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Japanese Educational Productivity.

As our readers may remember, in 1983, President Reagan of the United States and Prime Minister Nakasone of Japan initiated a cooperative research project designated to enable the two countries to better understand one another's education system. In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture was responsible for the study of the U.S. education. In the United States, the Department of Education was responsible for studying the education system of Japan. Such a cooperative project results in the publication of two research volumes from the U.S. part: Japanese Education Today, the first report, is now widely considered the most informative and readable summary of the Japanese education in cultural context that is currently available in English. This present volume, Japanese Educational Productivity, is the second and final report; it does represent the official completion of the joint cooperative research project on education of the two countries.

Why is a second report on educational productivity needed? The answer lies in the editorial introduction of the book itself. To many Americans, Japan represents a case of special importance: it has risen from the ruins of World War II to be viewed today as an unchallenged economic power in the world market. It exemplifies an exceptional progress without any precedent in our modern times. Is there a possible connection between Japan's labor productivity and the education of its youth? One is willing to believe that Japan's education has played a partial but vital role in transforming a weakened and defeated Japan into an economic powerhouse of today. Thus, this second report of the U.S. Department of Education makes an attempt to bring to the surface the hidden qualities of Japan's education system that produces core of high school students with impressive test scores in science and mathematics, and supplies masses of skilled workers with high degrees of adaptability to complex and highly competitive modern factory management.

There are 10 chapters (a collection of selected research papers) in the Japanese Educational Productivitity, each focusing on some aspect of productivity in education. The book contains significant expositions but it still remains a collection of independent works on the central theme. For that reason, some of the worthwhile contributions to the literature contained in this volume may be lost to the hurried reader. The reader may open this book to some specific piece of work and find something very helpful, but a heedful reading from front to back is not a necessary task. Hence this book suffers from the usual defects of multiple-author projects--considerable unevenness in quality of chapters and some overlapping.

