The Japanese Education System

by Kevin Burns
(Kanagawa, Japan)

The Japanese Education System


Japan and its standardized test-based education system



"Hensachi means `deviation value,` and is a quantifying method that determines one`s relative rank, not actual ability. Hensachi status, however, painfully suggests to many students that they are inferior to others. Its impact on them and on their attitude to life is so strong that it often lingers throughout their lifetime."

--p. 79, "Mental Health Challenges Facing Contemporary Japanese Society, The `Lonely People` by Yuko Kawanishi


The Japanese Education System

For some positives in Japanese education, one need look no further than the local kindergarten or the local elementary school. For everything other than English education, they are doing a good to great job of educating the children of Japan. Classes are creative, teachers are caring, on the whole, and students are happy and learning.

Were the whole education system to be like this from kindergarten to the end of university, the Japanese people would be happier, healthier and more productive, both in GDP and creative terms.

Unfortunately, this all ends at age 12. Those are the years that exam hell starts and from which students never really recover. The standardized test-based education system of Japan that starts in the junior high school years kills any kind of initiative, creativity and especially thinking outside of the box. Unfortunately, these last three are what Japan especially needs in the 21st century; perhaps Japan`s most challenging 100 years yet.

For many years now, Japan has employed this test-based education system and passing the all important tests is what educators and students not to mention parents, are focused on. The result of all this test-taking and stress, is a nation of order takers who have trouble making decisions, let alone stating an opinion.

Don`t believe me? When you next meet a Japanese, just for fun, ask them their opinion on something. If they are able to give an opinion, then do this: Ask them why? Why do they feel that way? In many cases, they will be stumped.

In spite of this standardized test hell that most Japanese find themselves in during their school years, a few would-be Michelangelos manage to slip through. Most, however, have their creative thoughts stripped from them or numbed into oblivion.

Recently, one of my bright Japanese students returned from North America to once again study at his old university in Japan. He was shocked at the passivity of the students. He hadn`t realized how passive, non-responsive and void of opinions Japanese university students were.

He said that in America, he studied with students from all over the world and he enjoyed hearing and expressing his opinion with others. He could not understand how the students of Japan were so passive and quiet. He expressed the desire to go back to America as soon as possible to study there. Many Japanese who have lived abroad have said the same thing.

In the news, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been dubbed: loopy, by the American press, especially due to his lack of decision-making on the Okinawa base issue. Once he made a decision, he then turned around and reneged on it, and apologized to Okinawans for his backslide. But this lack of decision-making ability is not restricted to the general populace; it occurs in all ranks of Japanese society. Hatoyama, of course, is a product of this education system.

It is not only the students who are having a difficult time; the teachers are too. Many have to take time off work due to stress, while others create a life of drudgery for their pupils. Many Japanese seem to have lost their love for education and learning once they enroll in junior high school. Indeed, too much test-taking may result in shallow learning and a negative feeling toward school.

For the future, Japan needs to ask itself: Are we creating the people we need to solve the problems of the future? If the answer is no, then this is a recipe for disaster.

Japan needs creative thinkers, people who can think outside of the box to solve the problems of immigration, an aging population, unemployment, off-shore employment, trade, and, of course, the environment. However, perhaps the most pressing problem is the psychological health of the citizens.

For this latter, and the other problems mentioned above, I think there are valuable lessons to be learned in kindergarten.

The Japanese Education System:

I leave you with the wisdom of Pablo Casals:

"When will we (teach our children) what they are?
We should say to each of them: Do you know what
you are? You are a marvel. You are unique.
In all the years that have passed, there has never
been another child like you. Your legs, your
arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo,
a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.
Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up,
can you then harm another who is, like you, a
marvel?"


Now a Must Watch Video:

Changing Education Paradigms


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Trouble in the Public Schools of Japan
by: Kevin R. Burns

From Japan Today.com:

No. of teachers suffering stress hits highest level in 2009

Saturday 25th December, 07:14 AM JST

TOKYO —

The number of public school teachers in Japan who took sick leave due to depression and other mental disorders in the academic year through March 2010 rose for the 17th straight year to set a record high, an education ministry survey said Friday.

The number of such teachers at elementary schools as well as junior and senior high schools totaled 5,458, up 58 from the preceding year, accounting for 63% of the 8,627 teachers who took sick leave during the year, according to the Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology Ministry.

The pace of rise slowed in the reporting year and a ministry official said it could be attributable to ‘‘the effects of improving counseling treatment (for teachers).’‘

Among the teachers who took leave citing psychological reasons, the largest portion of 39% were in their 50s, followed by 35% in their 40s, 19% in their 30s and 7% in their 20s.

Out of the total, 44% were teachers at elementary schools, with 30% at junior high schools and 16% at senior high schools.

In the reporting year, 7,981 teachers received disciplinary measures across Japan, almost double the level of the previous year, as the Hyogo prefectural education board punished more than 3,600 high school teachers over their sloppy scoring of entrance exams.

The local education board found last year that there have been 3,500 cases of marking errors in entrance exams since the 2004 academic year and after, and that one student failed who would have passed if the exam had been marked correctly.

Among the 7,981 teachers, 166 were dismissed and 148 were suspended from work.

A total of 47 teachers received disciplinary action in connection with their opposition to raising the national flag or singing the national anthem at school ceremonies and other occasions, according to the survey.

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