Education System in Japan - An Overview

Japan has world’s third largest economy. Rich in Asian culture and history yet embracing modern lifestyle is an archipelago of 4 major and over 4,000 smaller islands. It has varied topographical features from mountainous to coastline which makes it not only attractive tourist destination but today as the leader in technology, she is one of the sought after study destination too..

Japan is one of the world’s 100 %  enrolment in compulsory education grades and zero percent illiteracy with all these Japanese are considered the best educated population in the world.  The Education System in Japan is highly centralised as it is closely supervised by The Ministry of Education. The government closely oversees curriculum, textbooks, and classes and maintains a uniform level of education throughout the country thus maintaining high level of standards.

There are 21,460 elementary schools, 15,712 secondary schools, 783 universities, 57 College of Technology, 3249 specialized training colleges and 1059 Schools for special needs education. (Source: MEXT, School Basic Survey).

Japan has reformed its education system post World War II. Japanese education model was formed and developed over the education models of America and European countries like France. It follows the system of 6-3 years of compulsory education and 3-4 years of higher education, which is optional.

In Japan, school education comprises 12 years of total primary and secondary education. Initial 6 years of education is elementary level of education. Further lower secondary and higher secondary school education each consists of 3 years of education. Attending elementary and lower secondary school is mandatory for all children in Japan.

Compulsory Education

It is compulsory for children belonging to the age group of 6 to 15 years attend school. Tuition fee is not charged from students; however, parents need to provide other resources like school uniform, math kits and calligraphy sets etc. There is no dearth of schools in Japan, schools are easily accessible and elementary schools are generally in the walking distance homes.

School Education System

Kindergartens (Yochien) - Young children attend kindergarten of 3, 4 and 5 years. They are taught one- to three-year courses.

Elementary School  (Shogakko)-Japanese children enter primary school from age 6. The objective of elementary education is to impart general education.
Junior high (Chugakko)- After successful completion of Elementary School in Japan, students at the age of 12 are promoted to Junior High School "chugakko", duration of which is three years from 12-15 years.

High School (Koto-Gakko)

 After completion 9 years of compulsory education of Junior High School students are required to pursue High School Education. Competition for entrance examinations to prestigious high schools, universities, and other schools are so intense that many parents send their children to juku, or cram schools, for extracurricular lessons.
Students may choose to study in a public, private or Government funded High Schools. Students also have choice to join an Academic High School or Non Academic high school. Further, about 75% students attend Academic High Schools. Those who do not secure admission into a public or private high school have choice to attend Night Schools. Night Schools consist of night or evening classes, which is offered by a few Public Schools in Japan. Other options may include correspondence courses and training schools.

Schools for Special Needs Education (Tokubetsu-Shien-Gakko)- Special needs education is offered to children with comparatively severe disabilities at kindergarten, elementary, lower secondary and upper secondary levels. It is available at special education schools and regular schools. For children with mild disabilities, special small classes are offered in regular elementary and lower secondary schools.

Academic Calendar

The school session in Japan starts from the month of April. School time varies from 6-7 hours and is open from Monday to Friday or Saturday. Number of weekdays, for which schools remain open, varies from school to school. The yearlong session includes breaks in spring and winter season and also a break of approximately six weeks during summer.

School Curriculum

Curriculum of elementary school includes studies of Japanese, mathematics, social studies, science, arts, music and handicrafts. At this stage of education, more attention is given towards subjects like fine arts, music and physical education. Moral science or education was also introduced as compulsory subject in schools to incorporate moral values in the students.

Curriculum of middle level education includes subjects like mathematics, science, Japanese, social studies, English, art, music, field education and physical education. Mode of education is textbook based, which is followed by teachers to cover whole of the syllabus for the basic preparation for entrance exams of high school education.

High school curriculum has a various subjects of education. In high school education, one can choose among different vocational subjects like commerce, home science, fishery, agriculture, nursing and other technical subjects. Students from elite high schools go for higher studies in top universities. There is also the provision of correspondence course as well as evening/night schools for those, who work to meet their monetary needs.

The culture of middle school and high school education is affected by juku systems i.e., private study centres for studying after school hours. Students want to take and parents want to give this extra burden for 100% preparation of entrance exams to get admission to the next level of education.

Higher Education

All of the students graduating from high school are eligible to go for higher studies of university level. Approximately 45% students from high school go for higher education. Institutes of higher education comprise universities, Junior colleges and Colleges of Technology (Koto-senmon-gakko). In addition there are Specialised Training Colleges (Senshu-gakko) and Miscellaneous Schools (Kakushu-gakko) for imparting vocational and technical education programs.

Presently, there are over 1,200 universities and colleges which has about 3.22 million students in Japan as of May 2011 as reported by FY2011 Quick Report of School Basic Survey.  There is a tough competition among aspiring students for acquiring admission in top ranking universities. Many educational policies have been reformed in order to maintain the high standard of University level education at Japan.

Academic session of university starts from the month of April and includes two semesters. General undergraduate degree is of duration 3 or 4 years. The post graduate degree is a 2year program. A Doctorate degree is of minimum 3 years and may take longer depending upon the time taken for the research.

International Students

Japan is attracting students from across the world to study and experience the high standards of education and research. As reported by Japan Student Services Organisation(JASSO, 137,756 international students were accepted in various higher education programs in Japan as of May 1, 2012.

The Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is a standard examination of admission to Japanese universities for international students. As a drive to make Japan popular study destination the government has provision for scholarship programs for international students by the Japanese government, local governments, the Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO) and private organisations, foundations and companies in Japan and abroad.

Japan has achieved 99.9% literacy rate and has the highest literacy rate in the world. Many other countries are watching closely education system of Japan and trying to study the Japanese education system to burst out the secret of success of this education. The system supports its best for the overall development of the students and gives an opportunity to develop as a responsible individual.
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