Some time ago the question arose on this list whether the growing home schooling movement in the U.S. had an equivalent in Japan. Nothing much could be said at that time for lack of data and material, but -- for reasons I shall state below -- such a movement might gain momentum in Japan in the future. I would therefore like to share some information on the topic from the most recent Japanese edition of Newsweek.
The 1998.10.14 issue features an eight-page article on home schooling in the U.S. (pp. 48-55), followed by one page on home schooling (zaitaku kyouiku) in Japan (p. 57). The latter consists mainly of an interview with Kugai Tomiko, whose 13-year old daughter Momo does not attend school, and who established a network for families involved in home schooling in Himeji.
Having read a Japanese translation of John Holt's works on home schooling, Ms. Kugai, herself working at an after-school day care center, was already critical of compulsory education by the time her daughter entered elementary school. She made it clear from the start that Momo need not go to if she didn't want to, and it was due to the girl's own wish that she gave it a try. She went to school every other day at first, and while there were times when she enjoyed going, she decided at the beginning of the second term of her third year that she would from now on "continue at home".
Ms. Kugai's main criticism of Japanese schools is that children are subject to immense stress due to 'forced education' (oshitsuke kyouiku). E.g., although her daughter is afraid of the water, she was not allowed to stay out of the pool during swimming lessons. The curriculum has absolute priority over children's wishes and needs, Ms. Kugai says.
She actively supports her daughter in learning only what she is interested in and helps her only in finding suitable teaching material and explaining what she doesn't understand. Momo is attending neither a so-called free school (for children who refuse to go school) nor correspondence classes. As her learning is inspired by her current interests, there is no curriculum established for her, either. Asked whether she doesn't worry about her daughter's future in a society that is still very much based on educational meritocracy, Ms. Kugai replies that the future is very unclear even for those who do attend regular schools and that it is therefore best to find out (and practice) what one really wants to do.
To make her decision to let her daughter stay away from school more visible, Ms. Kugai established the "Home Schooling Net Himeji", a group that has ten local families as active members and whose monthly publication has been subscribed to by 140 readers.
Five such networks exist in Japan, according to the Newsweek article. Thus, such parents can still be considered only a small minority, hardly to be called a movement. (In the U.S., the number of children educated at home is estimated at around 1.5 million at present, compared to around 300,000 children in 1990, according to Newsweek.)
However, as the article points out, the ever growing number of Japanese children who don't go to school because of "school phobia" (gakkou girai) -- 105,000 elementary and junior high school students were absent for 30 school days or more in 1997, according to Ministry of Education statistics -- could lead to a reconsideration of this option. While home schooling is not legally acknowledged in Japan, it is probably happening de facto in quite a number of cases, as not all "school refusers" can or will go to free schools instead. While only few Japanese parents will be so positive about de-schooling as Ms. Kugai, many more will find themselves in need of alternative ways of schooling for their children.
Thus, while in the U.S. home schooling is basically opted for 'freely' by parents (be it for religious or ideological or other reasons), in Japan home schooling might become an issue due to children's opting out of school. It remains to be seen how educational authorities and schools will react to that challenge.
Annette Erbe Presently Research Fellow German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo <email@example.com>
***************************************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU