Disc: 200- Melling
22 April, 2014
Research Paper Outline (Rough Draft)
Japanese Students and “Juku”
As early as 3 years old, students in Japan begin going to cram schools to pass entrance exams, get into good schools, and achieve their desired career. Although they are considered controversial, “juku,” or cram-schools typically rule the lives of children and teenagers all across Japan. Even though these cram schools can potentially help the students attending them learn more, there are also risks that the students may have to endure while going to juku. So what are the effects of competition and cramming on Japanese students?
In order to more efficiently understand Japanese cram schools, one must know exactly what they are and intend to do. The U.S. Department of Education Study (2000) gives the definition that they are, “a Japanese term for a large and diverse group of private, profit making tutorial, enrichment, remedial, preparatory, and cram schools found throughout the country.” Juku typically operate after regular school hours and on weekends. This alone demonstrates how little time these students get to themselves. Now, juku are not free. Just like a private school, parents have to pay to send their children there. Parents choose to send their children to juku for a number of reasons, the first being that supplementary education provides the student the ability to keep up with their demanding school curriculum. They also can serve as remedial education for those who have fallen behind their peers in their primary school. Another appealing reason is that juku are able to provide mothers with not only childcare in a supervised environment, but also provide educational and social advancement services. Juku are also very socially acceptable and respected by elders and the Japanese community. And lastly, and probably the most prominent reason for sending children to Japanese cram schools, is to help the student prepare for their entrance exams for secondary school or university. There are also two different kinds of juku: academic and nonacademic. As one may assume, the academic juku are the ones most frequently attended because of the importance put on entrance exams. In academic juku a student may learn material from a year ahead of them in school in order for them to succeed over other children who do not attend cram school. Although nonacademic juku don’t help students with their school work, they provide extra services to students. Students can learn calligraphy, piano, the arts, and how to use an abacus. Parents can choose to send their children to nonacademic juku to make them more cultured and develop a talent. Juku can affect students in many ways, and some of them can be positive. The benefits behind Japanese cram schools vary from student to student, but generally they include learning new study habits they can use both in secondary school and university. Strong self discipline may also be learned and applied in all areas of life, including their careers. Better social skills and respect from their community and peers are also very beneficial elements of Japanese cram schools. Many students are also able to make life-long friends in their juku. Finally, greater persistence on school achievement matters such as sports, cultural festivals, and their academics (U.S. Department of Education Study, 2000). Although there is a constructive side to juku, students can also be very controversial and effect students negatively. In Japan, many students such as Naoto Eguchi, age eleven, feel the pressure to compete and succeed. Steven Weisman, who interviewed Naoto, says that “Rising at dawn, he works a full day with his regular colleagues and an additional three hours each evening in special study sessions. He then does a couple of hours of work at home before going to bed at midnight” (Weisman, 1992). Unfortunately for students in Japan, especially young ones preparing to take entrance exams for high school, this is their lives every day, even on weekends. Since Japan is one of the most competitive cultures, this schedule for young children and high school students is considered a normal part of life. It is easy to criticize juku for obsessing so much about status and getting ahead so much so that they are forcing an entire generation to lose their childhood (Weisman, Steven R.). But no free time is only one of the negative effects that juku have on students. Students are forced to think about oncoming examinations, constantly being reminded to “pay attention because this will be on the exam.” Test anxiety is not the only anxiety they may experience, though. Regular anxiety about getting a good job, getting good grades, and being competitive enough to dominate other students frequently runs through their minds. Anxiety can include many short-term effects, but the long-term effects are more chilling. With a constant release of “fight or flight” hormones being released into the body, an increased risk of stroke occurs. Early memory decline is also a risk because anxiety can cause long-term damage to hippocampus cells, which affect memory and learning. Insomnia can also occur because of anxiety, as both are interlinked; insomnia is one of the first signs of anxiety and either one can cause the other to occur. Lastly, and most important involving juku, is the loss of concentration. Students will constantly be distracted by their emotions and this can lead to a lower performance on homework and can help develop an inability to maintain relationships with both their friends and family (Software Development House, 2012). Questions a
