ERIC Identifier: ED458185
Publication Date: 2001-11-00
Author: Ellington, Lucien
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Japanese Education in Grades K-12. ERIC Digest.
Japan's educational system, in particular its K-12 schools, remains one of
the very best in the world. This Digest provides an overview of 1) Japanese
educational achievements, 2) the structure of K-12 education in Japan, 3) the
K-12 curriculum, with an emphasis on social studies education, 4) educational
reform in Japan, and 5) World Wide Web sites on Japanese education.
JAPANESE EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENTS.
educational achievement is the high-quality basic education most young people
receive by the time they complete high school. In international mathematics
tests, Japanese students rank either at or near the top year after year. Recent
statistics indicate that well over 95 percent of Japanese are literate, which is
particularly impressive since the Japanese language is one of the world's most
difficult languages to read and write. Over 95 percent of Japanese also graduate
from high school compared to 88 percent of American students. Some Japanese
education specialists estimate that the average Japanese high school graduate
has attained about the same level of education as the average American after two
years of college. Japanese employees of large companies and government
ministries rank among the most well-educated workers on earth.
STRUCTURE OF K-12 EDUCATION.
Even though the Japanese adopted the American 6-3-3 model during the U.S.
occupation of Japan after World War II, elementary and secondary education is
much more centralized than in the United States. Control over curriculum rests
largely with the national Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and
Technology (Monbukagakusho) and education is compulsory through the ninth grade.
Municipalities and private sources fund kindergartens, but national,
prefectural, and local governments pay almost equal shares of educational costs
for students in grades one through nine. Well over 90 percent of students attend
public schools through the ninth grade, but over 25 percent of students go to
private high schools. The percentage of national funding for high schools is
quite low, with prefectures and municipalities assuming most of the costs for
public high schools. There are important differences between Japanese and
American teachers and administrators. High salaries, considerable prestige, and
very low birth rates make teaching jobs difficult to obtain in Japan while in
the United States there are increasing teacher shortages. While more Japanese
schools are acquiring specialists such as special education teachers and
counselors, American schools have many more special subjects and support
personnel than schools in Japan. The typical Japanese school has only two
administrators: a principal and a head teacher.
Many American public high schools are comprehensive. While there are a few
comprehensive high schools in Japan, they are not popular. Between 75 and 80
percent of all Japanese students enroll in university preparation tracks. Most
university-bound students attend separate academic high schools while students
who definitely do not plan on higher education attend separate commercial or
industrial high schools. In the United States, students enter secondary schools
based on either school district assignment or personal choice. For the
overwhelming majority of students in Japan, high school and university
admissions primarily are contingent upon entrance examination performance. The
best Japanese high schools and universities require high entrance examination
scores. Since many Japanese employers continue to base hiring decisions on the
prestige level of the educational institution an applicant attended, ambitious
students attend private cram schools, or juku, and study long hours for both
high school and university entrance examinations. The futures of most Japanese
high school students depend largely on the high school they attended and their
college entrance examination scores.
Japanese students spend at least six weeks longer in school each year than
their American counterparts, since summer vacations in Japan last only half the
time of most summer breaks in the U.S. Until the mid-1990s Japanese students
attended school half days on Saturday, but weekend attendance is being gradually
phased out and all Saturday school will end by the beginning of the 2002 school
year in April.
THE K-12 CURRICULUM.
While the Japan K-12 curriculum is quite similar to the curriculum of U.S.
schools, there are important differences. Because Japanese teachers at all
levels are better prepared in mathematics than their American counterparts,
instruction in that subject is more sophisticated in Japan. Japanese language
instruction receives more attention in Japanese schools than English instruction
in the United States because of the difficulty of learning written Japanese.
Virtually every Japanese student takes English language courses from the seventh
grade through the final year of high school.
Japanese elementary students study social studies in an integrated
science/social studies course. Beginning in third grade and continuing through
high school, there are separate courses in civics, geography, Japanese history
and world history, sociology, and politics-economics. University-bound students
may elect to take more or fewer social studies electives depending upon their
career interests. A goal of the new educational reforms that are being
implemented during the 2002 school year is to increase use of task-oriented
research approaches in secondary social studies and to decrease emphasis upon
retention of large amounts of factual content.
