Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents


Primary and Secondary Education

Education is compulsory and free for all schoolchildren from the first through the ninth grades (see fig. 5). The school year begins on April 1 and ends on March 31 of the following year. Schools use a trimester system demarcated by vacation breaks. Japanese children attend school five full weekdays and one-half day on Saturdays. The school year has a legal minimum of 210 days, but most local school boards add about thirty more days for school festivals, athletic meets, and ceremonies with nonacademic educational objectives, especially those encouraging cooperation and school spirit. With allowance made for the time devoted to such activities and the half-day of school on Saturday, the number of days devoted to instruction is about 195 per year.

The Japanese hold several important beliefs about education, especially compulsory schooling: that all children have the ability to learn the material; that effort, perseverance, and selfdiscipline , not academic ability, determine academic success; and that these study and behavioral habits can be taught. Thus, students in elementary and lower-secondary schools are not grouped or taught on the basis of their ability, nor is instruction geared to individual differences.

The nationally designed curricula exposes students to balanced, basic education, and compulsory schooling is known for its equal educational treatment of students and for its relatively equal distribution of financial resources among schools. However, the demands made by the uniform curricula and approach extracts a price in lack of flexibility, including expected conformity of behavior. Little effort is made to address children with special needs and interests. Much of the reform proposed in the late 1980s, particularly that part emphasizing greater flexibility, creativity, and opportunities for greater individual expression, was aimed at changing these approaches.

Textbooks are free to students at compulsory school levels. New texts are selected by school boards or principals once every three years from the Ministry of Education's list of approved textbooks or from a small list of texts that the ministry itself publishes. The ministry bears the cost of distributing these books, in both public and private schools. Textbooks are small, paperbound volumes that can easily be carried by the students and that became their property.

Almost all schools have a system of access to health professionals. Educational and athletic facilities are good; almost all elementary schools had an outdoor playground, roughly 90 percent have a gymnasium, and 75 percent have an outdoor swimming pool.

Data as of January 1994