Make your own free website on Tripod.com


Grades 1- 6

Home Up

 

  Lower Secondary (Grades 1 - 6)

Topics

Resources

 What's New

Links

Courses

Learning

savvylearners

Japanese Ways

Czech Ways

Instr Design

Web Publishing

Japanese
Education

Japanese Ed
  

Overview

Juku

Teachers

Preschool

Grades 1-6

Grades 7-9

Grades  10-12

Higher Ed

Employment

Reform

Implications


The premise is that all children have equal potential. Differences in student achievement are thought to result largely from the level of effort, perseverance, and self-discipline, not from differences in individual ability. Hence, students in elementary schools are not grouped according to ability.

 


Japanese teachers rarely reprimand individual children. Instead, they prefer to guide the class in such a way that students assume responsibility for correcting each other's behavior. 

 

 

The Japanese concept of moral education is far from vague or formless. Twenty-eight themes in six categories are covered at the elementary level ...

Entrance
Facilities
Administration and staff
School calendar
Daily schedule
Education philosophy and teaching practices
Classroom management and school life
Curriculum
Home-school relations and home environment
Educational pressures
Out-of-school education
Children returning from abroad

Entrance
Entrance into elementary school is a major step in a child's life. Preparation begins several months in advance. A mother attends meetings sponsored by the school that her child will attend. The school specifies what it expects the child to know and be able to do upon entry. Well-organized personal habits, polite use of language, and traffic safety are among the matters emphasized.

Families make much of the new 1st grader's symbolic entry into a more grown-up world. Congratulations and gifts are in order. Virtually all children are outfitted with a personal desk and chair at home, a regulation hard-sided leather backpack (which costs parents from $75 to $150), school hats and insignia, and various supplies specified by the school.

The formality and seriousness of the matriculation ceremony for 1st graders underscores the transition the children are making and the importance that school will have in their lives. Fifth and 6th graders join school officials and community representatives in welcoming the new 1st graders and their parents. Mothers and children dress in their best attire. Speeches from city and school board officials and the principal emphasize the importance of the child's first symbolic step into society.

Facilities

Japanese school buildings are plain, but functional. Generally, they are three-story, rectangular, concrete structures which lack central heating or air conditioning. Room stoves are commonly used in cold weather. The lack of decoration and furnishings is believed to help the child focus on learning and building character. Yet all schools have excellent educational facilities, including libraries, music rooms, art rooms, gymnasia, and playgrounds. Seventy-five percent of public schools have swimming pools. [1] Music rooms ordinarily include electric organs, pianos, xylophones, percussion instruments of various kinds, and often a ruled blackboard suitable for teaching music reading. Science and art rooms are similarly well equipped.

The principal's office and teachers' room are on the ground floor. The desks in the teachers' room are arranged so that the teachers of a given grade sit facing each other with desks touching. When not in their classrooms, teachers work and relax in this face-to-face situation. This facilitates cooperation and coordination of effort among teachers of the same grade.

Each grade occupies a separate section or floor of the building, with each class assigned its own room. Classrooms are uniformly rectangular with windows on one side and a doorway on the other that opens to a hallway running the length of the building. The rooms are crowded with desks. Decorations are usually limited to a display of recent pupil artwork or perhaps a tank of goldfish.

Desks are typically arranged facing the blackboard. The rows are two seats wide and each pair of seats is usually occupied by a boy and a girl. Also, teachers may have students rearrange their desks into a U-shape to facilitate class discussion or into clusters of 4-6 desks for collaborative activity in small groups.

Most public elementary schools do not have uniforms, but all require something to identify the child as attending that particular school, such as a school cap or badge. Some schools require students to purchase identical athletic apparel, which is often worn during regular classes as well.

Administration and staff

The principal and the head teacher occupy the two primary leadership positions. Ninety-eight percent of elementary school principals are men, and three-quarters of them are over age 55. [2] The principal is responsible for all school activities and plays multiple leadership roles. Much of his time is devoted to representing the school with local authorities, the PTA, and various outside groups. Through regular weekly addresses to the student body, he also symbolizes the school's authority and expectations.

