Japanese Education Looking to Revamp

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TOYKO – Japan experienced a decades-long economic boom following World War II with the development of its industrial capitalist economy. The education system was modeled to accommodate the economic powerhouse with a well-educated workforce. Highly competitive and rigorous high-school testing was the foundation of Japanese education. It required students to be greatly disciplined and dedicate to studying. The Japanese economy has declined and high test scores are not enough to compete in the global economy.

Irregularly employed Japanese workers account for one-third of the population. Female workers make up 70 percent of the irregularly employed along with half of workers ages 15 to 24. The wages earned by 77 percent of the irregularly employed are below the poverty level. These individuals are considered the working poor. A career as a lifetime salaryman was what students worked towards through successful education. Those jobs have dwindled due to economic contraction and neo-liberal restructuring in the economy.

The foundation of Japanese capitalism is the unity between home, job and school. Strong emphasis placed on that unity and testing has caused a lack of creativity in the Japanese economy. A diversified economy is vital to maintaining a competitive edge in the global economy. Professor Yong Zhao from the University of Oregon explained that creativity and innovation must be made the priority in education rather than test-taking for global competitiveness.

Vocational schools are included in the Japanese education system with specialization in industrial, agricultural and commercial sectors. Students who are not academic standouts can attend vocational schools to receive hands-on training and experience in the field of their choice. Students at Japanese vocational schools have the opportunity to practice on the same kind of hi-tech machinery that they will need the skills to operate in the workplace.

Graduates from vocational schools are important to the creative expansion and diversification of the Japanese economy. The issue is that vocational schools suffer from social stigma as a place for students who cannot get accepted into what is considered a proper school. While vocational schools are looked down on, graduates of these schools have successful employment.

Individuals without enough resources to transition from family to school to corporation are put in low social placement. The pressure of economic achievement and global advancement as a social purpose in Japan has left those who have fallen short to isolate themselves. Isolated individuals are referred to in Japan as hikikomori. Hikikomori are male young adults who keep to themselves in a single room that they may not leave for years if at all.

Hikikomori have been around since the early 1990s and usually confine themselves to their family residence. They depend on their parents for basic needs, although interaction and communication with them are minimal to nonexistent. The population of hikikomori range between 100,000 and 700,000. A third of hikikomori began in childhood out of refusal to attend school. One hikikomori named Kacco detailed that his parents and teachers treated him very coldly the moment his school performance started to dip.

The Japanese government has sought to remedy the education problem by proposing a university entrance exam that places importance on the character of applicants. This is to lessen the emphasis on testing knowledge. The proposed test consists of two parts, which are basic learning achievement and the ability to receive university education. It can be taken several times a year by students. Universities are also encouraged to incorporate essays, interviews and letters of recommendation from principals into the admissions process along with the results of the proposed test.

Brittany Mannings

Sources: The Atlantic, The Telegraph, The Japan Times
Photo: Factrange

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