rise when we look at some of the teachers’ opinions. "Jukus are raising a generation of kids who can only pass entrance examinations," said Hiroyuki Tsukamoto of the Japan Teachers Union. "But the most important educational purpose is giving children the ability to live in society. That's being left out" (Weisman, 1992). Are juku really educating children to succeed in society, or just using parents’ money to help students with exams? Is this type of pedagogy not really interested in teaching the young minds of Japan, or is this a money scam to help make the upper class even richer? Speaking of money, many people believe that juku are undermining the Japan’s aim at an egalitarian society. As juku are expensive, only the wealthy can pay for them. Many students are left out because of monetary reasons and therefore are put in a less desirable position, or school, behind students who did attend juku. Also, looking at it in a career standpoint, wouldn’t an employer pick a student who attended juku over one who didn’t for fear that the latter does not have the skills that the first does? Juku can even negatively affect students who do not attend them by making them feel less significant and causing stress from fear of not succeeding in the competitive world of careers. Health is also very important to consider when talking about cramming and competition. With little sleep, students become more tired and more likely to use energy drinks, sugar, and caffeine to stay awake while studying. These items are fine in moderation, but with Japanese students constantly using them for their busy schedules, the effects on their health can be increasingly questioned. Caffeine is the most common energy drink ingredient and high doses can lead to serious health issues such as heart palpitations, headache and severe fatigue from withdrawal, and increased blood pressure. Sugar, another main ingredient in energy drinks, can lead to childhood obesity, tooth decay, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Some teenagers may also think that they are okay because they tend to contain vitamins. Too many B vitamins, however, can lead to sensory nerve problems, skin lesions, and liver toxicity. (Caffeine Informer, 2014). The negative effects are not limited to the issues mentioned above. According to Eunai Shrake, a sense of hyper competition can also occur. This can drive students to socially reject other peers while inducing their own stress (Shrake, Eunai). A student may feel threatened and their social skills are likely to suffer from hyper competition. Another terrifying effect on students can still occur because of juku. Students in Japan have been known to commit suicide upon too much stress. In the last fourteen years, 30,000 Japanese citizens committed suicide (Traphagan, 2013). In 2006, the number of elementary school students who killed themselves doubled from seven to fourteen. The number of students for middle and senior high school who committed suicide increased from fifteen (22.7 percent) to 81 and from five (2.3 percent) to 220 respectively. Also, 91 students who committed suicide mentioned problems at school in their suicide notes. Both with and without suicide notes, police attributed school-related problems to 242 suicides in 2006 (Japan Times, 2006). This shows that with the demanding school curriculum along with juku, the negative effects can become just too much. Many students make quick decisions to end their lives and wind up jumping in front of their train that was supposed to take them to school. Suicide does not only effect the student, but also effects their friends, family, and community. If juku are proving to be too difficult and stress inducing, shouldn’t there be something done before students drive themselves to suicide?
After researching this topic, I have learned a lot about Japanese culture. I understand that it may be difficult to implement such suggestions because of cultural differences, but I do hope to provide my future students in Japan with these solutions I have thought of. First, I would suggest a better diet excluding energy drinks and the like, especially concerning younger children. If the students get the nutrients they need, then it will be easier for them to stay motivated, awake, and confident. A healthy diet can help prevent many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. The students would also be able to maintain a healthy weight, raising their confidence socially and academically. With a healthy diet, a student would be able to recover more quickly from illnesses and fall less behind in school, reducing stress. It is also said that when someone eats better, they feel better. If the students attending juku ate regular healthy meals, then the body is also less likely to feel tired. Thus, the need for energy drinks and the like would be obliterated! Next, I propose that juku should have some kind of stress-relief area included in their fee, much like UMKC has the MindBody Connection. Here students will be able to non-competitively talk to peers, relax, and think over what they just learned. I also believe that juku should consider lowering their rates to help students in lower-class families achieve the same kind of education as those in the upper-class. If impossible, I believe that tutors should help the less fortunate students and be provided by their primary school. Cram schools should also work cooperatively with students’ primary schools to make sure they are sticking to the curriculum and not just teaching students how to do well on exams. Finally, I would like to implement group work inside of juku. This lowers the stress of competition and improves social skills. Since group work is a normal part of normal school, it would not be a stretch to place it in cram schools. With these solutions, I believe that we could improve juku without destroying part of Japan’s culture. Throughout this text, I have given you information about what juku are, the pros and cons, and potential solutions. Using this information, I trust that I have thoroughly explained the effect of Japanese cram schools and competition on students and how it can be mended. Please remember this when you are stressed out or sleepy…because at least you’re not in a cram school!
Caffeine Informer. 2014. Energy Drink Side Effects. Caffeine Informer Staff. Retrieved from: http://www.caffeineinformer.com/energy-drink-side-effects Shrake, Eunai. 2010. Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues. Edith Wen-Chu Chen & Grace J. Yoo. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=R_t3yQiWKQEC&pg=PA212&lpg=PA212&