Salarymen families assess pros and cons of international schooling

KUCHIKOMI SEP. 11, 2011 JAPANTODAY.COM

TOKYO — With more companies expecting new applicants to take the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) examination, and others making a high TOEIC score a prerequisite for promotion, Nikkan Gendai (Sept 6) reports that growing numbers of Japanese families are taking a proactive approach to their children’s education by enrolling them in international schools.

“With the background the globalization of corporations, more children in the families of rank-and-file salarymen are being enrolled in international schools,” says Miwa Nakamura, a journalist who covers education. “Quite a few parents want their children to master both English and Chinese, and Chinese schools are also becoming popular.”

That said, international schools in Japan are essentially aimed at educating foreign children, and Japanese children who graduate from them may not be recognized as having completed compulsory educational requirements.

“There have been cases where Japanese high schools wouldn’t admit them,” says Nakamura. “And those who go to international schools all the way through high school may not be qualified to enter a Japanese university. Certainly attending an international school will give a child foreign language skills, but there are numerous other demerits.”

Since the foreign schools are attended by the children of Japanese executives employed by foreign companies, as well as the offspring of celebrities in the entertainment world, they have a certain aura of glamour about them. But culturally and academically, they are worlds apart from Japanese education and the Ministry of Education has been unable to grasp their actual status.

As a result, although some international schools have obtained certification at the prefectural level, they are classified as specialty institutions, in the same category as cram schools, language conversation schools, driver’s education schools and so on.

Some 80 international schools in Japan have obtained Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation that would enable graduates smoother entry into Japanese universities, but the others must pass a high school graduation equivalency test to gain entry.

An unnamed Japanese educator also points out that the international schools’ curriculums, if anything, tend to be even more lenient than the laid-back “yutori kyoiku” policies adopted in the 1990s that have been largely discredited in recent years.

“What is particularly bad is that some of these schools appear to have brought in instructors who were working part-time at some of the big English conversation schools—free-timers who couldn’t land regular full-time jobs. I wonder how qualified they are to teach.”

Another issue facing families thinking of sending their child to such schools is their considerably higher tuition fees.

“There are some differences in costs, but parents should expect to pay between 1.5 million to 5 million yen in tuition per year,” says the aforementioned Nakamura.

At the American School in Japan where singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada was educated, for example, these costs were around 2.2 million yen per year. The Seishin International School, attended by Mari Sekine, charges around 2.02 million yen. But since these schools are accredited, the costs are deemed reasonable.

Still, in comparison, 12 years of public school education from primary through high school ought to cost a family about 5 million yen, even with supplimentary costs such as cram school tuition and extracurricular activities added.

Still, an education that helps nurture diversity can’t be all bad. Or can it?

“Just as there are children who speak Japanese fluently but who have trouble with grammar and composition, a child’s ability at a foreign language doesn’t necessarily substantiate academic achievement,” the aformentioned educator remarks. “Some kids who go to the international schools never manage to pick up kanji, and quite a few of them can’t read a Japanese newspaper. With an incomplete education, it’s common that some fail to gain university admission and they wind up as deadbeats.”

Parents who decide to go the way of international schooling need to be on their guard, warns Nikkan Gendai, or they might wind up with a lout who just happens to be adept at speaking English.