As you may know, I teach English in Japan. However, I don’t teach in a public school, I teach people of all ages from children to the elderly. But I had a question from stomperdad.
What are the Japanese schools like?
I’ve never been inside one, actually. However, from what my students tell me, and what other teachers who have taught in public schools tell me, there are some pretty big differences between Japanese and North American schools, which I have experience with, of course.
First of all, public and private schools are the main ways to get an education in Japan. A lot of people opt for private school, but that costs a lot of money. They tend to have better quality education, especially in terms of English education.
In public school, the focus is usually on rote memorisation and preparation for tests. There’s not much in the way of critical thinking skills. History classes are mainly remembering dates, people, and events, rather than discussing the reasons behind these events, like we did in school in Canada. In math, they memorise from 1×1 to 9×9 for multiplication tables, while in Canada, we memorised 1×1 to 12×12. As for English class, they don’t learn how to communicate very well. They study to prepare for entrance exams for high school and university. They study reading and listening, but they focus on grammar a lot. They do not focus on conversation. Everyone studies English a lot, but they can’t speak it.
Students have to take entrance exams if they want to get into high school, as well as university. So, they study after school in a juku (cram school). One student told me that they don’t really learn anything in public school. Cram school is where they learn everything. So, students are often in school three or four hours longer per day than North American students. And when summer vacation comes, they go to cram school for even more hours. That’s right, many kids don’t have summer vacation time. So, they are pushed hard to study, study, study.
Another aspect of school is that there is no janitorial staff, so the students clean the classrooms. But that’s not the only extra activity they have. There are also clubs. Nearly all students join a club and participate after school or on weekends, and most likely all summer.
Not all students do all this extra stuff. Some do the bare minimum, yet still turn out fine.
Just one more thing. You know Kumon? In North American, it’s often used to help kids who are struggling with math or reading. In Japan, it’s not generally for weaker students. It’s often for students who want to get ahead. It’s just another form of cram school, though the method is very different.
So, that’s about all I know. Others would be far better suited to answer this question, I think.
Have a question about life in Japan? Go here and ask in the comments.