The daily life of the school, however, is usually directed by the head teacher. Ninety-seven percent of elementary school head teachers are men, and most are between the ages of 50 and 55. [3] The head teacher is thoroughly knowledgeable about the entire school and its activities. He manages the implementation of policy in regular school activities, special projects, and other programs of the school. His main responsibilities are administrative. He teaches only about 3 hours per week. [4] Head teachers get paid very little extra; the short term reward is in the honor and respect of one's peers. [5] Longer term, head teacher experience is an important part of the career path to a possible principalship.

Each class is headed by a single teacher who, with rare exceptions, is responsible for all subjects. Teachers average 22-23 hours per week in direct teaching activities. [6] They also spend considerable time working and planning together outside their classrooms.

Approximately 60 percent of elementary school teachers are women. Two-thirds of all teachers are under the age of 40. [7] More than one-half (58 percent) of the faculty have 4-year degrees, and approximately one-third have graduated from a junior college. Fewer than 1 percent of the teachers have graduate degrees. [8]

Teachers teach a different grade level each year, thus gaining broad experience with the curriculum and characteristics of all six grades. It is common for a given teacher to teach the same group of students for 2 years in a row. Talented and experienced teachers are more frequently assigned to the 1st grade because that stage is considered critical in establishing children's attitudes and learning habits for the rest of their school lives.

In all but the smallest schools, each grade level forms a working unit for administration, instructional planning, and informal inservice education. Teachers meet once or twice a week in grade level committees to discuss the coming week's teaching schedule and other activities. Each grade is led by a grade level head teacher who takes the lead in helping new or weaker teachers with practical suggestions for improving instruction and classroom management. Each committee prepares and distributes a weekly or monthly newsletter to the parents of children in that grade. The newsletter includes a report on the class's recent activities, a detailed schedule of curriculum material to be covered, and an inspirational message from teachers to parents.

School calendar

The Japanese school year provides numerous opportunities for the entire student body to participate in special events and ceremonies. These are carefully planned and highly organized. They are managed primarily by the student council and classroom representatives, with the guidance of teachers and school tradition. Through these activities, students work together and develop class and school identity. Classes spend considerable energy in planning and practicing these activities. For some time prior to such events, the regular class schedule is relaxed to allow the necessary time for preparation.

In May, it is common to have an all-school trip to a nearby park or cultural monument or even an overnight field trip for all students of a given grade level. The goal is to broaden student knowledge about nature and the world around them in an enjoyable, memorable fashion, as well as to train students in appropriate public behavior.

The 6-week summer vacation occurs from the middle of July until the end of August. During this period, teachers take their own holidays, but frequently come to school to engage in in-service education and supervise students' club activities. Student sports clubs continue to meet, and the swimming pool may be open for student use. Although classes are not in session, vacation homework and individual research assignments ensure that instructional continuity is not broken. The school also provides an extensive set of rules and recommendations to families concerning student behavior, daily study, and play schedules during the vacation. This guidance fosters continuity in self-discipline and other desirable personal habits.

Autumn in Japan is closely associated with school athletic festivals. Children eagerly anticipate their school's annual Sports Day. The entire student body practices intricate choreographed cheers and marching maneuvers. On the day of the event, parents and the neighborhood are invited to watch each class compete in races and other track and field events. All are encouraged to do their best, both for their own class and to help the school put its best foot forward. The goals of Sports Day are to build class and school solidarity and to encourage wholehearted individual effort and perseverance.

The Culture Festival in the late fall or spring is another high point. On that occasion each classroom plans and rehearses skits or other performances and every club demonstrates or displays examples of its activities. Every child is involved in one or more of these activities. Families and the community are invited to attend and the entire school endeavors to do its best.

The school year ends in March with a formal graduation or end-of-year ceremony which is somewhat less significant than the matriculation ceremony at the beginning of the year. Japanese culture places more emphasis on congratulations and encouragement at the outset of a child's educational career than upon its successful completion.

Daily schedule

The school day begins with a 10-minute faculty meeting in the teachers' room. Meanwhile, halls and classrooms are filled with the clamor of students arriving and preparing for the day. Generally speaking, children meet to walk to school together in neighborhood groups led by the 6th grade children.

Two or three times a week, following the teachers' meeting, the entire school gathers, either to perform morning exercises on the athletic field or have a short assembly and receive an inspirational message from the principal. Classroom activities begin at 8:30 a.m. with a 15-minute morning class meeting, which is led by student monitors. Then two class periods are followed by a 25-minute recess and two more class periods.

Lunch at 12:30 p.m. is followed by a recess which lasts 1:40 p.m. Almost all Japanese elementary schools have a mandatory school lunch program for which parents are assessed minimal fee. Students generally eat in their classrooms and take turns serving their classmates. Teachers remain with their classes during lunch.

After lunch and recess, in most schools the student body spends 20 minutes cleaning and sweeping the hallways and classrooms, an activity deemed important for character development. (In other schools, cleaning takes place at the end of day.) Then, after two periods of afternoon classes, the day ends with a 10-minute class meeting. Following this, students pack their textbooks, notebooks, and other materials into their backpacks to carry home. No books or notebooks are left in students' desks.

At 3:50 p.m., students scatter to school organized clubs, private lessons, or home. Club activities include sports, music, and crafts. On weekdays, teachers often remain until 5 or 6 p.m. to plan lessons, lead club activities, or attend meetings. On Saturdays, school ends at noon, after three class periods.

Education philosophy and teaching practices

Two important assumptions underlie much of Japanese elementary and secondary education practices. One is that virtually all children have the ability to learn well and to master the regular school curriculum. The second is that certain habits and characteristics, such as diligence and attention to detail, can be taught. The premise is that all children have equal potential. Differences in student achievement are thought to result largely from the level of effort, perseverance, and self-discipline, not from differences in individual ability. Hence, students in elementary schools are not grouped according to ability.

Promotion to the next grade is not based on academic achievement, but is automatic. Neither is classroom instruction individualized according to ability differences. However, Monbusho encourages teachers to give extra attention and encouragement to weaker students. Students also supplement their school work at home and at juku.

The classroom teacher capitalizes on the 1st graders' feeling of self-importance and awe at being in school by carefully instructing them in proper behavior and classroom routines during the first weeks of school. These include how to rise and bow at the beginning of class, how to sit, and how to arrange the desktop for study. In the Japanese view, this lays a proper foundation for desirable attitudes and habits which will continue throughout the child's school life.

Teachers in the early elementary years are not directly influenced by the entrance examination pressure which students will face in entering high school and college. Thus, they have more freedom in instructional approach than their secondary school colleagues who must prepare students to pass entrance examinations.

Almost all elementary schools use educational television broadcasts by NHK, the Japanese National Public Broadcasting Service. Science, social studies, and ethics programs are the most popular. Programs are broadcast weekly for each different grade level and are 15 minutes long. Yearly programming schedules are issued before the beginning of the school year so that teachers can use them in developing lesson plans. Each trimester, NHK also publishes a teacher's text, which contains a detailed description of each scheduled program and notes concerning how to use it in the classroom, for each grade level. These texts are widely available in local bookstores. [9]

The students' attention centers around teacher and textbook. Students learn to take notes in the 1st grade. A separate notebook is maintained for each subject, and in it the student records the lecture or classroom activity. Written examinations are given frequently, and homework is assigned routinely. Report cards are issued three times a year.

Each lesson is planned according to the sequence of material in the textbook, the teacher's manual, and the school's instructional guidelines which in turn are based on the Monbusho course of study. Teachers are required to cover all of the material that the course of study mandates for each grade level.

A basic characteristic throughout elementary and secondary education is the continuing emphasis on science and mathematics. The Japanese consider these subjects the basic building blocks of technology, and curriculum requirements ensure that all children receive extensive grounding in them. Mathematics is one of the required subjects on university entrance examinations and, hence, receives continuing attention through all grades.

Classroom management and school life

Japanese classes are large by American standards. In 1983, the average class size was 34 students and the legal maximum was 45. Hence 45 students may be assigned to a single class before two smaller classes are formed. Monbusho is now midway through a plan to reduce the maximum permitted class size from 45 to 40 by the year 1991. [10]

Within each classroom, students are organized in small, mixed ability groups called han. These groups of 4-6 students are cooperative study and work units. Teachers frequently ask the class to divide into han to work on specific assignments and have them report the results to the class. The han is also the primary unit for discipline, chores, and various other classroom activities.

Student monitors are an important part of Japanese classroom management. Each day or two, a different pair of students is in charge of calling the class to order, assisting the teacher in administrative tasks, and encouraging classroom discipline. The monitor role is rotated frequently so that every student in the class has the opportunity to serve in this capacity.

Through the use of han and monitors, teachers delegate much responsibility for classroom management and discipline to the students themselves. Through frequent rotation of roles and responsibilities, all students have the opportunity to gain leadership experience and develop first-hand understanding of the importance of cooperation and mutual effort in achieving a smoothly run classroom.

All schools have active student governments composed of elected representatives from each 4th-6th grade class. Student government activities reinforce school policies and give students experience in large scale planning. Although meetings and activities are supervised by teachers, students lead the organization. Participation in student government also provides experience in representing one's peers, in group decision making, and in assuming responsibility.

While Japanese classes are larger than American ones, Japanese classrooms are more orderly. Students are more attentive and better behaved and transitions between activities are more rapid and orderly. The net result is significant: Japanese students spend about one-third more time during a typical class period engaged in learning than American students do during a typical class period. [11] It is important to note that this high level of organization and discipline is achieved without strong direct exercise of authority by the teacher.

The Japanese approach to classroom management and discipline is to provide extensive training from the first day of a child's school career in the routines and rituals which make up the classroom day. Coming to order, preparing one's desk for study, and lining up for dismissal are practiced repeatedly as separate routines until the entire class can perform them quickly and automatically. The daily monitor cues the class to perform the various routines. The teacher is, thus, freed from the necessity of personally managing transitions. These routines allow students to see themselves as responsible for their own behavior and help them develop pride in conducting themselves in an orderly, efficient manner. [12]

Japanese teachers rarely reprimand individual children. Instead, they prefer to guide the class in such a way that students assume responsibility for correcting each other's behavior. Rather than calling an inattentive child by name and encouraging him to hurry, the teacher typically remarks that a particular han is not ready and allows the child's han-mates to exert peer pressure to encourage the child to take or complete the necessary action.

In Japan, "student guidance" refers to the direction provided by the classroom teacher to help students establish fundamental attitudes and behaviors necessary for successful school life. Its scope is broad, ranging from study habits to academic counseling, social behavior, and character development. The influence of student guidance is evident during classroom instruction and also at daily morning and afternoon class meetings, school events and ceremonies, and periodic teacher visits to students' homes.

Curriculum

Curriculum content and the sequence of instruction for each subject and grade level are specified in considerable detail by Monbusho. Teachers are free to incorporate supplementary teaching materials if they believe they enhance coverage of prescribed course content. Textbooks are written and published by commercial publishers, although the content is based closely upon Monbusho guidelines. After careful review to assure conformity with the prescribed courses of study, the Ministry of Education approves textbooks for use in elementary schools. Schools then select from among the books on the approved list. These are purchased by the government from the commercial publishers and distributed free of charge to children in both public and private schools. The books become the personal property of the students.

The elementary course of study and the required number of class periods devoted each week to each subject are summarized in table B.

Table B. Required Number of Class Periods Per Week and Year in Each Subject at Each Elementary Grade Level*

 

Subject

Grade

1

2

3

4

5

6

Japanese
 
Social Studies
 
Arithmetic
 
Science
 
Music
 
Art & Handicraft
 
Homemaking
 
Physical Education
 
Moral Education
 
Special Activities
 
Total number of
required class
periods

8
(272)
2
(68)
4
(136)
2
(68)
2
(68)
2
(68)
 
--
3
(102)
1
(34)
1
(34)
25
(850)

8
(280)
2
(70)
5
(175)
2
(70)
2
(70)
2
(70)
 
--
3
(105)
1
(35)
1
(35)
26
(910)

8
(280)
3
(105)
5
(175)
3
(105)
2
(70)
2
(70)
 
--
3
(105)
1
(35)
1
(35)
28
(980)

8
(280)
3
(105)
5
(175)
3
(105)
2
(70)
2
(70)
 
--
3
(105)
1
(35)
2
(70)
29
(1015)

6
(210)
3
(105)
5
(175)
3
(105)
2
(70)
2
(70)
2
(70)
3
(105)
1
(35)
2
(70)
29
(1015)

6
(210)
3
(105)
5
(175)
3
(105)
2
(70)
2
(70)
2
(70)
3
(105)
1
(35)
2
(70)
29
(1015)


*Each class period is 45 minutes long. Numbers in parentheses are number of class periods required per school year.

