Edward here in Otsu city, Japan. Japan can be quite fascinating and comparing life here with life back home can be interesting. Today I would like to talk about the quirky observations I have made about public school in Japan, and compare and contrast with public school in Canada. I would also love to hear your thoughts on these differences, as well as your own comparisons of public school with your own country. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below.
To make this more story-like, let’s work through these observations chronologically.
Public School in Japan: Kindergarten
In Japan kindergarten can be 2 years or more. In Canada typically 1 or 2 years only. In Canada, kindergartens are built into the elementary school whereas in Japan public kindergartens are a separate building (and separate school), but located right next to the local elementary school. Kindergartens have their own principal, public health nurse and teachers. They have their own school grounds and often even have pools (more on this later).
Edward’s #1 Favorite thing about kindergarten in Japan: Student centered learning. I have observed that teacher’s in Japan allow children to take the lead. Case in point: my son’s kinder production was written by, stage props were made by, and songs were chosen by the children themselves. Thus we ended up with the following play: a group of kids getting turned into rabbits by a witch only to be rescued by a detective named Conan, who saved them with magic pizza delivered by bicycle (my son was the pizza baker and made his own delivery bicycle).
Public School in Japan: Elementary Grade 1
Before entering grade 1, most families receive a package of goods. This is put together by the local area community group with various items donated by prefecture, city or private entities. This includes a lunch bowl, reflective bag cover, yellow hat and other useful school and safety goods. For the first few months of grade 1, school children are walked home by school teachers and staff. Grade 1 children line up in groups outside the school, depending on the direction they walk. Many school have uniforms, but even those tht don’t all have the yellow bag covers and yellow hats for grade 1 children. On the other hand, in Canada parents must pick up their children from school, often by car and especially in the younger grades. Japanese public schools do not have “pick-up zones”. In fact, unless there is a special consideration, parents never pick up children by car. Walking is the norm in public schools, starting in grade 1.
Edward’s #1 Favorite thing about grade 1 in Japan: An absolute focus on safety. Creating community support systems and developing habits in children to commute safely and considerately to and from school.
Public School in Japan: Elementary Grade 2 and beyond
I want to talk about textbooks. In Canada, textbooks belong to the school. They are huge, hard-cover tomes which are used year-after-year, passed down from student to student. We do not carry them home. If I were to tell you that Japanese public school children carried home a dozen textbooks everyday, how would you react? The difference of course is that Japanese textbooks are slim. If the textbook is too large, they simply publish it in 2 parts (called “upper” and “lower” in Japan)! Textbooks are generally free, paid for by the school of school board. Children receive them on the first day of class. What unique classes do they have in Japan? “Moral Education” is one of my favorites. What unique classes are there in your country?
Do you know about “randoseru”, the Japanese public school bag carried by most children? This is a leather or faux-leather backpack, based on the Netherland’s “ransel” rucksack. Traditionally they are quite heavy but recent types are more light-weight. Include lunch sets, tea bottles, textbooks, gym clothes, music and art supplies and other school items, children carry quite a large load of things to school everyday! This is also part of Japanese public school education: training strong backs!
Edward’s #1 Favorite thing about elementary school in Japan: No cars! Everyone walks to school. Even bicycles are not allowed, although in the countryside they sometimes are.
Other Public School Observations: Bullet Points!
- In Japan: No janitors! Children are responsible for cleaning in Japan, as are teachers and all other staff. Even the school principal gets involved. Cleaning time is integrated into the daily schedule.
In Canada? The janitorial staff cleans the school after children leave for the day.
- In Japan: Homework is checked by children themselves. Along with printouts, children are usually given an accompanying answer key. They are responsible for checking their own homework. Other times? Parents are asked to check and mark children’s homework.
In Canada? Sometimes teacher’s check, other times answer are written on the whiteboard and children check for themselves.
- In Japan: P.E. class includes horizontal bar exercises, jumping tests and running tests. Sounds similar? In Japan, children are competing against themselves. They do a run at the beginning of the year, in the middle of the year and at the end of the year. Their goal is simple: do better than you did before. Running tests are based on time- everyone runs the same time (i.e. 5 minutes) and they mark the distance they could run in that time. Grades 1 & 2 run 5 minutes, grades 3 & 4 run 6 minutes, grades 5 & 6 run 7 minutes. Distances are collated nationally for statistical purposes.
In Canada? Juggling, 1500m runs, 2.2km runs, grip strength and so on. The most dreaded of all? The beep test. This is a line-running test where you must get to the line before the next beep. As the beep test progresses, the time between beeps gets shorter. If you miss 3 beeps in row, you are done and this is your score. Beep test scores are also collected nationally but the system is much more complicated. What gym class tests did you do in your school days? Please write in the comments below.
- In Japan: School lunch. Traditionally made on site in the school kitchens. Recently made at local area school board lunch centers. Children eat lunch in their classroom with their teacher. Food is served by a group of children to their classmates. Children are responsible for clean up after lunch. During lunch hour, many schools have live announcements done by students: music, quizzes and so on.
In Canada? Lunch boxes brought from home. Teachers eat in the staff room after children go out to play. Some schools these days have lunch programs, but they are very different than the social and educational event that lunch is seen as in Japan. Here is a great video explaining about the school lunch program in Japan. Want to know how school lunch is made in Japan? Check out this video made by Paolo fromTOKYO.
- In Japan: Teacher development is done in school. Teachers receive a breakdown of the upcoming concepts and lesson plan, and then they observe a lesson and discuss afterwards and integrate concepts into their own lessons. During this observation lesson, can you guess what the other children in the school are doing? Reading or studying quietly at their desks. Walking through the school you can observe classrooms full of children, peacefully seated at their desks. This hour of quiet has an amazing calming effect on the children.
In Canada? Professional development days (called Pro-D days). All schools are closed. All children have the day off. Teachers attend day-long workshops and seminars.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Please add your own quirky observations about public school in Japan or in another country in the comment section below.