A Tool for Labor Market Channeling
The structure and school environment of the Japanese
education system provides all students the opportunity to succeed in the
Japanese workplace. These two elements become very important because
of the socio-geographic elements that are at play on the archipelago.
Since the country is very poor in natural resources, the Japanese government
views its people as its only major asset. Thus, the education system
contributes to the national welfare by producing an educated, skilled,
and productive workforce. In contemporary society, access and manipulation
of information has been thrust to the forefront of economic importance,
as opposed to agriculture or industry, two areas where Japan cannot keep
pace with larger nations. The secondary impact then on the culture
is that education becomes the key to personal and family success, because
it is the single most important industry in the country. This is
compounded once again by the geography of the country, because as the population
increased in the last one hundred years, urban patterns changed.
Land has been lost to urbanization, and inheritance of land has moved away
from its agrarian roots, making smaller lots economically less feasible
to farm. This report will track the changes in Japanís Educational
System since the Meiji Restoration in 1868 in order to utilize the countryís
most valuable resource, its people. In particular this report will
examine how the modern Japanese Educational System prepares students to
succeed in the Japanese workplace, thus benefiting the country as a whole
The modern Japanese Educational System alleviated the problems of Japanís postwar educational developments, but these problems have their roots in earlier phases of Japanís educational development. Major attempts to implement basic educational reforms occurred in the 1870ís and after World War II. The 1870ís attempt to reform education was the Meiji governmentís reaction to an external threat. The attempts to reform education following World War II were a means of building a modern state as quickly as possible. A powerful occupation force intended to transform Japan form a military dictatorship into a democratic society. Eventually Japan was left on its own to create a new model for education that met the countryís needs.
The first educational reforms occurred early in the Meiji period, 1868-1880, when Western education was introduced in order to modernize the nation. The reforms were based on the principle of borrowing the best features of several Western educational systems and then adapting them to the Japanese situation. Another principle in Japanís rush to reform was the policy of sending young students abroad to study and hiring foreign experts as teachers until enough Japanese were available to replace them. The foreign educators introduced Western educational thought, practice, textbooks, and equipment into the country. Despite the success of these reforms, the infamous 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education eclipsed the positives of these reforms. This document remained the official statement of principles underlying Japanese education until occupation authorities took over Japan. This rescript gave legal form and moral force to an educational system that supported the rise of militarism and ultra nationalism during the late 1920ís and 1930ís (Beauchamp 299-302).
A second major set of reforms took place immediately following World War II. The reforms were key in the Alliesí determination to transform Japan from a military dictatorship into a democracy. When the emperorsí representatives signed the instrument of surrender, Japanís educational system was in shambles. In short, a functioning educational system was virtually nonexistent. The main objectives of the Occupation force were ďdemocratization, demilitarization, and decentralization of Japanese societyĒ (Beauchamp 303). The Americans knew that in order to achieve these goals, the educational system needed a new orientation. This meant that occupation forces would have to transform the prewar orientation of the Japanese people -- one based on filial piety, perfection of moral powers, group harmony, and loyalty and obedience to the emperor and the nation -- into one that would meet the goals of the United States in Japan. Many of these reforms such as coeducation, comprehensive schools, and local control, while working well in the United States, were dysfunctional when transported to Japanese context. Before American control was withdrawn in 1952 American reformers were successful in obtaining their objectives. They provided Japanese educators with a new curriculum, textbooks, and methodologies (Beauchamp 302-305).
Finally, for the first time since its surrender sovereignty was
returned to the Japanese government who began to fine tune the new education
system to reflect the Japanese culture and the spirit of the nationís new
democratic ideology. The Ministry of Education required one hour
per week for moral education. Lessons emphasized fundamental matters
like the value of life, foolishness of fighting, importance of friendship,
and the problems of old people. The Ministry also began to expand
educational opportunity and improve the quality of the education offered
to students. There are equal facilities throughout Japan, uniform
curriculum, equal access to the same textbooks, teachers of relatively
equal competence, and a uniform set of national standards. There
was no doubt that Japan was well on its way to a successful modern educational
system (Beauchamp 305-308).
This uniformity carries over into the elementary
and junior high levels. School becomes compulsory in Japan at the
age of six when children will enter the first grade. At this level,
the experiences of each child are kept as close to uniform throughout the
country as possible. The facilities and funds available to each student
vary little, and the curriculum is structured directly by the Ministry
of Education. The tracking of students into high, average, or low-achieving
classes is forbidden, and certification and training of teachers is uniform.
Differences between elementary and junior high levels arise with the upcoming
high school entrance exam to be taken at the end of the ninth grade.
This will separate the students by academic achievement for the first time,
and begin channeling students for labor market placement (Benjamin 205).
