▶ Japanese children start elementary school at the age of six. Elementary school is from grade one to grade six. Grades seven to nine are junior high school, and grades 10 (ten) to 12 (twelve) are senior high school. Junior and senior high schools are often separate.
▶ After high school, there are vocational schools, two-year colleges, four-year universities, and graduate schools.
▶ Students must finish grade nine. Most students go to high school, and about half of the high school graduates go to two-year colleges or universities. At all levels, there are public and private schools. Public schools receive funding from the government.
In Japan, compulsory education is nine years in total: six years in elementary school and three years in junior high school. More than 57% of children attend kindergarten and 98% of junior high graduates advance to senior high school. At 59.4%, Japan also has the world’s third highest rate of students who continue their education in college and university, ranked only after Korea and Great Britain. The rate of students who advance to graduate school is 11.7% (2012).
English is taught in Japan as a compulsory subject from junior high school. Since more than 98% of students advance to senior high school, they study English for six years in total. It is said that lack of communicative training has been a serious problem with Japanese English education although things are getting better since the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology started to assign native English teachers as assistant teachers in public junior high schools. English as a foreign language activity for 5th and 6th grade in elementary school has been compulsory since 2011.
Though it seems that entering a school is easier than before because of the decreasing birthrate, it is still very difficult to enter some high-status schools. Some mothers think it is essential to have their children start off in good elementary schools and kindergartens in order to help them enter famous universities.
Many students attend private schools called “juku,” a kind of cram school. They go in the evenings to try and get better grades in school and to prepare for the notoriously competitive entrance examinations. It is said that one out of every four elementary school students goes to a juku. The students who fail university entrance examinations often go to yobiko, special preparatory schools to prepare for the following year’s exams.
The number of students going abroad to study has declined since the peak in 2005. The reasons given for the decline are the ailing economy, students’ introspective mind-set, and also because the students are worried about finding a job when they come back to Japan. In order to cultivate capable international business people, the Japanese government together with the Keidanren (the Federation of Economic Organizations) announced a policy to encourage students to study abroad.
Many Japanese businessmen have been being assigned to work in offices overseas. Their children who grow up and are educated overseas are called “kikokushijo,” returnee children, when they come back to Japan. It used to be said that they might have difficulty adjusting to Japanese schools but lately their uniqueness is accepted as a part of their personality. Also, many schools have started to appreciate their foreign language abilities and their international ways of thinking, and some schools are giving them special entrance opportunities.