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Sandra Rivas-Cole.

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        On June 21, I had the fantastic chance to spend the day with the Sanjo Elementary School students and faculty.  The following day, I spent it with the Omura Middle School and then on the 23rd, I was with the Omura Senior High School kids.  I had so much fun with the students and faculty on those days.  To read about them then please visit my blog and click on the links for June 21, 22, and 23.  Believe me, the adventures are worth reading.

     We had the pleasure of meeting and listening to Dr. Tom Kimura from the National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation.  Again, I wrote about him and the speech in my blog.  I did, however, state in my blog that I was going to write about his speech and how the educational system in Japan is run.  The issue here is how to present it so as not to bore you...

**Disclaimer... EVERYTHING written on this page was told/given to us by the people we met and spoke to.  Even my personal observations were from things that we were told and experienced.  Please realize that there are many different types of schools in Japan just like there are in the U.S. and they are all different.  These statements that are below pretty much were part of the schools we visited. 

The Educational System in Japan - Points that were discussed
The Japanese Government wants to create more "creative" students for global competition but can't seem to figure out how to do it.  This is why they are looking to the American Educational System.
Education is equal to everyone including special needs students and gifted students.  No one is considered "special education" students.  But lately there has been a rise in ADHD students so the government is now trying to figure out what to do about the situation.
All students begin school at age 6 regardless.  This means that everyone is the same age at the same time in class (give or take a few months).
Elementary and Middle school are compulsory which means you must go to school from age 6 to 15.  High school is optional but 98% of middle school students continue on.  Universities are for 4 years and approximately 50-60% of high school students continue on.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) is the group that makes decisions for schools.  This includes courses of study and textbooks. 
Once a teacher receives their certification, they are certified for life.  They do not have to take any classes to recertify.  The government is trying to change this but teachers are resisting.
The government is not happy that only 50-60% of high school students are continuing on to college.  They want the percentage to be closer to 75-80% or higher. 
There is "zero illiteracy" in Japan.  This means that everyone can read...  **Personal opinion - Students in Japan are told that they need to either catch up or slow down.  If they are slow or have an issue, they need to some how figure out how to catch up with the rest of the class.  If a student is gifted and does things quickly, they are told that they need to stay with the class and somehow figure out how to slow down.  To me, the zero illiteracy statement just tells me that there are students who are somehow faking that they can read so that they aren't left behind in school.  That's just my thought on that.
A major concern of the Japanese Government is that Japanese students have incredible amounts of knowledge but they lack the ability to think for themselves, learn for themselves, or apply the knowledge they have learned.  If they are not taught it, then they don't know it.  I noticed this when it came to the students and English class.  They knew how to speak English but to have a conversation with them was difficult because they learned "grammatically correct" English and not "conversational English".  In order for us to speak to them, we had to speak perfect English and not "slang".  It was incredibly difficult to talk to people sometimes. 
Since the government does most of the "thinking" for everyone, there is a low motivation to think for themselves at school.  This worries the government very much.  They don't want a society of robots.
High school is spent learning to take the university entrance exam.  There is nothing else but that on their minds.  The exams are very important and it is because of this that the stress levels of high school students are very high.  Suicide in high school students is high.
The government is worried that students have an underdeveloped social side and moral sense.  This can be because it is custom to stay at home with your family until much later in life.  Many students live with their parents during their college years because the cost of living is so high and because the cost of schooling is high.
A new problem has popped up - more and more students are wondering why they need to go to school.  The government thinks that it is because families and communities are not enforcing how important education is.
There are approximately 3.6 million middle school students (12-15 yr old) and out of that number about 3% refuse to go to school.  This is considered way too high and the government is very concerned about this number.
A big problem in middle school is bullying.  Older students in middle school tend to bully the younger ones.  Incidents in high school are very low.  Bullying doesn't just happen to students - there are many incidents of teachers getting "beat up" by students.  Again, this is mostly in middle school.  The numbers of incidents is decreasing but in 2000, there were a reported 1,800 incidents reported against teachers.
The government of Japan is worried that its status as a math and science powerhouse is falling.  In recent worldwide exams in these areas, the Japanese have fallen but not by much.
Students go to cram schools to take classes other than math and science such as art and
Two new problems have started to pop up - health/physical issues and juveniles that are being arrested (reasons for arrest were not given).  ** Personal Opinion - I didn't see a single "overweight" kid.  I saw "thick" kids but that's because the Japanese are getting taller and bulkier as a nation but nothing like what we have here when it comes to "overweight" kids.  As for being arrested - I asked what they are being arrested for and it's petty stuff (shoplifting???).  Um... when a kid is arrested for having drugs while they are sitting in class then you can come talk to me.  Until then, Japanese kids aren't that bad.
The Japanese government is trying to fix the educational issues they have.  They realize that they have to change to stay relevant in the world. 

     Now that I have written about the speech, I think it's time to write about what I saw at the schools.  There was so much that I saw and experienced that for me to put it all into words will take many, many pages.  Again, I have to pick and choose what I would like to tell you.  I do have to tell you that I was helped with this section by a wonderful person named Ginny Perry.  She is an art teacher who I had the chance to chit-chat with a little in person and through email.  Ginny was kind enough to give me some of her observations as well.  What was interesting was that even though Ginny and I were not in the same prefecture group, many of the things she wrote me were exactly the same as what I had noticed.  Hm... does this have anything to do with how the government runs the school system in Japan??? 

