Secondary education in Japan
|This article is outdated. (April 2010)|
Secondary education in Japan is split into junior high schools (中学 chūgaku) which cover the seventh through ninth grades, and senior high schools (高等学校 kōtōgakkō, abbreviated to 高校 kōkō) which mostly cover grades ten through twelve. Attendance in upper secondary school is not compulsory, but most students do attend.
Most Japanese upper secondary schools have complicated admissions procedures, similar to university admissions in other countries. Some senior high schools focus on preparing their students to enter the top universities, such as the University of Tokyo. Some of private universities, such as the Keio University, have their dedicated junior and senior high schools and ensure students of them to graduate directly into the corresponding universities without admission. Students who do not plan to attend university are generally tracked into vocational senior high schools: very few lower secondary school graduates forgo upper secondary school entirely, although they are free to do so if they wish.
In Japan, the School Education Law was revised in 1998, and secondary schools were newly recognized. Education in these schools combines that of junior and senior high schools, without a clear break. A further revision to the law was carried out on 15 December 2006. The revised law leaves the structure of schooling basically the same but includes new emphases on respect for Japanese culture (Article 2.5), school discipline (Article 6.2), and parental responsibility (Article 10).
Junior high school 
Lower-secondary schools cover grades seven, eight, and nine. Ages are roughly thirteen to fifteen with increased focus on academic studies. Although it is still possible to leave the formal education system after completing lower secondary school and find employment, fewer than 4% did so by the late 1980s.
Like most elementary schools, most junior high schools in the 1980s were public schools and government funded, but 5% were private schools. Private schools cost about 558,592 (Yen) (US$3,989) per student in 1988, about four times more than the 130,828 yen (US$934) that the ministry estimated as the cost for students enrolled in public junior high schools.
The minimum number of school days in a year is 210 in Japan, compared to 180 in the United States. However, students will typically attend school for 240 to 250 days a year. A significant part of the school calendar is taken up by non-academic events such as sports days and school trips.
The teaching force in lower-secondary schools is two-thirds male. Schools are headed by principals, 99% of whom were men in 1988. Teachers often majored in the subjects they taught, and more than 80% graduated from a four-year college. Classes are large, with thirty-eight students per class on average, and each class is assigned a homeroom teacher who doubles as counselor. Unlike Elementary students, junior high school students have different teachers for different subjects. The teacher, however, rather than the students, usually moves to a new room for each fifty-minute period.
Instruction tends to rely on the lecture method. Teachers also use other media, such as television and radio, and there is some laboratory work. By 1989 about 45% of all public lower-secondary schools had computers, including schools that used them only for administrative purposes. Classroom organization is still based on small work groups, although no longer for reasons of discipline. Students are expected to have mastered daily routines and acceptable behavior.
All course contents are specified in the Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools. Some subjects, such as Japanese language and mathematics, are coordinated with the elementary curriculum. The curriculum covers Japanese language, English, social studies, mathematics, science, music, fine arts, industrial arts, homemaking, health, and physical education. Moral education and special activities continue to receive attention. In science, students may take courses emphasizing the safety and necessity of nuclear power plants, with curricula written by government bureaucrats rather than teachers.
Extra-curricular activities 
Many of students also participate in after-school clubs. Sports clubs, such as Yakyu (baseball) tend to be especially popular among boys, while wind bands are the most popular club among girl students. Club activities were mandatory from 1972 to 2002 in name, while some students joined none of them in reality. Some junior high schools also encourage students to take ability tests such as the STEP Eiken for English or the Kanji kentei for Japanese.
The ministry recognizes a need to improve the teaching of all foreign languages, especially English. To improve instruction in spoken English, the government invites many young native speakers of English to Japan to serve as assistants to school boards and prefectures under its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. By 2005 participants numbered over 6,000. In the last few years, several school boards in Japan have relied on ALTs (Assistant Language Teacher) from private dispatch companies.
As part of the movement to develop an integrated curriculum and the education reform movement of the late 1980s, the entire Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools was revised in 1989 and took effect in the 1992–93 school year. A main aim of the reform is to equip students with the basic knowledge needed for citizenship. In some measure, this means increased emphasis on Japanese history and culture, as well as understanding Japan as a nation and its relationships with other nations of the world. The course of study also increased elective hours, recommending that electives be chosen in light of individual student differences and with an eye toward diversification.
Two problems of great concern to educators and citizens began to appear at the lower-secondary level in the 1980s: bullying, which remains a major problem, and the school-refusal syndrome (toko kyohi—manifested by a student's excessive absenteeism), which was on the rise. In 2008, there were 42,754 incidents of problematic behavior in junior high schools, according to a government survey.(The Daily Yomiuri 2/12/2009)
Experts disagreed over the specific causes of these phenomena, but there is general agreement that the system offers little individualized or specialized assistance, thus contributing to disaffection among those who can not conform to its demands or who are otherwise experiencing difficulties. Another problem concerns Japanese children returning from abroad. These students, particularly if they have been overseas for extended periods, often need help not only in reading and writing but also in adjusting to rigid classroom demands. Even making the adjustment does not guarantee acceptance: besides having acquired a foreign language, many of these students have also acquired foreign customs of speech, dress, and behavior that mark them as different.
Senior High school 
Even though upper-secondary school is not compulsory in Japan, 94% of all lower-secondary school graduates entered upper secondary schools in 1989. Private upper-secondary schools account for about 24% of all upper-secondary schools. The Ministry of Education estimated that annual family expenses for the education of a child in a public upper-secondary school were about ¥300,000 (US$2,142) in both 1986 and 1987 and that private upper-secondary schools were about twice as expensive. However, starting April 2010, due to the "Act on Free Tuition Fee at Public High Schools and High School Enrollment Support Fund," passed March 31, 2010 and enacted April 1, 2010, standard Japanese public high school education is now tuition-free.
All upper-secondary schools, public and private, are informally ranked, based on their success in placing graduates in freshman classes of the most prestigious universities. In the 1980s, private upper-secondary schools occupied the highest levels of this hierarchy, and there was substantial pressure to do well in the entrance examinations that determined the upper-secondary school a child entered. Admission also depends on the scholastic record and performance evaluation from lower-secondary school, but the examination results largely determine school entrance. Students are closely counseled in lower-secondary school, so that they will be relatively assured of a place in the schools to which they apply. Compared to junior high schools, the students more often move between classes each period.
The most common type of upper-secondary schools has a full-time, general program that offered academic courses for students preparing for higher education and also technical and vocational courses for students expecting to find employment after graduation. More than 70% of upper-secondary school students were enrolled in the general academic program in the late 1980s. A small number of schools offer part-time or evening courses or correspondence education.
See also: Japanese history textbook controversies
The first-year programs for students in both academic and commercial courses are similar. They include basic academic courses, such as Japanese language, English, mathematics, and science. In upper-secondary school, differences in ability are first publicly acknowledged, and course content and course selection are far more individualized in the second year. However, there is a core of academic material throughout all programs. Vocational-technical programs includes several hundred specialized courses, such as information processing, metal works, fish farming, business English, and automotive industry. Business and industrial courses are the most popular, accounting for 72% of all students in full-time vocational programs in 1989.
The upper-secondary curriculum also underwent thorough revision; in 1989 a new Course of Study for Upper-Secondary Schools was announced that was to be phased in beginning with the tenth grade in 1994, followed by the eleventh grade in 1995 and the twelfth grade in 1996. Among noteworthy changes is the requirement that both male and female students take a course in home economics. The government is concerned with instilling in all students an awareness of the importance of family life, the various roles and responsibilities of family members, the concept of cooperation within the family, and the role of the family in society. The family continues to be an extremely important part of the social infrastructure, and the ministry clearly is interested in maintaining family stability within a changing society. Another change of note was the division of the old social studies course into history-and-geography and civics courses, not to mention, this has nothing about subject expectations.
- Comparison of old and current law on Japan Focus an Asian pacific e-journal] accessed at December 11, 2008
- Shields, James J. (31 May 2004). Japanese Schooling: Patterns of Socialization, Equality, and Political Control. Penn State Press. pp. 82–84. ISBN 978-0-271-02340-3. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
- Wind Bands and Cultural Identity in Japanese Schools by David G. Hebert (Springer press, 2011).
- Free to Be by Miki Tanikawa, on New York Times January 12, 2002