Learning from Japanese Schools: A Strong Sense of Community Makes For Engaged Students
Written by Alvin Hew
SIS Group of Schools, Board Director
While it’s no secret the Singaporean curriculum is consistently ranks in the top 4 PISA rankings, every school system has its advantages and disadvantages. Today we look at some of the aspects of Japanese schools that contribute to the high levels of engagement in class.
Strong Sense of Community
A strong sense of community is built through a number of duties students take on in Japanese schools. For example, students are often required to clean the school, tidy up their local community and sometimes even prepare meals at lunch time. This discipline can often be viewed as harsh by parents and students outside of Japan but a direct outcome is the school remains relatively clean and students learn basic self maintenance skills required for living independently in college, university and as adults. Despite the outward appearance of a focus on the group over the individual, school life in Japan aims to empower children to be independent. From the age of six students often walk to school without their parents1. While certain streets are often designated “students only” and Japanese society takes this daily juvenile pedestrian commute into account, walking together to school in a group helps develop a sense of independence that’s important for facing challenges later in life.
Uniforms are required at all Japanese schools, even the pre kindergarten backpack, known as a “randoseru”, is standardised. Randoseru are sometimes even passed down through generations as they are built to last, both practical and with an elegant design2. In primary, secondary and junior college students have standardised uniforms for winter, summer, gymnastics and even swimming. The result is students can learn to navigate the complexities of interpersonal human relationships on a level playing field, with distractions like fashion “fads” and economic inequality minimised. With the daily stress of “fitting in” or “looking cool” by owning certain brands removed, students can focus more on their studies, their own character and developing social skills.
Teachers and parents have multiple touch points throughout the year and these interactions are formalised and taken very seriously, beginning with the teacher visiting each home in April or May at the beginning of the school year. This helps the teacher identify any external factors effecting the student and fully engage with the parents. Parents are invited to the school for regular parent/teacher meetings throughout the year. Parents also have a high rate of attendance at school events throughout the year.
For schools without a cafeteria parents prepare a boxed lunch or “obento” and often display a creative flair with the appearance. Parents in Japan take education very seriously and this is on display with their engagement with their children’s school life both in and outside of the classroom3.
While no school system is perfect, the above features of Japanese schools and their contribution to individual character building are no accident – they are the result of a sincere focus on “community” from preschool all the way up to school leaders. These efforts contribute to students of high moral character that are ready to face a demanding world and at the same time understand the importance of giving back to their communities.