EDUCATION SYSTEM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SCHOOLS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TEACHERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SCHOOL LIFE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BULLYING AND SCHOOL PROBLEMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; UNIVERSITIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE CHILDREN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Education Bureaucracy in Japan

The Ministry of Education is run bureaucrats with links to conservatives and to some extent right wing extremist groups. It has been involved in introducing history textbooks and curriculum guidelines that have glossed over Japanese atrocities committed in World War II and angered people in other Asian countries.

Japanese education is centralized under the direction of the Ministry of Education (MOE). For most of the postwar period, the MOE has controlled school administration, curriculum, pedagogy, and educational content in textbooks. The MOE oversees the administration of the appointed prefectural and municipal boards of education and superintendents. The MOE determines the educational budget, and subsidizes the prefectural board of education in order to provide equal quality education to all children throughout the nation. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Furthermore, every ten years the MOE issues the Course of Study, a guide for curriculum and pedagogy. The Course of Study stipulates the purpose of education, the content, pedagogy, and the number of course hours for each subject. Since 1958, the MOE has required that all public schools and teachers follow the Course of Study. Moreover, the MOE screens the content of textbooks through the textbook authorization system in order to correct technical and factual errors, as well as “biased” opinions. ~

School districts are drawn on the basis of municipal and prefectural jurisdictional lines. Each prefecture’s board of education hires public teachers, supervises high school education, and oversees the municipal boards of education. The municipal boards of education are in charge of elementary and middle schools. In 1956, the MOE had replaced elected boards of education with appointed boards of education and prefectural superintendents that it had approved. This happened because the MOE wanted to oust the board members who were more sympathetic to the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU). Since then, governors and mayors have appointed the five members of the prefectural and municipal boards of education for four-year tenure with the agreement of the prefectural and municipal assemblies, and the approval of the appointments by the MOE. The appointed board members choose both the superintendent and the chairperson. The approval of superintendents by the MOE was abolished in 1999. ~

Local public educational expenditures in the 2002-3 school year amounted to 18.1 trillion yen, including 81.2 percent for school education, 12.9 percent for social education, and 5.9 percent for educational administration. The budgets were derived from the prefectural administration (44.4 percent), the local administration (33.2 percent), the national administration (18.1 percent), local bonds (4.1 percent) and donations (0.2 percent). The expense per student in the 2002-3 school year was 738,624 yen per preschooler, 923,566 yen per elementary school student, 1,027,678 yen per middle school student, 9,107,237 yen per special school student, and 1,157,366 yen per high school student. The government spent nine times more money for students in special schools, with nine million yen per student than those in regular schools (Monbukagakusho- 2004f). In 1970, the Japanese government started subsidizing private schools and colleges. Subsidies to private colleges were about 30 percent of revenues in the early 1980s, but decreased to 12.2 percent in 2000 (Monbukagakusho- 2004b:66). ~

Japanese School Boards of Education

Every prefectural, city, town and village government has its own board of education. Each board consists of five members appointed by their local government chiefs. A board of education is tasked with establishing education policies in its area, including the supervision of the learning activities of primary, middle and high school students, as well as the management and operation of their schools. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 30, 2012 :::]

Members of education boards do not serve on a full-time basis. The routine work of each board, such as advising schools, is conducted by its secretariat, with one member elected to serve as the head. The board also holds regular meetings each month to make policy decisions on various issues. ::::

No particular rules are set on the kind of people are selected as board members. In many cases, board members are academics knowledgeable about education issues, or people working for the good of local communities and those who have experience serving as officials in parent-teacher associations. Board members do not necessarily have expertise in dealing with education problems. The only exception is the chairman of the board. What is expected of board members is to establish policies based on the perspectives of ordinary citizens. ::::

The governor or mayor can influence the education policies of their communities in some ways. For example, those officials have a say in decisions made about appointments to the board, as well as budgetary appropriations for their communities' education. At the same time, the governor and mayor respect the policies of their area education boards. ::::

Education Expenses in Japan

The educational expenses for primary and secondary education are very affordable unless the parents choose to send their child to private schools or pay for private tutoring. Public elementary and middle schools are free, and the tuition for public high schools is relatively inexpensive. However, because of the economic recession, 1,150,000, one out of ten elementary and middle school students received financial aids from the municipal administration to cover expenses for school supplies, lunches and field trips in the 2002-3 school year (AS September 4, 2003). According to a 2000 survey on educational expenses, the average family spends 5,061,788 yen to pay for one child’s education from public preschool through public high school; these expenses include the costs of tuition, school lunches, cram schools, tutoring, books, supplies, and other things related to education. It costs 7,187,556 yen for a child who attends private preschool, public elementary and middle schools, and private high school (Monbukagakusho- 2002c). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In contrast, college education is quite expensive. Although there are some scholarships and student loans, most parents bear the full costs of their children’s college expenses. In the 2002-3 school year, college students spent an average of 2.02 million yen a year for their educational and living expenses. Those who attended public colleges and commuted from home spent an average of 1.13 million yen a year, while those who attended private colleges and rented an apartment spent an average of 2.61 million yen (Monbukagakusho- 2004d). Those who rented an apartment received an average of 132,500 yen a month, consisting of money from their family (85,700 yen), part-time jobs (22,500 yen) and scholarships (20,100 yen) in 2004 (AS January 24, 2005). In 2004, 34 percent of college students who rented an apartment received scholarships, 50,000 yen to 70,000 (53 percent), 70,000 to 100,000 (11 percent), and 100,000 yen or more (11 percent) (AS January 24, 2005). ~

Role of School in Japanese Society

The government administers the educational system in order to produce educated and responsible citizens. First, schools transmit knowledge, and develop the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social skills of students. Secondly, schools train students to become responsible citizens. The Japanese government regards the human capital of the Japanese people as the nation’s most valuable natural resource. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Stratification theory argues that the social backgrounds of parents are the main determinant of their children’s educational success. Therefore, schools seem to select, certify, and allocate students to the social class of their origin. Thus, schools “reproduce” social stratification rather than promote educational equity (Rubinson and Browne 1994:585). The differences in academic achievement appear in as early as the third and fourth grades, when some children start to fall behind their peers. Quantitative analyses support “stratification/reproduction theory,” and confirm that the educational level, occupation, and household income of the parents significantly affect their children’s educational attainment. However, the extent to which family backgrounds affect children’s educational attainment remains to open to question (e.g., Ishida 1993; Treiman and Yamaguchi 1993; Aramaki 2000; Nakanishi 2000). ~

