The school system is quite different here in Japan.
The students are tested almost on a daily basis in different subjects, so it’s no surprise they are in the top five academic countries in the world.
The lessons (at least English) are structured to be mostly grammar, vocabulary, (and since I’m here) a bit of pronunciation. There isn’t much room for free learning or games.
In Japan, the school year starts in April and ends in the following March.
They get a three-week break in between years, a three-week break in August, and a three-week break in December.
There are things that I think are quite brilliant in the school system but there are also things that completely perplex me.
For instance, during the break in March and April, teachers are relocated with about one to two weeks notice.
I can see some benefits in turn over like that, but I can’t imagine having my life change so quickly without much notice.
I’ve asked several teachers why the government does this, and no one that I’ve asked, so far, has been able to give me an answer other than, “I don’t know why, that’s the way it is.”
So, as of now, the teachers that will be teaching at a new school in April, do not know, and won’t know until the break starts at the end of March.
Probably my favourite aspect of the Japanese school system is when a teacher starts in elementary school they stay with that same class throughout the years until the students move to junior high school in Grade 7. If a teacher starts with Grade 1, he or she will be with that class for six years.
Another thing that is incredible is the treatment of disabled students and the student to teacher ratio.
In both my Grade 5 and 6 classes in elementary school, for each disabled student, there is an extra teacher in the class to help them, one on one.
In a different elementary school, there are a total of nine students in the entire school but there are five teachers. For example, one day in my Grade 4 class of two students, there were a total of three teachers in the classroom.
Lastly, before students enter high school in Grade 10, they go through a process similar to our college and university systems.
They have to take entrance examinations and interview tests for each high school they apply to.
Students in their final year of junior high school attend programs after school called Cram Schools, which are focused on the entrance exams.
It is very common for students to go to cram schools everyday after regular classes.
Getting into a good high school means getting into a good college or good university, and eventually a good job.
And now, to end on a happy note, ‘Mikka bouza’ (three-day monk.) Someone who gives up easily.
Anna Marshall is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.