Japanese Education in the 21st Century
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The system and pedagogy of Japanese education have been changing in accord with on-going large-scale educational reforms, initiated by the 1987 National Council on Educational Reform (NCER) (Rinkyōshin) recommendation of the deregulation, diversification and individualization of education.  For example, the 1998 Course of Study, initiated in 2002 created a new subject, “integrated study” (sōgōtekina gakushū no jikan), and reduced the educational content by 30 percent, allotting 20 percent of class time for review sessions, and providing many elective courses for middle and high school students.  However, many teachers, parents and educational specialists believe that the reduction of educational content might lower students’ academic achievement.

Responding to critics, in 2001 the Ministry of Education (MOE) began to hire 22,500 full-time elementary and middle school teachers in the next five years and 50,000 temporary teachers and teachers’ aides in the next three years for team-teaching classes designed especially for the newly-established learning groups of 20 students for academic subjects.  In smaller classes, compared with the mandated class size of 40 students, teachers can pay closer attention to the needs and progress of individual students.

This book will discuss the current state of the Japanese educational system, its comprehensive reform agenda, and the issues of minority education, special education, lifelong education, and international education.  By drawing comparisons and contrasts with education in the United States, it will be possible to see the Japanese system in a wider context. 

The research is based on the analysis of administrative documents, school journals, and secondary literature, classroom observations and interviews with teachers and administrators.  I conducted fieldwork in Marugame City for two months in 1998 and for two weeks in 2001.  Marugame City on Shikoku Island then was a provincial town in the southwestern part of Japan with a population of approximately 80,000.  Marugame City merged with neighboring Ayauta Town and Hanzan Town on March 22, 2005 and is a city of 110,000.  I visited one preschool, one nursery school, three elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, and one special school to observe classes and interview teachers, principals, vice-principals, and students.  I also visited three community centers, and discussed cooperation between schools and the community with administrators and leaders.  Part of my fieldwork is presented as case studies. 

Chapters 1 through 6 offer a background of Japanese preschool, elementary, secondary and postsecondary education.  Chapter 1 introduces the history and role of the school system and current educational reforms based on the 1987 recommendations of the National Council on Educational Reform (NCER) (Rinkyōshin).  This chapter concludes with a comparative study of education in the United States. 

Chapter 2 presents preschool and primary education in yōchien (preschools and kindergarten), hoikuen (nursery school), and elementary schools through several case studies.  The decline in the birthrate and the rising number of working mothers have changed the way preschools operate.  Preschools now resemble nursery schools.  Elementary school education has emphasized the creative and individual development of students, especially through the new subject called “integrated study.”  Reforms are aimed at enhancing the quality rather the quantity of educational materials, incorporating review sessions, adding more teachers, and providing each school with more control over classes and their content. 

Chapter 3 presents secondary education, in addition to the education of female students.  A large number of middle school students enjoy after-school clubs and/or study in juku (cram school).  Ninth graders study hard for their high school entrance examinations, based on which they are sorted into hierarchically ranked high schools, including academic high schools, vocational high schools, and newly established comprehensive high schools.  High school students enjoy participation in extracurricular clubs, and other forms of recreation, and do not study much (the majority study for an hour or less a day).  Only the top 20 to 30 percent of students who hope to enroll in a prestigious college might study hard to pass the competitive entrance examinations.  Educators have recently attempted to eliminate gender stereotypes by making female-only home economics open to both sexes and advocating gender-free attendance sheets. 

Chapter 4 focuses on problems, such as school refusal syndrome, bullying, and juvenile delinquency in primary and secondary schools.  Homeroom teachers, guidance committees, nurse teachers, and school counselors are in charge of assisting students with school-related problems. 

Chapter 5 introduces college and lifelong education.  Almost two-thirds of all 18-year-olds attend colleges or specialized training colleges.  Lifelong education is available for non-traditional college students in colleges as well as for local residents, especially homemakers and the elderly in community-based classes for residents.

Chapter 6 explores the profiles, professions, and cultures of teachers, and the role of teachers’ unions, and compares Japanese teachers with American teachers.  In Japan, teaching is a competitive field, because teachers have job security and are highly respected by their communities.

Chapter 7 investigates the government’s attempt to internationalize education, according to the 1987 Rinkyōshin recommendation, and discusses education for Japanese students living overseas and for those who have returned to Japan.  The students are expected to acquire an international perspective and understanding of foreign countries through classes on international understanding, foreign languages, and international exchange programs. 

Chapter 8 discusses special education for children with disabilities, analyzing special schools, special classes in regular schools, and integration education.  Because of human-rights educational programs and the promotion of integrated education, children with disabilities are more visible than ever in exchange programs and in mainstream classrooms.

Chapters 9 and 10 describe the education of minority children: Buraku (former outcaste) children, Ainu children, Korean children, children of Nikkeijin (Japanese migrants/Japanese descendents with foreign nationalities), Chinese returnee children, and refugee children.  Minority children are eligible for special scholarships, and remedial education in order to bring their academic level into line with that of their peers.  In addition, foreign children may participate in ethnic education that is designed to improve self-esteem.  Moreover, human rights education teaches Japanese children the cultures and histories of minority people in order to reduce prejudice and discrimination.

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