Last week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation released a list that ranked the 31 member countries with “comparable data” in terms of public spending on education as a percentage of gross domestic product. Japan came in last at 3.3 percent. The average percentage was 5.0, with Norway at number one with 7.3 percent. However, in terms of private spending as a proportion of all expenditures on education, Japan came in third out of 28 OECD member countries with comparable data, at 33.6 percent. Only South Korea and Chile were higher.
These findings were based on data from 2008, which means they don’t take into consideration recent changes implemented by the Democratic Party of Japan. The most relevant change in this regard is the government’s decision to waive tuition for high school students by paying subsidies to local governments. High school is not mandatory in Japan, and even public high schools require fees of some sort. These subsidies will probably change the OECD’s rankings when it compiles a list for public spending in 2011, but it may not have any effect on the list for private spending. One of the reasons the DPJ pushed the tuition-free policy is because the party recognizes that in the current job climate even entry-level, minimum-wage service employment requires a high school diploma. The days when junior high school graduates were solicited for factory jobs and other blue collar work is long gone. But compared to many of the other costs that parents pay to have their children educated, public high school tuition is almost like a drop in the bucket. According to education ministry figures for 2006, the average public high school student paid ¥112,000 a year in tuition, which is certainly high for lower income families; but at the same time, the average public high school student also paid ¥176,000 a year for outside cram schools, or juku. Altogether, parents paid on average ¥520,000 a year in education costs for a child if he or she went to public high school, which is about half the cost for private high school students, who paid on average ¥1,045,000 a year (including ¥785,000 tuition and ¥260,00 for juku).
But it’s really in elementary and junior high school where costs mount, since you have to start “investing” early on to guarantee that your child will get into a name brand school, which in turn guarantees a better job down the line; or so the thinking goes. This starts in kindergarten, which is also not mandatory in Japan though almost every Japanese child attends. It costs about ¥500,000 for 2 years, mostly in “incidental fees,” for public kindergarten, ¥1 million for 2 years of private kindergarten; though some local governments, like Shizuoka Prefecture’s, subsidize kindergartens, thus bringing the cost down considerably. About 80 percent of Japanese kindergartens are run by private entities.
On average, parents spend a total of ¥2.76 million per child for all six years of elementary school if the child goes to a public institution, and ¥8 million if the school is private. Strictly speaking there is no tuition for public elementary and junior high schools, but there are lots of incidental costs, including lunch, which typically runs to ¥40,000 a year, and kyoikuhi, or “educational fees” for things like field trips and supplemental materials (textbooks are free) that run to about ¥55,000 a year for elementary school and ¥130,000 for junior high school.
But it’s juku where the real money — and the difference — is. The whole point of juku is to prepare a student for the next level of education by giving him or her the tools to pass entrance tests, which means the closer to graduation the child gets, the more money is spent. It is also where public school clients outspend private school clients, at least on average. A public junior high school student spends ¥471,000 a year while the private junior high school student spends ¥1,269,000; but public students spend about ¥20,000 more per year on juku than do private students. That’s because almost all public junior high school students have to take entrance tests for high schools, while about half of private junior high school students will matriculate to the high school affiliated with their junior high school (and some will even go on to the affiliated university). Private schools are profit-making businesses, so it’s against their interest to discourage continuing students with entrance exams.
Only 6.7 percent of junior high-age students attend private schools, and juku is considered such an integral part of a public school student’s education that many local governments provide funds to lower income families so that they can pay for juku. Since 2008, Tokyo has provided up to ¥150,000 a year for juku to students whose family receive welfare, the idea being that such subsidies are necessary to “break the cycle of poverty.” The education credo in Japan guarantees that the juku and private school industries will always prosper. Last year jukus raked in ¥371 billion in revenues.
Update (Sept. 25): The education ministry yesterday released the results of its annual survey of how many families receive supplemental educational assistance for elementary and junior high school students. Supplemental assistance is money to pay for things such as school excursions, stationery and other materials that students have to pay for themselves. It is given to students on welfare or those from low-income families. In 2010, 1.55 million students received the supplemental assistance, which is about 15 percent of all elementary and junior high school students. That’s 60,000 more students than in 2009. When the survey was started in 1995, the number who received assistance was about 716,000. Osaka prefecture has the highest portion of students receiving assistance, about 28 percent.