On Fri, 26 May 2000 05:01:18 GMT, "Don Blasingame" <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>As a footnote to your post, it is my understanding that Japan does not track >students and their elementary and middle school classes are heterogeneous in >terms of ability.
The Japanese School system has severe limits on student and teacher freedom because the schools are strictly controlled by the central government. All of the classroom curricula, assemblies, examinations, etc. are conducted in a *simultaneous* fashion governed by common rules in all schools on a set schedule.
Student dress, hair style, and personal effects are subject to regulations set forth in elaborate detail.
At the center of this is the examination and competition for places in the various schools that has been the heart of Japanese schooling since the beginning of the modern era. School choice has ended up being rationed on the basis of physical, mental and emotional handicaps, gender, cultural background and social class.
Almost all Japanese children attend what Americans would call preschools. Generally children enter nursery school at 3 or 4 and continue in these schools until they are 5 or 6. In general one teacher is present in a classroom of 30 to 40 children. About 60 % of the nursery schools are private and 40 % are public with only 1% of the public sector schools being national in character.
Interestingly, Americans have an incorrect idea of how the Japanese accomplish control of their children. Mothers do not make explicit demands on their children and do not enforce rules when children resist, but children strongly internalize parental, group and institutional values. Small, fixed-membership groups are a striking feature of Japanese Nursery Schools. Groups have their own tables, are frequently assigned the same chores and do the same teacher-initiated projects together and this carries over into lunch and informal play. Teachers seem to select the groups initially on the basis of children who play well together though best friends are often split up into different groups. The groups are also constructed by distributing *able* children into all the groups by skills. Teachers tend to minimize the impression of control, delegate much control to the children, provide lots of opportunities for children to acquire a positive identity and avoid any attribution of intentional misbehavior to the children. This kind of control helps make the transition from a very indulgent home environment to a large group classroom manageable.
Preschools do differ, however, in their curricula. There are academically oriented and non-academically oriented preschools. The major difference between these schools, however, involves how much formal and intensive the program was. The non-academic preschools tend not to teach formal reading or math, but to feel that speaking and listening should be emphasized while in the academic preschools there were lessons on reading and writing. At the fourth grade level, there appears to be no difference in the achievement of children from one or the other type of preschool.
Elementary schools in Japan also emphasize group learning. They are far from the *rote and drill* model that westerners believe are common. Teachers in Japanese classrooms rarely rely on choral responding and group reading. Less than 2 % of the time in elementary classrooms are spent on these tasks. In mathematics, for example, teachers utilize a variety of approaches that stress application, problem solving and abstract representations of problems. Notably, the incidence of hyperactivity, hair-twisting, lip-biting and other tension signs seem to be fairly low also in this elementary school setting. Teachers in these classrooms are successful at engaging the attention of their pupils in these large classrooms partly because they are not responsible for classrooms during the entire day. They have much more time than American teachers devoted to preparing lessons, working with individual children and conducting class related acitivities outside the classroom. The cultural appraisal of the effect of hard work on mastery of the curriculum encourages children to succeed at a higher difficulty level, since they do not believe that genetic ability is the limiter of their achievements.
In Japan, compulsory education extends only through the primary and lower secondary schools. However, almost all Japanese students do go on to high school. The entrance examinations constitute a special hurdle that makes the process quite different from the process in the US. About 50 % of Japanese students actually attend the *ordinary* high schools that lead directly to working careers, but almost all students at the junior high level want to take the examinations for the *good* academic high schools. The intense competition created by this system makes it difficult for the originally group oriented children to maintain friendships. This is the level at which the sorting of students into various tracks of society occurs, though the elementary schools are not uniform in their treatment of minorities (especially of the Burakumin - Japan's invisible people who are outcaste by their hereditary association with occupations involving blood and death). Ninth graders who score low on the tests here are essentially relegated to second class economic status for life. There are also significant differences in the patterns of opportunities provided to women in Japanese schools. Junior Colleges have become the *women's track* in higher education. Japan's schooling is also segregated in terms of special needs students with special schools predominating, not just special classrooms within regular schools.
All of this information comes from the book edited by James J. Sheilds, Jt. Japanese Schooling: Patterns of Socialization, Equality and Political Control.
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