What do you know about the most mysterious and exciting country for the Western people, the Land of the Rising Sun? Japan is a very beautiful country with a fantastic nature. Over 70% of the territory of this country is covered with mountains which create magnificent, picturesque views, but, unfortunately, cause more than 1,000 earthquakes each year. Japan has a long and very rich culture and a rather healthy nation: the statistics show that over 50,000 Japanese people are over 100 years old. This is quite impressive. The Land of the Rising Sun, as Western people call it, is definitely one of the most attractive places on earth that every person wants to visit to feel at least a tiny part of this unique culture.
What is also very exciting about Japan is that it has one of the highest literacy levels in the world. Ninety nine percent of children over 15 years old are literate in Japan. How do they achieve these high results? How does Japanese education system look like? Today we would like to pay closer attention to Japanese schools.
The structure of Japanese schools looks very standard: when children are four years old, they can start to go to kindergartens. Kindergartens in Japan are optional. The school is divided into three levels: primary, secondary, and high school. The first two levels are compulsory. Children begin to attend primary school at the age of six and secondary school at the age of twelve. When students are fifteen years old, they finish secondary school and have an opportunity to decide where they want to study after. Either they can go to high school or to some specialized institutions or vocational schools. After high school children can get enrolled into universities or other higher education institutions.
All Japanese kindergartens are private, and some of them have an elite reputation because they are affiliated with prestigious universities. If a child goes to such a kindergarten, he/she then goes to the school which is also affiliated with one of the universities. The beauty of this system is that these children are automatically enrolled to the university without exams. This ability to become a university student straight from school is extremely valuable because for Japanese people it is crucial to have a university diploma to be hired to a good company and get a prestigious position. This is why these prestigious kindergartens are very expensive, and children have to pass a difficult examination in order to be enrolled.
From Primary to High School
The schools education lasts rather long – for 12 years. An interesting feature of Japanese schools is that children are constantly transferred from one class to another which gives them an opportunity to study with different people and become more sociable and open. In case a child does not get along with his/her classmates well, it is easier for this child because at some point he/she will be transferred to another class with a different group of people.
Each class in Japanese school has an assigned classroom, and teachers come to this classroom to give students a 40 minute lesson. Up to 40 children study in one class, and most of them do not leave school after the secondary level. At the primary school level children study the Japanese language, mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics, and history, art and music. Physical education also plays an important role. In secondary school they study the same subjects and also begin to study English and can choose other subjects of their interest.
However, these are not the only classes that Japanese children need to attend. In order to get admitted to the university, children also need to attend additional sessions with tutors where they can improve the knowledge acquired in school. These additional classes are very helpful because tutors have an individual approach to every child. This is why students in Japanese school do not stay for a second year – every student manages to solve his/her problems and become successful.
A lot of attention is paid to students’ personalities. They are taught to be contributing members to society and to always consider interests of the bigger community first. They are taught to love people and animals, everything that surrounds them; to be compassionate and sympathetic; to make the world a better place, etc. Students sing together and often participate in various sports games – this way they learn to be a part of the group.
The compulsory (primary and secondary) education in Japan is free, whereas high school and higher education institutions always have tuition fees (public schools are usually less expensive than private ones). When the secondary school is over, a student gets a list of the high school where he/she can be enrolled on the basis of his/her performance. Then, students need to take an exam, and depending on the exam grade and other school grades they can choose a high school. Those ones who successfully pass exams can go to prestigious schools that lead to good universities. Students who do not plan to study at the university go to less prestigious schools where they can specialize in agriculture, household management, etc. Vocational institutions also require very good grades because professionals in these areas are extremely valuable, this is why the competition in these schools is so high.
The reason why Japan has achieved such high results is that Japanese children know from the very childhood that education is extremely important for a successful life and try hard to show the best results.
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Differences between the U.S. and Japanese Education Systems
By Yumi Nakata
On May 6, 2014
Topics: Living in Japan
I was born and raised in Japan but moved to California to attend college. Even though I was able to read and write English, I was nowhere near the level necessary for me to succeed in college level classes. So I signed up for a five-week intensive English program at the California State University.
It wasn’t a degree program so the overall atmosphere of the program was much more relaxed but even in this program, I noticed the differences between American and Japanese educational styles.
My American ESL (English as Second Language) teachers really encouraged the students (the majority was Japanese!) to actively participate in the class. They wanted us to ask questions during the class, discuss our opinions with our classmates and give oral presentations in front of the class. All of which was new to the Japanese students in the program.
There were many differences between the U.S. and Japanese education system. Here are three differences that I found challenging.
#1 Raise Your Hand To Ask A Question!
I was surprised to find out that it is ok to raise your hand and interrupt your teacher to ask a question. They actually like that because it shows that you are interested in learning the subject. But it’s the complete opposite in Japan. Japanese teachers expect students to stay quiet while they teach and write on the blackboard. I was used to copying whatever my teacher wrote on the board and then anxiously waiting for my teacher to ask me a question.
I went to a very competitive high school in Japan and the teachers would randomly ask questions to make sure that we were paying attention. If we had any questions, we would just see our teacher after class and we had to make sure the question was important enough for the teacher to answer.
I was very surprised that American students would just raise hands and ask questions during the class.
#2 Discussion and Presentations
The American curriculum emphasizes the importance of group discussion and presentation. Again, I was so used to just sitting in class quietly that it was really hard for me to speak up and join in on group discussions. I wanted to remain silent but had to force myself to speak up because actively participating in the discussion section and doing a group presentations or a solo presentations were part of the grading. Sometimes the presentations took up nearly 25% of the total grade. So I couldn’t afford to remain silent just because I was shy.
#3 You Actually Have To Attend Class
Japanese students study very hard in high school, so they can pass the entrance exams to get into a reputable national or private university. Once they get into their dream college, things become more relaxed as they are almost guaranteed to graduate. This is the opposite of many American universities where the entrance is easy but graduation is difficult.
Some Japanese students whom I met didn’t graduate because they didn’t understand what it took for them to graduate from a college in America. University students in Japan often skip their classes to party and have their classmates sign the attendance sheet but instructors in America would not tolerate their students faking their attendance.
Japanese college perpetuates the lecture-style text-bound curriculum that doesn’t encourage students to actively participate in their own learning. So it is understandable why many Japanese students want to focus on having fun rather than actually studying. I secretly envied my sisters in Japan talk about their college life. It sounded like they were having a blast meeting new people, finding baito (part-time jobs) and going to go-kon (group dating) when I was having a mini nervous breakdown preparing for my next presentation!
I don’t want you to think that American students don’t party in college because they do! In general, one of the biggest differences I found between the American and Japanese education systems is that students in America are expected to actively participate in their own learning. Thus, American universities are generally much more rigorous than Japanese universities.
I went to an academic high school that focused on preparing students for Japanese university entrance examinations, so I knew that I would be working my butt off if I decide to go to American college. It was never easy but I am glad that I chose this route.
If I give some advice to any Japanese students interested in attending college in America, I would say “You will be studying…a lot!”
Some professors were really hard because the university that I graduated from had many world-renowned scientists, medical doctors and professors. But I took so many interesting classes and learned a lot. Would I do this again? Sure. Absolutely. I love studying!
If you are a foreigner and have experience attending Japanese college, I would love to hear your story!