Wednesday, July 16, 2003

At the end of my three-day stint at the high school, it is difficult to know where to begin. There seem to be several factors. What are the students' biographies? How has the education system shaped them to this point? What can a school, any school, hope to do for them?

The students who attend this particular school come from a variety of geographic locations. Some of the students are from right here in Yokkaichi. Others travel very far everyday to attend school, one woman traveling as far as three hours one way. Life at home for some of the students is troubled. I have gathered as much from discussions about specific students. The level of parental involvement probably runs a very wide spectrum. As for their junior high schools, there seems to be much concern from that direction. I was told that if a student decides to drop out if the high school, recruits from the student's junior high of origin drop of significantly. There is much concern for and support of students from the lower grades. I am not sure how this translates for the students themselves. It could be seen as meddlesome, or it could a welcomed vote of confidence. There is, however, a lack of real learning among most of the students in the high school. First year students are quiet and cowed, sitting in their chairs without communicating. Again, some students are more communicative than others. Whereas third-year students are more independent and expressive, even if their expressions are unsupportive of the class.

How has the education system of Japan shaped or helped to shape these students? My guess is that it has done that in three ways, by enforcing learning and testing in a one-size-fits-all manner, by promising more than it can possibly deliver, and putting students in proximity to other teachers and students. The Japanese education system is operated in a top-down system that can only suit a minority of students. Students will not be sufficiently challenged by the system, or they will find it to be more than they can manage. 1/3 of the student population, at best, could be seen to flourish in the present system. Then, when these students are exposed to others for whom the entire scheme is a poor fit, they must find their experience.

The Minstry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) promises far more than it could ever expect to deliver. An analogy I use quite often is that of an automobile manufacturer. I ask people how many of their high school graduating class could "use English" by their estimation. The results are very low with something like, "One or two students went on to study abroad." But that isn't what MEXT promises. It promises that Japan's children will be able to communicate in English. Next I ask if an automobile company would survive with similar success rates. Toyota builds dependable cars. They start when you turn the key. Toyota fulfills its responsibilities to its customers and share holders. Education is a much fuzzier endeavor, but there have to be tollerances. There has to be accoutablity. The present education isn't fulfilling its promises to its customers, the students and their parents, or the stock holders, the Japanese people in general.

More later

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