According to a 1995 Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) survey, the father’s educational attainment and occupational status significantly correlate with the educational attainment of his children. Students at elite high schools are more likely to have fathers who are/were in professional or managerial positions6 (Nakanishi 2000). For more than a century, the fathers of college students have been more likely to be found in professional and managerial positions than any other occupation. Since 1945, fathers in professional and managerial positions have sent their sons to prestigious universities more than three times as often as those in other occupations (Kariya 1995:67). According to the 1995 survey, among those who were born in 1965-1975, more than 70 percent of college students had fathers who were professionals and in managerial positions (Aramaki 2000:23). In 1990, 47 percent of the students in national universities came from the top 20 percent household income bracket, 27 percent from the second highest, 12 percent from the third highest, 8 percent from the fourth, and 6 percent from the fifth (LeTendre et al. 1998:291). As a result, higher education has contributed to the reproduction of social stratification. ~

Highly educated parents with high occupational status and high incomes tend to provide their children with more “cultural capital” or habitus, which is transmitted from parents to children through family investment in children’s education and socialization (Bourdieu 1986). Leading studies confirm that the educational attainment of the parents has a greater effect than income when it comes to the academic success of their children (Kariya 1995:83). Highly educated parents are more likely to have high expectations and aspirations for children’s education, teach their children the importance of education, spend more time helping them with their schoolwork, arrange for private lessons, and provide a supportive learning environment. ~

A 1995 survey of parents of fourth to ninth graders showed that 62 percent of children whose fathers were college graduates wanted to attend college, while only 26 percent of children whose fathers were middle school graduates had the same intention (So-mucho- 1996:169). In 1990, families in the lowest income quintile spent 4,225 yen a year for their children’s education, while families in the highest income quintile spent 26,027 yen (LeTendre et al. 1998:292). According to the 1995 SSM survey, almost 70 percent of people in their 20s whose fathers were professionals and in managerial positions took private lessons (juku, tutors, and/or correspondence studies), while less than 30 percent of those in their 20s whose fathers were engaged in agriculture took them (Aramaki 2000:27). ~

Besides the social backgrounds of students, ethnographic studies prove that the teaching skills and attitudes of instructors also affect children’s educational achievement (Takeuchi 1995:31-39; Heyns 1986:317-319). Teachers can be mentors for children who lack “cultural capital” by teaching them to value education, inspiring them to study hard, and helping their schoolwork. Remedial education, such as after-school lessons for those who fall behind helps the lower-achieving children to improve. Such affirmative action programs are necessary to offer disadvantaged children a better future. ~

Objectives of Modern Schools in Japan

Modern schools are regarded as performing four key roles: 1) Transmitting cognitive knowledge; 2) Socializing and acculturating; 3) Selecting and differentiating young people; 4) Legitimating what they teach. Modern schools perform these roles, but the emphasis placed on the different roles varies during the course of schooling and in each different segment of the educational system. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com **]

National policy is constantly shifting priorities placed on the different aspects and roles of education. Teachers do not always agree on the nationally set priorities. Interest groups constantly assert their views on where priorities should lie. Public schools tend to be different from private ones, following the national policy guidelines more closely than private ones. Individual schools also derive differing philosophies, based on tradition and character of the body of principal and teachers running the school. **

Educational goals and the quality of education in the schools of Japan as such can be diverse, with the resulting reality that schooling scene is a complex one. Nevertheless, some similarities can be observed and generalizations made about Japanese thinking on the role of Japanese schooling.There is still relatively strong consensus among the Japanese that schools are the main conduit for transmitting the basic literacy and numeracy skills and core body of useful knowledge, a necessary preparation for adult society. This is role of cognitive development. **

The schooling process and interactions within the school day are considered vital for instilling particular values and desirable behavioral dispositions esteemed by Japanese society. Many socialization studies have emphasized common features of socialization in Japanese school life, namely strong group consensus and socialization by group or peer pressure. **

Schooling is regarded to be a preparation for appropriate positions in the workforce and for adult society. By and large, most Japanese believe that schooling offers an opportunity for all children to move up the social ladder if they are willing to work hard. Equal opportunity is thought to exist in Japan through its educational system. It is widely thought that selection to higher schools is based on merit and is therefore fair and that all who work hard will achieve their goals. Schooling also plays 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 of Japanese schools. **

Schools legitimate the version of knowledge imparted to students as true and neutral by teaching it. This comes to light especially in the brewing political hot potato that is the history textbook controversy. **

In “Educational Policy in 21st Century Japan: Neoliberalism and Beyond,” William Bradley suggests that Japan’s educational policies have been driven by the same forces affecting educational policy-makers and educators worldwide … forces which Bradley identifies as competition resulting from neoliberalism, and he notes “that the concepts of internationalization are of less importance than the actual numbers of foreign students, faculty and course offerings in English” as well as the number of Nobel prize winners produced, to Japan’s elite higher educational institutions. The article suggests that such overriding motives prioritizing competition will have a negative impact on cooperative learning and critical pedagogy and thinking.

