Brief History of Modern Japanese Education:
（ 近代日本教育史概略 外国の方に日本教育を紹介するときなど、お使いください。
by Furuyama Akio (c)2002
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Meiji government's policy
In mid 19th century, Japan was threatened by Western countries' colonialism.
Tokugawa government, which was based on feudalism and a status system,
could not effectively respond to this challenge. This caused a revolution
in 1867 to establish a new nation that would cope with Western countries.
The new government, Meiji government, regarded education as one of the
most essential factors to construct a modern nation. Education was utilized
to defeat old status system and to let people's power pour into the new
nation. And then, education became a very good device to keep people loyal
to the nation.
Prevalence of obligatory education
At the early stage of Meiji era, the government could not provide sufficient
resources. Many private schools coexisted with public schools. Then , with
the help of subsidies, public schools increased and substituted for private
schools, finally to occupy most part of primary education. Within twenty
years, primary school attendance became obligatory and schools including
private schools were put under a single national curriculum. In 1890s,
enrollment rate of obligatory education went over 90%.
Education served militarism
This prevalence of obligatory education in Japan took place at the same
time as in England, America, and other developed Western countries. Prevalence
of compulsary education prevailed in the latter half of 19the century and
the beginning of 20th century in many Western countryies.
The victory to Russia in 1905 convinced Japan that military power brings everything, and in 1930s Japan devoted itself to militarism. Education was mobilized to support this war-like country. Especially in 1941-1945, all the schools were re-organized to complete World War II.
Reformation after defeat
Japan was totally defeated by American military power, including atomic
bombs, in 1945. The U.S. occupied Japan and carried out a radical social
reformation. This reformation included establishing democratic government,
demolishing army and zaibatsu (monopoly capitalist families), and executing
Education was one of the main targets of social reform. American system
of 9 year's compulsary education was introduced. The Ministry of Education
was supposed to greatly reduce its power and to give way to regional Education
Boards (educational comittees).
After the end of occupation by the U. S., Japanese politics swang to nationalism.
In 1956 Education Boards were subjected to Ministry of education by a new
law. The Ministry of Education was successful to create an efficient education
system for modern industrial society. It was a major basis of Japan's rapid
economical development. But people have not had the right to vote and enjoy
regional autonomy in education.
When America's occupation ended in 1951, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ( conservative ) and Ministry of Education began to tighten its reign over education, being afraid that socialists might affect education. They tried to control teachers with law. There had been many struggles until 1990.
When Japan was achieving amazing economical development, problems in education
didn't come up to the surface. It was in late 60s that world-wide student
turbulence drove Japanese students to protest against suffocating administration.
The government and bureaucracy merely surpressed student riots. They never
conceded to democratic requests. On the other hand, in many developed countries,
this turbulence brought educational reforms. Japan remained far behind.
In 1970s school refusing children, or school phobia, began to keep increasing,
up to 130,000 in 2001. Since '90s, schools are blamed for their bad service.
Major motivation of learning is competition. Every senior high school and every university select students by its own entrance examination. Famous schools attarct many applicants and there is severe competition. So people believe that if the school is difficult to enter it is a good one. Consequently, students have to study hard to get higer status.
Many people and mass media have been appealing that competition in entrance
examination is spoiling young people's mental development. But no effective
policies have been carried out to resolve this problem, because they never
doubted the selection system and they believed students wouldn't study
without the motivation of entrance examination.
Compulsary education is consisted of 6 year primary school and 3 year
junior high school. Enrollment ratio in compulsary education has never
been below 99% since 1948.
After compulsary education, 97% enrol in 3 year senior highschool.
After graduating seior high schools, 49% goes to universities and colleges.