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The Hidden Face of Japanese Education

Beyond Academics — School Culture

Children learn early on (beginning in preschool) to maintain cooperative relationships with their peers; to follow the set school routines; and to value punctuality (from their first year in elementary school). Classroom management emphasizes student responsibility and stewardship through emphasis on daily chores such as cleaning of desks and scrubbing of classroom floors. Students are encouraged to develop strong loyalties to their social groups, e.g. to their class, their sports-day teams, their after-school circles, e.g. baseball and soccer teams. Leadership as well as subordinate roles, as well as group organization skills are learnt through assigned roles for lunchtime (kyushoku touban), class monitor or class chairperson and other such duties.

Despite the assigned leadership-subordinate roles, group activities are often conducted in a surprisingly democratic manner. Teachers usually delegate authority and responsibility to students. Small-group (han) activities often foster caring and nurturing relationships among students.

The teaching culture in Japan differs greatly from that of schools in the west. Teachers are particularly concerned about developing the holistic child and regard it as their task to focus on matters such as personal hygiene, nutrition, sleep that are not ordinarily thought of as part of the teacher’s duties in the west. Students are also taught proper manners, how to speak politely and how to address adults as well as how to relate to their peers in the appropriate manner. They also learn public speaking skills through the routine class meetings as well as many school events during the school year.

Noisy and lively classrooms, the absence of teacher supervision along with the effective use of peer supervision are most often noted of elementary school classrooms. Homework workload is not overly heavy at this stage, daily portions typically comprise kanji (Chinese characters) or kokugo (Japanese language) worksheets and one or two pages of arithmetic worksheets. Various after-school hamako or club activities or remedial classes may be held by individual home-room teachers (or schools) as they see fit.

Middle-school (i.e. junior school) instruction of academic subjects shifts gear into intense, structured, fact-filled learning and routine-based school life. Small-group han are dispensed with during academic classes. Hierarchical teacher-peer and senior-to-junior relationships as well as highly organized, disciplined and hierarchical work environments such as various established student committees, are observed at middle schools.

Juku and Exam War culture

High school environment shifts the student to a lecture-centered and systematic learning mode which is alternatively lauded for its high levels of achievement in math and science and criticized for its monotony and lack of creativity during a time geared towards competitive examinations when an intensive selection process occurs.

From middle-school to high school years, students are affected more by the after-school activities and juku culture. 59.55% of middle-school students attend juku usually the large-scale cram school chains (1993 MOE survey) compared to the 23.6% figure for elementary school students. To know more about the importance of cram schools, read Jukus: The Hidden Face of Japanese Education

Peer group culture

Peer group culture or school culture is at its peak during high school years. Entrance examinations play a strong differentiating role here. High school culture tends to be distinctive and markedly different depending on the type of high school. At this stage, students become aware of the nature and ranking of high schools that influence their future, and career opportunities, and hence of the differentiation or sorting that is taking place.

An elaborate hierarchical labyrinth exists in each school district in which high schools are ranked, based on the difficulty of admission. Different high schools also have markedly different missions, preparing their students for different destinations. Consequently, different high schools develop distinctly different subcultures.

The high school rankings also correspond strongly to the relative wealth and privilege of the students. Students with more privileged backgrounds (in terms of parental occupations and income) concentrate at the higher-ranked schools while those with less privileged background congregate at lesser ranked schools.

A key feature noted of high school culture is the competitive socialization that takes place towards university entrance examinations. Since high school institutions play the role of selecting young people based on their academic achievement, identifying some for leadership positions and others for subordinate positions. The competitive nature of university entrance examination exemplifies the selective function and ultimate sorting role of Japanese high schools.

Elite High Schools offer well-prepared one-hour lecture-style text-bound classes. Such schools have few disciplinary problems and students are spirited and well-rounded or active in after-school extra-curricular activities. Vocational High School students, on the other hand, often suffer low morale problems. Disciplinary, truancy, and delinquency (smoking and vandalism) problems are common.

Perspectives on school culture

Various viewpoints exist but the main ones may be summarized as the consensus theory and the conflict theory.

The former explains the school culture as being an important aspect of fostering the relative stability, consensus and harmonious nature within Japanese society. Viewed from this perspective, societal problems tend to be addressed by attempts to create more caring environments within schools.

The latter view sees the school culture as responsible for socializing children into accepting the dominant ideology, and for legitimizing school versions of knowledge, values and worldviews, as well as the existing inequalities across society. Schools, according to this view, recognize and reward certain types of ability in children, conduct differentiation based on so-called merits and have the effect of differentiating children into leadership and subordinate positions, thus preserving inequality across generations.

Incidentally, the consensus theory tends to correspond to the interpretative viewpoint of the Ministry of Education while the conflict theory reflects that of the teachers’ union and intellectuals. The interactionist approach adopts the viewpoint that it is the participants, i.e. the students, families, teachers and other significant players in schooling who interact with the school in diverse ways and shape the schooling experience and outcomes.

The Role of Modern Schooling

Modern schools are regarded as performing four key roles:

1. Transmitting cognitive knowledge;
2. Socializing and acculturating;
3. Selecting and differentiating young people;
4. Legitimating what they teach.

Modern schools perform these roles, but the emphasis placed on the different roles varies during the course of schooling and in each different segment of the educational system.

National policy is constantly shifting priorities placed on the different aspects and roles of education. Teachers do not always agree on the nationally set priorities. Interest groups constantly assert their views on where priorities should lie.

Public schools tend to be different from private ones, following the national policy guidelines more closely than private ones. Individual schools also derive differing philosophies, based on tradition and character of the body of principal and teachers running the school.

Educational goals and the quality of education in the schools of Japan as such can be diverse, with the resulting reality that schooling scene is a complex one.

Nevertheless, some similarities can be observed and generalizations made about Japanese thinking on the role of Japanese schooling.

  • There is still relatively strong consensus among the Japanese that schools are the main conduit for transmitting the basic literacy and numeracy skills and core body of useful knowledge, a necessary preparation for adult society. This is role of cognitive development.
  • The schooling process and interactions within the school day are considered vital for instilling particular values and desirable behavioral dispositions esteemed by Japanese society. Many socialization studies have emphasized common features of socialization in Japanese school life, namely strong group consensus and socialization by group or peer pressure.
  • Schooling is regarded to be a preparation for appropriate positions in the workforce and for adult society. By and large, most Japanese believe that schooling offers an opportunity for all children to move up the social ladder if they are willing to work hard. Equal opportunity is thought to exist in Japan through its educational system. It is widely thought that selection to higher schools is based on merit and is therefore fair and that all who work hard will achieve their goals. Schooling also plays the role of selecting young people based on their academic achievement, identifying some for leadership positions and others for subordinate positions. The competitive nature of university entrance examination exemplifies the selective function of Japanese schools.
  • Schools legitimate the version of knowledge imparted to students as true and neutral by teaching it. This comes to light especially in the brewing political hot potato that is the history textbook controversy.

 sumber : http://www.education-in-japan.info


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