Education in Japan
In Japan, education is compulsory at the elementary and lower secondary levels. Approximately 98% of all students progress to the upper secondary level, which is voluntary . Most students attend public schools through the lower secondary level, but private education is popular at the upper secondary and university levels. Japan’s education system played a central part in Japan’s recovery and rapid economic growth in the decades following the end of World War II.
After World War II, the Fundamental Law of Education and the School Education Law were enacted in 1947 under the direction of the occupation forces. The latter law defined the school system that is still in effect today: six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, three years of high school, two or four years of university.
Education prior to elementary school is provided at kindergartens and day-care centers. Public and private day-care centers take
children from under age one on up to five years old. The programmes for those children aged 3-5 resemble those at kindergartens. The educational approach at kindergartens varies greatly from unstructured environments that emphasize play to highly structured environments that are focused on having the child pass the entrance exam at a private elementary school.
The school year in Japan begins in April and classes are held from Monday to either Friday or Saturday, depending on the school. The school year consists of three terms, which are separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a one month long summer break.
The year structure is summarized in the table below.
Junior high school
Main article: Secondary education in Japan
Lower secondary school covers grades seven, eight, and nine, children between the ages of roughly 12 and 15, with increased focus on academic studies. Although it is still possible to leave the formal education system after completing junior high school and find employment, fewer than 4% did so by the late 1980s.
Like elementary schools, most junior high schools in the 1980s were public, but 5% were private. Private schools were costly, averaging 558,592 yen (US$3,989) per student in 1988, about four times more than the 130,828 yen (US$934) that the ministry estimated as the cost for students enrolled in public junior high school. Teachers often majored in the subjects they taught, and more than 80% graduated from a four-year college. 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, junior high school students have different teachers for different subjects. The teacher, however, rather than the students, moves to a new room for each fifty or forty-five minute period.
Instruction in junior high schools tends to rely on the lecture method. Teachers also use other media, such as television and radio, and there is some laboratory work. By 1989 about 45% of all public junior high schools had computers, including schools that used them only for administrative purposes. Classroom organization is still based on small work groups of four to six students, although no longer for reasons of discipline.
All course contents are specified in the Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools. Some subjects, such as Japanese language and mathematics, are coordinated with the elementary curriculum.