Sources: Okuda, Shinjo. "The Curriculum and its Contents in Secondary Education." Paper presented at International Seminar on Educational Reform, National Institute of Multimedia Education, Kyoto, Chiba, October 14-17, 1985, and Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture. Course of Study for Elementary Schools in Japan. Tokyo: Monbusho, 1983, p.122.

Japanese language. [13] Japanese children spend one-fourth of their time in elementary school mastering their own language. This is an arduous, complex task. Written Japanese is a mixture of Chinese characters and Japanese phonetic symbols. Three separate writing systems must be learned. Two of these consist of 48 phonetic symbols each. The third system is composed of approximately 2,000 Chinese symbolic characters, each of which can be read or pronounced in several ways, depending on its context. These characters usually are visually complex units requiring from one to twenty brush strokes each. In regular text, Chinese characters are combined with the phonetic symbols according to carefully prescribed rules to form words and sentences. While the Japanese phonetic symbols have little ambiguity in pronunciation, the Chinese characters almost invariably have two or more possible pronunciations.

Two additional features of the Japanese language compound the difficulty for learners. Individual words are not visually separated from each other, and children must learn to intuit which symbols must be grouped together to form a word. Furthermore, there are two different styles of following text. The first is to read from left to right, horizontally, as in Western books. The second is to read columns vertically from top to bottom, starting with the column on the far right, in traditional Japanese style. In Japanese language classes, textbooks are printed vertically and children write their compositions in similar form. In arithmetic and science, textbooks are printed horizontally, and notebooks for these subjects must be kept in similar fashion.

During the first year of elementary school, children learn to read and write the two 48-character phonetic systems and a few Chinese characters. Each year thereafter, approximately 200 Chinese characters are added, along with their various readings and rules of spelling for common words. It is not until the end of the 9-year compulsory period that children have mastered the approximately 2,000 characters necessary to basic literacy--enough to permit the reading of newspapers, for example. In learning to write, proper shaping of letters and characters is stressed at all levels. To this end, formal training in calligraphy, using traditional brushes and ink, is begun in the 3rd grade. The complexity of the Japanese writing system is illustrated by figures 5 and 6, which show the Japanese phonetic letters and the Chinese symbolic characters to be learned in the first 3 grades.

Figure 5. The Two Systems of Japanese Phonetic Letters


Figure 6. Chinese Characters To be Learned in the First Three Grades

In addition to reading and writing, Japanese language classes emphasize other important skills. Practice in public speaking, speaking calmly and succinctly before a group, is a regular part of the curriculum, starting in 1st grade.

Formal grammar is taught beginning in the 3rd grade, and by the 6th grade has advanced through auxiliary verbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. Thirty percent of the time in language class is devoted to composition. Composition is taught beginning with the combination of subject and predicate in the 2nd grade and advancing by 6th grade to alternative styles and ways of expressing the same thought.

Social studies. The social studies curriculum stresses the interdependence of all levels of society and the responsibility of each individual for the collective welfare. In the 1st grade, the focus is on the child's own school and family. In the 2nd, the emphasis shifts to the community. At subsequent grade levels the scope expands to encompass the city, the prefecture, the nation, and foreign countries. In the 6th grade, students receive an overview of Japanese history and the modern Japanese political system. They are also briefly introduced to world geography and Japan's relations with other nations. Learning to understand maps, graphs, and tables is stressed throughout the elementary school period.

Arithmetic. Children in Japan are introduced to many concepts such as decimals, fractions, and geometric figures earlier than their American counterparts. Accuracy in computation is stressed more than the ability to estimate. [14] More emphasis is placed on geometry, ratios, proportions, and reading charts than in most American elementary schools.

