Parental push for children to pass exams borders on abuse: experts

Chunichi Shimbun

Many parents are strict regarding their children’s education because they want their offspring to succeed in the future, but sometimes this discipline is excessive and goes beyond what kids can endure.

This is known as educational abuse, which is regarded as some as a violation of human rights.

Parents are particularly susceptible to this when their children are taking exams, but this situation is still not widely recognized as a case of abuse and research is lacking in the field.

Six years ago, a working mother living in Aichi Prefecture enrolled her daughter in a well-known cram school for junior high school entrance exams.

Her daughter was in third grade at an elementary school at the time. She had average scores in school, “but I had this feeling that she could be one of the top students if she worked harder,” said her 50-year-old mother.

The two of them would study at home every night until midnight on weekdays, sometimes staying up until 2 a.m. if a test was coming up in the cram school where students are ranked based on their scores.

The mother was reportedly told by people around that “getting a good test result depends on the amount of studying done at home. You can tell whether the parent has put in the effort or not.” As a result, her mood fluctuated between hope and despair depending on her daughter’s academic ranking.

She copied past exams at the school she wanted her daughter to attend and made her daughter solve them over and over again, hitting the girl in the forehead every time she got the answer wrong. This situation continued for almost a year, until her daughter burst into tears one night when she did not know the answer. In her frustration, the mother stabbed the desk with a pencil.

The pair realized their limits and eventually decided to give up on that school. “A junior high school entrance examination is like a three-legged race with the parent and child, and it was very high pressure,” said the mother. “I say that it’s for my daughter, but I was really the obstinate one who refused to give up because I had put in money and time into it as well. Somehow I . . . intervened in her affairs without realizing and I felt like I was the one taking the examination,” she said.

These situations are also seen in connection with entrance exams for high schools and universities, but most parents and educators do not consider such pressure abusive.

Laws against child abuse do not cover educational abuse.

The education ministry’s elementary and secondary education bureau investigates corporal punishment but it does not have all the data concerning educational abuse.

Similarly, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry only tracks and investigates child abuse and truancy.

“Committing an act of violence toward a minor is considered child abuse. Maybe (educational abuse) falls under mental abuse or neglect . . . ” said a health ministry official, who added that it is difficult to tell if educational abuse exists.

However, most schools and cram schools can recognize such abuses by observing the child.

“You need to pay attention to children who seem frustrated before examinations. If you have one in your class, let him or her take a break. You also need to get both parent and child to reconsider whether the child really wants to take that examination or not,” said Akemi Kuwahara, 55, who has been working as a school nurse in elementary and junior high schools in Aichi Prefecture for 25 years.

Cocurie Kokugo Kyoshitsu, a cram school in Nakamura Ward, Nagoya, utilizes a studying method that improves the child’s communications skills.

“Regardless of whether the student passes the examination, they can still learn the study method and increase their knowledge,” said 55-year-old school President Yoko Kurokawa.

“If the parent is leading too much, even if students pass the examination of their first choice, they will stop studying and turn to games and mobile phones as soon as they are enrolled in the school,” she added.

“These children have low self-esteem because they feel that all the decisions were made by their parents and that they were forced into it. It may even lead to domestic violence or a mental breakdown in the future.”

She said, “Both parent and child should establish mutual trust and work together on entrance examinations.”

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Feb. 22.