Entrance exams more competitive this year, more parents want kids to go to better schools amidst economic downturn

Entrance exam competition heats up Tuesday 3rd February 2009  Japan Today

Entrance exams for schools have been a symbol of the education system in Japan. The most competitive are entrance exams for private junior high schools, according to insiders. February is the season for exams, when children and especially their mothers go into competitive overdrive.

“About 70% of my students take entrance exams for private junior high schools. Half of them take days off in the week leading up to their exams,” said a teacher at a public primary school in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. “Mothers often call up, saying they don’t want their kids to catch the flu or something like that. Class numbers go down considerably.”

According to major prep school Nichinoken, 21-22% of primary school children in Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures, take entrance exams for private schools in February. The company says the competition is getting more severe amid the economic downturn because mothers want their kids to go to better schools.

A 35-year-old mother says, “I have told my child not to attend PE class since January. I can’t believe the school lets kids wear T-shirts and shorts for PE in winter. My child has been studying at prep school six days a week and for 10 hours a day in weekend. I don’t want him to catch a cold on the day of the exam.”

Another teacher at a public school in Chuo Ward says mothers make lots of requests to the school. “They worry about the flu. One mother requested that all the teachers wear high-tech masks for flu prevention.”

While mothers desperately care about their children’s health in the exam season, Sachiyo Sueki, a representative of prep school Mirai Juku, says mothers should behave as usual. “There is a lot of useful information on how to help their children study. But mothers are often confused by all the advice on how their children should prepare for entrance exams and some of them panic. I would advise them to just treat the exams as any other exam and not put pressure on their kids or confuse them.”

Children, however, have to fight not only pressures from their mothers but also competitors who take exams just as part of the prep schools’ business strategy, rather than for any academic goal.

One insider at the education industry says, “For private prep schools, the number of their students who passed the exams of high-ranked schools, such as Kaisei in Tokyo, Nada in Hyogo and La Salle in Kagoshima, is important to show their merits as a school. For this reason, major prep schools send the brightest children to sit for the exams of those schools. The prep schools pay all the transportation, hotel, food and exam costs.” He says those kids will not go on to those private schools but just take part in the exams as if it were a leisure activity.

Private schools, of course, know about such candidates and give more admission offers to candidates than they actually plan to accept. Kaisei school, for example, gives more than 400 offers, even though they plan to accept only 300 students.

Some people say that such strategy by prep schools causes children to fail exams. One insider says, “The most vulnerable are children who are on the border line. Children who have been making efforts to succeed ultimately fail just because of a school’s business strategy. It is a tragedy. Only those who have willing to go on to the schools they are applying for should be allowed to take entrance exams.”

The competition, however, has both positive and negative aspects. Nobuyasu Morigami, a representative of Morigami Education Institute, says: “Even if their children fail the exams, parents should not show their disappointment. What is important is to encourage children to go on to any school positively by telling them they can change their lives by themselves, even though they might not be able to go to their first choice school. Failing an exam is not the end of their lives.” (Translated by Taro Fujimoto)

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