Educational Credential Society (Gakureki Shakai)

The term, “educational credential society” (gakureki shakai) became popular in the 1960s. During this period of high economic growth (1953-1973), a large number of farmer’s sons obtained the high school and college degrees, and enjoyed upward mobility into white-collar jobs through their educational credentials. Educational credentials became an indicator of a “social birth,” a lifetime achievement (Kariya 1995:109). By the mid-1960s, the majority of parents wanted their children to attend college in order to obtain a better educational credential for their future occupation (Kondo- 2000:6). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

All high schools and colleges are academically stratified, and therefore graduation from a particular school is a measure of academic achievement. Organizations and companies use educational credentials to evaluate the knowledge and potential of job seekers. Educational credentials on job applications of new graduates “signal” to employers how smart they are at school without generating further informational costs during the recruitment (Rosenbaum et al. 1990:270-280). Furthermore, people may use educational credentials to evaluate the cognitive quality in informal occasions. ~

The Japanese believes that any child can achieve upward social mobility, if he or she succeeds in earning high educational credentials. Therefore, teachers and parents urge children to attend better high schools and better colleges in order to obtain better jobs in the future. The competition to obtain better educational credentials through admission into better high schools and colleges is so fierce that it is known as “examination hell.” The entrance examination for high school admission is the first formal sorting system for better future lives (better pay and higher occupational status) for almost all 15-year-olds. Entering a good academic high school provides students with a fast track to entering a good college. Students are encouraged at school and home to study hard and gain high scores on the examinations. The return match for those who failed the first “tournament” (Rosenbaum 1976) is provided at college entrance examinations. However, in most cases, those who attend lower-ranked high schools find it harder to gain admission to high-ranked colleges and universities. ~

The regression analysis of educational attainment and labor wages confirms the human capital theory that investment of time and money in education can increase the probability of earning higher salaries and enjoying higher occupational status because employers use educational credentials to evaluate applicants’ potential and productivity. According to the 1995 SSM survey, each additional year of education increases a person’s income by 8.5 percent. Those who work in larger corporations for longer years earn more raises than those who do not. Also, people in managerial positions, sales, and manufacturing gain more income increases based on the number of years spent on education than those in professional and clerical jobs (Yano and Shima 2000:117-120). ~

However, the critics of the human capital theory argue that the job market is affected not only by educational credentials but also by social and institutional networks, and that job-related knowledge and technology can be learned on the job (Center 1998). Collins argues in Credential Society, that “schooling is very inefficient as a means of training for work skills” (Collins 1979:21). ~

Educational credentials have less effect on promotions in the later stages of a person’s career than they do on recruitment and entry-level training. The analysis of the 1993 employment records of college graduates in a large financial and insurance company demonstrates that college credentials only have a small correlation with promotions to positions such as the department chief (bucho-) twenty years after college graduation. At that stage, the promotion is more likely to be determined through job performance and productivity (Ishida, Spilerman and Su 1997:874, 879). It is important to note that the correlation of education and income is inconsistent among women because, according to the 1995 SSM survey, only 20 percent of married women work full-time (Seiyama 2000:13-14). ~

Education and Politics in Japan

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Prime Minister Abe supported
reforms to make Japanese
education more patriotic
Patriotism laws passed in 2004, require teachers stand and face the Japanese flag and sing the Kimigayo. Those that refuse are required to take a two-hour “training course” and write a self examination essay, a ritual that sounds like something done at re-education camp in Communist China. The movement to get the laws passed was led by the right wing Tokyo governor Shintaro ishihara. Among those who opposed some of the measures was Emperor Akihito. Some teachers filed a criminal complaint against Ishihara for making them sing the anthem

The Fundamental law of Education was enacted in 1947 to prevent a revival of nationalism, prohibit militaristic education and promote democratic values.

Conservatives have advocated revising the Fundamental law of Education to cultivate “a sense of public duty” and correct “distortions” cased by some postwar education policies. There is a strong public support for such a move. In some polls it is supported by two third of respondents. The biggest objections comes from teachers and liberal educators.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted to revise the Fundamental Law of Education so that the school curriculum emphasized patriotism, morality, public mindedness and respect for the nation’s traditions and culture. The wording of the revision is very vague. Concerns have been raised over not so much what the revision says but what could be done under its vague wording, Support for the law was reportedly garnered by paying people to ask leading questions and make supportive statements at town meetings held across the country.

A law to revise the Fundamental Law of Education was passed in the lower and upper houses in parliament in November and December 2006. Abe has insisted the law be worded so Japanese “love their country.” There were concerns among educators that students would be evaluate by how much obedience and how much they loved their country.

A basic education five-year plan approved in 2008 calls for more emphasis on moral education but failed to set numerical targets for budgets or teachers. Quake-proofing work deemed needed at 2,800 schools was postponed by the Hatoyama government in December 2009 to free up funds to make high school education effectively free.

Problems with Japanese Education System

While educators and politicians in the United States applaud the disciplined back-to-basic approach of Japanese education, the Japanese themselves criticize it for being too rigid and stifling. In a 1996 poll, 64 percent of the parents surveyed said they distrusted teachers and 67 percent said they were unhappy with the education of their children. One Japanese scholar complained that the emphasis on drills and rote learning in Japanese schools has created a nation of "trained seals."

The Japanese education system provides few opportunities for gifted or talented children or late bloomers and doesn't help students that fall behind. And despite the uniformity of Japanese schools, inequalities do exist. Students from the poorest 20 percent of Japanese society have a one in three chance of attending a university while students in the richest 20 percent have a nine in ten chance. University and juku classes are also very expensive, often prohibitively so for poor families.

Efforts began in the mid-1980s to break away from uniformity with the following goals: 1) offer more varied subject mater; 2) revise the university entrance examination system; 3) provide more education opportunities for people not enrolled in school; and 4) bring in more foreign students.

See Lack of Nobel Prizes, Nature and Science, Science

Decline of Japanese Education

The Japanese educational system has been highly regarded by many countries and has been studied closely for the secrets to the success of its system, especially in the years before the economic bubble burst. However, following the bursting of the bubble and the ensuing decade of recession, a number of issues have come under scrutiny both at home and abroad. [Source: Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com **]

While many western writers have, time and time again, attributed the economic success of Japan to the well-educated and highly literate population of Japan, recent writings and studies tend to be far more critical, lamenting the deplorable state and quality of higher education in Japan today. Despite the famed exam rigors and competitiveness, declining standards in education and the high school student's lack of interest in studying have lately been under spotlight. Some attribute this disinterestedness to the fact that academic effort no longer assured automatic rewards with the disintegration in the formerly stable and guaranteed lifetime employment system.

