What are the differences between Australian and Japanese students?

 One of the most exciting prospects of this trip was the chance to explore and observe our counterpart Japanese classrooms. Even before entering a school there were some striking differences between the Japanese and Australian system. The Japanese education system consists of three separate school levels: Elementary (Grades 1 – 6); Junior High School (Grades 7 – 9); and High School (10 – 12). Of these, Elementary and Junior High School are compulsory whereas High School is optional and free! Surprisingly, around 90% of students will choose to continue from Junior High to High School! Today however, I’d like to explore some of the differences (or lack of!) between Japanese and Australian students.

The first school we visited was the Kotehashidai Junior High School within Chiba City. From the very outset, there was noticeable difference in the way the school ran. Each classroom we passed was full of students (up to 45 students to one teacher in some cases!) who were totally engaged with the tasks they were undertaking. We dropped into three classrooms in rapid succession – Japanese, Maths and English – each totally different in the activities being undertaken but all sharing a common theme. Total and utter engagement. I had previously had the misconception that education in Japan was strict and rigid but this was not the case at all! I observed a friendly rapport between students and teachers, students feeling comfortable to contribute and challenge concepts introduced in the classroom.

kotehashidai mathsA Mathematics class at Kotehashidai Junior High School

dai i chu mascot

The school mascot, Dai-I-Chu, designed to look similar to the Kanji for Dai.

After visiting several schools and having the opportunity to question teachers a bit more closely, I began to see the bigger picture and how their school environment itself lends towards a different culture. During classes, as mentioned earlier, the expectation is for students to be engaged and immersed in the activities being undertaken. This is prevalent from Elementary all the way through to High school, with little variation between the schools that we have visited. The lessons were shorter in length with short breaks between them and this is where I observed the similarities. All that discipline and engagement faded away to leave behind what our students in Australia also are – kids. The moment the breaks began I saw students enjoying themselves, laughing, sharing stories, and engaging with their teachers. To me, this leads me to the conclusion that students in Japan find it easier to compartmentalize different times of the day as when it was time for the next lesson to begin they were immediately settling down and ready to start.

mizuno class

Miss Mizuno’s Science class in an introductory Astronomy lesson.

mizuno astro

Miss Mizuno using software to display and explore constellations and space.

On the whole, there was a feeling that the school environment almost felt more like a home or a community. This was reinforced by some of the practices observed including students taking responsibility for cleaning classrooms and the school, giving the announcements to the school, having daily rotations for class leaders, and running the distribution of food for mealtimes. The role of the teacher itself seems two-fold – as with Australian teachers, they aim to facilitate education in the classroom and work to engage all students with interesting activities. But their second role was one that I feel Australia aims towards but doesn’t quite match (on a national level as there is of course a large amount of variation) – the extent to which they undertake pastoral care truly inspired me. Learning of stories where teachers would visit the homes of sick children to check in on them, or remain in their classrooms, despite having just taught a full lesson, and engage with the students in a much more personal way. There will of course be disadvantages to this system but I was very much given the impression that the teacher had a very close connection with each student in their class.

The opportunity that has been given to me through this experience will be an important one for me to develop and grow as an educator and I feel privileged to have experienced the richness of the Japanese education system.

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