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Japanese Education Teachers
Japan remains consistently at the top internationally in both science and math and in comparison the United States is not where it needs to be. Japanese education has produced many benefits for not only the individual student but for the nation as well. Their well-educated citizens help to strengthen national democracy in the work force by providing high productivity in a competitive economy worldwide. The Japanese education system can offer useful lessons for enhancing teaching and learning in the United States.
“It is standing knowledge that presenting math in terms of concepts rather than calculations engages students in whole-class instruction”. (site infor) Japanese teachers intentionally withhold the correct answer to a problem, asking the class to think of as many ways as possible to solve the problem. Presenting material as a puzzle or challenge raises their curiosity in the subject matter and encourages class participation. This also develops the student’s imagination, decision-making, and individual achievement.
In addition, in the Japanese classroom under whole-class instruction, students are encouraged to help one another. The class works on the same problem together making sure everyone catches up. The teacher engages students by asking them to evaluate individual students’ solutions to math problems. Those who understand usually offer to help those who do not. Teachers let students choose their own partners when doing seatwork to avoid labeling students as fast or slow learners.
This allows the students to learn how to interact with others and is so important to the Japanese that they consider it a form of studying. This type of atmosphere also serves to motivate all students to learn from their classmates. Ultimately, “whole-class instruction encourages students to respond to each other’s learning, emphasizing that the teacher’s way is not the only way to solve a problem”. (www.educationjapan.org) Classrooms are unified because students work on the same material together at the same pace.
Individual students feel motivated to learn when they identify with class goals. They become culturally literate and more effective in society. Whole-class instruction plays a major role in the Japanese students’ academic success. Whole-class instruction offers greater motivational support than does tracking and drilling which is contrary to popular belief that Japanese schools cram their top students with intensive math and science drills from an early age.
Tracking and drilling do not begin until later in junior high when preparing for high school entrance exams. Unlike Japanese classrooms, In American classrooms, it is standard for students to look to teachers for evaluation and comprehension. My daughter has expressed to me that on occasion when allowed to use the whole-class method of instruction, she feels she learned more and feels strongly that American classroom could benefit from whole-class instruction.
A cultural emphasis is placed on parents, teachers, and schools to encourage children to try. Japanese teachers do not believe that motivation is a matter of family background, personality traits, or luck. They believe that the desire to learn is something that is shaped and influenced by teachers and school environment. Students are taught and urged to do their best always. A major method of motivating students is encouragement in group activities.
This is accomplished by allowing individuals input in group activities and allowing students the opportunity to help set goals. School uniforms, student monitors, and planning and staging class and school activities all play a part in this process. Students know that their scores on high school and university entrance exams will impact their future; therefore, motivation to study is important. Parents reinforce this through providing for Juku (cram schools), tutors, and providing a home environment that is conducive to learning and studying.
Juku (Cram Schools)
In Japan, the pressure of the education system (higher education) is so great and a child’s future depends so much on going to the right university that from junior high school age, a child’s school day does not end with the school bell. After school, there are organized clubs such as piano, violin, basketball, football, kendo or judo, archery, English, Math or Art. Most children also attend cram schools after their club activities.
Cram schools called “Juku” and these include extra lessons, used to push bright children even further or to help those behind catch up. Juku schools ensure parents that their child will catch up to other children in language abilities. Therefore, it is not unusual for a Japanese student to encounter a 12-hour day before homework begins. Although this system has produced a standard of education that is one of the highest in the world, some now question the impact of such pressure on students at such a young age.
Many believe there are an increase of stress- related disorders among children and young adults in Japan. Out of concern, Monbukagakusho, responsible for education, culture, sports, science and technology has placed emphasis on a more rounded educated individual capable of joining society by concentrating on mental and social development. The education system still upholds philosophical ideas that learning and education are to be pursued seriously and that character development as well as moral development is essential to education.
Japanese teachers have either first or second-class teaching certificates. Through continuing education, teachers are encouraged to seek higher-level qualifications. Teachers in elementary and junior high schools with a bachelor’s degree are awarded a first-class teaching certificate and those with a junior college certificate are awarded a second-class certificate.
At the high school level, teachers with a Master’s degree are awarded a first class teaching certificate and those with a Bachelor’s degree are awarded a second-class certificate. Once a teacher obtains a teaching certificate, he/she must pass an examination in that district to be appointed a teacher.
Once the teacher passes the examination, they may teach in any school in that district. The license is only valid for one year so if the teacher does not find work within that year, they have to retake the exam.
Japanese teachers are respected by their students. Each class begins with a greeting to the teacher and each class ends with a “thank you” from the students to the teacher. Teachers do not apply stern authoritative control over their classrooms either. Instead of placing blame on a particular student for discipline problems, the teachers let the students resolve the classroom conflicts on their own.
Unlike American high school classrooms, classrooms are very well behaved. It is not uncommon during the lesson study at high schools, for teachers to leave their classes and the students remain in their classrooms, unattended and working on their assignments. The curriculum is set by the state to the point that time and content are specifically laid out. Therefore, teaching in Japan is considered rigid and unchanging although the method of teaching is completely left up to the teacher. However, standard teaching methods are encouraged.