Despite the institutional change and sweeping national reforms underway in response to these criticisms, the key problems remain unresolved: the pyramidal-structure of the university system and entrance exam wars; the centrally-controlled curriculum and lack of individuality and creativity of students as well as the lack of competitiveness in educational suppliers.

Suvendrini Kakuchi wrote in University World, “Japan, which once ranked at the top of international performance on tests in subjects such as mathematics and science, has been falling behind counterparts in other East Asian countries.In 2011, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMMS, reported that Japan was trailing at sixth place in tests taken at age 13, behind Singapore and South Korea, which were listed in first and second place. A similar trend is seen among Japanese universities, with other East Asian countries challenging Japan’s lead. Japan’s top institution, the University of Tokyo, is at 15th place globally in the latest Times Higher Education ranking. [Source: Suvendrini Kakuchi, University World, September 14, 2013 Issue No:287 ////]

The number of schools and students is declining. Unused schools are being turned into indoor lettuce farms and ham factories.

Internationalization of Education in Japan

Responding to the increasing international exchange of goods, people, and information in the 1980s, Prime Minister Nakasone declared his intent to transform Japan into an international state (kokusai kokka), and the term “kokusaika” (internationalization) became popular among all sectors of society.1 During the period of economic prosperity and a strong yen, more Japanese people than ever went abroad for travel, study, and work, while an unprecedented number of foreigners came to Japan. Many Japanese have friends and relatives who live abroad, and have people from other countries as neighbors and co-workers. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

In its 1987 report, the National Council on Education Reform (Rinkyo-shin) recommended the internationalization of education. It recommended the promotion of 1) international-understanding education, 2) foreign language education, 3) international exchange in education, culture, and sports, 4) foreign student exchanges, 5) Japanese language programs, and 6) education for Japanese students living overseas and Japanese returnee children (Monbusho- 1989:59). ~

The 1989 Course of Study for 1992-2001 cited international-understanding education as a means of following the Rinkyo-shin’s 1987 recommendation. The government promoted 1) international-understanding education to prepare students for the twenty-first century, 2) international communication in education, culture, and sports, and 3) international cooperation and contributions for training people in developing countries through UNESCO, the OECD and other non-governmental organizations. The Central Education Committee proposed in 1996 that the government should help students 1) acquire broader perspectives and understandings of different cultures, 2) establish a Japanese national identity, and 3) have basic skills in foreign languages (Monbusho- 1996:408-410). ~

Japanese Versus U.S. Education

According to Stanford University professor Thomas Rohel half of all Japanese high school graduates have learned more than the average American college graduate. Japanese students for many years have had the highest scores in the world on math and science exams while the U.S. was around 14th, behind Hungary, ahead of Thailand. In recent years, some argue, the quality of education in Japan has declined. It doesn't score as well as on international test as it did but still outperforms the U.S.

In the 1980s it was quite fashionable to praise Japanese education and bash American education. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone said: "So high is the level of education in our country that Japan is an intelligent society. Our scores are higher than those of countries like the U.S. There are many blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in America. In consequence the scores are very low...There are things the Americans have not been able to do because of the multiple nationalities there. On the contrary thing are easier in our country because we are a monoracial society." Japanese children also score ten to fifteen points higher than American children on IQ tests.

Around the same time John Akers, President of IBM, said: "For the U.S. to compete successfully in the world market I think it is important that we make improvements in our educational system, similar to those that exist in Japan today." William Bennett, the U.S. Secretary of Education at time, added, "'Our education ideals are better realized on a large scale in Japan. Much of what seem to work well for Japan in the field of education is what works best in the United States."

Because money is parceled out by the national government in Japan, as is the case in France, schools in poor neighborhoods are often as good as those in affluent neighborhoods.

Comparing the U.S. and Japanese Educational Systems

The United States, whose students perform less well than their counterparts in many other developed countries, has lately returned to an insistence upon the “basics,” and the accountability of teachers and schools for academic performance of the students. In contrast, Japan has lowered the academic requirements since April 2002, and reinforces the creativity and individuality of students by offering more elective courses, after reconsidering the drawbacks of memorization and rote learning. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The American educational system is based on uniform primary and secondary education, though each state decides the age limit for compulsory education. Public education generally requires five years of elementary school education (grades 1-5), three years of middle school education (grades 6-8), and four years of high school education (grades 9-12). Since the late 1960s, middle schools11 have gained popularity, and replaced junior high schools. About 11 percent of students attended private schools, such as parochial schools and preparatory schools in 2002. In 2001-02, 72.5 percent of 17-year-olds graduated from high school. The high school dropout rate among 16- to 24-year-olds for 2001 was 11 percent (NCES 2003a). ~

In 2001, among 16- to 24-year olds who graduated from high school or completed a General Educational Development (GED) during the preceding 12 months, 61.7 percent enrolled higher education, either in a two-year or a four-year college. Between 21 and 24 percent of college students attended private colleges and universities between 1992 and 2002 (NCES 2003a). Among students who were in eighth grade in 1988, by 2000, 30 percent had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, while 47 percent finished some college credits not enough for a bachelor’s degree. Also, among the students enrolled in four-year colleges in 1995-1996, 63 percent had received a bachelor’s degree by June 2001, and five percent received an associate’s degree from two-year colleges, or other certificate below the bachelor’s degree. Twelve percent were still studying for their degree, two percent were studying at less-than-4-year institution, and 18 percent dropped out (NCES 2003b). In 2001, 84 percent of people 25 years old and over had completed high school and 26 percent had completed at least four years of college. Furthermore, six percent held a master’s degree, more than one percent held a law or medical degree, and one percent held a doctoral degree. In 1999, 33.2 of 100 persons of graduation age received bachelor’s degrees in the United States, while 29.0 of 100 persons received bachelor’s degree in Japan (NCES 2003a). ~

Comparing the U.S. and Japanese Educational Administration Systems

Each state of the United States administers its public schools. Elected municipal school boards set policies and budgets, and approve the hiring and promotion of teachers and administrators. In contrast, in Japan, the Ministry of Education (MOE) oversees school administration, curriculum, pedagogy, and educational content in textbooks. Recently, the MOE has begun to delegate more decision-making powers to prefectural and municipal boards of education and schools in the name of education diversification. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

