This is part three of a four part series on education and parenting in several countries. India was the last country we looked at.
Japan Education: Beginning to Fall Behind?
Unlike India, Japan is currently an economic superpower, albeit waning, with corresponding educational achievements. Japan has higher PISA scores than the US and is the leader of the four countries discussed in this paper for completed tertiary education, age 30-34 (Roth & Thum, 2010). Given its successes, published research on the educational system and values in Japan is extensive, and comparisons to the US system are described.
Beginning in preschool, Japanese children learn traditional cultural values, such as an ability and willingness to respond to the needs of others (Holloway, 2000). Elementary school curriculum includes moral education that stresses these kinds of values along with more traditional subjects such as Math and Reading (Stevenson, SY Lee, & Nerison-Low, 1995). Young children in preschool work out their own solutions to many problems, encouraging what one teacher said “child like solutions to child like problems” (Tobin, Hsueh, & Karasawa, 2004). Social intelligence is learned through unstructured interactions with peers, contrasted with the US whereby the teachers often teach social skills, beginning in preschool, and where the self rather than the group is emphasized. For example, the author’s children attended a preschool and elementary school where great emphasis was placed on teaching children to express their emotions with “I” statements, whereby the child begins any discussion of emotion referring to themselves (e.g. I feel angry when you…).
A focus on group problem solving begins in preschool and continues throughout elementary school and beyond. This kind of teamwork is encouraged for all participants, not just students. For example, Japanese teachers work together extensively on lesson plans, finding what works best in their classrooms and then sharing that information in group settings for other teachers to use (Stigler & Hiebert, 2009).
A critical difference in academic achievement is the Japanese motivational approach to schoolwork, they believe in the importance of effort for success in school. Among elementary school students, for example, differences in school performance are thought to be due to differences in effort rather than in innate ability. This kind of difference is seen in the way that elementary school teachers teach whereby they often rely on the students to generate ideas and even to evaluate the responses of other students. Teachers tend to see errors as a sign indicating a need for harder work, not a mistake due to lack of ability (Stevenson, Lee, & Stigler, 1986). Studies also found that Japanese teachers spend more time outside of the classroom than American teachers, thus supporting the notion that teaching itself requires constant hard work and effort in order to continue to be effective (Stigler & Hiebert, 2009).
The Japanese school system is centralized with national education standards. As in the US, preschool is not required, but neither is high school. Japanese schools are single track until high school, after which the competition becomes much tougher, and schools separate into vocational and academic high schools. The classroom size tends to be much larger than the US classroom size. Previous to 2002, Japanese students attended school on Saturdays, but they have since stopped this practice (Knipprath, 2004).
Japan Parenting: Symbiotic Harmony
Rothbaum et al. (2000) detail the development of values promoting symbiotic harmony in Japan. This pathway is encouraged by parenting practices that emphasize union in infancy, attention to the expectations of others in childhood and stable relationships with parents in adolescence. Japanese parents expect compliance at an early age and encourage self-effacement. Unlike in the US, Japanese parents model deference and restrain themselves from expressiveness, using guilt and anxiety induction to get what they desire from the child. Empathy, a core and important value in Japanese society, is fostered from an early age (Rothbaum, Pott, Azuma, Miyake, & Weisz, 2000). These kinds of socialization practices may allow for greater success in the classroom, particularly in early ages.
Crystal and colleagues (1994) found that Japanese students report that their parents hold higher expectations and lower satisfaction with their academic achievement than US students. Yet at the same time, they also report less stress, academic anxiety and depression (Crystal et al, 1994). Traditionally, the role of parents and community in Japan has been one of support and less one of active involvement in school learning (Knipprath, 2004). Japanese mothers credit their children’s hard work for their academic successes while US mothers tend to credit ability (Stevenson et al., 1986).