When I moved to Japan in 2004, I had no idea my 1-year teaching contract would morph into almost seven years as a fully engaged resident. Hiroshima quickly became my home and while I was technically the teacher, I learned a tremendous amount how children learn and are “raised” by their parents, teachers and the community. As I changed companies (I worked with an educational organization that placed me as a teaching specialist in local jr and high schools and private universities) and transferred to international schools (through the IB), I became witness to cultural approaches to education that extended beyond taught content and classroom activities. The Japanese education system is very different from ours. I am reminded of this each night that my daughter and I do her KUMON (Japanese style Math and Reading supplemental learning strategies) work. In a more general sense, it is quite obvious considering the vast differences in the way of living across both our countries. While different, there are certainly a few things that we can learn and adopt from our Japanese counterparts. Here are a few things that they do differently in schools which are worth a thought.
All public schools (especially junior and high schools) have a standard uniform and rules about hair, nails and even eyebrows that are strictly enforced. Keeping in mind Japan’s homogeneity, these codes of presentation instils a sense of belonging and discipline in the children. Rather than being punished for uniform transgressions, students and families are supported in maintaining these standards.
No substitute teachers
Unlike our schools, when a teacher calls in sick in a Japanese school, they don’t get a sub, rather they trust the students to study independently and quietly during that class. Displaying a high level of discipline, this practice helps the children understand that they are trusted to be mature enough to handle themselves without any adult supervision. For homeschoolers, consider how a traditional heavy hands-on approach can be balanced with opportunities for independent study and reflection. Also consider how if you are the primary facilitator, how your child might benefit by working with specialists.
There are no janitors in Japanese schools. The teachers and the students take out time daily to clean their classrooms and even toilets. Apart from giving the children a sense of responsibility, this also teaches them accountability. They don’t scribble on their desks or dirty the hallways because they know they will end up cleaning it later. How might your homeschool program incorporate this kind of collectivity? Do chores need to be perceived as separate from their learning? Can inquiries and projects lead to community impact outcomes?
Instead of cold packed lunch or the cafeteria, students and teachers eat hot meals at their desks, prepared by the lunch ladies. The strict ‘no-waste’ rule ensures that the children don’t waste anything. How do you approach lunch? Do you sit together as you would at dinner or invite other homeschooling families for lunch? Better yet, do you prepare lunch together and are your ingredients grown locally? Do you make lunch time an act of service learning by delivering meals (say through MANNA or Meals on Wheels) to neighbors or other physically or financially needy members of your community?
Home economics classes
In Japan, children are taught essential life skills that are practical and helpful in their life. for instance, the students start their home economics classes in the fifth grade and continue with it till they graduate high school. While the term home-ec might bring back memories of trying to boil an egg, the curriculum of this course in Japan is very different. The children are taught a wide range of skills through this class which includes sewing, cooking, planning a meal, budgeting, grocery shopping and carpentry. The aim of this is to eliminate gender disparity in an household.
Culture integrated in all learning
In Japan, all students are required to take a "culture" class which teaches traditional writing techniques, tea ceremony and indigenous dance. These course of study is taught separately and yet is embedded in all learning as it's value goes beyond history, language and tradition. It speaks to ethics, moral codes and character development.
These are just a few of the many differences that exist in our school systems. Their manner of teaching a subject or the traditional arts in school, respect for teacher and even the fact that the children never repeat a grade or skip school makes so much more sense than the way these areas are handled in our schools. Their education system instills: