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"Examination Hell"

Page history last edited by Muhammad Tsani 12 years, 6 months ago



Japanese education has played a central role in enabling the country to meet the challenges presented by the need to quickly absorb Western ideas.  After WWII, under the direction of Occupation forces, laws were enforced for children to attend six years of elementary school, three years of junior high, three years of high school, and two or four years of university.  Elementary and junior high school attendance is compulsory.  So, if you think in terms of our school system, you could be done with school requirements by fifteen years old.  Virtually, all students progress to high school voluntarily.  Most students attend public schools up until high school and university levels.  Because high schools have overlapping catchment areas, there is more competition among schools for the best students.  Over one-quarter of high schools are private, indicating the extent of competition, meaning parents will pay substantial amounts for their children's education.  For some time, it has been accepted that a Japanese students life is largely decided by their university entrance exam.  However, increasing competition amongst high schools means this pressure is extending back to junior high when a kids future is largely decided by the age of twelve or fifteen.  Can you imagine us deciding our career in the 6th grade? NO WAY!  Examination hell‘juken jigoku’ puts a student through a grueling trial of anxiety and fatigue to take college entrance examinations — success would lead to promises of a wonderful life while failure would lead to economic and social hardships.  In a country with a high literacy rate of 98%, the race to surpass others inevitably becomes more difficult and intense each year. Everyone strives for a luxurious lifestyle, which adds steam to the competition for the best school, best paying job and best things money-can-buy in life.



So It All Starts Here...



For those who wish to start their children in a school environment early, kindergartens are available. There are also public and private day-care centers that will take children who are less than a year old and on up to five years of age.   These programs, at least for the children in the 3-5 year range, are comparable to kindergartens. Kindergartens are not all alike and will vary from being very structured and focused on learning, while others are more for social interaction or play and are basically unstructured.  In the year 2000, the number of new entrants into kindergarten was over 63% indicating well over half of Japanese children start their education earlier than required by the state.



For six years, from age six to twelve, Japanese children complete their first stage of compulsory education.  The following subjects are included in the curriculum: Japanese language, social studies, arithmetic, science, life environmental studies, music, arts and craft, physical education and homemaking.  In addition, there is an hour a week of moral education as well as extracurricular activities. The most important part of the curriculum, on the elementary level, is reading and writing.  Not only are children required to learn Japanese they are also required to learn, by the end of the sixth grade, a minimum of 1006 Chinese characters.  Uniforms are standard in Japan, so the elementary children wear bright yellow baseball hats, bright yellow umbrellas, bright yellow raincoats, etc.   Elementary school classes are large, about thirty-one students per class on average, but higher numbers are permitted. Students are usually organized into small work groups, which have both academic and disciplinary functions. Discipline also is maintained, and a sense of responsibility encouraged, by the use of student monitors and by having the students assume responsibility for the physical appearance of their classroom and school.  Elementary school education is seen in Japan as fundamental in shaping a positive attitude toward lifelong education. Regardless of academic achievement, almost all children in elementary school are advanced to junior high schools, the second of the two compulsory levels of education.








From twelve to fifteen years old, this is a hugely important phase in the upbringing of the Japanese child. Results at Junior High School can determine entry to a good Senior High School and hence to a good university and career. At this point children usually stay late at school, busy with various clubs and activities as well as studies at a Juku.   Although the subjects taught are specified by the Ministry of Education, teachers are allowed leniency in defining the specific topics that are covered in their classes. The standard curriculum for the junior high level requires the following subjects: Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, music, fine arts, health and physical education, and industrial arts or homemaking.  There are also electives in foreign language (usually English), extracurricular activities as well as an hour per week of moral education.   Classes are large, with thirty-eight students per class on average, and each class is assigned a homeroom teacher who doubles as counselor. Unlike Elementary students, middle school students have different teachers for different subjects. The teacher, however, rather than the students, moves to a new room for each fifty-minute period.  Classroom organization is still based on small work groups, although no longer for reasons of discipline. Students are expected to have mastered daily routines and acceptable behavior.  During these years of education, the ministry seeks in improving foreign languages, especially English.  To do so, the government invites many young native speakers of English to Japan to serve as assistants to school boards and prefectures under its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.  


