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As mentioned in Part 1, school plays a major role in Japanese society. Therefore, attempts are made to improve education and training of students. The Principal of Kinrin Elementary School, Ms. Nakazawa Akemi, told me that students have to sit for three tests every year. In each trimester they complete a certain segment of the curriculum and then the students have to take the test. At the end of the academic year, the aggregate of the tests are given to the students’ parents. The basis for admission to a higher grade is not only the test results, but rather individual effort, determination and talent are also criteria for successful passing of a grade.
“We try to train the students on the basis of the said criteria,” she said. “No student fails in primary school, but we inform the parents of their children’s academic performance and explain their strengths and weaknesses to the students. However, we don’t compare them with their classmates. We don’t even show appreciation to top students.
Only in two subjects, namely, sports and arts, we issue them certificate of appreciation,” she explained.
I asked Ms. Machiko whether students would lose their incentive to work hard if there is no competition.
“Students know the characteristics of their classmates and try to catch up with them. Students know which classmate is good in which subject,” she said. “However, students boast of their performances in sports and arts, but not in other subjects.”
Mr. Seki explained that the school also organizes extracurricular classes which are optional and the students can choose to attend. “Group improvement is a Japanese trait, which is very important to us”.
Ms. Machiko said even in the play that the students staged, the good group tried as a team to turn the evil group into good; it wasn’t a question of defeating them.
As an example of team work, the principal said: “All students must contribute in all collective activities such as cleaning of the school. We divide the students into three groups to clean different parts of the school. The students of sixth grade clean their own classroom and the area near the gate, as well as help the students of the first grade and teach them how to do the cleaning job. The entire school area is divided among the students to clean. However, the students of first grade clean only their own classroom. Ms. Akemi said, “Everything belongs to all and must be cleaned. This scheme continues up to high school.” Music with English lyrics is played during cleaning time so that students improve their English.
I had heard in Iran that Japanese school teachers are so kind that students cry when they want to leave school. I was curious to verify it with Ms. Akemi, the principal, who smilingly said, “Students don’t cry when they leave school, but they really enjoy school hours. However, it happens when they graduate from school and want to leave school for good”.
According to the principal, the following subjects are taught in schools: Japanese language (including Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji handwritings), mathematics, science, social sciences, music, art, sports, ethics, and research on one of the following topics: ICT, computer and Japanese traditional culture.
Every student has to do research, for which he or she consults experts outside school.
Ms. Machiko said, “Every school picks up a research topic such as the environment, problems of their local government zone, international events, book, or interviewing with a researcher to do research”.
Every grade has a teacher, and there are 35 to 40 students in each classroom. However, there are specialist teachers for music, such as piano, and art. They have to pass a difficult test for music and art.
The first salary of a primary school teacher is 220,000 Japanese yen per month and will be raised to 550,000 yen with the increase in the years of service.
Japanese schools have three semesters, separated by vacations. At most schools, summer vacation covers the 40-odd days from July 20 to August 31; winter and spring vacation both last around 10 days, from December 26 to around January 6, and March 25 to around April 5, respectively.
Teachers have only five days of summer holidays.
During the summer holidays, in consultation with the ministry’s experts and university professors, teachers work on the curriculum. Students come to school during the summer holidays to use the swimming pool or attend summer classes which are free of charge. For weaker students, summer classes are held between five to six hours every day, starting at 8:40 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.
Public schools are under the supervision of the provincial university.