Japanese children go to school for 6 years in elementary school, 3 years for middle, and 3 years for high school.  They are in school from age 6 to 18.
Teachers are the ones that move from class to class.  Students stay in the same room for most of the day unless they need a lab room or art room.
Uniforms are worn in middle and high school.  Each school has its own uniform that differentiates them not only between school but between middle and high. 
At the end of the school day, ALL students participate in cleaning the school.  They sweep the classrooms and the hallways, empty trash cans, clean restrooms, clean chalkboards and chalk erasers, and pick up trash from the school grounds.  Each student has a very specific job and teachers supervise but do not help.
High school is not required to attend even though most do.  If a student is truant, there is no truant officer that picks them up nor does the school call their parents.  It is up to the other students at the school to try and convince them to come back.  Not going to school is looked upon as disrespectful.
The curriculum in high schools is very difficult and can be compared to taking all honors courses.  High school students take 3 years of each; Japanese, English, Math, Social Studies, P.E., Art, Music, and Moral Studies.
Students can be left unsupervised for very long periods of time.  In each school I went to, students were left alone for at least 10 minutes between each class.  Middle school and high school students eat lunch unsupervised.  High school students have a study hall that takes up an entire class period.  The students actually stay seated the entire period doing their work.  Not once did a teacher walk in to check on them because they knew it was unnecessary.
At the beginning of every class, students all stand up and greet the teacher.  This is done in unison and class does not start until this s done.
Public displays of affection are not encouraged so there isn't any hugging or kissing at school. Oh but just because it isn't allowed at school doesn't mean that the kids aren't doing it.  Many students do date but they try not to make it so obvious.
Teenagers can not get their driver's license until they are 18 so in order to get to school, they have to either take a public bus, walk, get dropped off by their parents, or ride their bicycle.  Let me tell you... there were hundreds of bicycles at the schools I went to.
I forgot to mention this before but students have to apply to get into the high school of their choice.  In the U.S., students go to the school that is in their neighborhood.  It wasn't until recently that students can go to a high school that has a special program in which an application has to be filled out.  In Japan, students take an exam and from that exam, the student is told which schools they can attend.  Some of the schools can be up to an hour away from their homes. 
Teachers in elementary school have much more freedom in what they can teach than in middle or high school.  I noticed that in the high school, the teacher stood up front and taught the entire class period.  The students did not ask questions, they just wrote whatever the teacher said or wrote.  I asked a teacher if they had any group assignments or presentations that they had to do... His response shocked me.  He said, "Group projects? Presentations? For what?"
In elementary school, each class has a garden that they must tend to the entire school year.  Within the garden, each student has their own plant.  The students must water and tend to the garden.  The garden must produce something (vegetables, fruits, flowers) before the end of the year.
Grades??? What grades?  Since elementary and middle school education is required, report cards have more along the lines of "satisfactory/unsatisfactory" grades on it than grades such as A,B, etc.  Remember that no one is held back so they must proceed to the next grade.
We asked every school group if they had discipline issues.  One principal laughed and asked for clarification.  They have NO discipline issues because to be a discipline problem brings disgrace to the family.
In middle and high school, students attend clubs after school.  Students can not be in multiple clubs so they have to choose a club and stick with it for the entire school year.  Clubs include sports such as baseball, soccer, judo, kendo, rugby, volleyball, tennis, track, swimming, basketball, badminton, and cultural/academic clubs such as calligraphy, science math English, yearbook, Tea Ceremony, dance, band, taiko drums, chorus, etc.
Cram schools are paid schools that students can attend after they are done with their regular schooling.  These schools can be very expensive but many students attend.  Classes at cram school are very similar to regular ones.  Not only do they offer math, science, etc. but they also offer classes like art and calligraphy.  Approximately 90% of high school students go to a cram school.
Elementary school students do not wear uniforms.  Middle school and high school students must wear uniforms and they completely and totally match all the way from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet. This means that they can not color their hair, wear makeup, change their uniform in any way... they have to wear the same sneakers at school and the same slippers.  It's even down to the fact that certain schools have a school bag that the students MUST have.  I must admit that I am surprised they do not required similar undergarments... speaking of which...
Boys and girls change in front of each other without any issue.  I witnessed this in all 3 schools I attended.  They do not go "commando" but they do strip down to undergarments. 
Even though there seem to be many differences, there are many similarities... Japanese kids love to goofy off, play cards, talk on their cell phones between classes, play guitar in the hallways, dance, and tease each other. Japanese kids do have to wear uniforms but once they leave school, the fashion show begins!  Once they graduate high school, most Japanese teens go through an incredible fashion transformation.  You would too if you wore a uniform most of your life! 

     I would like to say that this section is still in the works.  There was a lot I learned from the Japanese educational system.  Thanks Ginny for your information!  Please come back to see if there was more added (oh trust me, there will be!).