Education in Japan
Despite spending less on education than many other developed countries, Japan has one of the best education systems in the world. To better understand how this is achieved, here are 10 facts about education in Japan.

10 Facts About Education in Japan

  1. High school dropout rate: Japan’s high school dropout rate is at a low 1.27%. In contrast, the average high school dropout rate in the U.S. is at 4.7%.
  2. Equality in education: Japan ranks highly in providing equal educational opportunities for students, regardless of socioeconomic status. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Japan ranks as one of the highest in education equity. In Japan, only nine percent of the variation in student performance results from students’ socioeconomic background. In comparison, the average variation in the OECD is 14%, while the average variation in the U.S. is 17%.
  3. Teacher mobility: Japan assigns teachers to schools in a different way than most education systems. Unlike most countries, individual schools do not have the power to hire teachers. Instead, prefectures assign teachers to the schools and students who need them most. At the beginning of teachers’ careers, they move schools every three years. This helps teachers work in various environments instead of staying in one socioeconomic group of schools. As teachers advance in their careers, they move around less.
  4. Frugal spending: Japan does not spend a lot of money on its education system, with the Japanese government investing 3.3% of its GDP on education. This is over one percentage point less than other developed countries and is a result of Japan’s frugal spending. For example, the Japanese government invests in simple school buildings, rather than decorative ones. The country also requires paperback textbooks and fewer on-campus administrators. Finally, students and faculty take care of cleaning the school, resulting in no need for janitors.
  5. Teaching entrance exams: The teaching entrance exam in Japan is extremely difficult. It is of similar difficulty to the U.S. bar exam. Passing the exam results in job security until the age of 60, a stable salary and a guaranteed pension.
  6. Personal energy: Japanese education requires that teachers put in a great amount of personal energy. More common than not, many teachers work 12 or 13 hours a day. Sometimes teachers even work until nine at night.
  7. Emphasis on problem-solving: Teachers focus on teaching students how to think. Unlike some other countries that lean towards teaching students exactly what will be on standardized tests, Japan focuses on teaching students how to problem-solve. By emphasizing critical thinking, Japanese students are better able to solve problems they have never seen before on tests.
  8. Teacher collaboration: Japanese education highlights pedagogy development. Teachers design new lessons, and then present those to fellow educators in order to receive feedback. Teachers also work to identify school-wide problems and band together to find solutions. The education system constantly encourages teachers to think of new ways to better education in Japan and engage students.
  9. Grade progression: Japanese students cannot be held back. Every student can progress to the next grade regardless of their attendance or grades. The only test scores that truly matter are the high school and university entrance exams. Despite this seemingly unregulated structure, Japan’s high school graduation rate is 96.7%, while the U.S. (where attendance and good grades are necessary to proceed to the next grade) has a graduation rate of 83%.
  10. Traditional teaching methods: Despite being one of the most progressive countries in science and technology, Japan does not use much technology in schools. Many schools prefer pen and paper. To save money, schools use electric fans instead of air conditioning and kerosene heaters instead of central heating. However, technology is now slowly being introduced into classrooms with more use of the internet and computers for assignments.

Through these methods, Japan has established that teaching and schooling are highly regarded aspects of society. By looking at what Japan has done, other countries might be able to learn and adapt to this minimalistic, equitable education model.

– Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Flickr