There has developed a well-defined correlation between what university a student attends and what career tracks open to graduating students. The oldest universities, Tokyo and Kyoto, are the main suppliers to elite businesses and medical schools. Many large, private employers even go so far as to limit their recruiting efforts to the national universities and a few of the older private schools. A survey of 321 members of the Japan Federation of Corporations revealed that over half considered applicants from no more than ten Universities; sixty-one limited themselves to five schools or fewer (James 78).
Because most of these companies hire employees for a life term, the university one attends ultimately determines one's future. Adding to this, the feeder relationship high schools have to universities also determines one's future in the workplace (Benjamin 205-209).
The School Environment
It is at this time, that following the structure of the Japanese system, three themes begin to differentiate one academic level from the previous level. These themes include pressure on the student, individualism, and academic competition. The educational system can be divided into non-pressurized, group-oriented, and non-competitive environments, and highly pressurized, individualistic, and highly competitive environments. The non-pressurized, group-oriented, and non-competitive environments are yochien, elementary school, and the universities. Meanwhile, the high pressure, individualistic, and competitive situations are found in the junior highs and high schools.
The elementary school level is characterized by
as much uniformity as possible. Each student and school has access
to very similar resources from the buildings themselves to the size of
the classrooms. Competition between students is minimized through
group structuring. This grouping of students involves every student,
teacher, and administrator as the school becomes a microcosm of Japanese
society. At the student level, they are asked to perform a variety
of jobs on a daily basis such as cleaning the classroom and building, serving
lunch, and taking roll call. Within the learning environment itself,
a class of forty students is broken up into different sets of four to eight
children to work out problems in class, do classroom chores, and work on
assignments. The groups are changed regularly to discourage social
cliques and to avoid one group pulling ahead or falling behind the others.
Homogeneity is very important in the elementary classroom, as it is an
example of Japanese culture on a smaller scale. In Japan, there is
a relative similarity in home environments because of the high degree of
socioeconomic and cultural homogeneity. Each child has the same basic
opportunities as the next child. In addition, each individual is
prepared fully; no student is left behind in the curriculum because they
are slow, while faster students will have the opportunity to pull ahead
later in the more competitive high school years. High school is the
time for students to pull ahead, while elementary school is a time for
all students to lay sound education foundations (James 28-30).
Upon entrance to high school, students are tracked by ability on a national scale according to what school they enter. There is a hierarchy of schools based on entrance criteria across Japan. Consequently, "each school is distinguished from those above and below it by the test score needed for entry and therefore serves a very narrow range, in terms of ability and prior academic achievement" (James 31). Even if students attending the public schools are now separated into tracks according to academic achievement, the curriculum is still standardized by the Ministry of Education. This curriculum is based on the opportunity of the students to take university entrance exams, and proves to be challenging for even the brightest of Japan's high school students. The curriculum is very rigid and undiversified. Students are not allowed choices of electives, and there is very little writing or research taught. Study is grounded in a strong realist foundation of core subjects of whom the teachers' main qualification is deep knowledge of the subject being taught. This helps to gear students toward the types of jobs they will eventually have, which require very little intuitive or creative thought, as there are very few research and publishing companies in Japan. Competition in high school is at the highest level of any in the Japanese school system, as graduates must compete for either immediate employment or entrance to a university. Because of the equation proposed previously with educational attainment equaling status, a good score on a university entrance exam becomes the overriding goal of the high school student (James 32).
In contrast to high school, college life is the
most relaxed and pressure-free years of a student's life in Japan since
admission to a particular university is the greatest factor in determining
job prospects. Very little weight is put into grades that are earned
at the university level. For the first time in their life, the Japanese
student is able to have a social life, and this is organized around a variety
of clubs, which reflect interest in a leisure activity such as skiing,
music, archery or baseball. The education side of college life includes
general education and introductory courses all taking place in a lecture
setting. Japanese view college as a long decompression period from
the rigors of high school and the entrance exams. Since employment
is almost guaranteed there is little pressure for university students to
achieve any longer (James 32-33).
Beauchamp, Edward R. ďThe Development of Japanese Educational Policy, 1945-85Ē History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3. (Autumn, 1987), pp. 299-324.
Benjamin, Gail. Japanese Lessons. New York: New York University Press. 1997.
Decker, Gary. "Japanese Preschools: Academic or Nonacademic?". Japanese Schooling. University Park: Penn State University Press. 1989.
Iwama, Hiroshi F. "Japan's Group Orientation in Secondary Schools". Japanese Schooling. University Park: Penn State University Press. 1989.
James, Estelle. Public Policy and Private Education
in Japan. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1988.
http://www.japan-guide.com All of the general information about the Japanese education system
http://www.jinjapan.org A look into the daily life of a student in Japan, from kindergarden to university
http://www.ed.gov/pubs/JapanCaseStudy A case study and analysis of the Japanese Education System
http://www.indiana.edu/~japan/digest5.html A closer look into Japan's educational achievements and schools
http://www.trekjapan.com A rich photo gallery of Japan including Japanese school life
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