Education In Japan


After the end of the Second World War the education system went under a major overhaul.
The school system now stands at, six years of elementary school, three years each of junior high and high school and four years of college. Compulsory education stands at nine years.

The school year starts in April. School holidays amount to around 40 days in the Summer, around 10 days each for Spring and New Year holidays.

The education system in Japan is primarily aimed at passing exams. Freedom of expression or individualism is looked down on, and often punished.

The Best Schools?                   
The best schools are those that have the highest percentage of students who go on to university, especially the prestigious colleges, like Tokyo University.

This can cause intolerable pressure on a child, from an early age, to perform well. This pressure is especially acute at home, where, usually, the mother will push the child relentlessly, to study hard and pass exams. These days the pressure starts at a very early age, as competition for places at 'good schools' increase. There are pre school, cram schools, with the aim of preparing a toddler to take a prestigious kindergarten, entrance exam at 4 years old ! Some parents push their children too far, the child will often commit suicide, sometimes very young children have done so. Truancy from school is on the increase with school children, loosing interest in their schools.

A Child's Life:
Japanese children do not have much of a childhood, if they want to be accepted by their peers,
or society. They generally have to go to cram schools after their normal school ends in the evening, either because they need the extra tuition or peer pressure to conform with the other children who attend the cram schools.
When the child gets home he will often have to continue studying, sometimes to the early hours of the morning.
Schools have clubs, which the child must join, the club activities are often held after school hours and at the weekends.
The need to conform is maybe, the biggest challenge the child will face, throughout his or her school life.
A child that has received some education abroad, or who is not 100% Japanese, will be in for a hard life at school. If the child received part of his education abroad, he will find it nearly impossible to fit into a Japanese school again, because he is 'different' or 'has foreign ways'. The child may find himself being bullied by other school children and also, even more shockingly, by his or her teachers !

A True Story:
I have heard a couple of horror stories from concerned Japanese parents about their children, one such story, which highlight the above points exactly:

A Japanese family went to the US to join their husband and father, who had been sent there on a 3 year assignment by his company. They have one child, a son, who at that time was 9 years old. The child adapted to American life, far easier than his mother, enjoying school and making many friends. The child's English language ability was nearly that of a native speaker, when it was time to return to Japan, at the end of the 3 years.
Upon starting school in Japan again, the child was shunned by other students. His English teacher (Japanese middle aged male) could not pronounce English from his text book very clearly. On one such occasion the child tried to correct a mispronunciation, made by his teacher, a bad mistake in Japan ! The teacher became incensed and loudly scolded the child in front of the other students. Soon after that, the child started to be bullied by other children. The parents believe it was incited by one or more teachers to 'put the lad straight'. Needless to say, the child was very scared and did not want to go to school. He ended up at one of the very fine international schools in Tokyo, where he could continue his education in a happy environment.

School Teachers:
If you have ever listened to Pink Floyds, The Wall, it could be describing typical school life in Japan. Teachers have at times punished children so severely, that they have inflicted serious injuries on the child, or sometimes killed the student. One case in recent memory stands out in my mind because of the shear senselessness and brutality of the crime.
A young female student was sometimes late for school, one morning the child was late again, the teacher standing guard at the gate, slammed the heavy steel gate on the child's head, causing her death. This deliberate murder of a young child by a teacher shocked me completely. The teacher in question did not receive a very severe punishment !

The Future:
There are many cases of teacher brutality against their charges, it is crazy for anyone to condone such behavior whether they are Japanese or foreign citizens. The punishment is not equal to the crimes committed.
The truancy rate has seen a steady increase over the last few years, across the age groups (little wonder). The Ministry of Education, from time to time, promises school reforms, serious reforms have yet to materialize, for example, better teacher training, screening the teachers for mental illness, etc. Censorship of school text books, where it relates to the Second World War, the massacre in Nan king, sex slaves and so on, happens surprisingly quickly. I wonder what the reason for this is ?
On a positive note, children in Japan are among the best educated in he world, even if they are not taught to be dynamic and have much of an imagination.
As with the politicians, the new generations of school teachers and bureaucrats at the Ministry of Education, who will control education in the future, just may, make some real changes that the old guard seem incapable of doing. Giving a little more freedom and letting the children have an imagination, can only be in the nations best interests in the future. The children are the most important resource for every country, on this planet.

The Ministry of Education: 

They announced on November 13th. 1998, that it is revising the screening process for school text books.
The revisions are as follows: checking for typographic errors will end. At the present time, inspectors check 10 random pages, if more than six are found the book is returned to the publisher for a complete overhaul.

Inspectors will have to put in writing any requests for changes in the text books. Now a verbal communication to the publisher is all that is required. These changes will come into practice for the new courses of study in 2002 for elementary and junior high schools, and high schools in 2003.
These changes do not guarantee an end of government interference in the content of text books or an end of censorship.


From time to time I will be adding more stories, related to this section.

Some relevant education statistics.





Student violence

  Source: National Police Agency

Fiscal 1997 28,500 incidents of violence.
1,432 incidents in elementary schools.
21,585 incidents in junior high schools.
5,509 incidents in high schools.

25.8% of incidents were directed at objects.
13.2% of incidents were directed at teachers.
The remainder were directed at other students.

The number of reported bullying cases numbered 42,790 in 1997. Down 8,754 from the year before.



Education ministry

School truancy in 1997. Elementary and junior high students who missed
school for more 30 days or more = 105,414. Up 11,603 (12%) from 1996.
Those who detest school:
Elementary school students, 1 in every 369.
Junior high school students, 1 in every 5.
Unemployed graduates in1997:  2 out of 3 could find work.
Nearly 82,000 are still unemployed.

Education, High School Dropouts


Education ministry

For fiscal year 1997 a record high of 111,491 high school
dropouts or 2.6%.
This is despite a fall in student enrollment of about 173,400 students.
Dropout rates for 1st year students = 1 in 24 (4.2%)
For 2nd year students = 2.6%
For 3rd year students = 0.8%



Elite Public servant Exam results

Exam for elite career posts in 1998.

35,754 students took the
test.1,239 applicants passed the test,176 were women.
Foreign Ministry Type 1 foreign service exam for diplomats.
938 applicants applied. 21 passed the exam. 3 of whom were women.


 English schools
Source: Fair Trade Commission survey (June 26 1998)
Publicity material used by English schools that is misleading: 25% of schools use such material.


 This page was last automatically updated on 01/03/13 05:16:01


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