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Academic juku
Attendance patterns
Why juku flourish

Juku is the Japanese term for a large and diverse group of private, profitmaking tutorial, enrichment, remedial, preparatory, and cram schools found throughout the country. Most juku operate after school hours and on weekends. Juku parallel the official school system in a somewhat interdependent relationship. The Japanese scholar Kazuyuki Kitamura provides an insightful, though perhaps overstated, perspective on the relationship between juku and the regular school system:

The dominant values of the Japanese public primary school are egalitarianism and uniformity: Pupils are not classified according to their academic ability because all pupils are supposed to keep up with the progress of the class. There they are taught by means of a nationally controlled, uniform curriculum. Despite its principles of egalitarianism and uniformity, however, the school inevitably must produce high achievers and low achievers. The school and its teachers are unable to counter these disparities because they are bound by the two mandatory principles. So . . . high achievers who are dissatisfied with the progress of the school class . . . attend a. . . school . . . where they can take more advanced classes, while. . . [students with learning problems can attend] another type of. . . school offering remedial classes. Then, thanks to the existence of these. . supporting institutions, the formal school can continue to function according to the principles of egalitarianism and uniformity. [1]

The juku can be categorized into academic and nonacademic. The latter offer instruction for general enrichment purposes in a wide variety of subjects such as piano, the arts, abacus, and calligraphy. They are more extensively attended by younger children. The academic juku are the more prominent kind and assume increasing importance with each successive grade level.

Academic juku

Academic juku are a response to several realities in Japanese education:

the need for supplementary instruction to enable many elementary and secondary students to keep pace with the demanding school curriculum,
the need for remedial instruction to help those who have fallen behind to catch up, and
the need for special assistance in preparing for entrance examinations for senior high schools and universities.

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.

Attendance patterns

Juku attendance has risen at all grade levels in the last decade. [2] 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.

Figure 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 examinations.

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 girls.

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 their teachers.

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 self-denial.

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 progress.

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 growing. [3] 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 claims.


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. [4]

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.

Maintaining perspective

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 studies.

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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