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RUNNING HEAD: Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems


Tejay A. Greenwood
Chesapeake College

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems


Abstract
The main point of this paper is to analyze and compare both the Japanese
Education System and the American Education System in an effort to answer
which system is better, in regards to how well it prepares both male and female
students for the workforce, and which gender is better off once there. I will be
comparing the Education and system structures, compulsory education, private
vs, public schools, cost and funds, clubs and activities, college, curriculum,
student motivation and attitudes, as well as the gender inequality in the
workforce.
Key words: Japanese, American, Students, Gender inequality, attitude,
motivation, workforce

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

Intro:
Everyone knows that Japanese students generally do better on standardized test
when compared to American students, but most people dont know why. The answer is
actually a simple one, only students who want to learn, and who have the capacity to do so,
receive a higher education in Japan. In almost complete contrast to the American system,
which teaches everyone, regardless of proficiency, or desire. This isnt the only difference
between the American and Japanese Education systems; in fact the differences go much
deeper. These differences are what I will be covering in my paper: How and to what extent,
does the structure of the Japanese Education System compare to that of the United States?
Specifically, which system holds the most promise for male/female students?
The American Education System:
The American Education system follows a format, most commonly referred to as the
6-3-3 structure (Wieczorek, 2008).. This is because students will commonly start their
education at the age of 5 or 6, and will spend 6 years in elementary school. After that they
will start attending middle school, for another 3 years. Once finished with middle school, the
student will move on to high school, spending another 3-4 years there. After which they will
graduate, marking the end of their compulsory education
In America, most students will receive their education free, through public schools,
paid for by the federal state and local governments (Wieczorek, 2008). However, some
students will choose to pay for their education through private schools, paying for a better
education. This is how so much prestige is placed on those in private schools.
While obtaining their educations, some students may choose to join various clubs at
their school. Students choose to do this for various reasons, either to fit in, make friends, to
pursue a passion, or simply because it looks good on a college application. Students are able
to apply to any college they wish to. Leading up to College, most students will take multiple
standardized tests, (such as the SAT, and ACT) the score on these exams will be looked at by

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

the college applied to, so that they may decide if the student meets their standards of
education.
The Japanese Education System:
Even though Japan adopted Americas 6-3-3 Structure, they also added their own
twist to it (Wieczorek, 2008). Japanese children start Elementary school at the age of 6, with
the option of going to a private kindergarten beforehand(2008). Elementary school runs until
sixth grade, after which the student moves onto Junior High School (Middle School). Junior
High School lasts another 3 years, and marking the end of compulsory education for
Japanese students (2008). After Junior High, students who want to move on to higher
education may do so, if not they may go into the workforce. If a student decides to go into
high school, they must take an entrance exam (2008). The score they receive on the
entrance exam will determine which high schools they may go into, and what class they will
be placed in. High school last another 3 years, at which point all university bound students
will take another entrance exam to determine where they may to college.
Students can decide to go to either public or private schools in Japan, with the
occasional option of homeschooling (Thompson). The most important thing to understand
when looking at private schools versus public schools: Private schools are seen as a safety
net (Thompson). This is the reason why almost 90% of Japanese students attend public
schools, through compulsory education (Thompson). Only 29% of students will attend a
private school during that time (Thompson). While elementary and Junior High schools are
assigned based on where one lives, high school and college are based on your academic
scores on the entrance exam, which means you can only attend schools that your scores will
allow you to. However, if you didnt get into the school you wanted to with your test scores,
you could still always pay to go to a private school, which wouldnt look at your scores
(Thompson). Which schools one attends plays a huge role in their futures, because, the high
school a student attends also dictates which colleges they are allowed to apply for
(Thompson). Due to only those students who have proficiency for learning, being able to

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

advance in their education, and with colleges being so prestigious, only about 27% of
university- bound students actually gain admission to college (Thompson).
Another interesting thing about Japanese schools is that in almost every public school
each student must be a member of a club, and each teacher must coach a club. The clubs
range from cultural clubs (such as ikebana flower arranging- or calligraphy) to sports (such
as soccer or volleyball). Many students join clubs that they have a passion for, or that will
help get them into certain colleges, often causing them to stay after school late (Educational
Systems of Japan and the US).
Funding for education is also another vast difference between the two countries. The
funding for all of the grades covered under compulsory education is split equally by the
national, prefectural and local governments (Cooke, 2005). High school education is mostly
covered by the prefectural and municipalities, with the national government only funding
part of it; with the municipalities and private source funding covering kindergarten (2005).
Comparing Both Systems:
One major difference between the American Education System, and the Japanese
Education System, is how the curriculum is set up. In Japan, they have a national curriculum,
which is set by the Japanese Ministry of Education (Wieczorek, 2008). Japan possesses this
type of curriculum, as a way to ensure that everyone, no matter where they are from, will
receive the exact same education, and is equal. This curriculum ensures that every school
teaches the same things, the same way, and with the same materials. This is vastly different
from the American System, where we possess a state-by-state curriculum (2008). Every
state has the right to decide what they feel is most important to teach their students, and
can modify the curriculum to the resources they have available to them. However, because
every state does not have the same resources available to them, on example being money,
most states have a huge gap in the education the students receive. This can be seen with
their scores on standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT.

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

The school year also plays a huge role in the gap of education between the students
from these two school systems. The American School Systems has a school year starting in
August, and ending in June, with a short winter and spring break, and a longer summer
vacation between each school year, with the school year lasts 180 days (Educational
Systems of Japan and the US). The Japanese system is vastly different, with a school year
lasting 60 days more than that of the students in America, totaling 240 days (Educational
Systems of Japan and the US).. In addition to all of these extra days in school, traditionally
students in Japan would spend half of their Saturdays in school (Educational Systems of
Japan and the US). However, they now have Saturdays off, with an optional cram-school
session held instead, though it is important to know that most students still attend these
sessions anyway (Educational Systems of Japan and the US).
Another important difference that is these educational systems is standards and class
structures. Students in America generally do not have uniforms, unless they attend a private
school, and instead have a dress code- guidelines of which they must follow. They have a
mixed- class style, with other students in their grade, change classroom after each class.
While students in Japan have a different class structure. While they are split into grades,
those grades are split into sub- groups or room numbers (5-1, 5-2, 5-3) (Schmid, 2012).
The Japanese use this class structure as a way to divide the students up based on
intelligence and learning proficiency. They do this so that teachers can teach students who
are all either advanced, or who have more trouble learning, all at once (2012). Also, unlike
students in America, who have a dress code, the students of Japan have uniforms. This helps
students to focus on their school work instead of their clothing, and also makes it so no one
student stands out more then another, and ensures that all students are equal (2012).
The last two major differences also go hand-in-hand, Student Literacy and Student
Attitudes. The Japanese believe that each students attitude has a direct effect on their
literacy (Wieczorek, 2008). It also often seen that if a student is being disruptive, or is not
paying attention in class, that the teacher will often just keep teaching, so that those who

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

want to learn, do (2012). In America however, teachers will often stop class to discipline the
students who are being disruptive, will take time to wake them up, or other similar
techniques. That is not to say, that there are not American student who actively want to
learn, or Japanese students who don't want to learn.
Literature Review:
So, which system helps to mold student success, and who is more favored in that
success, male students or female students? As many people would suspect, it is the
Japanese who have a better education system, meant to start teaching students from a very
young age. From a very young age, parents generally start their child in activities such as
soccer, piano, English, etc. as young as the age of 5- later leading them to gain formal
instruction (Schmid, 2012). Generally believing that doing this will help create selfmotivation, and good practice/ habits that will later help with school work (2012). Many
students will also continue with these activities throughout their school lives, building
attachments to school values, and friendships (2012). The narrow curriculum of these
schools also helps students with their success (2012). Having a more narrow and national
curriculum will help the students to obtain a deeper understanding of the knowledge
presented for them, and if they need help they also can attend Saturday juku lessons (cram
school) (2012).
Traditionally male students had more promise coming out of the Japanese Education
system; they would generally take more advanced courses, and choose to attend university,
as opposed to junior colleges (Gender Equality in Education in Japan). This was because the
junior colleges were considered Female Colleges due to the mass of general education
courses taught there (Gender Equality in Education in Japan). However, that belief, and the
gap in education associated with it, is all but gone (Gender Equality in Education in Japan).
Since the early 1900s the gender gap between male and female Japanese students,
specifically their attendance of school, has almost identical (Gender Equality in Education in
Japan). This can be seen in the following graph:

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

Source: (Gender Equality in Education in Japan)


