More than 99 percent of elementary school-age children
enrolled in school. All children enter first grade at age
starting school is considered a very important event in a
Virtually all elementary education takes place in
schools; less than 1 percent of the schools are private.
schools tended to be costly, although the rate of cost
tuition for these schools had slowed in the 1980s. Some
elementary schools are prestigious, and they serve as a
to higher-level private schools with which they are
thence to a university. Competition to enter some of these
schools" is quite intense.
Although public elementary education is free, some
expenses are borne by parents, for example, school lunches
supplies. For many families, there are also nonschool
expenses, for extra books, or private lessons, or
juku (see Glossary).
Such expenses rose throughout the 1980s,
average of ¥184,000 (US$1,314) in FY 1987 for each child.
private elementary schools are substantially higher.
Elementary school classes are large, about thirty-one
per class on average, but higher numbers are permitted.
are usually organized into small work groups, which have
academic and disciplinary functions. Discipline also is
and a sense of responsibility encouraged, by the use of
monitors and by having the students assume responsibility
physical appearance of their classroom and school.
The ministry's Course of Study for Elementary Schools
composed of a wide variety of subjects, both academic and
nonacademic, including moral education and "special
"Special activities" refer to scheduled weekly time given
class affairs and to preparing for the school activities
ceremonies that are used to emphasize character
development and the
importance of group effort and cooperation. The standard
curriculum include Japanese language, social studies,
and science. Nonacademic subjects taught include art and
handicrafts, music, homemaking, physical education, and
education. Japanese language is the most emphasized
complexity of the written language and the diversity of
forms in educated speech require this early attention.
A new course of study was established in 1989, partly
result of the education reform movement of the 1980s and
because of ongoing curriculum review. Important changes
were an increased number of hours devoted to Japanese
replacement of the social sciences course with a daily
-instruction for children on proper interaction with the
and environment around them--and an increased emphasis on
education. While evidence is still inconclusive, it
appears that at
least some children are having difficulties with the
language. New emphasis also was to be given in the
the national flag and the national anthem. The ministry
that the flag be flown and the national anthem sung at
school ceremonies. Because neither the flag nor the anthem
legally designated as national symbols, and because of the
nationalistic wartime associations the two had in the
minds of some
citizens, this suggestion was greeted with some
revised history curriculum emphasized cultural legacies
and the biographies of key figures. The ministry provided
proposed list of biographies, and there was some criticism
surrounding particular suggestions.
Elementary teachers are generally responsible for all
and classes remain in one room for most activities.
well prepared. Most teachers, about 60 percent of the
women; but most principals and head teachers in elementary
Teachers have ample teaching materials and audiovisual
equipment. There is an excellent system of educational
and radio, and almost all elementary schools use programs
by the School Education Division of Japan Broadcasting
(Nippon Hoso Kyokai--NHK). In addition to broadcast media,
increasingly are equipped with computers. Although only
of public elementary schools had personal computers in
1989 the number had passed 20 percent. The ministry is
concerned with this issue and planned much greater use of
Virtually all elementary schoolchildren receive a full
school. Although heavily subsidized by the government,
directly and indirectly, the program is not altogether
meals usually consist of bread (or increasingly, of rice),
dish, and milk. Although the program grew out of concern
immediate postwar period for adequate nutrition, the
is also important as a teaching device. Because there are
relatively few cafeterias in elementary schools, meals are
the classroom with the teacher, providing another informal
opportunity for teaching nutrition and health and good
habits and social behavior. Frequently, students also are
responsible for serving the lunch and cleaning up.
Japanese elementary schooling is acknowledged both in
abroad to be excellent, but not without some problems,
increasing absenteeism and a declining but troublesome
cases of bullying. In addition, special provision for the
young children returning to Japan from long absences
overseas is an
issue of major interest. The government also is concerned
education of Japanese children residing abroad, and it
teachers overseas to teach in Japanese schools.
Elementary school education is seen in Japan as
shaping a positive attitude toward lifelong education.
of academic achievement, almost all children in elementary
are advanced to lower-secondary schools, the second of the
compulsory levels of education.
Data as of January 1994