Education in Japan
The current education system in Japan closely models that of the United States. Prior to World War II, the influences of Western European countries were largely seen in the education system. Once the Edo period ended, and the Meiji reign began, Japan was now open to influences from the rest of the world. The Japanese government felt that it had to pursue education as a means of catching up with the rest of the world (particularly the West) in the areas of science and education. After the Second World War, America would begin the process of modeling the Japanese education system after its’ own. Beginning at the age of six, children enter into an elementary program and follow along the guideline of a 6-3-3-4 education system.
This system begins with an elementary education for six years. Following elementary school, children move on to three years of middle school, then three years of high school. College or Junior College is an option at the end of this term. Prior to the World War, Japanese schools held single gender classes. Now, the co-ed classes are found in both public and private schools.
Beginning early in elementary school, students learn curriculum in Japanese, math, science, music, social studies, and art. Students also cover physical education and homemaking. Additionally, curriculum in elementary school focuses on music and fine arts. Children at this stage also being to learn punctuality, manners, responsibility and stewardship on a daily basis. Japanese students are responsible for daily chores in the classroom including things such as cleaning their desks and scrubbing the classroom floors. Uniforms are also common for children in public elementary school.
Teachers are required to also introduce and maintain the development of ‘holistic’ matters. Some of the teacher tasks include teaching personal hygiene, good sleep habits, nutrition, and manners. Students must address adults properly, and speak to their peers appropriately.
Once in middle school, the academic structure becomes much more intense and very routine. In addition, once the student enters high school, the student begins a college-like lecture series. High school, and the program of academic structure, is praised for high ranks of achievement in math and science. However, this same system of structure is criticized for a lack of imagination. Students are expected to achieve through a process of examinations and gear up for an intensive selection process which will culminate in a college education.
But there are different levels of high school, all such schools ranked on the basis of performance of the students. It is clear that some high schools rank high as well, for the wealth and privilege of families that attend. Thus, these higher ranking schools require difficult admission tests. In essence, the high school remains then the selective guide in determining the ultimate college destination.
The competition thusly in the area of academics is highly competitive. While practically 95% of elementary schools are public, nearly a quarter of high schools are private. Recognizing the highly competitive nature of high schools, parents are more willing to pay high amounts for a high school education in Japan. By the time that a student is twelve years old or at least by the time that they enter high school, much of their future college career is already decided upon. Since the performance in high school is key to entrance into a prestigious college, many students are subject to intense competition and academic scrutiny.
Another form of schooling in Japan is called the “cram” school, or Juku. Due to the increased level of pressure to perform at earlier ages, and because a child’s future professional career depends upon their college education, parents are increasingly sending their children to cram schools. These schools operate after the normal public school day ends. If children are enrolled in any extra-curricular activities (such as piano lessons or sports), juku begins even after this. Juku provides opportunities for children to further their learning, or opportunities for some students to play ‘catch-up.’ All juku classes run late into the night, and it is not abnormal for a student to have a 12 hour school day, and that is before homework is taken into consideration.
Still, more than 90% of all high school students graduate, and nearly 40% of all students graduate from college. Nearly 100% of students complete elementary school, and the literacy rate is also almost 100%. Japan is considered to have the highest literacy rate in the world. Japan has long been considered to have a successful education system. However, in recent years (primarily after the economic bubble and recession) the Japanese education system has been criticized for the youth delinquency problems and the increase of such problems in the schools. And, while Japan has been recognized for its impressive level of education, and high literacy rate, the nature of competition and pressure that flows from that competition is scrutinized by many around the world. Many around the world are questioning the impact that these rigorous and intense academic standards are having upon the children in Japan.
The university system in Japan sees over half a million students graduating each year. But the number of foreign students is very low in proportion to the total number of students that attend university, and in relation to Western European countries, and the United States. Less than 2% of all students in Japanese universities or colleges in the year 1999 were not Japanese. In the United States, nearly 62% of foreign students enrolled in the U.S. were Asian, and almost 20 percent of all students enrolled in U.S. colleges were foreign, and that number is on the rise each year. Becoming a student in Japan requires that the student know the Japanese language. Setting aside time to study Japanese may be a discouraging factor in terms of the number of foreign students enrolled in Japanese schools. While English is taught in many of the Japanese schools as a language, Japanese is not widely taught as a language in either the United States or many Western European colleges. The Japanese government is currently trying to revamp their application process and offer more scholarships in order to make it easier for foreign students to enroll in Japanese universities.
Contrary to the education system and requirements for teachers in the United States, teachers in Japan face a much more daunting path in order to maintain their teaching certification. Once a teacher has graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in teaching, they are awarded a teaching certificate. However, even after they have received that certificate, teachers have to pass an examination in the prefecture in which they wish to teach. Upon passing this examination, the teacher is allowed to work in any school in that prefecture. But, their license is only good for one year, and if that teacher is unable to find employment in a school in that year time period, they are required by law to take the exam again.