This graph is helpful in visually seeing how Japanese traditions and beliefs have
moved to meet modern beliefs. However, while alone this graph may look like woman are
becoming equal to men, while in regards to education, it is also important to note the gap in
gender inequality for men and women once they join the workforce(Gender Equality in
Education in Japan). Women are still far from gaining equality in the workforce, and while
can be seen in America, and various other countries as well, Japan is still currently known
the country with one of the biggest inequality gaps (Gender Equality in Education in Japan).
This is where tradition once again, has a huge influence on modern Japan.
While woman are able to join the workforce, it is widely believed that they should
continuously put emphasis on their home lives, and their household duties (Gender Equality
in Education in Japan). It is because of this belief that many women only work part time, if at
all (Gender Equality in Education in Japan). While they are still just as educated as their
male counterparts they were given the label of Good Wife, Wise Mother (Gender Equality
in Education in Japan). Not only were they given a degrading label, but women are also paid
far less than men, a modern visual of which can be seen below:

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

Source: (Assmann, 2014)


The data represented in this graph takes place after The Labor Standards Law- which
was meant to prohibit gender discrimination, based solely on one's gender (Assmann, 2014).
However, this graph shows that even after that law was passed, men still make 20% more
than women in the Japanese work force (Assmann, 2014).
So, even though men and women are equal when it comes to education, and even
though the Japanese education system is meant to prepare everyone for the workforce
equally, women are still at a disadvantage when it comes to how they are perceived by
society; though it is important to note that that gap is starting to close.
Sociological Analysis
Functionalist theory- Looking at the sheer functionality of the two education
systems, it is obvious that the Japanese education system is more effective in preparing its
students for society and the workforce. Each student receives the exact same (compulsory)
educations, and only those who have an aptitude for education are allowed to move on,
those who don't move on to the workforce and contribute to society that way. However,
while the functionality of the American education system is less effective than the Japanese
system. The curriculum is scattered and inconsistent, and has a longer compulsory
education. When looking at the comparison of test scores, America has lower test score
because even those who don't want to be in school still have to suffer through the

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

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workload. Overall, it's obvious that the Japanese school system is more structured and
efficient when it comes to letting students play to their strengths.
Conflict theoryLooking at the education systems through the conflict lens, would include looking at
the inequality that the functionalist would not investigate. After receiving the height of their
education many Japanese women tend to follow the tradition of becoming a homemaker,
while the men more on to the workforce. While in the American education system, just as
many women move on the workforce as men, though statistically they make less money.
Social- interaction theoryDue to Japan being a collectivist culture, they put more emphasis on each individual
doing what they can to help the society as a whole. One can only advance as far in their
education as they have the aptitude for, and move on to jobs they personally will excel at.
While America allows its citizens to get the education they want, while having the job that
they want; so long as it matches their education level.
Conclusion
While I knew quite a bit about Japanese culture and its education system, there were
still a few things that I learned, and there's still much left to learn. If I were to do further
research I think it would be beneficial to look deeper into the American education system,
and how it has influenced the Japanese education system, and the educational reform there.
In future research it would also be good to look into the past of the two systems, and to look
at how they influenced each other as time has passed. We know that the Japanese education
system holds more promise for its student, and we know that the workforce specifically
holds promise for men, but was it always like that?
References

Comparing Japanese and American Education Systems

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Assmann, S. (2014, November 10). Gender Equality in Japan: The Equal Employment Opportunity Law Revisited.
Retrieved November 13, 2015, from Global Research website: http://www.globalresearch.ca/gender-equalityin-japan-the-equal-employment-opportunity-law-revisited/5413100
Cooke, J. (2005, January). A Comparison of Japanese and American Education Systems. Retrieved from Oregon
Council of Teachers of Mathematics website:
http://cimm.ucr.ac.cr/ciaem/articulos/evaluacion/internacionales/A%20comparision%20between%20japanese
%20and%20american%20education%20systems.*Cooke,%20Jackie.*Cooke%20J.%20A%20comparison
%20of%20Japanese%20and%20American%20Education.%2020.pdf
Educational Systems of Japan and the US. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2015, from University of Michigan website:
http://sitemaker.umich.edu/arun.356/structural_differences
Gender Equality in Education in Japan. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2015, from Nier.go.jp website:
http://www.nier.go.jp/English/educationjapan/pdf/201403GEE.pdf
Schmid, C. (2012). Pedagogical Essay: Teaching Japanese Culture and Education. Japan Studies Association
Journal, 10177-183 from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ccproxy.idm.oclc.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?
sid=c7ba7215-a266-49fd-a85b-bb8cfa7b59f5@sessionmgr114&vid=3&hid=127
Thompson, A. (n.d.). Education and Schools in Japan. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from ExpatArrivals website:
http://www.expatarrivals.com/japan/education-and-schools-in-japan
Wieczorek, C. C. (2008). American and Japanese Education. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from
http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ781668.pdf