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Friday, October 9, 2015

Japan's Educational System: Problem One

I am, obviously, a fan of Japan, but I am not so blind to all those confounding facts or social morays of Japan that seem to litter it that often has many non-Japanese shaking their collective head in shock and awe.

I was an AET (assistant English teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme back in 1990-1993 - part of its so-called second-wave of participants.

I obviously had a wonderful time in Japan, never openly criticizing the way they did things even when I knew many things could be done in a much better manner—of course, that was just one gaijin's (foreigner's) opinion.

While I admired the worth ethic of the teachers at the seven junior high schools I taught at in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, and generally respected the effort I saw from the students, there was something about Japan's education system that bothered me.

There were many things, actually, but let me instead just try and focus on one such thing.

That thing?

Educational life decisions were truly made or lost by the time the kids graduated high school.

I know, I know… it's that way in pretty much every country, generally speaking… but  at least in western countries, even you were a complete effing screw up in high school, as an adult you were still afforded the opportunity to truly better the quality of your education and your life.

I was such a screw-up in high school in Canada. A year younger, shorter, glasses-wearing and perhaps even the wrong color than my classmates, I allowed their bullying to affect me emotionally enough to where I was skipping school.

By the time I was to have graduated, I had guidance councilors recommended I not bother applying for admittance to university, but to hope I could get into a community college to learn a trade.

Nonplussed, I decided to stay back a second year with kids my own age (okay, I failed three subjects - an automatic recipe to stay back a year), and applied myself to my work, and squeaked into university with the lowest of marks.Actually, I was accepted into all three universities in Canada that I applied to and was offered a partial soccer scholarship to the University of Kentucky. Go Wildcats. A partial university was never going to cut it, and to be honest, I didn't think I was that good a soccer player anyhow. They never even saw me play - so I am unsure how the hell I was offered anything from them.

So I went to university, and five years later emerged with a degree in Political Science. Can anyone tell me WTF you do with a degree in Political Science? No one at university could tell me... such a bloody waste of time. No wonder I never tried when I was there. Plus I discovered booze.

I already knew that a degree in Political Science was useless, and in my third year of university, I began to go to night school taking college courses in marketing and advertising. 

Finished with bullcrap higher learning, I decided I would go back to day school college and learn a trade in journalism, which has paid off handsomely as a newspaper reporter with Canada's top daily newspaper, as a magazine writer in my day job, and as a daily blogger for this and other weekly blogs. Handsomely? Well it paid off in a sorta okay-looking way. Writers don't generally make a lot of money. Become a plumber or electrician or a mob accountant or something.

My communication skills and the fact I was hired on by The Toronto Star newspaper made it seem like I was something special.... and for whatever reason, the JET Programme thought I was interesting.

College - and journalism, by the way, was when I first tried to achieve something more than a fair to middling grade. 

I was what is known as your classic "late-bloomer".

That - being a "late bloomer"… does not exist in Japan.

In Japan, you are what you are and will always be depending on how you performed as a 17/18-year-old or as a 13/14-year-old on a high school entrance exam or a junior high school entrance exam, respectively.

Granted I was 12-years-old when I entered Grade 9 (third year junior high school in Japan), but whatever super-genius I possessed, I was clearly wasting it by propping up my desk with my tent pole every single day and every single class.

I also didn't give a crap and never studied or did any homework. In fact, that continued on till I was nearly 24 and in college for journalism.

I wasn't stupid or even lazy. I just didn't give a crap... or maybe no teacher or person could actually motivate me.

I just didn't give a crap.

I'm hardly alone in that sentiment… even in Japan.

Students in Grade 9 take a high school entrance exam… and depending on their marks, can enter a High Academic high school; a Regular high school; or one of the many Trade high schools such as Technical, Commercial or Agricultural.

See? Pigeon-holed already.

That's just high school.

Once in high school, more entrance exams are written at the end of Grade 12 that will determine if you can get into a High Academic University, or a Regular one; a Community College, or again a Vocational or Technical school.

However well one performs at the age of 13/14 and again at 17/18… there is no reset button... you have just set your life's path... 

I would be pumping gas for a living. There's nothing wrong with that, but the proof is in the pudding that I could, if allowed, do so much more.

Have you ever panicked at a job interview or on a test - drawing a complete blank? (Not me, however.) It can happen. Not every person reacts well under pressure - and believe you me, the Japanese kids are under tremendous pressure when they write these entrance exams… not only is it pressure on themselves as it affects who they will become when they grow up, but there's also a great deal of social pressure placed upon them by their parents and family.

No one really wants to disappoint their family.

And so… the failures and success as a teenager are deep repercussions on the Japanese adult of the future.

Again… I'm not saying these kids are stupid, or that the adults doing non-university-level jobs are dumb… I'm just saying that is how the Japanese educational system has let them down.

To prove I wasn't a moron, I was once administered an IQ test in high school.

I already knew I wasn't, as I had one done at the Church of Scientology on Yonge Street in Toronto, which noted I was a sub-genius with an IQ of 149. The school one had me pegged at 145, and a third one I did for kicks had me come in at 147.

So. Not a moron... and yet...

... I could be serving you ice cream (one scoop or two?)… except I was and am afforded multiple opportunities to prove that student testing ain't all that it's cracked up to be.

In my final year in Japan - so as to not take the shine off my aura - I told a class how I was such a late bloomer… and to a person… every student wished they could have such an opportunity.

I certainly couldn't blame them.

Kanpai = 3.1415926535897932384626433-blah-blah-blah,
Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. Helping me understand why Japanese kids stress studying so much due to their futures being ever so carefully set in stone, with the fact of their families' status weighing on them as well, you nailed it again. Your stuff is always fun to read. In fact, I think this is becoming a second happy place for me XD.