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Japan

Lower-Secondary School

Lower-secondary school covers grades seven, eight, and nine-- children between the ages of roughly twelve and fifteen--with increased focus on academic studies. Although it is still possible to leave the formal education system after completing lowersecondary school and find employment, fewer than 4 percent did so by the late 1980s.

Like elementary schools, most lower-secondary schools in the 1980s were public, but 5 percent were private. Private schools were costly, averaging 558,592 (US$3,989) per student in 1988, about four times more than the 130,828 (US$934) that the ministry estimated as the cost for students enrolled in public lowersecondary schools.

The teaching force in lower-secondary schools is two-thirds male. Schools are headed by principals, 99 percent of whom were men in 1988. Teachers often majored in the subjects they taught, and more than 80 percent graduated from a four-year college. Classes are large, with thirty-eight students per class on average, and each class is assigned a homeroom teacher who doubles as counselor. Unlike elementary students, lower-secondary school students have different teachers for different subjects. The teacher, however, rather than the students, moves to a new room for each fifty-minute period.

Instruction in lower-secondary schools tends to rely on the lecture method. Teachers also use other media, such as television and radio, and there is some laboratory work. By 1989 about 45 percent of all public lower-secondary schools had computers, including schools that used them only for administrative purposes. Classroom organization is still based on small work groups, although no longer for reasons of discipline. By lower-secondary school, students are expected to have mastered daily routines and acceptable behavior.

All course contents are specified in the Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools. Some subjects, such as Japanese language and mathematics, are coordinated with the elementary curriculum. Others, such as foreign-language study, usually English, begin at this level. The curriculum covers Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, music, fine arts, health, and physical education. All students also are exposed to either industrial arts or homemaking. Moral education and special activities continue to receive attention.

Students also attend mandatory club meetings during school hours, and many also participate in after-school clubs. Most lowersecondary students say they liked school, although it is the chance to meet their friends daily--not the lessons--that is particularly attractive to them.

The ministry recognizes a need to improve the teaching of all foreign languages, especially English. To improve instruction in spoken English, the government invites many young native speakers of English to Japan to serve as assistants to school boards and prefectures under its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. By 1988 participants numbered over 1,000.

As part of the movement to develop an integrated curriculum and the education reform movement of the late 1980s, the entire Course of Study for Lower-Secondary Schools was revised in 1989 and took effect in the 1992-93 school year. A main aim of the reform is to equip students with the basic knowledge needed for citizenship. In some measure, this means increased emphasis on Japanese history and culture, as well as understanding Japan as a nation and its relationships with other nations of the world. The course of study also increased elective hours, recommending that electives be chosen in light of individual student differences and with an eye toward diversification.

Two problems of great concern to educators and citizens began to appear at the lower-secondary level in the 1980s: bullying, which seemed rampant in the mid-1980s but had abated somewhat by the end of the decade, and the school-refusal syndrome (toko kyohi--manifested by a student's excessive absenteeism), which was on the rise. Experts disagreed over the specific causes of these phenomena, but there is general agreement that the system offers little individualized or specialized assistance, thus contributing to disaffection among those who can not conform to its demands or who are otherwise experiencing difficulties. Another problem concerns Japanese children returning from abroad. These students, particularly if they have been overseas for extended periods, often need help not only in reading and writing but also in adjusting to rigid classroom demands. Even making the adjustment does not guarantee acceptance: besides having acquired a foreign language, many of these students have also acquired foreign customs of speech, dress, and behavior that mark them as different.

Data as of January 1994


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