According to Marie and Tom Grant (Japan and Beyond – Letters Home; June 1996) “One of the things that disturbs us is the low self-esteem that is pervasive among students here. More than one exchange student has told us that she liked herself for the first time when she went to the U.S. to study, and one said she felt she was “dying inside” before she went to America”. The Grants indicated that from the feedback they received in the student’s daily diaries, they have an extreme negative view of themselves.
The Grant’s feel this is from the pressure to get good grades and not being able to deviate from the norm: ie.,Hair color, length of skirt, etc.. Between the school day, after school clubs, and Jukus (cram schools) for many students, school occupies 7 days a week. “Even during vacations, at the end of the school year, they have numerous homework assignments.
For example, one 9th grade student told us she had three book reports, a critique of a piano concert, and other readings to complete during her 2 week break between semesters”. “some former students told us that Japanese students spend their whole life preparing for the college entrance exams, and know deep down that something is very wrong with the system, all the while feeling very badly about themselves”. “When they are finally admitted to the university and have some free time, they don’t know what to do with it.
They don’t know who they are, and they end up feeling empty and depressed. There’s a lot less pressure at university, so many students fill up their time pursuing nonacademic interest…ballroom dancing, drama, martial arts, left wing politics. Students realize that once their university days are over, the pressure returns…jobs, marriage, family responsibilities, and a further stifling of any individuality”. (Japan and Beyond-Letters Home; June 1996).
Lastly, Japanese students respect their teachers, school and fellow students. They follow the Aizukko Declaration which is a set of rules all children are expected to follow. A copy is distributed to every home and children recite it daily in school. It is as follows:
- Always be kind to everyone
- Always remember to say “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
- Always be patient
- Do not misbehave to other people
- Be proud of Aizu, respect elderly people
- Work hard to follow your dreams
- If you are not supposed to do something because it is bad, don’t do it. If you are supposed to do something because it is good, do it.
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) provides reliable and timely data on the mathematics and science achievements of U.S. students compared to that of students in other countries. TIMSS data was collected in 1995, 1999, 2003, and 2007. The results show that American 4th graders do well in science, but that otherwise there is plenty of room for improvement in both mathematics and science. By contrast, Japan remains consistently at the top internationally in both math and science. The United States Department of Education commissioned a case study. The results are as follows: (The Japan Study)
The Japan Study indicates one possible explanation for Japan’s success in TIMSS: The Japanese education system offers interesting material in math and science to motivate students. However, there is more to it than offering interesting material. The Japanese set standard hours per subject in the national elementary school curriculum, placing emphasis on music, art, handicrafts, homemaking, physical education, moral education in addition to math and science.
The standards as well devote a lot of time to life activities and the Japanese language. In life activities, students participate in hands-on activities such as picking flowers, catching frogs and insects, raising rabbits and watching falling stars. These personal life experiences prepare the children for classroom-oriented science creating well-rounded students at the elementary and junior high school level.
The School Year
The school year for Japanese students begins in early April and is divided into trimesters that run from April to July, September to December, and January to March. Their primary vacation is from mid-July to the end of August with shorter breaks at other times. The Japanese elementary and secondary school year is 240 days long including Saturdays. This figure is somewhat misleading because Monbusho requires a minimum of 210 days of instruction, including a half day on Saturdays.
Local boards can add more time at their discretion. The 240 days permits for such school activities as field trips, sports days, cultural festivals and graduation ceremonies. The classroom instruction time is equivalent to 195 days. That is 15 more days per year of classroom instruction than in the United States which includes 180 days of classroom instruction which includes some days of activities comparable to those of the Japanese.
On a cumulative basis, this difference means that a Japanese student is in school a year longer than a student in the United States upon graduation from High School. Given the time Japanese students spend in study outside of school, and the more effective use of time Japanese teachers provide, the difference in time devoted to education is greater in the Japanese culture than in the United States. Between the 5 ½ day school week, the shorter summer vacation, and the additional time spent in juku, or tutuoring, and homework the Japanese children’s lives are almost parallel to a Japanese adult working a full-time job.
One of the major differences between the junior high/high school Japanese classroom and the American classroom is that in Japan the students stay in one classroom while the teachers change classes. Because the students remain in one classroom, they form close-knit relationships over the three years.
The Japanese believe that being a member of a tightly knit group that works hard toward a common goal is a natural and pleasurable experience. Classroom activities are structured to encourage participation and to develop group loyalty and moral support.
In conclusion, Japan provides a high quality basic education to all students by the time they complete high school. Japanese students consistently rank among world leaders in international mathematics tests. “Recent statistics indicate that well over 95 percent of Japanese are literate, which is particularly impressive since the Japanese language is one of the world’s most difficult languages to read and write”. (Lucien Ellington, Sept. 2005). Currently, over 95 percent of Japanese high school student’s graduate compared to 89 percent of American students.
“Japan has succeeded in producing many motivated students through developing a well-rounded curriculum, using whole-class instruction, encouraging school-related after-school activities, and supporting mutually respectful teacher and student interactions”. The explanation for their success is that the Japanese education structure helps build student motivation.
The well-rounded curriculum engages students and builds strong classroom relationships. Whole-class instruction motivates the students by emphasizing effort over ability, engaging students, building strong classroom relationships, and unifying students under a common goal. One can see from the varied examples and the impact of education in Japan how The American Education System can gain useful insight into the education system in the United States.
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