If I only have 10 seconds to tell you what my research focuses on, I’d have to say “‘cram schools’ in Japan”. That is the most efficient way to describe my current interests. However, it is also very misleading.
The description is efficient, because most of you will have some sense of what a ‘cram school’ is.
It’s misleading, because your sense of a ‘cram school’ may not be what I have in mind at all, nor does it necessarily correspond to the juku that I have visited and continue to visit.
Also, I feel compelled to always place ‘cram school’ in quotation marks and that is tiring.
Here are some of the associations most people have with ‘cram school’:
- not enjoyable, perhaps even scary
- an, er, old-school pedagogy focused on a teacher lecturing to students
- the repression of children’s natural spiritedness
- neon lights
- children are left with no time to play
- children to be pitied
These are, in fact, also the associations most people have with shadow education generally and with juku specifically.
There certainly are some juku where a brief glance or visit might conjure up impressions that would confirm these associations. But just like schools, juku vary massively and for many of the smaller juku that I visit, the common associations with ‘cram schools’ are unfair stereotypes rather than even remotely accurate descriptors.
- many children genuinely enjoy their time at juku
- some juku practice a pedagogy that is not only engaging, but also interactive
- there’s a lot of carousing at juku
- many juku are decorated brightly
- some even eschew neon lighting
- juku is not the only extracurricular activity for many students
- there is nothing pitiful about juku students per se