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Upper-Secondary School

Even though upper-secondary school is not compulsory in Japan, 94 percent of all lower-secondary school graduates entered uppersecondary schools in 1989. Private upper-secondary schools account for about 24 percent of all upper-secondary schools, and neither public nor private schools are free. The Ministry of Education estimated that annual family expenses for the education of a child in a public upper-secondary school were about 300,000 (US$2,142) in both 1986 and 1987 and that private upper-secondary schools were about twice as expensive.

All upper-secondary schools, public and private, are informally ranked, based on their success in placing graduates in freshman classes of the most prestigious universities. In the 1980s, private upper-secondary schools occupied the highest levels of this hierarchy, and there was substantial pressure to do well in the examinations that determined the upper-secondary school a child entered. Admission also depends on the scholastic record and performance evaluation from lower-secondary school, but the examination results largely determine school entrance. Students are closely counseled in lower-secondary school, so that they will be relatively assured of a place in the schools to which they apply.

The most common type of upper-secondary schools has a fulltime , general program that offered academic courses for students preparing for higher education and also technical and vocational courses for students expecting to find employment after graduation. More than 70 percent of upper-secondary school students were enrolled in the general academic program in the late 1980s. A small number of schools offer part-time or evening courses or correspondence education.

The first-year programs for students in both academic and commercial courses are similar. They include basic academic courses, such as Japanese language, English, mathematics, and science. In upper-secondary school, differences in ability are first publicly acknowledged, and course content and course selection are far more individualized in the second year. However, there is a core of academic material throughout all programs.

Vocational-technical programs includes several hundred specialized courses, such as information processing, navigation, fish farming, business English, and ceramics. Business and industrial courses are the most popular, accounting for 72 percent of all students in full-time vocational programs in 1989.

The upper-secondary curriculum also underwent thorough revision; in 1989 a new Course of Study for Upper-Secondary Schools was announced that was to be phased in beginning with the tenth grade in 1994, followed by the eleventh grade in 1995 and the twelfth grade in 1996. Among noteworthy changes is the requirement that both male and female students take a course in home economics. The government is concerned with instilling in all students an awareness of the importance of family life, the various roles and responsibilities of family members, the concept of cooperation within the family, and the role of the family in society. The family continues to be an extremely important part of the social infrastructure, and the ministry clearly is interested in maintaining family stability within a changing society. Another change of note was the division of the old social studies course into history, geography, and civics courses.

Most upper-secondary teachers are university graduates. Uppersecondary schools are organized into departments, and teachers specialize in their major fields although they teach a variety of courses within their disciplines. Although women compose about 20 percent of the teaching force, only 2.5 percent of principals are women.

Teaching depends largely on the lecture system, with the main goal of covering the very demanding curriculum in the time allotted. Approach and subject coverage tends to be uniform, at least in the public schools. As in lower-secondary school, the teachers, not the students, move from room to room after each fifty-minute class period.

Upper-secondary students are subject to a great deal of supervision by school authorities and school rules even outside of school. Students' behavior and some activities are regulated by school codes that are known and obeyed by most children. School regulations often set curfews and govern dress codes, hairstyles, student employment, and even leisure activities. The school frequently is responsible for student discipline when a student ran afoul of the regulations or, occasionally, of the law.

Delinquency generally, and school violence in particular, are troubling to Japanese authorities. Violations by upper-secondary school students include smoking and some substance abuse (predominantly of amphetamines). Use of drugs, although not a serious problem by international standards, is of concern to the police and civil authorities (see Public Order and Internal Security , ch. 8). Bullying and the drop-out rate are also subjects of attention. Upper-secondary students drop out at a rate of between 2.0 and 2.5 percent per year. The graduation rates for upper-secondary schools stood at 87.5 percent in 1987.

Discrimination in education is prohibited, but the hisabetsu buraku discriminated communities, a group of people racially and culturally Japanese who have been discriminated against historically, are still disadvantaged in education to some degree (see Minorities , ch. 2). Their relatively poor educational attainment through the upper-secondary level in the 1960s was said to have been largely corrected by the 1980s, but reliable evidence is lacking.

There are some private schools for the children of the foreign community in Japan, and there are some Korean schools for children of Japan's Korean minority population, many of whom are secondgeneration or third-generation residents in Japan. Graduates of Korean schools face some discrimination, particularly in entering higher education. Observers estimated that 75 percent of Korean children were attending Japanese schools in the early 1980s.

Training of handicapped students, particularly at the uppersecondary level, emphasizes vocational education to enable students to be as independent as possible within society. Vocational training varies considerably depending on the student's handicap, but the options are limited for some. It is clear that the government is aware of the necessity of broadening the range of possibilities for these students. Advancement to higher education is also a goal of the government, and it struggles to have institutions of higher learning accept more handicapped students.

Upper-secondary school students returning to Japan after living overseas present another problem. The ministry was trying to get upper-secondary schools to accept these students more readily and in the late 1980s had decided to allow credit for one uppersecondary school year spent abroad.

Upper-secondary school graduates choosing to enter the labor force are supported by a very effective system of job placement, which, combined with favorable economic conditions, keeps the unemployment rate among new graduates quite low (see The Structure of Japan's Labor Market , ch. 4). For those students going on to college, the final phases of school life becomes increasingly dedicated to preparing for examinations, particularly in some of the elite private schools. About 31 percent of upper-secondary graduates advance to some form of higher education directly after graduation.

After-school clubs provide an important upper-secondary school activity. Sports, recreational reading, and watching television are popular daily leisure activities, but schoolwork and other studies remain the focus of the daily lives of most children. The college entrance examinations greatly influence school life and study habits, not only for college-bound students but also indirectly for all; the prospect of the examinations often imparts a seriousness to the tone of school life at the upper-secondary level.

Data as of January 1994

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