The U.S. government spent 5.2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education in 1999; the Japanese government spent 3.6 percent (NCES 2003a). In the United States, public schools are free, and in 2001-02 the educational expenditure per student amounted to $7,524 (NCES 2003a). In 1999-2000, the state (49.5 percent) and the local school district (43.2 percent) paid for most educational expenditures with small federal subsidies (7.3 percent) (NCES 2003a). In the United States, the public education expenditures per student in 1999 were $6,582 in primary education, $8,157 in secondary education, and $19,220 in higher education, while in Japan, comparable figures were $5,240, $6,039 and $10,278 (NCES 2003a). ~

Many school districts are funded by property or other local taxes. Therefore, the amount that a city or town spends on its students depends on the local tax base. Poorer school districts spent less money per student than those in affluent suburbs. However, to compensate for this inequity, metropolitan school districts receive more state and federal subsidies. In Japan, the government subsidizes public elementary, middle and high schools, and high school tuition is inexpensive. ~

British Politician: Schools Must Learn from Japan

In May 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary of Britain's largest opposition party, has proposed the country learn from Japan to improve its classroom teaching style, which he feels has remained stagnant for more than a century, the BBC reported online."We must learn from high-performing nations like Japan to radically transform education in England," the public broadcaster quoted the Labour Party lawmaker as saying. [Source: Jiji Press, May 19, 2012]

“Pointing out how Japan, together with South Korea and Singapore, constantly outperforms Britain in mathematics and science, Twigg said his party "will bring reform into the classroom by learning from the Japanese system of lesson planning, known as 'jugyo kenkyu.'"The system involves holding regular meetings among teachers to collaborate on the design and implementation of lessons. Twigg also highlighted how participation in ongoing in-school professional development programs, called "konaikenshu," is considered a core job requirement in Japan. [Ibid]

“If we want to change teaching, we can't just change teachers--we must change the culture of teaching, its very fabric and DNA," he was quoted as saying. Twigg plans to visit Japan "to see how education has been reformed there," the BBC said. [Ibid]

Japanese Students and International Tests

In a 2007 study, Japanese second-year middle school students ranked third in science among 48 countries, up from sixth in the previous 2003 study and ranked fifth in math as they did in 2003. The survey---the forth Trends in international Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)---was conducted by Amsterdam-based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational; Achievement. In another survey of primary school fourth graders carried out by the same group among 36 countries, Japan dropped to forth from third in both science and math.

The newly launched Pearson global league table ranks and identifies the world’s top educational superpowers as follows: 1) Finland; 2) South Korea; 3) Hong Kong; 4) Japan; 5) Singapore; 6) UK; 7) Netherlands; 8) New Zealand; 9) Switzerland; 10) Canada; 11) Ireland; 12) Denmark; 13) Australia; 14) Poland; 15) Germany; 16) Belgium; 17) USA; 18) Hungary; 19 ) Slovakia; 20) Russia. 20 [Source: Pearson Rankings Website, including all data and the Learning Curve summary report (produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, an educational firm), November 28, 2012]

What does the Pearson report have that the others don’t? Well, for one, the index and accompanying report takes into account intangibles, factors for example, like ”a society’s attitude to education”, or status of teachers. Pearson says the intention of this ranking is to provide a more multi-dimensional view of educational achievement – and create a databank which will be updated, in a project that Pearson is calling the Learning Curve.

In recent years much has been written about the declines in rankings of Japanese students in international measures of performance. On the 2006 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranking of high school students Japan dropped to 6th from 2nd in scientific literacy; declined to 15th from 14th in reading literacy; and dropped to 11th from 2nd in scientific literacy. Many blamed Japan’s cram-fee education for not challenging students enough.

Rankings for eighth graders in mathematics in a 1996 international study: 1) Singapore; 2) Korea; 3) Japan; 4) Hong Kong; 5) Belgium (Flemish); 6) Czech Republic; 7) Slovakia; 8) Switzerland; 9) Netherlands; 10) Slovenia; 28) United States. Rankings for eighth graders in science in a 1996 international study: 1) Singapore; 2) Czech Republic; 3) Japan; 4) South Korea; 5) Bulgaria; 6) Netherlands; 7) Slovenia; 8) Austria; 9) Hungary; 10) England; 17) United States.

In ranking in among eighth grade students in 2001 by the International Study Center at Boston College, in 38 countries Japan was 5th in math and 4th in science. In a 2000 survey of 15-year-olds in 31 countries Japan ranked first in math and second in science behind South Korea.

Ranking in among 15-year-old students in 40 countries in 2004 by the OECD, Program for International Student Assessment, Japan was sixth in math, 14th in reading comprehension, 2nd in scientific application and 4th in problem solving. The results were considered a disappointment. They were lower than in the past. The reading comprehension results were especially worrisome to educators, who blamed the poor showing in everything from cell phones to too much emphasis in tests. In the OECD Program of International Student Assessment study in 2002, Japan had the highest average reading, math and science literacy score for 15-year-olds: 543 compared to 498 in the United States and 487 in Germany.

A survey by the Japanese government education ministry found that the richer a kid was the more likely he was to do better on achievement tests.

Japan Ranked Eighth, Ninth and Fifth in the 2009 OECD Academic Ranking

Japan ranked eighth in reading, ninth in mathematics and fifth in science out of 65 countries in the OECD academic aptitude tests conducted under in 2009 the Program from International Student Assessment (PISA). This was an improvement from 2006 when Japan was ranked 15th in reading but was down from 2000 when Japanese students ranked No.1 in mathematical skills, second in science and eighth in reading. The 2009 improvement in reading was attributed to efforts to get students to read more and changes made in the “cram-free” education policy.

“However, the latest results also revealed some disturbing problems,” according to a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial. “More than 10 percent of Japanese students were among the lowest achievers in all three academic categories. Students in this group are considered likely to have difficulty living as members of society. These figures were strikingly high among the top 10 countries and regions...In exam questions that required written answers, many Japanese students simply left blank spaces.”

Japanese students have also been doing better in international science competitions in recent years, They have also perform well at the math Olympiad. They have taken several gold and silver ,medals in the last couple of years.