In an age of rapidly expanding knowledge and world market competition, responsible government leaders and educators are not just concerned with the number of produced diplomas, but with how much students have actually learned and the degree to which their acquired knowledge, skills and attitudes have prepared them for work in the marketplaces, civic participation in their communities, and constructive leisure pursuits in their social life. Thus, in analyzing the Japan's educational experience, we may find some precious lessons for improving our own American education system. Nobuo K. Shimahara (Rutgers University) in "An Overview of Japanese Education," analyzes the structure, policies and current issues of education in Japan. He describes in detail the Japanese spirit of hard work, credentialism, and meritocracy that influenced the formation of school policies and curricula. Specifically, Shimahara underlines the "moral education" in Japanese elementary and secondary schools as the most important factor in determining the high quality of Japanese educational output--Japanese students and workers of today. This type of education has paralleled the evolution of Japan's modernization since the end of World War II. The moral education of today, the one which has developed during the postwar decades, differs from the "old" moral training known as shushin that existed in the pre-World War II era. Nevertheless, the modern moral education that prevails in today elementary, secondary schools responds to the same core values the Japanese people have articulated since the Meiji Restoration to the present, e.g., basic discipline, sound formation of character, cultural unity, and great sensitivity to social bonding and interdependence. Unlike in the United States, people of all walks of life in Japan want a moral education that pervades all aspects of Japanese schooling. The term "moral education" used here has no connection with some religious education or moral standard structure. Basically, it is a "civic program" designed to shape the mentality and attitude of young citizens, a program that is quite common in the public schools of Europe and Asia with only some slight variations in content and purpose. The ultimate objective of a moral education is the creation of a more or less homogeneous mass of responsible citizens. This kind of education program appears to be much less emphasized in the U.S.A. than in Japan, Europe and elsewhere. For us, it seems that the main concern is not tampering with cultural diversity or individual freedom of expression. As a result, U.S. public schools end up with a variety of amorphous school programs that vary with time, place and level of political correctness. In Willard Jacobson's "Science Education in Japan" (ch. 5), the analysis turns on ways to improve the experiences that children and young people in both countries have in science. Jacobson points out why Japanese students tend to score better on various kinds of achievement tests: simply because Japanese students devote more time to education than our American students do. In the 1980s, trends in the U.S.A. Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), especially in the areas of science and mathematics were widely viewed with alarm because they have been declining for some time. But recent researches |1~ have shown that trends in the average scores of students on national tests of achievement showed mostly stability. The lesson is: the U.S.A. secondary and high school students are not highly ranked on the international scale because they have fewer days of classroom instruction, less effective use is made of scheduled class hours, and especially, much less time and energy are devoted to study outside of formal school hours than their Japanese or German counterparts. Another plausible explanation of the relative poor showing of U.S. school students lies on the differences among nations in their respective schools' curricula. For instance, the mathematics curriculum in Japan is relatively homogeneous and demanding, whereas the curriculum in U.S.A. is more varied. As a result, many U.S. students do not have extensive exposure to a demanding mathematics curriculum as students do in Japan |2~. Furthermore, in Japan, there is much greater emphasis on entrance examinations and preparation for them. Students and their families devote a great deal of time, money, and energy to the preparation for college entrance examinations. Whether or not this is a good practice to emulate, these entrance examinations and their concurrent preparations are presently subjected to searching criticism by some groups proposing reforms in Japan's educational system. In "Yobiko: Prep Schools for College Entrance in Japan" (ch. 8), Robert August (U.S. Department of Education and the Library of Congress) points out the determination and importance of college entrance examinations to Japanese high school students: subsequent graduation, virtually automatic, from the institutions to which these tests permit access is still such a major determinant of the career level and employment success, especially for those Japanese students aspiring to work in the upper echelon corporations or the Japanese civil service. The yobiko are those specialized private schools preparing students for success on college entrance examination. The juku involve with both academic instruction and preparation for college entrance exams with an emphasis on remedial education and academic enrichment. These schools, very popular in Japan, exist simply as a direct response to the Japanese societal emphasis on academic credentials, a hierarchial distinction in the status of various institutions of higher learning, and especially, a predilection of both corporate employers and government ministries to prefer graduates of some particular universities. As long as the social basis of this pressure remains unchanged, it is inconceivable that Japanese high school graduates will alter their aspirations downward when there exists a mechanism, such as the yobiko and juku, by which Japanese high school graduates have a chance to enter the schools of their own choice. The readers of Japanese Educational Productivity will find enough authoritative information in sufficient perspective of the Japanese education system so that they could draw their own conclusions about the relevance of the Japanese experience to their U.S. situation. Throughout these pages, they will find how and why the Japanese education system works, and the Japanese accomplish what they do in education. For all the reasons given by the authors of these research papers, it is clear that education in Japan is somewhat different from that of the U.S.A. in several aspects. The thrust of these research papers directs mostly toward the years of formal schooling, i.e., kindergarten to twelfth grade, rather than on fundamental studies of other aspects of Japanese society and culture. One thing is certain: the readers of this education report will learn more about specific attributes, fundamental philosophy, and concrete procedures of the Japanese education system since the end of World War II. Here is also an opportunity for the readers to learn more about the attitudes of Japanese families and of their children toward education in general, and higher education in particular. It is enough a reason for using this volume as a reference work and a learning tool for a better understanding of Japan's social transformation and economic competitive edge in the world market of the 1990s. On balance, it is a fascinating book, a candid and scientifically reliable account of one of the most compelling educational investigations ever undertaken.

Dominique N. Khactu University of North Dakota


1. Department of Education. Statistics, Trends in Academic Progress: Achievement of U.S. Students in Science, 1969-70 to 1990; Mathematics, 1973 to 1990; Writing, 1984 to 1990. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics. November 1991.

2. Westburg, Ian. "Comparing American and Japanese Achievement: Is the United States Really a Low Achiever?" Educational Researcher, June-July 1992, 18-24.
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Author:Khactu, Dominique N.
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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