The Japanese educational system, due to American occupation after the World War II, was heavily influenced by American educational system. The Fundamental Law of Education in Japan was introduced in 1947, changing the educational system to the 6+3+3+4 structure. The current system includes six years of elementary school, three years of Lower secondary school, three years of upper secondary school and, finally, four years of higher education. The last step is not optional and was created for those who are in the academic stream.
It is worth to mention that Japanese educational system is known for its impressive results in passing international benchmarking tests. Among the most notable ones is the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). That is why nearly 97% of junior school children easily pass to high school, which graduates nearly all of them, defining the high level of education in Japan. In contrast, in the US there are around 88% of junior school students who pass to high school and only 70% of them graduate.
There are around 3 million students who enrolled in a higher education. It is worth to mention, that there are more than 1, 200 universities and junior colleges in Japan, meaning that Japanese students who wish to pursue tertiary education have all opportunities to succeed. Still, the great number of universities and junior colleges also make the higher education in Japan one of the weakest parts of the whole educational system. The only goal pursued by those who want to get a higher education is to be admitted to the most prestigious school. After the admission, students easily pass through the first three years of an undergraduate program and, generally, use the last year for job hunting.
That is why plans to reform were introduced in 1998 by the University Council, an advisory organ to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The main plan of the reform included limiting the number of credits for undergraduates and stricter grading policies. However, the report was not aimed at such issues as demographics and graduate education Japan is facing today. The report concerning demographic issues was introduced in 2007.
In Japan, preschools are not compulsory. The education is provided by kindergartens and day-care centers, taking children from under age 1 up to 5 years old. Preschool education is mainly focused on having the child pass the entrance exam to some private elementary school. The academic year starts in April. There are two periods of vacation: summer vacation in August and winter vacation from the end of December to the beginning of January. The academic year ends in March. It is worth to note that academic year is the same all from elementary school to higher education.
Primary Education (Shogakko)
A middle school in Japan is compulsory. It includes 6 years of studying and aimed at students from under age 6 to 12 years old. The curriculum of the elementary school includes both regular subjects and some extracurricular activities (festivals, competitions, class trips, etc.). Furthermore, there is a moral education for elementary school, which means that students are taught the importance of personal values. There are no special groupings of students in accordance with their abilities. Also, pupils are not able to skip grades.
Teachers of primary schools are required to have a Bachelor’s degree in Primary Education or have a diploma from junior college. Still, the second option is considered to be a second-class certificate. That is why the majority if teachers of elementary school have completed a four-year university degree.
Middle Education (Chugakko)
From age 12, children proceed to middle schools. The 3 years coming after primary education is increasingly academic. It is explained by the fact that nearly 96% of students who pass through middle school want to continue their education. That is why the main focus of the middle school is preparation for high school entrance examination.
There are about 95% of state-funded schools in Japan, while about 5,7% percent of students attend private schools. There are about 40 students in an average class. In comparison to the primary school curriculum, middle school includes integrated study with the goal of stimulating students’ individuality and imagination.
Over 80% of teachers in middle schools have a University diploma. Typically, all of them have completed major courses in the subjects that they teach.
Secondary Education (Kotogakko)
High school is Japan is not compulsory and, what is more, it is not free. Nevertheless, about 94% of students continue their education by entering privately-funded or state-owned institutions.
A high schools in Japan welcomes students who reached 15 years and ends when they are 18. After grade 9, students in Japan are divided into two categories: vocational and university entrance. There are also 3 main formats of secondary education: full-time, part-time, or correspondence. The main aim of the secondary school is to prepare students to apply for entrance to universities.
Teachers of secondary schools must complete Bachelor’s degree in Education. Also, some of them have a Master’s degree due to the requirement of greater concentration in the teaching subjects in comparison to primary level.
Vocational education in Japan was created for students, who choose to enter university. Nearly all of students who have plans to get a higher education almost invariably undergo some vocational training, which is known for its high standards. After passing through vocational studying, students can get the internationally recognized certification.
Each year, there are about 3 million students who study at universities and colleges in Japan. Most of them prefer to choose full-study format.
All colleges in Japan are private. Still, there are also about 96 national universities and about 39 universities established through local government. If you are looking for the most top-ranking university in Japan, it is always the University of Tokyo.
The most popular undergraduate courses in Japan are social sciences, engineering, humanities, and education. By the way, teachers in universities and colleges have to get the first-class teaching certificate. It means, that all the students who want to make a career in teaching at universities, have to study 40 units in the teaching area of specialization and 19 in the area of professional studies. The four-year program includes minimum 124 units. Furthermore, beginning teachers have to take part in a one-year supervised training program.