Japanese arithmetic textbooks are succinct and provide little repetition or review. Concepts and skills are typically presented only once. The emphasis is placed on proper initial instruction and elaboration by the teacher. It is assumed that the child will persevere in drill and study until the concept is mastered. Teachers pace their coverage of the material so that the entire course of study and textbook have been covered by the end of the year and the class can proceed to the next grade level uniformly prepared.

The number of hours devoted to arithmetic in the elementary school curriculum is more than in American elementary schools, but not dramatically so. Japanese children spend considerably more time studying arithmetic, however, because of more efficient use of the class hour and more time devoted to out-of-school effort through a combination of homework, private tutors, and remedial or cram schools. These factors combine to help Japanese children achieve their competitive edge in international comparisons of achievement in mathematics.

Science. The science curriculum aims to help children develop the ability to observe, conduct simple experiments, and learn to appreciate and enjoy nature. Several core areas are restudied at successive grade levels with increasing sophistication and detail. Biology studies include the life cycle of plants and their relationship to soil, water, and air, as well as basic anatomy and the life cycle of animals, fish, insects, and humans.

Matter and energy are explored through the study of the properties of gases and solutions, combustion, magnetism, light, sound, and electricity. The earth and the universe are studied through weather and atmospheric phenomena, geology and erosion, and the movements of the heavenly bodies. By the end of the 6th grade, students have learned to design and execute simple experiments and to record and describe their observations.

Music. Music is an integral part of the elementary school core curriculum. It includes singing, instrumental performance, and appreciation of both Western and Japanese music. From the 1st grade, children learn to play melodies and simple harmonies on small keyboard and wind instruments. They also receive formal instruction in reading music. Musical expression and improvisation of simple accompaniments are encouraged through the use of various percussion instruments. All children are exposed to a common core of Japanese and Western classical works, including Bach, Handel, Beethoven, and Schubert.

Arts and handicrafts. The Japanese arts curriculum provides an organized approach to the acquisition of some fundamental artistic skills and to the process of artistic creation. Instruction in drawing and painting proceeds from the use of pastel crayons to the use of watercolors in the upper grades. Training in formal composition and the use of special techniques such as perspective, depth and dimension, and light and shadow begins in the 3rd grade. Printmaking starts with paper prints in the 1 st grade and culminates in carved woodblock prints in the 5th and 6th grades. Sculpture is approached in a similar fashion. Beginning in the 3rd grade, students are taught to make preliminary sketches and later to draw plans or make models for objects they wish to construct.

Homemaking. In the 5th and 6th grades, Japanese boys and girls receive 2 hours of instruction per week in basic homemaking skills. The goal is to deepen children's appreciation of and participation in family life. Children practice basic meal planning and learn how to prepare and serve simple foods. They learn to take care of their own clothing, including hand washing of various articles, sewing buttons, and mending seams. They also practice making simple articles like bags and aprons and decorating them with simple embroidery.

Physical education. The Japanese value sports and exercise, and the government actively promotes lifelong sports activities. The goals of the elementary school physical education curriculum are to help children learn to enjoy games and physical exercise, grow in strength and perseverance, and develop athletic skills, as well as become knowledgeable about achieving and maintaining good health.

The sports program includes track and field activities, marching and drill, soccer and basketball, gymnastics and dance. Swimming instruction is common, and three-quarters of all elementary schools have a pool. By the 6th grade the majority of Japanese children are competent and confident in the water. In the cold and snowy areas of the country, ice skating is encouraged during the winter months on rinks created by flooding portions of the school grounds.

Health also receives considerable attention. The School Health Law provides for annual physical examinations for all students. The health curriculum emphasizes proper nutrition, traffic safety, and a healthy lifestyle. In the 5th grade, students study physical growth and the changes associated with puberty.

Moral education. Although occupying only 1 class hour per week, moral education has a fundamental role in Japanese education. It is a distinct area of instruction at every level of compulsory education, and attitudes, habits, and behaviors which are consistent with the Japanese value system are infused throughout the curriculum.

The Japanese concept of moral education is far from vague or formless. Twenty-eight themes in six categories are covered at the elementary level, among them:

importance of order, regularity, cooperation, thoughtfulness, participation, manners, and respect for public property;
Endurance, hard work, and high aspirations;
Freedom, justice, fairness, rights, duties, trust, and conviction;
The individual's place in groups such as the family, school, nation, and world;
Harmony with nature and its appreciation;
Need for rational and scientific attitudes toward human life.

In addition to the prescribed content, each school annually identifies two or three central goals in moral education to be emphasized during the year. For example, in 1985, one elementary school chose thoughtfulness and endurance as its foci and requested all teachers to collaborate in reinforcing these. Individual teachers, too, often develop goals for their own classes in addition to the school's goals. While teachers do not necessarily share a single view of moral education, they readily accept their responsibilities in this curriculum area.

Unlike other subject areas in the curriculum, no textbooks are used in moral education. Many teachers use educational television programs expressly developed for moral education, as well as commercially available materials, to promote student discussion on moral issues. There is considerable latitude in this area for teachers to develop their own approaches.

Special activities. Special activities occupy approximately 10 percent of the elementary and secondary school program: 1 hour per week for the 1st-3rd graders and 2 hours per week for the 4th-6th graders. These activities include all-school events such as sports and cultural festivals, excursions, and ceremonies, as well as pupil activities such as classroom meetings, student council meetings, and club activities.

Many of what are termed "special activities" in Japanese education are similar to those categorized as extracurricular activities in American education. However, in Japan these activities are more closely integrated with the formal curriculum, tend to involve all students, and are directed more toward character development. The overall objective is to use these experiences to promote the internalization of cultural values and to cultivate attitudes and habits which lead to the individual's responsible contribution to cooperative group effort.

Home-school relations and home environment

The Parent-Teacher Association is an important locus of activity for parents involved in the school life of their children. Mothers are expected to attend PTA meetings. The PTA functions as a forum for the school to explain its policies and expectations to parents and to organize parental assistance for school activities. It rarely contradicts the school's administration. In addition to meeting in large, all-school forums, parents meet as a group with the classroom teacher. Annual PTA dues range from about $9 at a public elementary school to about $30 at a private high school. [15]

During the first weeks of school every year, teachers visit the home of each of their pupils to understand the family situation and study environment. Parents visit and observe the classroom and consult with teachers on specific days that are scheduled for such meetings. Parents are guests at the various festivals and ceremonies held throughout the year.

Schools not only train children in the norms and routines of school behavior, but are also responsible for teaching children habits expected in the adult world, such as punctuality, neatness, and respect for authority. Japanese parents support this function.

The school is not reticent about communicating to parents its beliefs regarding proper parental roles in education and childrearing. For example, schools often set boundaries for children's movements within the neighborhood or recommend evening curfews. During summer vacation, the PTA newsletter typically contains guidelines for parents on the times the children should get up and go to bed and when and how long they should study.

Studying is encouraged and supported in the Japanese home. Ninety-eight percent of all elementary school children have their own desks in designated study areas. [16] Many mothers work with their children on a daily basis, helping with homework or drilling on lessons to be learned. Inexpensive home study guides and drill books for all grade levels and subjects are available at local bookstores. These are designed to supplement the government approved texts and are indexed to pages and chapters in the official texts.

The mother-child bond provides strong emotional support for the child, particularly in the upper grades, as the child becomes progressively more aware of the importance of academic achievement and the severity of education competition. The mother reinforces this awareness by encouraging the child to study and inducing the child to realize that academic success is important to her and of great concern to the family.

Educational pressures

The Japanese elementary curriculum is cumulative and demanding. At each grade level, children are required to learn large quantities of new material and proceed quickly from one new concept to the next. Although most children manage to keep reasonable pace with the instructional objectives, some fall behind. The plight of children who have fallen seriously behind in their studies is much discussed in Japan. These children are termed ochikobore, literally, those who have "fallen to the bottom" of the system. Although detailed evidence is scarce, the problem clearly exists and receives considerable sympathetic attention in the mass media and from the public.

