Since coming to Japan some years ago, the most surprising fact I learned about the education system was that it is impossible for elementary and middle school students to fail and repeat a grade.
Amid the debate over the value of adding Saturday classes, we could modify retired NASA astronaut Frank Borman’s statement about capitalism and bankruptcy to read: “School without failure is like Christianity without Hell.” In an environment where the results are the same for both the student who works hard and the student who sleeps in every class, is it surprising that Japanese schools have many of the latter and few of the former?
Rather than focusing on the number of hours spent warming a seat, schools should focus on the results. Of course, this would run counter to the prevailing reality that the primary purpose of compulsory education in Japan is to teach children how to be “Japanese” — not how to read, write and do arithmetic.
Primary and secondary education are the building blocks for all further intellectual development, and too many Japanese students are learning too late that they have wasted the first nine years of their academic lives. This academic deficit is too high to pay back by high school. The answer to the problem is to make it clear that requirements must be met in order to advance to the next grade. Those who cannot meet those requirements will not advance.
It is a pipe dream to believe that a teacher can inspire a genuine love in learning in every single student. In real life, our bosses don’t care if we like our job — only that the job gets done well and on time. Even if a student has no genuine interesting in learning, he or she is very likely to buck up and do just enough to pass in order to avoid being left behind by his or her friends.
According to the Japanese Constitution, children have a positive right to an education. Ramming them through nine years of chair-warming, unconnected to any actual increase in academic ability, does not fulfill this obligation.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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