Individuality and Interdependence: a Comparison of the North American and Japanese Educational Systems
The comparison between Japanese and North American educational systems is often used. The Japanese system, along with other Asian cultures, places importance on the group and the interdependence of its members (Cole & Cole, 2001, p. 541). The North American model, in contrast, focuses on the ideals of individuality and independence (Cole & Cole, 2001, p.541). This contrast is due to a conflicting cultural/social structure and outlook of the world. Japanese look at the development of self as doubled sided: the inner self and the social or public self (Hoffman, 2000, p.307). Within the Japanese education system, the teacher's goal is to develop and cultivate both layers. Opposing this concept can be found in the North American style, which does not distinguish the two, but instead stresses the importance of the one true self (Hoffman, 2000, p.307). It is interesting to compare my personal experiences as an educator in both Japan and Canada. Both educational systems aims towards the same outcome: the development of the child toward their future role in adult society. However, the difference can be seen in the differences in the educator's desire for the children's development, and their role in adult society.
The Japanese educational system emphasizes the importance of the group (Hoffman, 2000, 301). The national, cultural image reflects its stress on group interconnectedness (Hoffman, 2000, p.301). Within a classroom's daily life, large group activities are encouraged. Japanese students spend less time seated and more time participating in whole or small group activities (Hoffman, 2000, p.302). On a regular basis, as a teacher in elementary schools in Japan, I prepared group or whole class interactive activities. As children learn, the attention is given to the children' development in terms of a collective effort as a class (Hoffman, 2000, p.302). In Japan, the greatest task of the children's education is considered to be their socialization into group life (Hoffman, 2000, p.302). In the middle childhood years, there is a large increase of formalization and rituals in schools. Every part if life is a routine. The school code of dress, attitude, and daily routine, all are oriented to encourage proper observance of form (Hoffman, 2000, p.305). The role of the teacher is not authoritarian, but instead warm and friendly. Teachers look to the group or class to guide behaviors. Japanese teachers rely on the group, by emphasizing interdependence and the importance of each other's relationship to one another (Cole & Cole, 2001, p.541). This follows the cultural theme of interconnectedness in contrast to independence. This theme is the backbone to the Japanese educational and cultural system.
In contrast, the North American education system stresses the ideals of individualism. The aim of the North American system is to socialize the children to become independent individuals, who have relationships with whom they choose (Cole & Cole, 2001, p.541). This ideal of individualism influences the way educators approach learning. Children are encouraged to strive and pursue individual potential and needs (Hoffman, 2000, p.302). Children spend a lot of time pursuing individual activities alone during class time. The classroom is teacher centered in terms of its direction and authority. Whereas the Japanese teacher relies on the social structure and peers, North American teachers have authority to direct the class (Hoffman, 2000, p.304). This adult control is an external standard placed on the child (Hoffman, 2000, p.306). The Japanese teacher relies on the inner standards within the child and their fellow classmates to control the child (Hoffman, 2000, p.307). In situations, such as a child acting out in class, North American teachers assert authority where as Japanese teacher's look to group pressure to conform and control the...
References: Cole, Michael, & Sheila R. Cole, (2001) The Development if Children. (4th ed.). New
York, New York: Worth Publishers.
Hoffman D, (2000). Individualism and Individuality in American and Japanese Early
Education: A Review and Critique. American Journal of Education 108 (Aug.,
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