Japanese Education in General
The Japanese educational system is sometimes seen as a model of how to operate schools. There tends to be a mental image of quiet, obedient Japanese schoolchildren sitting at their desks, listening to the teacher, and working hard to pass the various entrance-type tests that they face.
"Japan has long respected the importance of education, and as one result 96 percent of all Japanese students progress to senior high school (that is ,beyond compulsory levels) and 45 per cent proceed to tertiary levels, making them among the most highly educated young people in the world." Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream, 1999
Japanese students attend school for 243 days, some 30% longer then in the U.S., not counting the time many students spend in juku and studying at home. The school year is also, for all practical purposes, year-round (with some breaks between sessions), and thus avoids the "forgot everything they knew over the summer" problem of American schools.
Japanese education also heavily relies upon examinations to determine which school the student will go to next, resulting in a push by students and parents (usually mothers) for their child/children to study very hard for the test so that he or she (or them) can get into the "best" schools. Some students even take tests in order to determine what kindergarten they will be admitted to.
The examines are multiple-choice, thus stressing rote memorization of facts. Confidential reports by teachers can also affect what school the student will get in to, and the reports are not open to students or parents.
The students have traditionally followed along the "examination hell" path in order to end up at the best universities and thus end up with the best jobs, but this has changed with the collapse of the economic bubble of the 90's.
The universities are seen primarily as socializing clubs, though, and there is much less actual studying going on than in American universities. About half of the tertiary level educational facilities are two-year colleges which have an overwhelming majority of female students.
Things are good in Japan's educational system
The book Japan in the 21st Century: Environment, Economy, and Society (2005), says:
"Japan's educational system produces students who perform far better on international examinations than Americans do, and Japanese students are indisputably among the best in the world in solving mathematical equations. ...Youngsters are well-behaved, studious, and law abiding; Japan's low crime rates are well known and widely envied around the world. But what is even more striking than the lack of crime is the overwhelming civility; graffiti and vandalism are rare, and school sports teams not only bow to each other before a game but also rush over to the opposing team's stand after the game to pay their respects".
Japanese schools are seen in numerous anime series, manga and doramas, usually showing clean schools, obedient students hard-working and dedicated teachers working without the daily fear of violence that will be found in American schools.
At least, that is what is the common belief. That they Japanese students out-perform American students is without a doubt. That they spend more time in school than American students and that there entire school-year is arranged differently probably helps. That their schools are far, far less violent than American schools is also without debate. Still, problems do exist. Those are in my section problems.
What is very bothersome is the incredibly differing views on the Japanese educational system. Most sources I consulted support the view that the educational system, albeit with problems of its own, is still quite good, still under control and still managing to give Japanese youth a good education.
Things are bad in the Japanese educational system
On the other hand, some sources indicate an almost apocalyptic view of the educational system in Japan.
"In the mid 1990's, Japanese elementary school teachers noticed an alarming increase in unmanageable children. Unable to remain at their desks for more than ten minutes at a time, they walked around the classroom or ran into the halls with their teachers in pursuit, talked loudly with their friends or pummeled them with book bags, threw milk bottles and tangerines at lunchtime, and either ignored their teachers sullenly or flew into abusive rages when they were scolded. ...By 1996, anarchy was epidemic in elementary schools and spreading upward into secondary schools. ... Thirty-three percent of the principals and teachers polled said they had firsthand experience of classrooms in which ‘group education and the teaching process itself have ceased to function over a continuous period of time due to children engaging in arbitrary activity in defiance of instructions by the teacher." Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose 2004
This breakdown is tied to the job situation, according to the same source:
"Since the economy collapsed in 1990 and prospects for the future have been further compromised, students have lost their motivation to perform under competitive pressure, and Japan's once vaunted achievement test scores have fallen to just below our own disheartening levels."
I did do some checking of this statement, that the Japanese achievement scores had fallen below our own, and I find conflicting information. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, 2003 some statistics are relevant. In relation to 4th graders, the average math score in the participating countries was 495. The top country was Singapore with a score of 594. Japan was third, with a score of 565 and the U.S. was 12th, with a score of 518, 47 points below Japan's score, above the international average but still considerably below Japan's score.
The situation in science was somewhat better for the U.S., with the average score being 489. Singapore again was first with a score of 565; Japan again was 3rd, with a score of 543, and the U.S. was in 6th, with a score of 536, much closer to Japan than in the mathematics section, trailing them by only 7 points..
The situation for the U.S. worsened at the 8th grade level. The average score in math was 466; again Singapore was first with a score of 605. Japan was fifth at 570, and the U.S. trailed this time by 66 points, being in 15th place and having a score of only 504.
In science, the average score was 473. Singapore again was first with a score of 578. Japan was 6th at 552, and the U.S. was in 8th place, with a score of 527, some 25 points behind the Japanese. Thus, at least at the fourth and eighth grade levels, U.S. scores on the international tests are still below the Japanese, and get further behind as the grade level goes up.
In relation to 12th graders, there are no reported Japanese scores. The math average was 500; first place was the Netherlands with a score of 560; the U.S. was 19th with a score of 461, beating only Cyprus and South Africa among the countries taking part in the study. The average science score was 500; Sweden this time was first at 559 and the U.S. was 16th at 480.
That is something which I have been concerned about as the entire educational system has been built on the principle that, if you do well on your examinations, you will get into good schools, eventually to get into a good university and then automatically into a good, life-time job.
Remove the life-time job and lower the actual job opportunities in general and the students will naturally start to wonder why they should work so hard to pass their examinations when they are not longer guaranteed the "prize" of a good job at the end of the effort.
On the other hand, there has never really been that impetus for female students since women have been facing a major discrimination situation at work pre- and post-collapse, so female students have never really had any such assurance that hard work would equal a good job. Indeed, for many of the female students the expectation has been simply to get some education, find a good husband, get married and have children.
So this "prize" system has never really been as effective with female students as with male students so, although some collapse of the educational system could be expected for the male students, is it enough to throw the schools into "anarchy"? I don't personally know, so I will present both sides of the argument as best as I can. Baring a personal study of the schools (by going to Japan and checking a few thousand out), I cannot write with any certainty which side, anarchy or accomplishment, is the most credible. Costs of an education
"According to a 1993 report by the Ministry of education, the average costs for a public school education in 1991-1992 were (in U.S. dollars) $2,000 for kindergarten, $2,300 for elementary school, $2,750 for junior high school and $3,400 for senior high school. Costs for after-hours instruction, in the form of cram schools, special tutors and private lessons, accounted for a significant portion of these expenses; 59.3 percent for a child in elementary school, 48.6 percent for a junior high school student and 13.9 percent for a senior high school student." Unmasking Japan today: The Impact of Traditional values on Modern Japanese Society, 1996
When it comes to college costs, about one-third of the family income is needed to cover the costs for a freshman living alone and attending a private college in Tokyo, the costs running about $20,870 for one year for basic costs and monthly allowances of about $12,460. (Same source as above).
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