One recurring problem in history instruction in Japan is the way textbooks
often depict Japanese actions during World War II. Japanese atrocities tend to
be minimized or ignored in school history textbooks. All Japanese texts are
written and produced in the private sector; however, the texts must be approved
by the Ministry of Education. The latest controversy occurred in 2001 when the
Ministry of Education approved a new junior high school textbook written and
edited by a group of nationalist academics. The book omitted topics such as the
Japanese Army's mistreatment of women in battle zones and areas under Japanese
rule and the Japanese Army's actions in China. After strong protests from the
South Korean and Chinese governments, the Japanese government had the book
reviewed and revised. The book was then published in summer 2001. Although less
than 10 percent of all junior high schools in Japan is expected to actually use
the book, the Chinese and South Korean governments were still not satisfied with
the published version.
Many Japanese believe schools should teach not only academic skills but good
character traits as well. While a small number of hours every year are devoted
to moral education in the national curriculum, there is substantial anecdotal
evidence that teachers do not take the instructional time too seriously and
often use it for other purposes. Still, Japanese teachers endeavor to inculcate
good character traits in students through the hidden curriculum. For example,
all Japanese students and teachers clean school buildings every week. Japanese
students are constantly exhorted by teachers to practice widely admired societal
traits such as putting forth intense effort on any task and responding to
greetings from teachers in a lively manner.
Despite Japanese students' impressive
performance when compared to their peers in other developed nations, there is
widespread dissatisfaction on the part of many Japanese about the nation's
educational system. Many Japanese believe that the examination system is too
stressful, that the schools are too rigid and don't meet the needs of individual
students, that contemporary students show little interest in studying, and that
the educational system needs to produce more creative and flexible citizens for
the twenty-first century. Also, large numbers of Japanese blame the schools for
a perceived increase in child misbehavior, particularly in junior highs.
Beginning with the 2002 school year, major curricular reform will occur in an
attempt to make schools more flexible and responsive to individual student
needs. Nearly one-third of the elementary and junior high curricula will be
eliminated with deep cuts in all major subjects. The replacement classroom
activity will be a new endeavor entitled Integrated Studies that will have few
guidelines and no accompanying textbooks. The goal of Integrated Studies is to
provide students and teachers the freedom to study whatever interests them
whether the topic is religion, the environment, or foreign affairs. Some
elementary schools that were selected as pilot sites for Integrated Studies in
2001 experimented with teaching English during this time block.
There are also new controversial recommendations emanating from an
educational advisory body appointed by the late Prime Minister Obuchi that call
for mandatory community service for junior high school and high school students.
The same advisory body, in an effort to make higher education more flexible, has
called for allowing students in special cases to enter university at age 15
instead of 18. It also recommends that university entrance examinations be made
less central to the educational system than they are now. At present, there are
few signs that entrance examinations at any level in Japan are diminishing in
importance. Unless entrance examination reform occurs, Japan's educational
system will continue to emphasize the acquisition of large amounts of fact-based
WORLD WIDE WEB SITES.
The following Web sites include
information on various aspects of education in Japan.
* National Clearinghouse for U.S. - Japan Studies and Adjunct ERIC
Clearinghouse for U.S. - Japan Studies at the Social Studies Development Center
of Indiana University: http://www.indiana.edu/~japan/iguides/edu.html. This
Internet guide to Education and Student Life in Japan provides numerous links to
other Web sites on various aspects of Japanese education.
* Monbukagakusho: http://www.mext.go.jp/english/.%20This%20is%20the%20Web%20site%20of%20
Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
Benjamin, Gail. JAPANESE LESSONS: A YEAR IN A JAPANESE SCHOOL THROUGH THE
EYES OF AN AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST AND HER CHILDREN. New York: New York
University Press, 1998. ED 415 153.
Cummings, William K., and Philip G. Altbach, eds. THE CHALLENGE OF EAST ASIAN
EDUCATION: IMPLICATIONS FOR AMERICA. Albany: State University of New York Press,
1997. ED 408 402.
Ellington, Lucien. EDUCATION IN THE JAPANESE LIFE CYCLE: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE
UNITED STATES. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.
Fukuzawa, Rebecca Erwin, and Gerald K. Letendre. INTENSE YEARS: HOW JAPANESE
ADOLESCENTS BALANCE SCHOOL, FAMILY, AND FRIENDS. New York: Routledge Falmer,
Goya, Susan. "The Secret of Japanese Education." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 75 (October
1993): 126-129. EJ 470 582.
Khan, Yoshimitsu. JAPANESE MORAL EDUCATION PAST AND PRESENT. Cranbury, NJ:
Associated University Press, 1997. ED 435 569.
Lewis, Catherine C. "The Roots of Japanese Educational Achievement: Helping
Children Develop Bonds to School." EDUCATIONAL POLICY 9 (June 1995): 129-151. EJ
Wray, Harry. JAPANESE AND AMERICAN EDUCATION: ATTITUDES AND PRACTICES.
Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999. ED 450 446.