There’s been a lot of talk about education reform; unfortunately, the reform presently being advanced by the education ministry has little to no reality on the ground. Our struggle as an international couple trying to give our 15-year-old son a decent education has been one of never-ending disappointment.

Three years ago we placed him in a private junior high, hoping that he would benefit from smaller classes with emphasis on internationalization. Six months later, he was physically accosted by a teacher because his spotty Japanese at the time prevented him from understanding it was his turn to clean up. In North America, such an incident would have resulted in a teacher losing his job and, depending on the severity, ending up in jail. Yet the only response by the school was to insist on talking, which clearly reveals why there is so much violence in Japanese schools. Slapping teachers and students on the wrists for violent behavior will do little to deter violence and bullying.

Our bitter experiences with Japanese education didn’t stop there. We placed our son in another private school, hoping that it would, at the very least, refrain from resorting to violence. They never lifted a finger against our son, but now he faces the prospect of not being able to attend senior high school because it has been revealed that his present school not only lacks 15 to 20 percent of mandatory class time but also has been teaching outside the education ministry’s curriculum. Of course, he has the opportunity to take the tests to enter high school, but he has been denied the proper curriculum for entrance exams (in fact, he has already failed his first test).

Pathetically, there is a lot of talk about educational reform, but what really needs reform is the education ministry itself. Any institution looking toward sweeping reforms when it cannot even recognize basic inequities will only make matters worse, especially when all that is needed is small incremental changes. Reform will never succeed championed on a “run before you can walk” policy. In our case so far, the education ministry has done little more than get a head start on ruining our son’s future, not to mention placing undue hardships on our family.

name withheld

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