TOKYO – AT 28,000 dollars a year, a popular English language cram school course in Japan doesn’t come cheap, but its students hope the rewards will more than make up for the hefty tuition fee.
The class is called ‘Route H’ – short for ‘Route to Harvard’.
Hundreds of schools like it have opened across Japan in recent years to prep a new generation of students who have their educational sights set far beyond Japan’s shores, at the top universities of the West.
‘In future I hope to become a doctor or a lawyer. I can’t make up my mind,’ said one high school student on a recent study night, taking a short break between English grammar exercises and vocabulary drills.
But one thing he is sure about: he wants to go to Yale University where he expects a more pro-active learning environment than in Japan, one that stresses lively debate and independent thinking.
‘I don’t like the Japanese education system of passively listening to lectures,’ he said.
More and more Japanese parents and students are thinking the same way, said Mr Masanori Fujii, of the cram school company Benesse Corp, which offers customised ‘Route H’ courses at an average of 2.5 million yen (S$37,427).
‘Most of them are high school students and their parents, but some are parents of ninth graders, eighth graders or even sixth graders,’ he said.
While many families across Asia who could afford it have long sent their children abroad for an English-language education, Japan now lags behind India, China and South Korea in sending students to US universities, according to the US Institute of International Education.
But the tide is turning, said Fujii, with a new wave of students worried that a Japanese-only education will leave them ill-prepared in an increasingly globalised world.
‘The recent trend is different from the past in that top students are hoping to leave Japan,’ he said.
Of the 10,000 top high school students who took a mock university entrance exam last year, five per cent were also hoping to apply to prestigious US and British universities such as Yale, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge, Fujii said.
Their number is set to rise in future as the government is planning to introduce English-language education at elementary schools from 2011. — AFP