Entrance exam burden growing


/ Increased competition for places at middle schools stresses kids, parents

Takashi Nii / Yomiuri Weekly Staff Writer

The growth in the number of primary school students taking middle school entrance exams is posing some serious problems for both children and parents.

A large number of private middle schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area are scheduled to hold entrance exams Friday.

According to Nichinoken Corp., a major cram school chain specializing in preparing children for middle-school entrance exams, the number of sixth-year primary school students taking such exams in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures is likely to reach 60,000 this year.

Last year, 18.9 percent of sixth-year primary school students in the metropolitan area took middle school entrance exams. If the number of exam takers exceeds 59,000 this year, the figure will go above 20 percent. In certain areas, half of all sixth-graders are taking middle school entrance exams.

During the economic bubble in 1991, about 51,000 children, or about 12.8 percent of sixth graders, took such exams.

Though the proportion hovered around 12-13 percent for more than a decade, the figure started rising in 2002. In the five years since, the figure has risen by about five percentage points. The rise is believed to be due to the government’s policy to promote pressure-free education.

The government cut the number of classes and the quantity of content taught at public primary and middle schools, prompting parents and educational experts to complain that such measures were reducing children’s scholastic ability.

Such criticism fueled demand for private schools that offer integrated middle and high school education, with such schools seen as having consistent six-year curriculums and high university admission rates.

According to cram schools and other sources, primary school students no longer hesitate to take middle school entrance exams. While highly selective schools remain popular among certain students, many children and their parents simply want to avoid going to their ordinary neighborhood public school.

Nobuyasu Morigami, an education consultant who runs a research institute, said the push for integrated six-year education became even more evident after some public schools began offering it.

In fiscal 2005, the Tokyo metropolitan government opened its first such school–Hakuo High School and Middle School. Since then, the number of public schools offering six years of continuous education has kept increasing, with the number expected to reach 11 this spring in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Two more such public schools are planned to open in Kanagawa Prefecture in fiscal 2009, and four more in Tokyo in fiscal 2010.

Whereas some private schools with a six-year integrated education program charge more than 1 million yen for a year’s tuition, the fee is less than 150,000-300,000 yen at public schools.

Consequently, public schools that provide integrated education are arousing interest among parents who had found the cost of private education to be prohibitive.

Chiba Prefecture’s Chiba Middle School, which will open this spring, attracted 27 times more applicants than it had places, presumably because successful applicants would be able to advance to the prestigious Chiba High School without taking entrance exams three years later.

But the enthusiasm for schools offering six years of integrated education has begun revealing some problems. The first thing worth noting is the long time children spend in cram schools.

Although the majority of children start attending cram schools in their third or fourth year of primary school, an increasing number of children are going to such schools at younger ages. This is attributed not only to cram schools’ efforts to attract younger children, but also changes in awareness on the part of their parents.

According to an opinion survey conducted by the Yomiuri Weekly in 2006 and 2007 covering parents who had their children take middle school entrance exams, half of the 222 respondents said their annual spending on cram schools was between 1 million yen and 1.49 million yen when their children were sixth-graders.

Asked about total spending on preparation for entrance exams, one parent said it cost more than 8 million yen. In this case, the child started attending cram schools immediately after entering primary school. After children have reached the fourth grade, attendance at cram schools means they are routinely returning home after 9 p.m.

In this way, both children and parents bear a heavy burden.

The survey also showed that children’s parents–mothers, in particular–are worried about the situation.

When children take entrance exams for middle schools, their parents need to be deeply involved because of their young age. At that age, children mostly do as instructed by parents and cram school teachers.

Having access to limited information, however, parents begin to have various concerns about how to help their children pass entrance exams, with some of them feeling great pressure.

There are a number of other problems involving entrance exams for middle schools.

For instance, even after children successfully get into the schools, they have to continue going to cram schools to prepare for their next entrance exam. Moreover, some students find it difficult to adapt to the schools they have entered.

The problems associated with competitive entry to middle schools have long been seen as restricted to children and parents in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Therefore, the various problems have been left to them to resolve.

Education consultant Morigami says taking entrance exams for middle schools has both advantages and disadvantages.

“It helps students nurture their capacity for logical thinking, and this is an experience they would never get in ordinary public schools,” Morigami said. “However, students tend to make their choice of schools not based on school culture, but on their test scores.”

But the reality is that choice of middle school does not determine the course of a child’s whole life. Both parents and society should keep in mind that it is only one of a number of turning points that children will face.

(Feb. 1, 2008) Daily Yomiuri

Some changes are said to be taking place to the entrance exam system… read the whole article at Japan Times

“the exam system has been changing, and generally in positive directions. Significant steps taken in recent years are beginning to reform this pivotal educational dilemma. As the total number of students has dropped — and many simply refuse to suffer through a system they find meaningless — universities have had to respond with changes of their own.

Already, most schools offer more than one route into their classrooms. Students can now choose between AO (admissions office) exams, school recommendations and self-recommendations with essays and interviews. The exam schedules have been loosened as well, making it somewhat easier to try again after failing one exam. Individual departments have obtained more leeway to create their own distinctive type of exam. The domineering system of the past has become somewhat flexible and slightly more human.

However, the power of the entrance exams to determine educational priorities has not diminished. High schools and cram schools still teach to the test, and probably always will. As a result, the exam has the power to spur improvements in education faster than any government initiative.

When the exams change, high schools and cram schools have to immediately modify their methods to best help students prepare. By creating exams based not on rote memorization but instead on higher order thinking, problem-solving skills and written expression, they can powerfully affect how, and why, students cram for their exams.
This may not reduce the overall level of anxiety, but at least it will encourage longer-lasting values than test-taking tricks. ”

Unified entrance exams kick off across Japan Japan Times

Two days of unified entrance exams kicked off Saturday at 736 test centers across Japan, involving a record high 777 universities and colleges.

Students check for information about the unified university entrance exams that began Saturday as they arrive at one of the venues, the Hongo campus of the University of Tokyo, in Bunkyo Ward. KYODO PHOTO

Total applicants came to 543,385, about 10,000 down from last year, reflecting the continued decline in the population and the falling birthrate.

Exams were held Saturday on civics, geography and history, and Japanese and foreign languages. Exams covering science and math will be given Sunday. Saturday’s exams include an English listening comprehension test that was introduced in 2006.

The ratio of final-year high school students to total applicants stood at 78.8 percent, the highest so far; those who graduated from high school earlier totaled 20.0 percent.

The government began organizing unified exams for national and local government-run universities and colleges in the 1979 school year and upgraded them in 1990 for use also by private universities and colleges.

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