The view from Japanese junior high school

Attending Japanese junior high school, I heard classmates conversing about regularly getting six hours of sleep. They were seventh-graders — 13-year-olds.

Between their classes, clubs and juku (cram schools) or tutoring lessons, students have no free time. Statistics concerning schoolchildren are staggering: The leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 19 is suicide, and suicide rates peak during periods coinciding with beginnings of school terms. Surveys find that many students are victims of bullying. Japanese public schools are not entirely bad; the education system has been lauded as among the best in the world. Classes are thorough and taken seriously. However, shouldn’t we be concerned that a 13-year-old is able to get only six hours of sleep? Studies show teens should be getting nine.

Can we say we are doing the best for schoolchildren with the education system when some feel compelled to take their own life? Furthermore, how we raise our youth affects not only the youth but those that come after — our future. Japan already has been termed an “aging society,” with a shrinking population of young workers. If peoples’ outlook on the world is negative, they are less likely to want to raise another generation of children to live in it.

A partial solution toward preventing stress is having a firmer boundary between school and home, such as by placing a limit on the amount of homework per day. Such measures could aid in preventing sleep deprivation or undue stress. Having resident counselors on campuses or clear ways to report harassment would give students an outlet from problems such as bullying.

L. THORBECKE
TOKYO

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.