Some recent comments criticizing Japan’s education system are devoid of reality. It’s true that more Japanese students used to go abroad when the country’s university system was not developed, just as China sends thousands of students abroad today because its university system is not yet fully developed.
There are two opposite tendencies in Japan today. On one hand, dire economic conditions in Japan, where the average disposable annual income of a Japanese family is ¥6 million to ¥7 million, compete with the cost of a university education, which ranges as high as ¥4.5 million (assume ¥1.5 million a year for living costs). Meanwhile, high school graduation no longer qualifies one for decent jobs in Japan anymore as so many manufacturing jobs have vanished to China. Only administrative jobs are available, for which a university graduation degree is needed.
That’s why most parents in Japan are borrowing from all quarters to send their children to university, and as a result, the number of students in the universities have not declined as assumed by those who are influenced by demographic factors only.
That doesn’t mean that academic standards in the universities have declined. Academic standards do not depend on the admissions office; they depend on individual professors who are free to create their own syllabus, and on the method of examinations. As universities in Japan draw more and more foreign faculty members, and as Japanese professors with Ph.D.s return home from reputable foreign universities because of the high yen and the prospect of better salaries than they can get overseas, academic standards, at least at national and reputable private Japanese universities, are going up not down.
The Japanese education system creates the most disciplined and most civilized teenagers in the world. Complaints about the use of cram schools are downright stupid. Cram schools exist in the United States (Kaplan or Peterson are the best examples), and there are many cram schools in the cities of Oxford and Cambridge.
In the United Kingdom, promotion is automatic until one has to sit for the (GCSE) exam, which is not compulsory. Similarly, promotions in Japanese schools from one year to the next are automatic, but one needs to sit for junior high or senior high school exams and, ultimately, the university entrance exam to prove oneself. Preparation for that is no easy task.
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.