Japan Table of Contents
Much debated, and often criticized in the late twentieth century, juku are special private schools that offer highly organized lessons conducted after regular school hours and on the weekends. Although best known and most widely publicized for their role as "cram schools," where children (sent by concerned parents) can study to improve scores on upper-secondary school entrance examinations, academic juku actually perform several educational functions. They provide supplementary education that many children need just to keep up with the regular school curriculum, remedial education for the increasing numbers of children who fall behind in their work, and preparation for students striving to improve test scores and preparing for the all-important upper-secondary and university entrance examinations. In many ways, juku compensate for the formal education system's inability or unwillingness to address particular individual problems. Half of all compulsory school-age children attend academic juku, which offers instruction in mathematics, Japanese language, science, English, and social studies. Many other children, particularly younger children, attend nonacademic juku for piano lessons, art instruction, swimming, and abacus lessons. To some observers, juku represent an attempt by parents to exercise a meaningful measure of choice in Japanese education, particularly for children attending public schools. Some juku offer subject matter not available in the public school curricula, while others emphasize a special philosophical or ethical approach.
Juku also play a social role, and children in Japan say they liked going to juku because they are able to make new friends; many children ask to be sent because their friends attend. Some children seem to like juku because of the closer personal contact they have with their teachers.
Juku attendance rose from the 1970s through the mid1980s ; participation rates increases at every grade level throughout the compulsory education years. This phenomenon is a source of great concern to the ministry, which issued directives to the regular schools that it hoped would reduce the need for afterschool lessons, but these directives have had little practical effect. Some juku even have branches in the United States and other countries to help children living abroad catch up with students in Japan.
Because of the commercial nature of most juku, some critics argue that they have profit rather than education at heart. Not all students can afford to attend juku. Therefore juku introduce some inequality into what had been a relatively egalitarian approach to education, at least in public schools through ninth grade. Yet, while some juku are expensive, the majority are affordable for most families; juku can not price themselves beyond the reach of their potential clientele. If rising enrollments in juku are any indication, costs are not yet a limiting factor for most parents, and juku clearly are given some priority in family budgeting.
If a student does not attend juku, it dies not mean that he or she is necessarily at a disadvantage in school. Other avenues of assistance are available. For example, self-help literature and supplemental texts and study guides, some produced by publishing houses associated with juku, are widely available commercially. Most of these items are moderately priced. A correspondence course of the Upper-Secondary School of the Air is broadcast almost daily on the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai--NHK) educational radio and television channels. These programs are free, and costs for accompanying textbooks are nominal. In addition, about 1 percent of elementary school students and 7.3 percent of lower-secondary school students take extra lessons at home with tutors.
Data as of January 1994
Japan Table of Contents