Some evidence regarding the extent of the problem is found in a recent comparative study of reading achievement among 1st and 5th-grade children in one city in Japan, one in Taiwan, and one in the United States. Results for the Japanese sample showed that although most children enter 1st grade well prepared in reading, by 5th grade a significant number of them have fallen seriously behind. [17] Four months after entering 1st grade, 86 percent of the children in the sample were reading at 2nd grade level or above. However, over the next 4 years this initial lead in reading sharply diminished. When tested in the 4th month of the 5th grade, only 27 percent of the children were still reading above grade level, while 25 percent had fallen 2 or more years behind. Ten percent were reading at only lst- or 2nd-grade levels. Two important findings of this study by Harold Stevenson and his collaborators were: "There are Japanese children with serious difficulties in learning how to read, and the severity of their problems is at least as great as that of American children. [18]

A demanding curriculum and the small amount of remedial attention in school are not the only causes of ochikobore. As in all countries, there are diverse reasons why some children have difficulty keeping up with their schoolwork. Differences in intellectual ability, family environment, and personality characteristics are among the familiar factors which account for the variation in academic achievement. The lack of individualization of instruction compounds the plight of the slow learner or those with other scholastic problems. Although some teachers do provide individual assistance outside of class time for the slowest learners, the burden of remedial education falls directly on the family.

Parents concerned with maximizing their children's chances for success in school and in subsequent higher education and employment provide whatever help with homework they can and then pay for outside assistance as necessary. In Japan this usually takes the form of either hiring a private tutor or, more commonly, sending the child to juku. For many, juku provide the necessary reinforcement which enables Japanese children to keep abreast of the demanding curriculum.

Out-of-school education

In the elementary school years, juku attendance rates rise from 6.2 percent of all 1st grade children to 30 percent of all 6th grade children. [19] Attendance rates continue to increase through lower secondary school as well.

A 1985 survey of juku by Monbusho reports that half of the elementary school students who attend juku take one subject and almost 30 percent take two. The subjects most frequently studied are Japanese language and arithmetic. Just over 10 percent of all elementary school students attending juku study four subjects. In effect these children are studying the basic academic curriculum twice, once in school and then again in juku. It is interesting to note that about 25 percent of all elementary school students in juku are estimated to be studying English, although it is not a required subject in elementary school.

The majority of elementary school students who attend juku attend at least twice a week, but study for less than 1 hour at each session. Students in the upper elementary grades have longer lessons, although generally under 2 hours per visit.

At the elementary level, the majority of students are enrolled in either a catch-up or preparation and review program. For many children, the juku provide important educational services that complement instruction provided by the formal school system.

Children returning from abroad

Japan's increasing involvement in the international community has created problems for school-aged children who go abroad with their parents and then re-enter the Japanese education system upon return. Not only have they fallen behind in such academic subjects as Japanese language, mathematics, and science, but they no longer display traditional patterns of behavior expected in Japanese classroom life. They are also at a disadvantage in preparing for or taking entrance examinations for high schools and universities in Japan. This makes overseas assignments a source of considerable anxiety for parents of school-aged children.

Many families faced with an overseas assignment for the father resolve the potential problem by having the mother remain in Japan with the youngsters so they can stay on course in the Japanese education system. Some families take their children with them initially, but send them home before the crucial high school or university entrance examination years. Continuity in school and with one's group of classmates is considered important, especially when the examination preparation stages are reached beyond elementary school. The number of youngsters returning to Japanese elementary and secondary schools in 1982 was 9,600.

The Ministry of Education has taken steps to deal with the problems of students returning from abroad. In 1983, there were 74 full-time Japanese schools worldwide (including one each in New York and Chicago) and 95 Saturday schools (33 in the United States). Although these schools provide a basic Japanese curriculum, most returning children still experience difficulty in readapting to Japanese schools. Hence the Ministry of Education has also encouraged the establishment of special programs to assist in the reintegration of children who have returned from abroad. In 1982, there were 124 schools in Japan with such special programs, most of them located in Tokyo, Osaka, and the surrounding metropolitan areas. [20]

 

Back Next

Up to Top

Home Up

Contact Us

U.S. Dept. of Education Study