The school summer holidays are now in full swing but an increasing number of parents and their children are spending the break hunched over a desk with a stack of workbooks instead of enjoying ice cream in the park.
The traditional rite of summer homework has been squeezing the joy out of vacations since the modernization of Japan’s school system in the late-19th century.
For generations of children, summer homework has cast a long, dark shadow over what would otherwise be a time to relax and have fun as the mercury hits annual highs.
By extension, this time of recreation should apply to parents as well, since children rely on adults to take them to whatever venues they need to go to enjoy their time in the sun.
The deadline for completing summer homework is Sept. 1, the day children return to the classroom. Aug. 31, therefore, is traditionally a day fraught with anxiety, as entire families struggle to complete the exercises that have been assigned by teachers.
Indeed, it’s not unusual for parents to conclude this last day of August by delivering a stern admonishment to their children, who, in turn, usually offer a tearful promise to do better the following year.
In spite of the hardship, most parents with children under 12 years old continue to support the assignment of summer homework, according to a report on fnn.jp.
A survey of 768 parents conducted by information website Ikoyo found that 53 percent of respondents believe summer homework is necessary. By comparison, 15 percent of respondents believe it’s unnecessary, while just 2 percent were totally opposed to it. Thirty-two percent of respondents thought summer homework is “absolutely necessary.”
Over the years, a number of schools have tried to introduce an element of fun into the homework they issue during summer each year. Methods have varied from institution to institution, but the Asahi Shimbun reports that some schools have gone overboard by mandating book reports and “daily exercise diaries” on top of everything else.
Kojimachi Junior High School created a stir earlier this year by announcing plans to abolish homework over the summer vacation, with the principal also calling for the end of “meaningless” examinations.
Many people supported the move, although some pointed out on blogs such as Wanran Nikki that such a radical approach could really only work at an elite school such as Kojimachi.
Elite or not, the majority of schools in Japan value uniformity over individuality, and evaluate students by exam scores and how well they adhere to the rules.
Naturally, this can add to the level of stress a student may be feeling as they start their summer break. An anonymous student shared their homework concerns on yahoo.net, saying “I can’t stand it anymore. I have eczema on my body.”
A few enterprising students and parents have resorted to outsourcing the homework online. The popular marketplace app Mercari, for example, featured users that offered such services. Recently, however, Mercari has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to restrict such services.
When you think about it, the average Japanese person spends 12 summers out of their young lives worrying about homework. Thankfully, there’s no homework at college level but, once those precious years are over and graduates enter the workforce, the whole concept of taking several weeks over summer has long become a distant memory.
The next thing you know, ordinary folk in the workforce can only remember summer homework with a certain nostalgia, longing for kids of their own so that they might be able to pass on such memories to their own children.
And, thus, the cycle of life continues.