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Elementary and Secondary Education in Japan

The K12 education system in Japan is recognised and well-known worldwide. The schools in Japan are either public or private. Public schools are of two types:
  • National Schools that are set up and financed by the national government
  • Local Schools that are set up by the municipal government and financed by all 3 levels of government

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), along with university professors and the Central Council for Education set up the curriculum guidelines from pre-school education through senior high school. Primary school curriculum is divided into three main components: compulsory subjects, special subjects and moral education.  
Compulsory subjects: The compulsory subjects to be studies in Japan are Japanese language and literature, math, social studies, science, arts, music, and handicrafts, moral education and homemaking. These compulsory subjects go on in lower secondary school as well, along with a few more subjects such as fine arts, foreign languages and a larger array of electives. In upper secondary schools, mandatory subjects/courses of study are civics, history and geography.

Structure of K-12 Education in Japan

The Primary (elementary) and secondary education follow a 6-3-3 model structure. 
  • Pre-Schools (yochien) and Day care Centres (hoikuen).
  • 6 years – of Elementary Schools (shogakko),
  • 3 years- of Lower Secondary Schools or Middle Schools (chugakko)
  • 3 years- of Upper Secondary Schools or Highe Schools (kotogakko)
  • Special Needs Education Schools

Compulsory Education

Compulsory education starts at age 6 and extends for 9 years, including the 6-year elementary and 3-year lower secondary school phase. 

School Year in Japan

The school year in Japan commences in early April and is divided into trimesters-
  • Begin in April and end in July
  • Begin in September and end in December
  • Begin in January and end in March
The long holidays takes place from mid-July to the end of August. 
The Japanese elementary and secondary school year stretches out for 240 days, inclusive of Saturdays. 

Language of Instruction

The language of instruction in Japan schools is Japanese. The foreign languages are studied at the lower secondary level as an elective, along with English that is considered to be the primary language.

K-12 Education Facts and Figures

Japan’s school educational system is in a top position in terms of quality and performance. The average student scored 540 in reading literacy, science and math in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is higher than the OECD average of 497, making Japan one of the powerful OECD country in students’ ability and skills.

Total Number of Students-

Kindergarten (Preschool)- 1,604,225
Elementary Schools- 6,764,619
Lower Secondary Schools- 3,552,663
Upper Secondary Schools- 3,355,609
Schools for Special Needs Education- 129,994

Source: MEXT,School Basic Survey (Data-FY 2012)

K-12 Education: Detailed

Juku

Juku are special private schools that operate after school hours and on the weekends. 
The juku is divided into academic and non-academic-
  • Academic- The academic juku provide lessons in school studies such as Japanese language, math, social studies, science, and English. 
  • Non-Academic: Focuses on a broad scope of disciplines such as piano, arts lessons, abacus, swimming, and calligraphy. 
The yobiko is a special type of juku which focuses on preparing upper secondary school students and graduates for university entrance examinations.

Preschool Education

Preschool education encompasses Preschool and Day Care centres.
Early childhood education begins at home wherein the parents educate their kids. A lot of the home training is committed to teaching etiquettes and manners, appropriate social conduct, verbal communication and number skills. 
Preschool education provides the transformation from home schooling to formal school for most kids. 
  • Preschools (yochien): Generally staffed by young female junior college graduates, and are administered and overseen by the Ministry of Education. 
  • Day-care centres (hoikuen): These are managed and run by the Ministry of Labour and also offer preschool education. 

Primary Education 

Primary education in Japan encompasses elementary schools.

