Modern japanese school: problems, searches, reform

Pavlova T. L.

Key words: Japan, education, education system, traditions, cultural traditions, positive experience, achievements.

he development of national education in many respects

depends on social, economic and political conditions, normal mutual relations of school, society and state. any changes in social and economic situation effect — directly or indirectly — the education system as a whole. japan no exception to this rule. The experience of post-war modernization of japan causes the special interest, actually as the unique successful experiment on synthesis of traditions and western innovations. changes going on in the japanese school, in this connection, are instructive and can be considered a system-forming element of the society promoting its adequate functioning and reconstruction of basic cultural norms and values.

Mass character of secondary education, the first places in the international olympiads are the certificate of vitality and stability of the system, its continuity and permanence. The education has always been the key value of japanese society.

however descriptions of the japanese school and education are often far from true. The external part of school life organization, precise order, authority of the teacher, especially on the initial six-year step, form a stereotype of its perception in pink shades of colour. It is especially characteristic for publications in the russian periodical press.

as early as in the late 70s, on the background of relative economic

stability in the country, the teachers and sociologists have started talking about an internal crisis of the education system, about the grave problems of the japanese school. In the analysis of education the term neglect of education was frequently used. The system was criticized for the “framework character” of training, its isolation from the external world.

The fast rates of social and economic development from middle 80s, prior to the beginning of 90s have not saved japan from the subsequent economic recession known as lost 10 years. Growth of unemployment, reduction of birth rate and decrease of number of children caused serious social – pedagogical problems, which burdened modern school.

and today for the certain part of children the school is not as much of a temple of knowledge, but rather a place of the increased social and psychological danger. The cruelty of the schoolchildren to weaker peers, causing emotional or physical damage to them becomes frequently rule of children’s life. This phenomenon is fixed in the appropriate concept “ijime” – school mockery. The victims of “ijime” happen to find themselves on hospital beds. The amount of violence among the teenagers according to the data of National police administration and youth still remains significant [1, p. 12; 2, p. 234] (tabl. 1).

The statistics of fatal outcomes is not less depressing for disciplined japan.

Table 1









Quantity of

crimes committed








In the last decade of the past century in japan 600 children were lost from violence. largest percent of victims is made by children younger than 3 years, and their own mothers are guilty in more than half of cases [10, p. 151].

one more parameter of crisis in educational space of japan such phenomenon as “to-oko-kyokhi” – refusal of children to attend school, truancies. So, for example, if for the period from

1972 the 1982, number of incomplete high schools pupils, shirking more

50 educational days, have increased by

3 times from 7666 up to 20 165 [2, p. 91], according to the 1997–98 data this figure makes 127.000 truancies [4, p. 92]. among the reasons of this phenomenon the teachers and the parents name children’s fear of violence, mockery, extortion of the peers and senior pupils.

To understand the reason of the named phenomena, it is necessary to realize, that mockery, cruelty of children towards each other, unwillingness to attend school do not concern a certain child, school or state. In many European countries the given problems are urgent, and the measures of struggle with the similar phenomena are included into the charters of educational establishments, and widely discussed in society.

In the beginning of 1980s with a new stage of scientific and technical revolution and the globalization processes japanese education system faced the necessity of a cardinal reform. In the report, published in february, 1984, entitled “five principles of reform of education in the threshold of XXI century” the following priorities were selected: internationalization,

liberalization, information, society of life training, respect for the person. In the same year the report of private advisory council on culture and Education appears, in which the barriers hindering the further development of the japanese school are analyzed. among them the report mentioned imperfect system of entrance examinations in high schools, unification and uniformity of educational establishments, displacing of emphasis from such concepts as a public duty, responsibility, family education in favour of the new values, the democratic rights and freedom.

The consultative committee, created at the same time in the prime Minister’s office, has developed strategy and tactics of reforming of national, education, having proclaimed as a priority the principle of respect of individuality, which should be reflected in all aspects of the prepared reform. The special attention should also be given to bringing up in the younger generation the skill to think and express themselves independently, to development of their creative abilities, widening the choice of studied subjects, humanization of school life.