Japanese Students 4th in Science, 5th in Math in 2011 TIMSS Ranking

In December 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Japanese primary and middle school students ranked fourth in science and fifth in mathematics worldwide in 2011, an improvement from four years before, according to the results of the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) international survey. Fourth-year primary school students and second-year middle school students, or eighth graders, scored 558 to 585 on average against the international average of 500.Fourth-graders from 50 countries and territories and eighth graders from 42 nations and regions participated in the survey, conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. [Source: Jiji Press, December 12, 2012 +++]

“Japan's rankings from the previous survey in 2007 were unchanged except for mathematics for fourth graders and science for eighth-graders, where Japan fell by one place. However, average scores rose by four to 17 points, except for eighth-grade math. The ministry said there was an increase in the number of high-scoring students in Japan, showing signs of improvement in academic ability due to reforms of curriculum and new teaching guidelines. Asian economies performed well in general. Singapore scored top in fourth-grade mathematics and eighth-grade science, while South Korea led in fourth-grade science and eighth-grade mathematics. +++

“In Japan, about 4,400 students each from primary and middle schools participated in the tests in March 2011. The survey found that the number of those who enjoyed studying in Japan was up from the previous survey, while the only category that exceeded the international averages was fourth-grade science. All other categories were three to 27 points lower than international averages. +++

Japanese Students Have Weak Science Skills According to Survey

In August 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “According to the results of the national achievement test released by the education ministry, the nation's primary and middle school students are not good at analyzing and explaining the results of scientific observations and experiments. A questionnaire was conducted in tandem with the test, targeting sixth-year primary and third-year middle school students, which showed more middle school students tended to avoid science and considered it their weak point than did primary school students. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 10, 2012 /*/]

“This year's test was conducted in April, sampling about 9,700 primary and middle schools--about 30 percent of the total--nationwide. In addition to Japanese, arithmetic and mathematics, science was added to the test for the first time, with the goals of understanding why fewer students are showing interest in science and finding possible solutions to the problem. For example, on the science test for primary school students, there was a question about an experiment to confirm that the pollination of a pistil causes a plant to bear fruit. /*/

“The test presented the following incorrectly performed experiment: After two female flowers bloomed, they were each covered with plastic bags. Pollen from the stamen of a male flower was put on the pistil of the one of the flowers, but not the other. However, both plants bore fruit. The subsequent question asked students to choose the correct way of conducting the experiment and give their reasoning. The results showed 68.2 percent of students chose the correct answer of, "A plastic bag should have been put on the flowers when they were buds," while only 32.3 percent could explain pollination and cite possible pollination through pollen carried by wind or insects even though the flower was not artificially pollinated. Similar results were seen for other questions, prompting the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to conclude that many students are "weak at analyzing the results of observations and experiments and explaining them in a scientific way." /*/

“Meanwhile, according to the questionnaire, about 82 percent of sixth-year primary school students said they like science. The figure fell to about 62 percent among third-year middle school students. "An international survey said that Japanese students have been moving away from science and our results support that," a ministry official said. In Japanese and arithmetic for primary school students and Japanese and mathematics for middle school students, the percentage of correct answers to word problems was low, a tendency seen in past tests. /*/

The current sampling method yields the average percentage of questions correctly answered for each prefecture with an error of 1 or 2 percent, so it is impossible to simply compare the results among prefectures. However, high-ranking and low-ranking prefectures remained almost the same as in past tests. Prompted by public concern about a decline in childrens' academic abilities, the national achievement test targeting all students, in particular school years resumed in 2007, for the first time in 43 years. From fiscal 2010, after the Democratic Party of Japan took power in 2009, the test has been conducted on about 30 percent of the nation's schools. /*/

Low Percentage of Middle Schoolers like Science, Math

In December 2012, Jun Ishikawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The latest survey by an international education association showed the academic capability of Japanese primary school students has largely improved, while that of middle school students barely changed.The results of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) survey indicate a clear gap between students who were educated after the cram-free education policy was abolished and those who were educated under it. This is a cause of concern for school officials. [Source: Jun Ishikawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 14, 2012 <=>]

The tendency toward low enthusiasm for studying among middle school students continues. One expert has suggested "an increasing number of students might be unable to keep up with their class in the mid- and long-term." Masahiro Tamura, principal of municipal Senju Primary School in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, and research director of an association for studying science education in primary schools in Tokyo, welcomed the results. <=>

The latest IEA survey showed 83 percent of fourth-grade primary school students enjoy studying science. The figure was close to the international average. But the percentage of those who like to study mathematics was 66 percent, 15 points lower than the international average. Among second-year middle school students, the percentages of those who like studying the two subjects were much lower. <=>

Among second-year middle school students who were asked if they wanted jobs that involve using mathematics or science, 18 percent said they wanted to use mathematics, while 20 percent said science. The international average was more than 50 percent for the two subjects combined. Prof. Takeo Samaki of Hosei University, an expert on science education who has been critical of the cram-free education policy, said: "For primary schools, you can point to positive effects of the new curriculum guidelines. But it's too soon to celebrate. If students' eagerness to learn stays low as the content becomes more advanced, there is the possibility that more students will not be able to keep up with their classes. "Only classes that can provide substantial education can stimulate students and keep them interested. Teachers need to further reform their ways of thinking; a system that can provide assistance to busy teachers is what's needed."

