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Nonformal Education

Japanese nonformal education comprises the various forms of learning that are not covered under the Fundamental Education Law of 1947 (which established the 6-3-3-4 system that extended from primary school through university education). Nonformal education includes the types of learning that occur outside the formal educational system. Though still under the oversight of the Ministry of Education, these forms of learning include supplemental learning quite unlike what is included in the formal system. Examples of nonformal education includes the following: juku or yobiko, social education, adult education, correspondence courses, and English language training.

"Social education" (or community education) generally refers to a wide range of organized activities beyond the structured school curriculum, aimed especially for adults and young people. Facilities often used for these activities include public halls, libraries, museums, youth houses, children's centers, women's education centers, and sports facilities, as described below.

Citizens' public halls exist in over 90 percent of Japanese communities and serve as centers for various activities. Besides lending books to members of the community, they provide a venue for lectures, exhibitions, meetings, physical training, and other forms of recreation. Public libraries and museums also serve as centers of learning, both by giving citizens access to their collections and by opening their facilities to community groups. Youth houses and children's centers give young people an opportunity to participate in activities that involve an overnight stay. Often located in areas with beautiful natural surroundings, these facilities focus on teaching young people skills such as self-discipline, collaboration, and service. Women's education centers aim to provide an opportunity for women to gain experience in leadership skills and to get together to share experiences and develop networks for support. Most of these centers are nongovernmental organizations or are run by local governments. Finally, there are many facilities throughout the country that encourage physical education of people of all ages. Besides playgrounds, swimming pools, and gymnasiums that are open to public use, many colleges and schools permit their physical education facilities to be used by members of the general public when not scheduled for students.

Adult education can also take the form of courses that are taken outside the classroom through correspondence or through other media such as radio, television, satellite transmission, or the Internet. Traditional correspondence course work was introduced in the 1880s at Waseda University, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Generally, two main options are available in correspondence work. First, the courses can be taken for actual course credit that applies to degrees, certificates, or diplomas given by the institution. Second, the curricula offered through correspondence may have no credit attached to it and instead can be taken to gain vocational background, to advance in cultural understanding, or to develop an outside interest or hobby. Courses range widely in content and include topics such as bookkeeping, drafting, calligraphy, childcare, and computer literacy.

One type of correspondence course of special note is the so-called Hoso Daigaku "University of the Air," a college that is operated by the Broadcast College Special Corporation and that is administered from an office in the city of Chiba. This organization was established in 1983 to provide university-level curricula on television and radio. Generally, students are required to have graduated from high school; however, students who are 18 or older and who have not received a high-school education can participate in the program. The system works in this fashion: a participant gets two credits by listening to 15, 45-minute lectures and then by completing some on-site work at local study centers located throughout the country. The course work falls into three main groups: domestic science, business/social science, and humanities/natural science. Once a student gains enough credit, he or she receives a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Students of all ages participate in the University of the Air, but about half the students are over the age of 40. The University of the Air is just one example, therefore, of the shift in Japan away from a strictly traditional student body receiving traditional professional degrees. Now certificates or nontraditional degrees, such as those gained through the University of the Air, are gaining credibility as mechanisms for seeking new employment or promotions in current positions.

One type of nonformal education that is extremely popular is training in the English language. An entire private industry has developed to teach English to those who feel they need more language preparation than they received in public school. As of the mid-1990s there were more than 400 such schools around the country, usually offering courses of one year or more. Much of the popularity of such courses arises from the fact that English has become the language of business and industry throughout the world, including Japan. Many of the Japanese people feel that the kind of English training they received in public school was inadequate for their purposes in the workplace, thus requiring nonformal courses later in life. Yet the subject of English language teaching certainly is not without controversy in contemporary Japan. In the year 2000 the prime minister's office received a report from a prestigious advisory group that suggested much more emphasis on English literacy in Japan's universities. Entitled "Japan's Vision for the 21st Century," the report even noted that it may be time to consider declaring English to be the country's official second language. Such a change would help provide the impetus for giving young people an adequate working knowledge of English before they enter the workforce, reducing the need for so much extra training after exiting the school system. Although establishing English as an official second language would be a controversial subject in a country that takes such pride in its own linguistic inheritance, there continues to be a strong demand for English training in nonformal education.

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