Preprimary & Primary Education
Over 95 percent of Japanese students enroll in some form of preschool, which is not compulsory. These schools are intended to develop the cognitive skills of infants from age three and up, and thus to prepare them for the six years of compulsory elementary school that follow. Preschool education is provided either through a kindergarten, which is considered to be an educational institution, or through a day care center, which is considered a type of welfare institution as defined by the Child Welfare Law.
One indication of the extreme competitiveness of Japanese education is a phenomenon called ojuken. "O" is a prefix that means "politeness" or "childishness," and juken means "taking entrance exam." The complete term refers to parents who are so eager to have their children be accepted into the most competitive schools at every level that they seek to enroll them in a top-notch preschool. Graduates of these prestigious preschools are usually permitted to go all the way to a prestigious high school without having to take entrance exams. These kindergartens are extremely competitive, in some cases admitting only 1 in every 20 applicants. Parents sometimes pay as much as $10,000 to educate their children so that they can take the entrance test for just private preschools or primary schools.
Ojuken has become a well-publicized issue in the media. Some critics point out that young mothers have equated the success of their infants in being admitted to prestigious private schools with their own success as mothers. Others see it as one more sign that Japan places too much emphasis on testing in the education process. But there are also those who view the ojuken phenomenon as a sign of the mediocrity of public schools, resulting in parents willing to pay heavily for private schooling.
After preschool, children begin six years of compulsory primary (or elementary) school. The curriculum of the elementary school has three main groupings: regular subjects, moral education, and extracurricular activities. Regular subjects comprise the following nine topics: Japanese language, social studies, arithmetic, science, life environmental studies, music, arts and crafts, physical education, and homemaking. Although there is some room for local control in organizing subjects, the actual content of the academic areas flows from national standards that are imposed on the schools. In any particular year, the curriculum is the same for all students in the same grade across the country. Students cannot skip grades, nor are there special groupings of students according to abilities.
Besides academic subjects, elementary school students are taught the importance of personal values through what is called "moral education." For those schools that are funded privately, religious education is permitted to substitute in this area. After academic and moral education, the final emphasis in primary schools is extracurricular work. These include activities such as clubs, festivals, competitions, class trips, athletics, and entrance and graduation ceremonies.
Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceJapan - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education