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Monday, May 24, 2010

Japan & her Standardized Test Based Education System

Japan & her Standardized Test Based Education System

by Kevin Burns

For some positives in Japanese education, one need look no further than the local

kindergarten or the local elementary school. For everything other than English education,

they are doing a good to great job of educating the children of Japan. Classes are

creative, teachers are caring on the whole, and students are happy and learning.

Were the whole education system to be like this from kindergarten to the end of university,

the Japanese people would be happier, healthier, and more productive, both in GDP

and creative terms.

Unfortunately this all ends at age twelve. Those are the years that exam hell starts and

students never really recover. The standardized test based education system of Japan that

starts in the junior high school years kills any kind of initiative, creativity and especially

thinking outside of the box. Unfortunately, these last three are what Japan especially needs in the 21st century; perhaps Japan`s most challenging 100 years yet.

For many years now Japan has employed this test based education system and passing

the all important tests is what educators and students—not to mention parents, are focused on. The result of all this test taking and stress, is a nation of order takers who have

trouble making decisions, let alone stating an opinion.

Don`t believe me? When you next meet a Japanese, just for fun, ask them their opinion on something. If they are able to give an opinion then do this: Ask them why?

Why do they feel that way? In many cases, they will be stumped.

In spite of this standardized test hell that most Japanese find themselves in during their

school years, a few would be Michael Angelos manage to slip through. Most however

have their creative thoughts stripped from them or numbed into oblivion.

Recently, one of my bright, light students returned from North America to once

again study at his old university. He was shocked at the passivity of the students. He

hadn`t realized how passive, non-responsive, and void of opinions Japanese university

students were.

He said that in America, he studied with students from all over the world and he

enjoyed hearing and expressing his opinion with others. He couldn`t understand how

the students of Japan were so passive and quiet. He expressed the desire to go back to

America as soon as possible to study there. Many Japanese who have lived abroad

have said the same thing.

In the news, Japan`s prime minister Hatoyama has been dubbed “loopy,” by the

American press and his lack of decision making on the Okinawa bases issue. Once he

made a decision, he then turned around and reneged on it, and apologized to Okinawans

for his backslide. The lack of decision making ability is not restricted to the general

populace, it occurs in all ranks of Japanese society. Hatoyama of course is a product

of this education system.

It is not only the students who are having a difficult time, the teachers are too. Many

have to be off work due to stress, the stress of having their students do well on the test. Many teachers teach to the test, in order to keep their jobs, but they create a life of

drudgery for their pupils. Many Japanese seem to have lost their love for education and learning once they enroll in junior high school. Indeed too much test taking may result in shallow learning and a negative feeling towards


For the future, Japan needs to ask herself:

Are we creating the people we need to solve the problems of the future?

If the answer is: No!

Then this is a recipe for disaster.

I feel that Japan needs creative thinkers, people who can think outside of the box. These will be the people who will solve Japan`s problems of immigration, an aging population,

unemployment, off-shore employment, trade, and of course the environment. However,

perhaps the most pressing problem is the psychological health of her citizens.

For this latter, and the other problems mentioned above, I think there are valuable lessons held in kindergarten.

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