Fifty Percent of Japanese Students Lack Basic Math Skills

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Nearly half of all sixth-grade primary school students do not understand multiplication and division with decimals, which is taught in the fifth grade or earlier, according to a study by the National Institute for Educational Policy Research (NIER). The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry's institution has analyzed results of the national achievement test given every academic year from 2007 to 2010. The test targeted children in the sixth grade of primary school and those in the third year of middle school. Although the questions differed on each year's test, experts were able to conduct this first comparative survey by reviewing answers on similar questions. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 21, 2012 +=+]

The most serious deficiency was found in the arithmetic ability of the sixth grade children. In one year's test, only 45.3 percent of students gave the correct answer for a multiple choice question related to multiplying or dividing with decimals. Students were asked to choose which formula or formulas out of four choices would yield a smaller number than the original figure. The percentage of children who correctly answered similar questions in other years' tests was also low. The highest percentage among the four years was only 55.7 percent. Simple questions regarding decimals, such as asking the product of "5 x 1.2," tended to show a higher percentage of correct answers, the institution said. +=+

NIER said it is necessary to review the current teaching method because it seems children do not fully understand decimal multiplication and division, which they should have learned in earlier grades. The institute also believes previous analyses of national test results have not been effectively used for reviewing teaching methodology in schools. Therefore it plans to hold an explanatory meeting for teachers in supervisory positions at schools across the nation. +=+

Kenji Miyauchi, the head of the institution's Department for Curriculum Development, expressed concern, saying, "Teachers can teach children how to calculate, but they may not succeed in making them understand the most important thing--why they came up with an answer." Regarding the issue with decimals found in the study, he said: "If they don't understand decimals, they may have trouble interpreting statistics or charts. This could have a negative impact on their lives." +=+

Sixth-grade students also had trouble with ratio questions, with low percentages of correct answers given for such problems. Only 55.1 percent to 57.8 percent of students answered correctly for basic ratio questions, such as "What percentage of children are girls when there are 80 girls among 200 children?" When the answer choices contained figures with decimals instead of percentages, even fewer students got the question right.This suggests students have difficulty understanding the relationship between two numbers, which may lead to a lack of understanding of proportions and inverse proportion, at a later stage. +=+

Furthermore, test results show sixth-grade children are weak at writing logically and developing a message. A review seems necessary of the teaching methods used in early school years.For questions in which students had to express their opinions after reading a passage with a chart, a majority of students gave adequate answers in only one of the four years of the study. One question on the 2009 test asked children to write their observations in 100 Japanese characters after reading a passage comparing the national averages for the running times of sixth-grade children in a 50-meter sprint with the times of one school. Only 17.8 percent of children gave acceptable answers to the question. In many cases, children could not process or interpret the information given in the passage. Among third-year students at middle schools, 43.4 to 54.3 percent sufficiently expressed their opinions on similar questions, giving reasons to support them. +=+

Lifelong Learning in Japan

Lifelong education (sho-gai kyo-iku) includes education at school, at home, and in social settings.2 Before the introduction of lifelong education in the 1990s, lifelong learning meant social education (shakai kyo-iku) where local governments provided community-based enrichment classes for residents. Social education (shakai kyo-iku), sometimes called adult education (seijin kyo-iku) or continuing education (keizoku kyo-iku), differs from formal school education and covers all kinds of learning activities from English conversation and computer classes to singing and aerobics classes. Now lifelong education (sho-gai kyo-iku) usually refers to all continuing education for adults, including social education in community centers and private cultural centers, and recurrent education in formal schools. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Under the 1947 Social Education Law, the Japanese government has promoted community-based social education in local halls and centers. The 1951 revision of the law created positions for social education specialists in local administrations. In the 1950s and 1960s, local residents constructed community centers all over Japan. The 1971 report of the Central Council of Education emphasized the importance of lifelong education. Social education for all residents, including the elderly and disabled, has also been promoted at the community level (Nihon Shakai 1988:396-406). Internationally, UNESCO has promoted lifelong/continuing education worldwide since 1965. Since the 1970s, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has promoted recurrent education for vocational training. ~

In 1988, in order to implement the recommendations of the National Council on Educational Reform (Rinkyo-shin), the MOE established the Lifelong Learning Bureau. In 1990, the Lifelong Learning Promotion Law was enacted, and the Lifelong Learning Council was established as an advisory body to the MOE. The government endorses social education programs, and provides scholarships for adult participants who are interested in vocational training. More adults have discovered the value of lifelong education and the importance of improving their vocational skills and keeping up with high technology, information, and internationalization. Furthermore, more adults, especially the elderly, have time and wherewithal to enjoy lifelong education and recreation. ~

In Japan, most programs for social education are for personal enrichment, and not career development. According to a 1992 survey, social education consists of health and sports (23.7 percent), music and arts (23.2 percent), vocational knowledge and skills (9.9 percent), home economics (8.5 percent), and literature and history (6.3 percent) (Monbusho- 1996:11). Local governments and private educational organizations provide cultural education and recreation for personal enrichment and health education. On the other hand, colleges, specialized training colleges, and public human resources development facilities offer career development courses for adults who want to advance in their careers. Correspondence courses from colleges also provide a variety of courses from cultural education to vocational development. ~

According to a 1999 national survey, the main organizers of classes and lectures for social education are civic centers, prefectural and local public centers, municipal boards of education, lifelong-education centers, social-education corporations, youth centers, and women’s centers. The majority of classes and lectures provided by the boards of education, civic centers, and lifelong-education centers relate to arts and culture as well as sports and recreation. The most common classes and lectures provided by the prefectural and local governments are on “home education and home life” (38.9 percent). Only a small percentage of classes and lectures are related to vocational and technical training courses: only 2.4 percent of classes and lectures by the boards of education, 1.8 percent by civic centers, 2.9 percent by the cultural centers, and 4.5 percent by the prefectural and local public centers (Monbusho- 2000c). Lifelong learning participants spent an average of 1,021,000 yen per year for graduate schools, 959,000 yen for colleges, 865,000 yen for specialized training colleges, 271,000 yen for correspondence courses from colleges, 248,000 yen for lifelong-education centers, 156,000 yen for private correspondence courses, 145,000 yen for the University of the Air, which is a public correspondence university, and 80,000 yen for community center courses, according to a 1996 survey (Keizai Kikakucho- 1999:70). ~

Community-Based Education in Japan

The local government makes community centers, sports facilities, and schools available for residents to use for classes and sports. The local government offers public lectures and classes to all residents for very low or no fees. Most classes take place during the day. Community organizations such as women’s associations and senior citizen’s associations also offer cultural education classes and lectures in community centers. In response to residents’ demands, the local government now sponsors basic vocational training and certification courses, such as introductory courses in computer science. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Participants in local and community classes are generally well-educated homemakers and retirees who have time to take classes during the day. Urban areas have many more facilities for lifelong education than rural areas. Local governments need to provide more evening and weekend classes for working adults, and build more branches in rural areas. ~

