Education serves as the cornerstone for academic growth and maturity of students all over the world. From teaching the fundamental basics to primary school students to young adults specializing in various fields to become professionals, the Japanese Education System is not unlike the educational systems in other countries. It has its unique teaching methods and different ways of educating and raising school-aged children.
The Japanese school year begins in April and ends in March the following year. Compulsory education includes six years at an elementary school and three years at junior high school, nine years overall. High school is not mandatory in Japan. Typically, students enrolled in public elementary and junior high schools are not required to pay school tuition fees. Those who opt to enroll in private schools, however, do so. Interestingly, education in Japan starts from pre-primary with students between the age of three to six. Pre-primary education is not compulsory nor does it receive government funding, therefore, parents must pay their children’s private pre-primary school fees.
As soon as students graduate from junior high school, they often choose to further their education by entering high school then pass a university entrance exam or immediately find employment. All schools in Japan are either national, public or private institutes, including elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, technical and junior colleges, universities, and graduate schools. For students who experience diﬃculty in studying at regular schools, there are alternative options. Special schools are available to students who are disabled or mentally challenged.
What is School Life like in Japan?
School life for students is a hectic one. A regular classroom will have about thirty to forty students and attend classes Mondays through Fridays, although some schools hold classes on Saturdays as well. In addition to academic studies, students are also responsible for cleaning the classrooms, halls, and yards of their school. School events are spread out throughout the school year, such as sports and cultural festivals, student-centred performances, and school trips. All students are required to join after school club activities. Most students do sports clubs like baseball and football. All sports clubs hold inter-school competitions where young aspiring athletes have the opportunity to compete within the district, prefectural, regionals and the nationals.
Academic Background-Oriented Society
Admittance into a highly esteemed university can set a student for life as many companies look at a graduate’s educational background more than their actual qualifications and personality. Therefore, on top of school activities, many students wanting to enter a prestigious university also attend private-tutoring or “cram schools” after school. Although cram schools are expensive for middle-class families and time-consuming for students, they assist and prepare students from elementary all through high school to pass entrance examinations. Several well-known private schools are “escalator” schools, which means, once a student enters the junior high school, they are set all through higher education. Only about half of test-takers pass their first time taking the examination. Failure means studying for another full year and taking the test again the next year. Studying for the exams is not only demanding, but they are also a source of stress which sometimes leads to depression, social anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Globalization of Education System
Japanese society remarkably values education and has raised many intelligent members of the population. Nonetheless, the Japanese educational system is far from perfect, especially as the main goal of students revolves on passing standardized tests and their childhood dominated by school education. Presently, the education system is changing to keep up with the globalized world. Japan is gradually opening up to the world and welcoming novel ideas, adapting innovation from overseas, and incorporating them to modernize the currently existing educational system.
BY ATSURO TSUJINO (a Lawyer in Osaka)
and RYO TSUKAMOTO (a Specialist in Communication in Kyoto)