Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Studying about Education in Japan

Recently, I held a two-week seminar about education in Japan with 2 American students and 2 Japanese students. The first week, we learned about the school system in Japan: pre-war education, post-war education, compulsory education, laws governing elementary schools, junior high school and high schools. The second week we read an article about discipline in junior high schools and had a discussion (Fukuzawa, E. (1995). The path to adulthood according to Japanese middle schools. In T. Rohlen & LeTendre, G. (eds.) Teaching and Learning in Japan. Cambridge University Press.)
Some of the highlights of the discussion are below.
(Note to the Reader: As I started to write the highlights of the discussion, a lot of my opinions started to come out and are thus half of the content below are my personal rantings rather than highlights of the discussion).
The Difference between elementary school, junior high school and high school: In elementary school, learning is less teacher-centered and more learner centered. Students do projects and are encouraged to participate actively in class. In junior high school, learning is more teacher-centered and teachers are more authoritarian. One of the reasons is high school entrance exams and teachers must complete the curriculum in limited class time. The primary goal of elementary school and junior high school are to socialize children in to becoming good citizens of Japan. Education is compulsory up to high school. Although high school is optional 97% of all Japanese young adults attend some kind of high school. High schools, for the most part, are more focused on academics and less on character building. Students must study, study, study to get into the university of their choice.
Cram School: In junior high school and high school many students attend cram school after their normal school. In my opinion can be good. For example, if a child does not understand something in his class, he can get extra help at cram school . Considering that teachers have to move at a fast pace, cram school can be very helpful. However, perhaps one of the drawbacks of cram school is that a teacher can too a very mediocre job in his class but it will not matter because the students can learn what their teacher failed to teach effectively in cram school. Thus, there is no pressure on teachers to improve their teaching. Another drawback is that students can afford to sleep through class because they might study the content later at cram school. I think the overall drawback to cram school is that it minimizes the importance of the traditional school class.
The Difference in Workload Between High School and University: MM, sitting in the back left, said that in high school she studied from early morning to midnight but at university that was not the case. It is common knowledge that in Japan to get into an excellent university students must study incredibly hard for the entrance examinations. After getting into university, perhaps some students want to take a well-deserved rest. MM, though, happens to be a hard worker.
Writing Diaries: Many junior high school students write a "self discipline" diary (see Yoneyama, S. (1999) The Japanese High School: Silence and Resistance. Routledge.) called a 修養日誌(shuuyou nisshi) which they have to hand into their homeroom teachers. In their diary they report how much they studied, what they did in a day, and any problems that are bothering them (sometimes they must color-code particular routines). They receive comments from the teachers either praising them, encouraging them to use their time better, or anything else. These diaries serve as a means of private communication between the students and teachers (Yoneyama, 1999, p.62). MM and AK, front right, said that in their cases they wrote these kinds of diaries (my wife, who is Japanese, had never heard of them). The American students and teacher asked whether MM and AK felt that this was an invasion of privacy to which MM and AK answered no; it was just something that everyone did.
Junior high school students being punished for bring snacks to school: In the book we read, there is a story of a teacher hearing that his students were chewing gum in school and interrogating a student to find out exactly who were the offenders, calling all the students into the staff room using the school PR system, thoroughly scolding the students, and calling the parents in for a meeting. These students had broken the school rule of bring gum into school. MM told a story about when she was a JHS student. She and her friend ate snacks in the bathroom. Somehow,her homeroom teacher found out and called the offending students together for a meeting, the called a homeroom meeting, and lastly the issue was brought up in the all school meeting. To the American students (and teacher) this seemed a little severe. On the other had, compared to the U.S., it is probably safe to say that less students in Japan are smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs (I have no statistics and cannot support this and am making this assumption through my experience as a student in the US and my experience as a teacher in Japan). We wondered, could these kinds of severe enforcements of school rules steer children away from even worse temptations such as cigarettes or alcohol?
Homeroom Teachers visit the homes of their students: This is called 家庭訪問 (katei houmon) in Japanese. As students in some schools must write a journal, teachers in Japanese schools are interested in the students' lives outside of school because that has a big effect on the students' performance in school. For example, if a student is continually late for school, it could be the reason is that he is going to bed too late at night so a teacher might talk to the student's parents so that the student will go to be earlier. As a student in the USA, if I was late to school or class, I was just yelled at or punished. No teacher ever thought about why I was late and tried to work with me to fix the problem.
From visiting a student's home, a teacher can learn about the student's environment outside of school. This, of course, can be beneficial to the teacher and both J (front left) and AB (back right) appreciated that teachers in Japan work hard to try to instill in the children good habits. However, J mentioned that sometimes a teacher who worries about a student's habits can cross a line and actually be invading the student's privacy.
There was more that we discussed, but I am too lazy to keep on writing. I would like to add one more thing . As a teacher in Japan, I have been amazed at how good students can be at listening and following directions. Perhaps, I have their teachers to thank for that. On the other hand, students come to class with a very serious look on their face, never seem like they are enjoying themselves and are reluctant to participate. It is as if they are socialized to believe that learning is necessary but has to be boring and come to class with that mindset. Sometimes, I think I have their teachers to thank for that too.
Below is some useful information I have found about the Education System in Japan on the Internet.

An Outline of the Education System of Japan in Japanese: (日本の学校制度の内容):私はこのドキュメントを筑波大学のウェブサイトからダゥンロードしました。このドキュメントはとても、分かりやすく日本の学校制度を紹介します。

National Clearing House for United States - Japan Studies: An excellent site with an abundance of resources for teaching about Japan.

Educational Statistics from Japan

Worldwide Comparative International Education Statistics (In Japanese) 教育指標の国際比較: 日本,アメリカ合衆国,イギリス,フランス,ドイツ,ロシア連邦,中国,韓国等における教育の普及,教育諸条件,教育費等の状況を統計数字によって示したものである。
A Pages with Lots of Links about Education in Japan: I was too busy to click on any of the links and investigate, but this site looked like it could be promising.
Here are some books I have read about education in Japan:

Our Earth is in Trouble

The picture with snow was taken outside of the Faculty of Education last year. The picture without the snow was taken at about the same time this year. Climate change is starting to really scare me, and I hope that we will be able to make the changes necessary in our daily lives to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
This January, I went to Bangkok, Thailand to see how schools and universities are practicing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). You might not know this, but we are currently in the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)which was declared by the United Nations. The objective of the DESD "is to integrate the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning." (I will blog about this later). For those of you unfamiliar with the term sustainable development, I would define it as national development that does not overuse natural resources or do irreparable damage to the earth.
In my university, I teach a class of 40 engineering and agricultural students. Maybe many of these students will be pioneers in creating new sustainable technologies in their fields! Since these students might be called upon to help solve some of the world's problems, I decided that we should learn what some of the world's problems are. I have asked students to go to the United Nations Human Development Report home page, find a world development statistic they find most startling, and report it as a comment to this post.
I have written the first comment to serve as an example.