Public School

Public School in Japan [Author:Dr Prajakta Khare, PhD Economic]

6 years back when I first landed in Tokyo, I was amazed by the sincerity, discipline, dedication towards work and above all the level of cleanliness in this country. It was only recently that I realized that the roots of these attributes lie in the elementary schooling system in Japan. Japanese elementary schooling system serves as an excellent example of how text book education could be clubbed together with experiential education.

95% of the elementary schools (Classes I – VI) in Japan fall into the category of public schools; wherein all subjects are taught by the class teacher. Subjects include Math, Science, Japanese, Social Science, English, Arts and Crafts, Music and Physical Education. Weekly club activities include lessons in basic cooking, sewing, stitching, computers and pet care. Elementary education being obligatory in Japan, there are no tuition fees in schools.

The school building has a very simple look, with a security camera installed at the entrance to monitor visitors. School facilities include a play ground, basket ball court, swimming pool, indoor gym, auditorium, library, music room, kitchen studio and a medical care room. The common attire of the teachers throughout the day is sportswear with a whistle round their necks. It’s probably because of this dress but it appears as though there is a never ending flow of energy and enthusiasm within them.

Class teachers do much more than just teaching and managing the class.  They are well aware of every student’s strong and weak points, likes and dislikes, talents and temperaments. Every student is educated and encouraged as per his intellectual capabilities. The teachers are actively involved in the overall psychological growth of the children. Since there are no more than 35 students in each class, teacher-student relations are more interpersonal. Students are free to approach the teacher any time and discuss matters; there is more respect than fear.

Some public schools do not insist on students wearing uniforms. However there are strict rules regarding footwear; students and teachers have to change into their indoor shoes when they enter school. This is an excellent practice that helps in keeping the corridors and class rooms clean.

‘Sports’ as a subject is given substantial importance in Japanese schools. Every student is encouraged to select a sport of his choice and thereafter is trained in it. Also, in the months of July-August, swimming is a compulsory activity and is thoroughly enjoyed by students.

The most remarkable feature of Japanese elementary schooling system is the manner in which practical education of several subjects is incorporated in daily school life; thus making “learning” more interesting. For example, students interested in gardening are made to plant marigolds at the beginning of the year. Watering these plants, looking after their growth is the responsibility of the students. For students who like pets, rabbits, hamsters etc are kept in school. Students can visit, feed and play with them after school hours. Similarly, for students interested in fish, a fish tank is maintained in class. In the course of time, students learn how to feed the fish, clean the tank etc. All the above mentioned activities are done under the supervision of the teachers. Also, while studying about insects, students are taken to a nearby park and made to look for, hold and observe these insects. No wonder then that their fear vanishes and they develop a fascination and curiosity for these creatures.

An excellent illustration of experiential education can be seen during the lunch hour. In all Japanese public schools, lunch is provided in the school at a very small price of less than 300yen per day. Lunch includes salad or soup, eggs, rice or noodles, fish, meat, a fresh fruit and milk. This school lunch system grew out of concern for adequate nutrition in the immediate post war period.

The daily lunch menu is decided by a nutritionist taking into account the required calorie and nutrient intake for children. Special efforts are made so as not to repeat the menu in 3 months; thus maintaining variety. In most cases, the lunch is prepared in school. The cooks, after cooking lunch arrange the required food quantity along with the dishes, bowls and chop sticks for each class onto a separate trolley. As soon as the lunch time starts, 4-5 children from each class promptly wear a white apron, cap and gloves and bring their class’s lunch trolley into the class room. Thereafter, they serve food to their classmates and the teacher. Both these tasks are difficult and demand a sense of responsibility as the dishes used by the students are ceramic ware; the children have to be careful so that they do not spill food or break the dishes. Also, they have to serve lunch whilst checking that the food would be sufficient for everyone in the class. Students take weekly turns in doing this job and the teacher supervises.

Once everyone is served, all students join their hands for a moment for “Itadakimasu” and then start eating. While they eat, they are briefed about the nutrients in the day’s lunch. One rule at lunch time is “finish everything in your plate; whether you like it or not” and the children do their best to follow this. After finishing lunch, there is a moment of silence again for gratitude. Then, each student returns his own tray to the trolley and the trolley is taken back by the group in-charge of the day.

Another important lesson given in elementary schools that deserves mention is that of cleanliness. Students are made aware of the fact that “cleanliness of my house, classroom, school, surroundings is my responsibility”. They are given practical lessons in cleaning everyday for 15 minutes. Each day after lunch, the most common sight in any school would be that of students, meticulously sweeping and mobbing floors and staircases, wiping window-panes, dusting shelves, arranging books and other materials in class, collecting dried fallen leaves on the play-ground, emptying garbage bins etc. No student is exempted from this work; every single student has to participate. With the ringing of the bell these otherwise mischievous 6 -12 year olds are ready with cleaning tools and materials in their hands. The sincerity with which they clean their school is certainly admirable. They take weekly turns in cleaning their own class room, corridors, library, music room, gym, play ground etc.

Practices like these go a long way in disciplining the students. The lunch and cleaning system act as very strong teaching devices giving lessons in table manners, etiquettes, social responsibility, sincerity, dedication and respect for any kind of work. There is no need to stress that the earlier these values are inculcated, the deeper and faster they get rooted.

Schools in Japan truly enrich students’ lives by providing all-round education. They thus help to build a better society, better citizens and finally a better nation!

(The above is a translation of the original article “Ya Shika”; Maharashtra Times, Dec 7, 2008)

Author : Dr Prajakta Khare, PhD Economic


PhD Economics : The thesis is titled “Small Scale Enterprise Clusters: A Comparative Study of India and Japan”. The study revealed that an important lesson to be learnt from Japan’s Industrial Cluster Project is the need for building close collaboration between industry-academia-government with the aim of taking advantage of new ideas and academic and technological research carried out by universities and use it through a suitable policy to build nationally competitive clusters.

Advanced Diploma in Japanese Language Proficiency (JLPT Certification Level 2, 2004).

Post Doc Research Fellow, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo