Juku news

Excerpted here are some news commentaries about Japan’s cramschools.

Japan: Crazy For Cramming: Tutoring outfits are thriving — and new international student rankings may intensify demand

It’s no secret that the Japanese have long been obsessed with

….These days, though, the country is losing its edge. In a 2000
survey of 15-year-olds from 41 countries by the Organization for
Economic Cooperation & Development, Japan ranked first in math and
eighth in reading. According to the latest figures, released in
December, Japan has fallen to 6th and 14th, respectively, behind the
likes of Korea and Hong Kong. While it held steady at No. 2 in science
— and remained well ahead of the U.S., which could muster just 28th
in math, 18th in reading, and 22nd for science — the figures have
been greeted with horror. Japanese education “is in a critical
situation,” says Masahito Kitayama, president of Eikoh Inc., which
runs a chain of schools offering remedial instruction and courses that
prepare students for exams. “We used to have common objectives. To get
a better life, people knew they had to study hard, get into a good
school, and join a good company. That shared awareness is gone.”

Many in Japan blame the problems on falling standards in schools and a
slow disintegration of adult authority in the classroom and at home. A
key concern is a government decision three years ago to ease the
workload for elementary and junior high school children by 30%. This
“relaxed education” policy was supposed to help schoolchildren become
more well-rounded, but so far it seems to have succeeded only in
causing a public outcry. One example: Junior high school students are
now taught to use “around 3” rather than 3.14 for pi when calculating
the diameter of a circle — a move that has parents fuming. “The
lovely-sounding word ‘relaxed’ has been used to cover up an incoherent
situation in which schools, educators, and parents alike have all cut
corners and avoided responsibility,” thundered the daily Nihon Keizai
Shimbun after the latest OECD figures were released. And it doesn’t
help that key Asian rivals have risen in those international education
rankings, emphasizing a sense that Japan’s children — and,
ultimately, its economy — risk being left behind.

Those dark clouds for Japan, though, look like sunny skies to the
operators of juku, or “cram schools,” such as those run by Eikoh. The
country has some 50,000 of these outfits, which offer afternoon and
evening classes where students can bone up on everything from
chemistry to classics. The juku have been around for years, but demand
for the services of the better schools is soaring as national anxiety
about educational standards intensifies…..
By Ian Rowley and Hiroko Tashiro in Tokyo


Education Week
American Education’s Newspaper of Record

August 7, 2002

Japanese Schoolchildren ‘Cram’ To Boost Achievement

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Education Week URL: http://www.teachermagazine.biz/ew/ew_printstory.cfm?slug=43japan.h21

Yokohama, Japan

Among the throngs of weary commuters packed into trains arriving here
are hundreds of schoolchildren from nearby Tokyo and surrounding
suburbs. Toting blue backpacks with reflective trim, they head for
their second shift of studying. They spend up to three hours, three
nights a week in a Spartan, hot, windowless classroom in a converted
storefront taking additional lessons in mathematics, science, or
Japanese language and writing. On Saturdays, they return for a test to
gauge what they’ve learned during the week.

The Nichinoken juku, or “cram school,” is one of Japan’s largest
after- school programs. It serves more than 37,000 elementary pupils
in 84 locations throughout the country. Such supplemental and
test-preparation programs have been popular in Japan for nearly four
decades as an academic leg up for students striving to get into the
top high schools and universities. More recently, though, they have
catered to elementary children angling for a spot in a private junior
high school….

….The Japanese public and academia, however, have a mixed view of
the role of juku in education. For many parents and students, it
seems, they are a necessary part of life. The cram schools are
marketed, Ms. Russell said, in a way that plays on parents’ fears that
the public school curriculum will not help their children reach their
academic potential.

And, some critics argue that the schools fuel “examination hell,” a
testing system so intense it is often blamed for increased student
stress, high rates of youth suicide, and school violence. Moreover,
some say, the juku undermine the public education system.

“By purchasing private lessons to help raise their children’s scores
on high-stakes tests, parents demonstrate that the public system and
its standards are, on their own, inadequate preparation for the
reality of entrance examinations,” Ms. Russell writes.

The Ministry of Education has also viewed juku as a threat to public
education. Officials have tried over the years to reduce the cram
schools’ numbers or abolish them altogether. But as private
institutions, the largest of which are traded on the Japanese stock
exchanges, they are not bound by education law or the rules set forth
by education officials. Only recently has the ministry, or Monbusho,
recognized the contributions of cram schools to high academic

Those who advocate increased privatization of education claim the juku
are valued partners of the school system and can help push students
beyond the minimum standards many schools settle for. When students
graduate from Nichinoken in 6th grade, they have already reached or
exceeded what is required in a given subject in junior high school,
Mr. Takagi said. The program, he said, gives students more
individualized attention than is possible in their regular classrooms.

In a class here in Yokohama recently, 28 students sat in cramped rows
for a 70-minute lesson in Japanese writing, a complex system of more
than 2,000 commonly used characters, each representing a word, sound,
or concept. The textbook, custom-made for Nichinoken students, will
take them through increasingly difficult exercises that will likely
exceed those covered in their regular schools.

In this lesson, they are asked to read passages, some containing more
difficult characters than they encounter regularly. Children in the
front of the class they move forward in the rows after they ace a
weekly test—raise hands quickly. Some call out answers; others make
jokes. The teacher, who has gone through a yearlong training program
to help him master teaching the “Nichinoken way,” uses subtle body
language—a tap on a desk, a wave of his hand—to keep the students

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