Elementary school (shogakko): These schools last for 6 years. Kids enter elementary schools at the age of 6 and go on till 12 years of age. The elementary schools include both academic as well as non-academic education, along with moral education and special activities. The special activities refer to the school activities and ceremonies that focus on teamwork and cooperation. Development of character building is the primary objective of elementary schools. Elementary education in Japan serves as a foundation in creating a positive attitude toward lifetime education

Curriculum-
  • Academic Subjects: Include the basics of reading and writing in Japanese and English, math, social studies and science.
  • Non-Academic Subjects: Include Music, Physical education, environment studies, arts and handicrafts, homemaking and moral education
Duration: 6 years 
Grades: 1 to 6
Age group: 6 to 12 years old
Leaving Certificate:  Elementary School Certificate of Graduation (Shoggako Sotsugyo Shosho)

Secondary Education

Secondary Education in Japan is split into two 3-year cycles- Lower Secondary Schools and Upper Secondary Schools. Lower Secondary schools is mandatory to attend.

Lower Secondary School (Chugakko)

The lower secondary school lasts for three years. Children from the age of 12 to 15 years of age attend lower secondary schools. In the lower secondary schools, the prime focus is on academic studies. It is also referred to as middle schools or junior high school. Lesson at the lower secondary schools are imparted through lecture method. Also, television, radio and labs are used to impart education.

Duration: 3 years

Age group: 12 to 15 years old

Grades: 7 to 10

Course of Study/Syllabus: Japanese language, math, social studies, science, fine arts, science, foreign languages, health and physical education. Likewise, moral education, industrial arts and homemaking, and special activities that include school, society or club activities are a crucial part of the curriculum taught to all pupils.

Certificate/Credential:  Lower Secondary School Certificate of Graduation (Chugakko Sotsugyo Shomeisho )

Upper Secondary Education (Kotogakko)

Upper Secondary education is not compulsory and is split into 2 main streams- Academic and Vocation or technical education. It is also referred to as high school.  Admission to Upper Secondary schools is based on the competitive exams and academic records and performance evaluation from lower secondary schools.

Academic Upper Secondary School
Academic Upper Secondary schools in Japan emphasize on the academic studies. 
  • Duration:  3 years 
  • Credits required: At least 80 credits
  • Course of Study: Japanese language, English, Science, Math, History, Civics, geography, Politics and economics, physical education, world history, music, fine arts, homemaking, crafts, and a foreign language
  • Leaving Certificate/Credential:  Certificate of Secondary Education (Kotogakko Sotsugyo Shomeisho).
Students who possess the certificate of secondary education are allowed to take the university entrance exam, called the Examination of the National Center for University Entrance.

Technical/Vocational Upper Secondary Schools
Students opting for the vocational/technical upper secondary schools are asked to select an area of specialization in which they must take subjects worth 30 credit points. They are likewise required to take a number of general education subjects in order to gain 80 credits over 3 years of study. These schools focus on developing the job-specific skills and knowledge. 
  • Duration: 3 years  
  • Credits Required: At least 80 credits
  • Curriculum/Syllabus:  Agriculture, Information processing, fisheries, business English, ceramics, industry, home economics, Navigation, nursing, and welfare.
  • General subjects: Japanese language, math, social studies, arts, science, physical education, and a foreign language.
  • Leaving Certificate: Certificate of Secondary Education (Kotogakko Sotsugyo Shosho). 

Special Needs Education

Japan provides school education to kids who are mentally or physically disabled. With changes in the School Education Law in the year 2007, ‘Schools for Special Needs Education’ system, a single school can accept students with any kind of disability.  These schools consist of four stages of departments, namely, pre-school, elementary(primary), lower secondary and upper secondary departments, wherein the elementary and the lower secondary are mandatory to attend.  In Schools for Special Needs Education, kids learn by special curriculum, and are surrounded by large of teachers. Such education is also offered at regular schools wherein special classes are held for such students.

Application Procedure 

To apply to Japanese schools, you should get in touch with your local municipal office as they are the ones who can give you information on Japanese schools in your neighbourhood. Apply directly to the Japanese school of your choice on time. Once the admission is done successfully, i.e. your kid is accepted, you’re required to register the result at the local municipal office. 

Grading Mechanism of Elementary and Secondary Schools

The structure of examinations for primary (elementary schools), lower secondary schools and upper secondary schools is generally same. Till secondary school, all the students are passed in the exam and promoted to the next level irrespective of their performance in the exams. Not a single student is held back or fails.
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