Koukou; koutougakkou



Although not compulsory in Japan, over 90% of all children attend Senior High School.  Most of the high schools are run by prefectural boards of education.  The peak of pressure for the student in the Japanese school system from 15 to 18 years old, entry to senior high school is by an entrance exam.  Entrance into high school can be intensely competitive, especially in the popular schools, and is based on how the prospective student performs on an entrance exam.   To get a place at the best university means that a student really needs to go to the right senior high school, so the entrance exam can have a major impact on the future career of Japanese students.  As the number of private schools increases and pressure to perform well increases, education ends up costing parents more and more. This pressure is slowly diffusing down the chain as entry to the best senior high schools is increasingly affected by the junior high school attended. The schools that are the most popular tend to be the ones where graduates get into the "better" universities.  Enrollment is highest in general academic courses, but other programs are offered like those specialized  in the vocational area.  The curriculum for high school is comprised of required subjects and electives comprised of the following: Japanese language, geography and history, civis, mathematics, science, health and physical education, art, foreign languages and home economics.    





Juku (Cram Schools)


The pressure of the education system in Japan is great, and so much of a child's future depends on going to the right school and university that from a very young age (in some cases from before ten years old) a child's school day does not end with the school bell. After the piano or violin lessons, the basketball or football, kendo or judo, archery or English, Maths or Art or any of the dozens of other clubs that are organised at school most children also attend cram schools called "Juku". These have extra lessons, which may be used to push bright students further or to help others catch up to the crowd. The classes may run until late, and a 12-hour day is not unusual for the Japanese high school student (before homework).  They provide supplementary education that many children need just to keep up with the regular school curriculum, remedial education for the children who fall behind in their work, and preparation for students striving to improve test scores and preparing for the all-important upper-secondary and university entrance examinations. In many ways, juku compensate for the formal education system's inability or unwillingness to address particular individual problems.  Juku also play a social role, and children in Japan say they like going to juku because they are able to make new friends; many children ask to be sent because their friends attend. Some children seem to like juku because of the closer personal contact they have with their teachers.




A little less than half of all high school graduates attended a two-year junior college or four-year university.  Nearly 90% of students at Junior colleges are female, while only about 40% of university students are female, one of several imbalances in the Japanese education system.  Japan has one of the highest university enrolment rates in the developed world, and a huge number of state and private universities to serve the population (726 Universities to date).  Most of the universities and junior colleges are private campus'. Competition is intense for top-level schools.  The biggest factor creating this competition is the name value associated with the university, the better the name the better the chances of getting a good job after graduation.  There is a close link between university background and employment opportunity. Because Japanese society places such store in academic credentials, the competition to enter the prestigious universities is keen.  Competition is so fierce that if a high school graduate doesn't get into the college of his/her choice, they will study to try again the next year.  These students, called ronin, meaning masterless samurai, spend an entire year, and sometimes longer, studying for another attempt at the entrance examinations.  Students applying to national universities take two entrance examinations, first a nationally administered uniform achievement test in February and then an examination administered by the university that the student hopes to enter.  The most popular programs at Japanese Universities are social sciences which include law, business, and accounting.  Other popular subjects are engineering, humanities, and education.  


Japan Top Universities

Ranking 2010School Name
1 The University of TOKYO
2 KYOTO University
3 OSAKA University
4 TOKYO Institute of Technology
5 NAGOYA University
6 TOHOKU University
7 KYUSHU University
8 University of TSUKUBA
9 HOKKAIDO University
10 WASEDA University
11 KEIO University
12 KOBE University
13 HIROSHIMA University
14 TOKYO Medical and Dental University
15 CHIBA University


Issues in Japanese Education...Why it is called Examination Hell

Competition is so intense with the high school and university entrance exams it is called "examination hell."  This competition is caused by wide spread problems in the schools themselves and in society.  The major corporations in Japan do nothing to help this problem because they tend to chose recruits from a small select group of universities.  This then creates the impression that if you want to get anywhere after graduation, you go to one of those universities.  Most of the admissions exams are simply multiple choice questions, though a few many include essays or performance tests.  A large number of elementary and junior high students attend schools in the evening to be tutored or to "cram".  They do this in the hopes that they will improve their performance on the required entrance exam.  Unfortunately, a side effect of all this competition is severe stress that comes out by bullying, violence and "allergies to school".  Children are refusing to go to school for emotional reasons, thus the saying "school allergy", as early as the elementary school years!  The bullying and violence are the causes of suicide and murder in the junior and high schools across Japan.  Some blame the parents for this behavior and others blame the education system for it's strictness and extreme pressure regarding examination performance.  Examination hell prevents children from growing up with sound minds, which makes their future of Japan gloomy





      File:Tokyo University Entrance Exam Results 4.JPG








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