Education in Japan

Written by Hiroshi Nomaki on Wednesday, 22 February 2012. Posted in Asia, World

As a nation, Japan is among the world's leaders in innovation, but is the Japanese educational system ready for the 21st century? Hiroshi Nomaki reports from Tokyo.

Education in Japan

The Japanese educational system consists basically of six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, three years of high school, and four years of university (two years for junior colleges).

The nine years of elementary school and junior high school are compulsory. This is the same as in the United States (with the exception of some states). School begins in April and ends in March. Until the 1980's, a six day week was the norm, but five days became standard in 2002.

The original modern educational system was established in 1872. Before that, in the Edo period (1603-1868), "Terakoya" — temple schools, essentially private schools where reading and writing was taught — was where ordinary people received an education.

At first the period of compulsory education was 4 years, and it was stated that everyone had an opportunity to study in the system regardless of one's social standing, sex, and whether one was rich or poor, as long as the students paid tuition and other necessary expenses. The system developed under the centralized government, and nationally authorized text books came to be used in 1903. Compulsory education was extended to 6 years in 1907.

Until the end of World War II in 1945, education policy based on nationalism was emphasized. At the time, male and female students studied in different classrooms.

The new School Education Law was enacted in 1947, by which the current school system was formed.

Schools in Japan, along with the curriculums taught there, are managed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Although freedom of the press and of speech is a right of the Japanese people, as in many nations with such rights, the government must approve all textbooks with the exception of public school material.

Many Japanese claim that this is a form of censorship, but the government's position on the matter is that timetables and curricula must be integrated equally across the country toward fully standardizing the education system.

Because of the government's stance, protests have been made by some of Japan's neighbors. For example, when the Japanese government attempted to revise a history book description of war crimes committed against Korea and China in World War II, there were large-scale demonstrations held in Korea and China condemning the move. The revising of textbooks will likely remain an extremely sensitive political issue in the years ahead.

From Hokkaido to Okinawa, teachers are required to follow the standard educational curriculum approved by the government. And while following the curriculum, teachers must assign a large amount of homework, leading to many schools having special classes during summer vacation for students who need to catch up with their peers if they've fallen behind. With all this schooling, one can see how the Japanese have come to be such a patient people.

About the Author

Hiroshi Nomaki

Hiroshi Nomaki

Hiroshi Nomaki, Japan correspondent for American Daily Herald, studied law at Kanagawa University and writes from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo.

Copyright © Hiroshi Nomaki. Used with permission.

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