The school students, especially the small ones, going to school in small groups holding their bags, umbrella and other gadgets with a leader holding an yellow flag directing them very carefully making lines, crossing the roads, playing around in quiet roads etc. is really a nice view. Knowing about the Japanese educational system and the various steps the students are passing through in their educational life will be helpful to understand the age groups of children we are meeting everyday. Also, while living in Japan, it will be helpful.
The school education of Japan includes many activities other than studying. They have time allotted for playing, cleaning etc. Thus Japanese educational system not only focus on teaching theory lessons to the children, but also makes them able to handle things in their everyday life and the milestone for their punctual social life is laid in the school itself.
I. A Day at a Japanese Elementary School
Photo : Tony Cassidy on FlickrI got a great chance to spend a whole day in an elementary school of Gifu prefecture’s Kasahara area. It was really an interesting experience and a journey back to those school days that passed over some years ago. There were students of universities, some company employees, and other volunteer group members among our group. We were matched with various classes at specific timings. We had some topics prepared to explain to them in English that were all related to their age and grade of study. The school officials gave the details and the topics that we have to prepare for them some days before.
1. Remove your shoes and wear special slippers inside.
A difference with other countries: we have to remove our shoes before entering inside the schools of Japan. They have racks for keeping the shoes. Inside the racks special slippers are placed which should be used while getting inside the school building. Students and teachers are careful about arranging their shoes inside the rack which is provided with numbers and wear their slippers inside. While going out for playing or other activities, they will change the footwear and replace the slippers. Everything seems to be done systematically.
2. Study through games.
The time slot allotted for me with the first and the second grade students were all related to various games. We played with the students in the class, through which some new English words were introduced to them. Also we explained some new games of our childhood and played these games with the students in the classroom. Every student enjoyed the time they spent with us and they were always active in arranging the class for the games, by shifting their chairs and making the space convenient for us.
3. Healthy school lunch.
Photo : Cookie M on FlickrWe had our lunch with them in the classrooms. The menu of the lunch was a combination of some healthy dishes that includes vegetable salads, fruits, milk, soup, bread etc. The food items were brought into the classrooms in small trolleys along with the dishes, chopsticks, spoons etc. It was the students themselves who served everything to their classmates and to their class teacher who eats with them in the class. They also served food for us, and tried to make us engaged within their small groups while eating. Finishing the meals, they collected our dishes and arranged on the trolley in a very systematic way. They cut the milk packets and tied them together for sending them for recycling purpose. The systematic and orderly way of the students’ behavior and their care in every small thing that they are doing really impressed everyone among us.
4. Games during the break time.
Photo : jim on FlickrAfter that was the time for playing. The fifth grade students with whom we had our lunch took me and my companions to their playground. Not only the children, but also the teachers were playing with them. They were playing different games at various corners of the playground. The friendship of the teachers and their behavior as a member among their students during this break time also impressed me. They were running, catching and doing every sort of student activities in that hot weather. We also joined them and played with them for about more than half an hour. Students really cared about us and were frequently asking if we needed some drink or rest.
5. Joint venture of school cleaning.
After the break time was the cleaning time when all the students were doing their part of cleaning the entire classrooms and the school building. They used the broom to remove the dust for which some of us also joined and some others were wiping the stairs and the floors of the school buildings. Groups of students were cleaning their classrooms. As it was a joint venture of the entire students of the school, the entire cleaning process was completed in half an hour after which we returned to our allotted classes with the students.
6. Learning through group activities and presentations.
For the fifth grade students allotted for me and my two companions, we were supposed to explain about the type of houses in our country. The students made a presentation using pictures and paper cuttings about the types of houses in Japan and their peculiarities. Each one of them tried their best to make their groups’ presentation the best by including information and pictures of the type of house that they explained before us. The entire day that we spent there with the youngest generation of Japan was really interesting and it felt like these moments will be great memories.
