Academic juku offer instruction in school subjects such as
mathematics, Japanese language, science, English, and social studies.
They help students review and prepare for regular school lessons as well
as advance to the next level through preparation for entrance
examinations. Many juku provide both kinds of services as well as
remedial assistance for those having difficulty with their school
studies. The yobiko is a special category of juku which
specializes in preparing high school students and graduates for
university entrance examinations. It is described further in the section
on upper secondary education.
Academic juku vary greatly in philosophy, ownership, physical plant,
and scale of operation. There are one-room juku as well as chains, some
with branches enrolling more than 1,000 students and employing a faculty
of 50 or more. The major corporate chains have immense total
enrollments--at least one has more than 1,000,000 students nationwide.
Some juku have gained reputations as elite institutions in their own
right, and some of these even have entrance examinations, although
usually more for class formation than for student selection. The typical
juku is operated by a private individual with one or a few teachers. The
most common form is essentially a one-room, one-teacher school.
The juku enterprise today is a recent phenomenon, paralleling the
expansion and development of secondary and higher education. The growth
during the past two decades has been dramatic. A national survey
conducted in 1976 found that 60 percent of the juku had been founded in
the preceding decade. Fully 70 percent of today's juku have been founded
since 1976, nearly half of them since 1981. Estimates of the current
number of academic juku differ widely, but recent Japanese figures put
the total at at least 35,000.
Juku attendance has risen at all grade levels in the last decade.
Participation rates increase with grade level throughout the entire
compulsory school period. National average attendance rates rise from
6.2 percent of all children in the 1st grade of elementary school to
47.3 percent by the 3rd year of lower secondary school, with figures for
large urban areas even higher. The figures for attendance by grade level
are given in figure 4. Comparable detail is not available for the upper
secondary years, but the overall participation rate is lower, in part
because almost 30 percent of the students are now in vocational
education programs and, thus, out of the university entrance marathon.
4: Juku Attendance Rates by Grade Level Through Compulsory Education
Except for 9th graders, during the compulsory school years more
students are enrolled in either a "catch-up" program or one
which helps students review and prepare for regular schoolwork than in
one geared to examination preparation and advancement to the next higher
educational level. As students advance through the higher elementary
grades and into lower secondary school, there is a tendency for more
students to enroll in preparatory and examination programs. By the last
year of lower secondary school (9th grade), half of those enrolled are
engaged in courses which help prepare them for high school entrance
Juku also perform an important social function for young people,
providing opportunities for contact with peers outside their regular
school context. The most common reason parents give for sending their
child to juku is that the child wanted to attend. Many youngsters ask to
attend because their friends or other neighborhood children do. Almost
40 percent of the children who go to juku say that one reason they like
going is because they are able to make friends with other boys and
Juku operators, too, often point to the opportunity children have to
make new friends outside the school circle as one of the merits of
attendance. Besides peer contact, many children see juku as a positive
experience because they are able to have more personal contact with
In listing the education benefits of juku attendance, about half the
students placed "gaining a better understanding of school
work" at the top of their list. About half of all elementary and
lower secondary school students report that their main reason for
attending is "preparation and review" of school studies.
Juku teaching is usually a part-time proposition, but many juku
employ some full-time teachers. In many cases, it is the more senior and
experienced full-time teachers who teach the critical examination
preparation classes or the courses in a juku's particular specialty. A
juku's faculty and reputation are strong drawing cards.
Approximately one-third of all juku teachers are university students.
About 4 percent are teachers in high schools or institutions of higher
education. Only 1 percent are elementary or lower secondary school
teachers (a decline from 6 percent a decade ago, reflecting strong
Ministry of Education admonitions to regular full-time teachers against
also serving as juku instructors). About half of the remaining faculty
members earned a teaching certificate during their university study, but
have no teaching experience in regular schools. Some apparently prefer
employment in juku. Others may have been unsuccessful in securing a
regular teaching position.
Why juku flourish
Beyond meeting the three academic needs noted earlier, juku provide a
socially acceptable way for parents to fulfill their educational
responsibilities as the child advances to a point in schooling where
they can no longer provide adequate assistance at home. At the same
time, juku offer parents, particularly mothers, an opportunity for their
children to receive additional educational and social benefits in a
supervised environment after school hours.
Few parents wish to deny their offspring the opportunity to attend
juku when the children of other parents are attending. Some parents feel
they would be derelict in their duty as parents if they did not send
their children to juku. This tendency reflects the values of the
parents, and in many cases, the children, in wanting to participate in
an activity recognized by peer groups as important.
There are reports of neighborhoods devoid of children after school
because the youngsters are all in juku. Some regular school teachers
complain that children no longer stay around after school because they
have to go to their juku lessons. A child who does not attend may have
no one to play with and may therefore ask to be sent.
To some observers, juku represent an attempt by parents to exercise
and by some educators to provide meaningful measures of choice in
Japanese education, particularly for children attending public schools.