The perception of national character of the japanese is explained by the fact that the majority of the foreigners form their opinion of them from the usual subjective ideas and impressions, from the emotional-aesthetic rather than objective point of view. however, longer acquaintance with real life of the concrete people of this country, penetrating into their culture and lifestyle give us an adequate picture of it. This is possible only considering the social function of

school in the context of development of capitalism in japan. how are the features of national character formed, when do the lessons of life for the small japanese begin?

Tradition of celebrating holidays is interesting in this connection: The day of the boys (tango-no-sekku), The day of the Girls (hinnah matsouri) and Sitti — gho-san – day of children who have reached seven – five – three years. They allow to combine wonderful game, poetic perception of the world and traditional education.

acting as an important factor in humanization of environment and education, the holidays have essential and deep semantic, “world-intuitive contents” (M. M. bakhtin) being a significant component in the dynamics of labour activity and leisure of the people, they give deep emotional satisfaction to their participants. These holidays carry out a certain psychotherapeutic role, so necessary in the perfect and furious world, in which the significant part of life of the modern japanese is spent on job and study.

In the official calendar of japan

14 holidays are listed. besides these, uncountable rows of local festivals are held during the year, the majority originally had religious orientation, today they are perceived by general cultural tradition.

one can find many instructive and original things in the japanese education: in all times it was so much respected. Knowledge, wisdom, high morals determined the wealth of the nation. after the Meiji revolution in japan the system of schools was created on the

basis of the law on Education (1872), which allowed to proceed from idea of education of the released poor to the idea of growing up the japanese people. In the post-war period reforms were focused on transition from the idea of training the people as a basis of the state to the idea of formation of the person [3, p. 60]. The school system of this country today has five steps of a uniform educational ladder, its overall objective is formation of the people serving to the truth and peace. The education is compulsory for children from 6 till 15 years old. 97,3% of the teenagers from 15 to 17 years old continue education in the senior high school and 45,1% of youth receive the further education at universities and other educational institutions [5, p. 25]. The law on education determines the necessity to instill in children the political outlook and religious tolerance, but forbids to educational institutions to establish any connections with political parties and religious organizations. Speaking about relations of religion and education, it is necessary to take into account the historical features of japan. It is known, that Shintoism and buddhism as the recognized faiths, did not render influence on school, and their relations were decided in an evolutionary way. The statistical data say, that the believers in the country are almost twice as many as the total population [1, p. 262] (tabl. 2). however these data are not true, for

it is in traditions of the japanese culture in the certain vital circumstances to address to Shintoism, buddhism or other religions. If Shintoism and buddhism do not have religious or political influence on real life of the people, it cannot be

Table 2




Various sects


Quantity (mln)

89 164

87 167

41 578


said, for example, about the unitary church Totsu. Under a mask of care about young generation this uniting sect makes powerful psychological pressure on weaker part of student youth, taking them away from family and real life.

but now we will return to the first stage of public education – preschool establishments. The idea of conscious formation of the citizen of japan begins to be implemented here. 1,5 million children attend these establishments, and the major principle of the teachers’ job is love and patience.

The activity of all preschool establishments, irrespective of the department they belong to, is organized according to the appropriate technology: children purposefully learn to analyze the conflicts, arising in games, help to find ways out of them. The most productive decision is the compromise, which is achieved through purposeful and patient organization of children’s dialogue and games.

Such pedagogical principle ascends to traditional national values. The confirmation of the given thesis can be found in the constitution from 17 items of the Taishi period (576 b. c.)., first of which stated, that ‘most valuable be harmony, and most valued ability to avoid contradictions’.

It is known that the japanese morals do not stimulate personal initiative, for even the children’s community should be uniform. If we try to compare features of education in japan and russia, and, accordingly, features of russian and japanese children (this is not very sensible from the pedagogical point of view), it is possible to find much in common in them. These words are not true with the parents, the mothers to be exact. as the japanese press say, the mother who is crazy about education of her children is

the first to teach the child to read and write. In case of his or her illness she sits herself down at a tutorial school desk. This school called juku is popular in japanese society, it reproduces at home an exact copy of all school occupations. The similar phenomenon appeared in japan 40 years ago. “The Keiku” mums directed the activity of all extra-mural education of the child (juku – the lessons of the English language, music, sports). The social and economic changes of 1980s, have forced the Keiku mum to search for temporary earnings to give the child additional education.

being a link between the house and school, the mother helps form in the child’s consciousness high self — estimation and feeling of belonging to family. Traditionally to father received an honourable, but authoritarian role: being the «police officer» and less often a participant in everyday care about the child. hypertrophied mothers’ responsibility today causes an extraordinary phenomenon in the society, namely unity of mother and child against the father and their complete interdependence. pages of the press are full of sad statistics of “sinju” – joint suicide in love (the widely discussed term is traced back to the 17th century and is connected with the practice of voluntary joint suicide of lovers). Today similar phenomenon is associated with mother and child.

In extreme situations the wife commits suicide, wishing to revenge the husband for lack of attention to her and her child. There are cases of such acts among fathers and children. So, in 2000 in prefecture okayama a 17 year old pupil of the senior school who has not endured the “ijime” on the part of his peers, kills the offender with a baseball bat, then comes back home and kills his mother. The basic motive of murder of the mother

was the desire of the boy to release her from sufferings about the son.

The problem of alienation of children from the external world sometimes leads to catastrophic consequences. The discussion of the problem too concerns the syndicate of the mother and child. Unbreakable relations do not give children any opportunity to reach social freedom. and as a result they do not want to go out, even to communicate with members of their family, at first they protest against training at school, then they refuse to attend high school, to be employed to a job, remaining on expense of the parents up to mature age. according to sociological researches several hundred thousand of such teenagers and youth are totaled in japan today.

Growth of infantilism among teenagers and youth, unwillingness to bear responsibility for their own actions, denial of any criticism on the part of the adults especially extraneous – here is a real picture of the disturbing tendency, which is discussed in the press, and in pedagogical community. aggression of the youth towards people of senior age, including the parents becomes ordinary.

In the opinion of many teachers the largest problem in japan today is the adults who do not have a faith or convictions. for this reason they can not inspire ideals in the children. The previous generation was engaged in problems of survival in competitive race [6]. The problems of Generation without values, world outlook and its spiritual homelessness are being discussed in the pedagogical press. Under such titles many articles by progressive thinking teachers, journalists, social activists come out. The special interest is caused by the publications in one of prestigious socio-political magazines of japan: Sekai (World). It is the indicator of the

atmosphere in the most progressive — thinking part of the japanese society. on its pages readers find the discussion of the modern reform, its unrealistic schematism, empty daydreaming, errors and chaos [7, p. 26; 8, p. 12–24]. Special interest is caused by the publications of the known educationalist Sato Manabu. being an oppositionist to the bureaucratic part of the Education Ministry, he has devoted his professional career to real practice, to innovative democratic transformations of school. his books “design of educational reforms”, “reform from the classroom: the japan-american scene”, “Teaching the self-analysis practice” are best sellers in pedagogical circles.

Noteworthy is the fact, that he builds his theory on the basis of studying of others’ practice and own experience of implementing his ideas in schools. It is known, that until recently schools were among the most isolated establishments, closed for public and only today it is possible to find a number of schools, where “pilot” researches are carried out. among them is the hamanogo school, with which professor Sato also cooperates. Since 1999 an NhK education program (the pedagogics Today) has made a video recording of everything taking place within school walls during one year without any restrictions. as Sato M., comments “all events within school walls became transparent and open for the townspeople and for all teachers of our city”. The first step of reforming were the classrooms, their design. The pupils were emancipated of their traditional occupations, in which the blackboard, chalk and textbooks were in the central place. at the same time the educational materials for each year of training were developed. The classes were organized on the basis of interactive, self-reflexive activity [9, p. 146].

Getting acquainted with real practice of training at the japanese school, discussing its problems with scholars in the field of education we become to conviction, that it is impossible to estimate unequivocally such living social organism as the school. Impartial criticism of the “framework character” of training, rigid examination system can not annihilate the achievements of japanese school. Many things are changing in it: the native language

reasonable combination of traditions and innovations, orientation to development of individuality.

curriculum has been extended greatly, a

new subject – the Integrated training –

was introduced, children learn the international understanding, the school was opened for the public. This is not a complete list of positive changes in the japanese educational space. Summarizing the above designated features of the japanese school, it is necessary to point out major factors promoting its development: democratic reforms in education (it is the 3rd reform since WWII), creation of open schools, reduction of working week and, accordingly, contents of curricula, introduction of the concept of continuous education (life training),

Материал взят из: Журнал Образование. Наука. Инновации: Южное измерение № 2 (17)