Local governments need to provide outreach programs for lifelong education to socially and educationally disadvantaged people. Low-income residents with little education need lifelong education for upward social or professional mobility. However, those who need this practical training most are also the ones that are least likely to take advantage of it (Miyasaka 1991:53). Moreover, the local government needs to inform disabled people of the benefits of lifelong education. Some local governments offer classes for disabled youths, where they learn social skills, vocational skills, and have an opportunity to communicate with non-disabled people (Nihon Shakai 1988:408-409). ~

As lifelong education flourishes, more and more private lifelong-education centers (so-called “Cultural Centers”) and private educational/health organizations provide classes and seminars for recreation and cultural education. In 1995, 1,559,000 students participated in 723 “Cultural Centers” (Monbusho- 1999b:263). The contents of the courses are similar to those of community courses provided by local governments at community centers. However, these courses are much more expensive. In order to compete with community classes, private lifelong education centers offer more evening classes for working adults. Many homemakers and retirees take in daytime classes, and many young working people enrolled in evening classes. But middle-aged married people who are busy working and raising children have a hard time participating in these classes. ~

Community-Based Education in One Japanese Town

In response to the 1990 Lifelong Learning Promotion Law, the Committee for the Promotion for Lifelong Education, consisting of community leaders and teachers was formed under the chairmanship of the mayor of Marugame City (population 80,000) in 1993.3 The Committee conducted a survey, and proposed the Action Plan for Lifelong Education in Marugame. According to the 1992 survey of 20- to 74-year-old Marugame residents, almost one-third (31.8 percent) of residents had participated in classes, public lectures or activity groups for social education in the previous two years. These classes were related to hobbies and arts (43.9 percent), sports (20.9 percent), skills and technology (18.2 percent) and home economics (16.2 percent). Forty-two percent of participants attended classes, lectures and/or conferences sponsored by the local or prefectural government, 20 percent attended classes sponsored by private institutions, another 20 percent attended club activities, and 20 percent studied through an individual tutor. Those who did not attend said they were too busy. The respondents stated that they would like to take sports classes (37.4 percent), health management courses (35.5 percent), courses in drawing, calligraphy, crafting, handcrafts, and photography (24.4 percent), in cooking, needlework, and making kimonos (23.7 percent), and in gardening, including bonsai (20.5 percent). They learned about social education programs through local or prefectural bulletins, newspapers, posters, and flyers (Marugame-shi 1993). [ Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Since the late 1960s, the Marugame Central Community Center in downtown Marugame has operated community-based classes for social education. Course offerings include calligraphy, flower arrangement, handcrafting, Chinese poetry, cooking, sign language, caregiver training, Braille, dancing, exercise, computer training and English conversation. Children may take calligraphy, English conversation, and crafting classes. These classes meet for two hours a week. Most classes cost 200 to 400 yen, with computer classes costing about 2,500 yen for four sessions. ~

Most courses meet during the day, but some courses are offered in the evenings and on Saturdays. In the spring semester of 1998, 341 residents signed up for classes. The majority of participants are homemakers and people in their 60s and older. The lecturers are experts in arts and music and, like volunteers, teach for only minimal compensation. After completing courses, some people join dance clubs, crafting clubs, English conversation clubs, and haiku clubs. In 1998, fifty-six voluntary clubs were registered in the Central Community Center, and met in community centers and in members’ homes. These classes are open to anyone who lives or works in Marugame. ~

Classes for lifelong learning have also been provided in branch community centers in eleven community districts in Marugame. These districts correspond to the elementary school districts. Each district has a community center where neighborhood associations, women’s associations and the associations for senior citizens meet. The centers organize classes for social education for senior citizens and women. For example, the associations for senior citizens organize classes and activities such as cooking, health care, and playing with elementary school students. It is more convenient for residents, especially the elderly, to take classes in local district community centers rather than in the downtown Central Community Center. I observed one class for the elderly in the nearby Jo-sei community center in March 1998. We saw a movie about Marugame castle while having tea. The class was very much like a social meeting. ~

The Central Community Center of Marugame also operates a municipal “college” for seniors, called the “Ho-rai College,” to encourage their participation in lifelong learning and to build solidarity and friendships. Residents who are 60 years of age or older are eligible to enroll. The Marugame Central Community Center holds classes a few hours each day during the week. The students attend required lectures nine times a year and as many elective classes as they want. Electives include local history, folk songs, drawing, flower arrangement, calligraphy, planting, tea ceremony, handcrafts, haiku, health exercise, needle work, and origami. Elective classes meet once a week and cost 1,500 yen for nine months. ~

I observed a class on local history in March of 1998. The class of 40 to 45 students toured historical sites in Marugame. One 75-year-old woman told me that she had taken this class for seven years, and that most of her classmates had been taking this class for a long time. The Ho-rai College gives the elderly not only an opportunity to learn but also to make friends. They start taking these classes in their early 60s and many re-enroll each year. ~

In addition to public classes, there is one major lifelong-education center in Marugame, which has been operated since 1991 by the nationwide Social Insurance Health Project Foundation. The Center teaches about preventive health care, and provides medical checkups and free professional health consultations. The healthy lifestyle courses include swimming, yoga, and aerobics. The Center also provides classes on calligraphy, woodblock printing, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, choir, folk songs, and English conversation. In 1997, 2,748 people attended these classes. Most of the students are in their 40s and 50s who take classes to learn and to socialize. The classes on flower arrangement and care for the elderly offer certification upon completion. In 1998, the Center opened a playground for small children and their mothers. The Cultural Center sponsored by the Shikoku Newspaper Company also offers classes for lifelong education. These classes meet for two hours a week, and cost about 2,000 to 4,000 yen per month. ~

Image Sources: 1) 7) Guven Peter Witteveen 2) 6) Ray Kinnane 3) Brooklyn University 4) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 5) 9) Kantei, Office of Prime Minister of Japan 8) Japan-Photo.de

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2014

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