I’ve confessed to cultural relativism before, and have also noted how much my research in juku has changed my mind on some aspects of the large presence of juku in the Japanese education system.
However, despite the dedication among some juku-cho that I see as charismatic educators, despite the social benefits that centre on juku (childcare, neighbourhood ties, etc.), and despite the joy that some students obviously derive from their juku instruction, two aspects of juku continue to jump out as elements that do seem to have a clearly negative or at least lamentable character, a) double-schooling, and b) the lack of content variety, especially when accelerated learning creates time for more varied content.
Double-Schooling or Hypereducation
At times, I catch myself observing a gifted juku instructor thinking, “this would be a nice classroom for my children to participate in”. Then I glance at my watch and realize that it is 17:30h and that some of the students in the classroom have been in school for most of the day. Obviously, notions of how much learning is enough/too little vary significantly. Take contemporary France as an example where students are in school until around 17h, though that is more a matter of childcare rather than learning necessarily.
I also see nothing wrong with children learning in the afternoon instead of the morning. I’m sure that such a schedule would please many Canadian children, including most teenagers.
What I do lament is the growing perception that the real learning is occurring in juku rather than in schools and what this implies. If this perception is correct (i.e. if the perception is wide-spread, or if we could document the share of learning from different sources), should we not reconsider compulsory education so as to avoid that children are being forced to attend schools that they (or their parents) perceive to be useless? Should we also not reconsider the giant education budgets that we invest in these schools (public and private)? My answer is, yes, but the solution is not a libertarian free-for-all that abolishes public schools in my mind. Rather the solution should be a concerted attempt to re-adjust the balance between schools and supplementary education. Much of this re-adjustment may have to come in the form of a specific campaign to understand the learning that occurs in supplementary education vs. the learning that occurs in conventional schools, but also a concerted campaign to combat negative perceptions of schools that are not rooted in fact.
Wasted Time in Supplementary Education
To me, one of the most disheartening moments in my research can be when a juku-cho proudly introduces me to a group of grade 10 students and tells me that they’ve finished the entire curriculum for High School a year or two early. That’s fantastic! If there are kids who want to and can learn more quickly, great!
Then I ask, so what are they doing in this class now and it’s the answer to this question that I find so disappointing. “復習” (review). The point of 進学 (accelerated learning) instruction is thus to finish the curriculum early, so that it can be reviewed more.
If 11th graders have finished the curriculum, why not go in-depth on a particular subject that they’ve finished? Why not read novels? Focus on constitutional history? Study Confucius?
Acceleration for the purpose of making time for further review strikes me as a great waste of time.