II. Various Levels of School Education in Japan
Photo : elmimmo on FlickrWhile visiting a school or spending time with the students, it will be really helpful if we are aware of their age range. We can mingle with them freely and in a more planned way if we know what kind of things they are learning at school and their roles in their school. Every student of Japan is really conscious about his/ her responsibilities in the society and the nation. Their behavior and way of doing various things will surprise us. It's entirely different from the educational system of other parts of the world.
Officially, the various levels of educational system of Japan start from the age of six. Up to the age of 15, it is compulsory to provide education to every child of Japan. The various school levels are :
As the parents are both working and most of the Japanese have a nuclear family life, people prefer sending their kids to preschools like day care centers if the kids are very young or to the kindergarten afterwards. From 2 months of age, Hoiku-en or the day care centers look after the children. Yochi-en or the kindergarten accepts children from 3 years of age and they teach hiragana letters to the children which helps them to start their educational basics. There are kindergartens controlled by the city offices which help the parents to send their kids for some hours a day at cheap rates, in the morning or till afternoon, so that they can go for their work. A lot of day care centers and kindergartens are now seen all around Japan. Even though they are expensive, working parents have no other option to take care of their children along with managing their career.
2. Elementary school
The elementary school (Sho-gakko) education of Japan starts at the age of six and it lasts for six years until the children are 12 years old. It is the compulsory education according to the educational rules of the country. Usually, the kids are enrolled into school after their sixth birthday when the classes start in the month of April. The classes have various student activities where students are grouped in to small groups of 6 or 7 and assigned with various tasks. These groups are called ‘han’. Classes usually have up to 30 or 40 students and the subjects taught include Japanese, science, mathematics, social science, crafts, physical training, music, sports and games, home science including cooking, cleaning, sewing etc., along with Japanese traditional calligraphy, poems etc. Meals are provided at school and the students serve food prepared at school to all their classmates and the teacher also eats with them. Different groups of students will be in charge of serving and arranging things for the meal each day. In this level, students learn through games and other interesting activities. Now, some school teaches English language also.
3. Junior high school (Chu-gakko)
Photo : Ari Helminen on FlickrAnother 3 years of education is compulsory in the country and it lasts until the ninth grade, by which the students are 15 years old. Usually there will be an entrance exam for entering the junior high school and most schools have a uniform dress code. After this, students may choose high school or technical high school education for further studying or they can choose some small career.
4. High school (Kouko)
This doesn’t belong to the compulsory schooling. High school education lasts for 3 years. There is an entrance test for high school entry and a tuition fee based on the school selected. Also from the high school level, lunch have to be carried from their own home. The subjects of study will be also based on the future plans of the students, i.e., based on the field of study they are aiming for the university. Once the students complete high school education, they can go for university education. There are no examinations after completing the high school, but in order to enter the university, students must pass an entrance test based on the course they want to learn in the university.
The technical high schools offer technical education for the students so that they can directly enter to their career after completing the high school education. There are various streams provided within the technical education system, which could be selected by the students based in their interest.
5. University (Daigaku)
The high school graduates can enter the university education after passing a complicated entrance examination which needs a lot of preparation and hardwork. It is very difficult to gain admission in a renowned Japanese university. There are private universities also where the educational cost is very high. The duration of the Bachelor’s degree course in universities is usually 4 years after which Master’s course could be done. There are two year courses also in the universities for those who wish to enter their career very soon. Graduates from the universities are provided with handful of career opportunities in various fields. Even though the Japanese society didn’t have lots of people going for university education in the past, now many are doing their university studies and gaining reputed jobs all around the country and abroad in their respective fields.
6. Special training centers (juku)
There are centers named Juku to get the students ready for various entrance examinations that they need to attend in order to enter the next level of education. These are usually private institutes which are flourishing all around the country. They conduct classes after the school time or sometimes on holidays. Nowadays, most of the parents are sending their kids to these centers in order to make them prepared for the exams and thereby gaining admission in good schools and universities.
Photo : Wesley Chan on Flickr