Some juku offer subject matter not available in the public school
curriculum while others emphasize a special philosophical or ethical
approach. A small number feature programs that are almost Spartan in
their demands, presumably appealing to parents who want their children
to be exposed to the most rigorous standards of discipline and
Most juku, however, differ from public school practice primarily in
the extent of personal attention provided. Juku are not limited to
standardized or lockstep instructional approaches, but may use whatever
methods they believe are most effective. Many juku pride themselves on
approaches which emphasize individual attention to student needs. In
sharp contrast to standard public school practice, some juku even stress
individual recognition as a motivational device. The free market in
which juku operate provides a strong incentive for improving
instructional effectiveness: better instructional performance produces
more fee-paying students.
Class organization is one area where juku exploit their flexibility.
Not being required to keep all students of the same grade together, they
often group students by ability rather than grade level. Some juku
regroup students frequently on the basis of periodic assessments of
Some juku emphasize self-instruction. They may use a programmed
instruction approach where the student progresses at his or her own
pace. In these schools, classes typically consist of children working by
themselves while sitting together in the same room. Many juku are run by
dedicated teachers who feel quite strongly that they offer a valid
educational supplement to the instruction provided in public schools.
Some juku might even be considered a form of experimental school run by
professionals who develop original curricular materials and innovative
approaches to teaching and learning.
The juku industry has become a big business. It has reached the 800
billion yen level annually (about 5 billion U.S. dollars) and is still
Because of the commercial aspect of most juku, some critics have argued
that they have profit rather than education at heart.
Juku operators acknowledge that their schools operate in the
marketplace, but point out that they have a legitimate range of
educational services to sell for which there is great demand. A sizable
proportion of parents obviously believe that juku are providing services
which the public schools do not provide, which the parents believe their
children need, and for which they are willing to pay. Parents are free
to go elsewhere if a juku is not meeting their needs or living up to its
Since juku attendance costs money, not all students are able to
obtain their services. Hence juku introduce some inequality into what is
nominally an egalitarian education system. Yet while some juku are
expensive, most are affordable for most families. Juku cannot afford to
price themselves beyond the reach of their potential clientele. Japanese
parents are very concerned about doing whatever they can for their
child's education. If the rising enrollments in juku are any indication,
cost is not yet a limiting factor for most parents. Juku clearly are
given some priority in family budgeting.
Juku fees depend on the grade level of the student, number of courses
taken, and the amount of individual instruction involved. In 1985 the
average family with one elementary child attending a juku paid an
estimated 2 percent of family income in juku fees. For families where
children took four courses, the fees averaged about 3.5 percent of
family income. For student of lower secondary school age, the costs
averaged about 2.4 per cent of family income. Home tutors tend to be
considerably more expensive, and the number of families employing them
is only a fraction of those sending their children to juku.
Some criticism has been expressed that when juku teach material in
advance of the time it is taught in school there can be a disruptive and
negative effect on the classroom situation. But recent studies do not
substantiate this view. Rather, in some areas of mathematics, for
example, students who have attended juku do better than those who have
not. However, in other areas of mathematics there is little or no
difference in performance between the two groups of students.
Occasionally some juku, especially those oriented toward examination
preparation, have engaged in deceptive advertising or made false claims
concerning their ability to qualify students to pass entrance
examinations. Other juku, anxious to enroll more students, have
sometimes tried to steal away talented students or teachers on the
theory that the presence of a particular "star" at their
school would attract other students and parents. Such unethical behavior
has reflected on juku overall. However, most juku reputations are gained
from legitimate achievements.
Throughout the entire elementary and secondary school span, over half
the parents do not send their children to juku, some for reasons of
cost, but probably more because they do not have the need for juku. The
latter group believes the schools do an adequate job and that such
supplementary services and experiences are unnecessary. Many of these
parents also feel that children ought to have more time at home to play
when young and that they, the parents, are capable of providing whatever
additional assistance the children may need with their studies.
If a student is not in juku, it does not mean that he or she is
necessarily at a disadvantage in school. Other avenues of assistance are
available. For example, self-help literature or supplemental texts and
study guides, some produced by publishing houses associated with juku,
are widely available on a commercial basis. Most items are moderately
priced, generally in the range of 5 to 10 U.S. dollars. There is also a
complete Correspondence High School of the Air course broadcast almost
daily on the Japan Broadcasting Company's educational radio and
television channels. These programs are essentially free for the
listening and many students do, in fact, use them to supplement their
In school and juku as well as in study at home, Japanese children
learn good study habits, strong self-discipline, and persistence on
school achievement matters. But Japanese children do not study all the
time nor do juku function solely as educational institutions. Many
children enjoy their lessons and friends in juku and have further social
contacts with peer groups in clubs and other activities outside of study
situations. Japanese children watch television, read comic books, and
enjoy pop music. But they clearly work hard on their education both in
and out of school.
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U.S. Dept. of Education Study