Gakureki shakai: The problems of pyramid-shaped University Ranking System

There are two major problems in Japanese education other than examination wars and cram schools as discussed in Chapter 1.

The first problem is the pyramid-shaped university ranking system(Daigaku-jorestu). All Japanese universities are ranked like a pyramid: the most famous university lies at the top of the pyramid, followed by a few famous ones, several less famous ones, and the rest underneath.

The second problem is the excessive regard for the rank and the class of universities.(Gakureki-Shakai) The students who enter famous universities tend to halt studying and spend their time in play and part-time jobs. Moreover, life after graduation greatly depends on which university a student graduates from.

Those two problems also result from the system where the Ministry of Education exclusively decides and controls the educational content at the high school level and below. This chapter analyzes the mechanisms underlying these problems with a unique methodology. A model based on a simple mathematical and statistical graph is used. It is not difficult, and can be easily understood by anyone with an education at the high school level.

1. At first, let us assume that the 3rd grade high school students in Japan receive a national unified examination with full marks of 1000, and that the marks are distributed as in Figure 1. This is similar to a normal distribution graph as often used in statistics 
[note 4].Actually, there is a national unified examination in Japan, called the University Entrance Center Examination.
2. Figure 1 shows the number of students on the vertical axis and the marks on the horizontal axis. Figure 2 shows the number of students on the horizontal axis and the marks on the vertical axis. These 2 figures represent the same results in different ways.
3. The graph in Figure 2 is slightly modified: it represents student distribution on the right side of the vertical axis (gray part). Thereafter, it is modified so the distribution on both sides of the vertical axis is symmetric, as shown in Figure 3.
4. Today, about 45% of high school graduates enter university or junior colleges. Thus, a section (including the upper 45% of students in Figure 3) was prepared as shown in Figure 4. Note the pyramid-like shape of the gray part surrounded by the lines. This figure shows what makes Japanese universities rank in a pyramidal fashion. “Deviation” is an indicator frequently used in Japan to show where a student is located in the pyramid in Figure 4.Deviation is assigned to all universities based on past data. Each student compares his/her deviation with that of each university to decide which university he/she can enter.
Students tend to decide on a target university according to their deviation rather than their aptitudes or interest.
At entrance, the label of each student is changed from his/her deviation to the name of the university he/she entered [note 5].
5. Figure 5 vertically connects the student ranking in high schools and that of universities. Since the Ministry of Education neither decides nor controls educational content at the university level, university ranking is somewhat fuzzy in the absence of a definite ranking.
Students cannot be easily ranked when there are various values and educational content as opposed to a unified standard.
6. Figure 6 was prepared to include the student rankings after graduation from university. Ranking individuals is so fuzzy after graduation as well as the university level that student ranking at the high school level become prevalent.
Corporations most emphasize that pyramid-like ranking in recruiting. Since they do not have the means to evaluate each individual’s performance, they emphasize ranking at the high school level, and use it to control employees through their life. This is the structure of Gakureki-Shakai, and promotes lifetime employment (shusin-koyo)in Japan.


Figure 7 shows the models used by Japan and the United States in comparing both societies. Compared to Japanese society, American society does not form a national, definite student ranking at the high school level, and yet provides enough opportunities for effort at the university and post-university level because the value of individuals has not been fixed. This is the reason why Japanese university students stop studying, while American students keep on studying, both during and after university.
Analyzing those processes by themselves leads to a solution–namely dismantling ranking and our Gakureki-Shakai. The following paragraphs will discuss this.Dismantling our Gakureki-Shakai requires the abolition of the current courses of study and the system of screening school text books by the Ministry of Education , wherein educational content is appointed at the high school level and below. (It means democratization and deregulation of education). These changes will eliminate the student ranking system at the high school level, and disrupt the pyramidal structure as shown in Figure 8. This will then disrupt pyramid-based university ranking system , and Gakureki-Shakai.

(Although the phenomena similar to university ranking system have also occurred at junior high and high school levels, they are not detailed in this paper.)

Chapter 1 describes how the problems of examination war and cram schools have been caused by the current courses of study (Gakushu-sido-yoryo) and the school text book screening system (Kyokasho-kentei-seido).Chapter 2 describes the pyramid-like university ranking system and it has been also caused by those two. Therefore, the monopoly of the Ministry of Education is the cause of all problems related to examination wars in Japan.

[note 4] This can be expressed with a formula. Statisticians always think of distributions in nature as following the normal distribution.

[note 5] Some people have pointed out that there are also national examinations in the United States, such as SAT and ACT. However, the situation is very different between Japan and the United States. Since the federal government does not decide educational content in the United States, the content frequently varies among states and districts. Therefore, an examination suitable for all students from various districts or schools must test a common area. However, since such an examination provides a normal distribution curve which concentrates students into a considerably narrow area as shown in Figure 9, these examinations alone are not sufficient to select students in the United States. Even in Japan, it is difficult that students are assigned only with examinations . Therefore, many difficult problems need to be deliberately included in the University Entrance Center Examination in order to flatten the normal disrtibution curve. It involves students in the meaningless competition.

clarify the mechanism underlying examination wars in Japan. Based on those analyses, this chapter summarizes the problems facing Japanese education.

1. The lack of competition among educational suppliers

Students have different characters, and accordingly, educational theories must be diverse. Therefore, many educational curricula should be tried in a competitive manner. However, there is no such thing in Japan. The diversity of school books and other materials is limited, and there is little room for developing new educational materials and methods. Japanese education is far from vital.

2. Free time lost by examination wars

Today, the primary trouble faced by junior high school level is the students’ anxiety related to the entrance examinations to high schools. More than half of them go to cram schools, and some of them attend several cram schools. Moreover, younger children have also become affected by the examination wars. It is quite abnormal that elementary school children return home from cram schools after 10 o’clock at night. A survey has shown that 27% of elementary school students and 64% of junior high school children feel fatigue in their daily lives [note 6]. Examination wars prevent children from growing up with sound minds, which makes their future of Japan gloomy.

3. The risk of the nationally unified education

Since a government agency decides educational content, if the agency makes a mistake, all schools are forced to go along with it. Such a risk can be avoided if the power to decide educational content is transferred to local governments or private schools. A new education system can be tried locally and then spread, before the Ministry of Education makes a nationwide decision. This would be both more natural and desirable.

4. Japanese education rejects individual differences

The students who achieved excellent results in a subject can frequently progress faster or proceed to the next grade in the United States. The absence of a national curriculum allows such flexibility. In situation such as in Japan where educational curricula are fixed by a national curriculum, a student permitted to proceed faster must be considered as favorable discrimination. No educational theory nor educational psychology argues that every child at each grade develops at the same speed.

5. The contradiction that any educational efforts not approved by the Ministry of Education are essentially useless

The Ministry of Education decides educational content in Japan. In other words, any educational efforts not approved by the Ministry are essentially useless. In the current system, doing only what is approved by the Ministry and cutting out (as much as possible) what is not approved is the most effective way to enter a famous university. Community and volunteer activities, home education, and learning styles are all useless. This is the largest contradiction in Japanese education. The definition of education is wider in the United States because the federal government does not decide the content of education. Experience in the real world, such as part-time jobs and social activities, are included in education. American high schools permit part-time jobs, while many Japanese high schools do not. Such differences result from the different definitions of education.

It is a considerable problem that the Ministry of Education has the power to develop or eliminate specific sets of values.

6. Educational system disturbing freedom of thought and education

The description and interpretation of school books on history have been variously argued in Japan. This includes the recent charity argument and the argument as to whether the operations of the Japanese military in Asian countries was advancement or invasion. However, there is no unified interpretation of history among the people and no need to unify it.

Strictly speaking, there are about 1,200 million Japanese nationals, and accordingly, there must be the same number of historical views since all of them were born at different times in different environments.

Today, Japanese schools nationwide teach a unified historical view. However, this system may disturb freedom of education and belief for both right and left wingers. Japanese education should be democratized in this respect as well.

7. The Japanese system does not develop unconventionality nor creativity

Recently, Asian countries have been rapidly catching-up to Japan. Since less expensive Asian products are frequently preferred to Japanese products when the quality is the same, Japanese industries must increasingly depend on creativity and being unconventional.

Not all Asian countries can democratize education. There are several conditions to be satisfied before education is democratized. Japan is among the few countries that can satisfy those. Education may indeed be a “hole card”, as it were, for Japan. Japanese education should no longer be discussed at the level of examination wars. It is an urgent issue to be tackled to survive in today’s world.

8. New social discrimination in the educational field

No one can deny the fact that Japanese diplomatism produces new social discrimination in schools. It would be useless to try to solve the problems of bullying and school rejection unless some measures are taken to dismantle the structure of diplomatism.

All of the above are the problems of Japanese education system.

[note 6] Life and study survey by the Nagano prefectural education committee, February 1996

By Shuichi Fujimori

Source: This treatise was submitted to the Ministry of Education with the attachment of a petiton,on November 19th. Retr. from

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