In light of the possible school closures and reconfigurations in the Okanagan Skaha School District, I thought I would talk about the school system in Japan, what it’s like as a teacher in Japan, and ways that schools operate and save energy to stay within their budgets.
First, there are three different levels of schooling in Japan, similar to that in Canada.
Elementary school accommodates children from Grades 1 to 6, Junior High school holds Grades 7 to 9, and finally High school has Grades 10 to 12.
Interestingly, Kindergarten is not mandatory in Japan.
Kindergarten is available for those parents who wish to enrol their children and is typically taught in nursery schools, which provide day care, pre-school, and Kindergarten.
But not having mandatory Kindergarten isn’t the most shocking thing about the Japanese school system.
High school is also not mandatory in Japan!
In the final year of junior high, students will study for approximately six months for their high school entrance exams.
Each high school offers their own test, which students must pass in order to attend that specific school.
A few months before the test dates, homeroom teachers will have a conference with the student and their parents to decide which high school test the student should write.
To attend high school in Japan, you must pay tuition fees, which from what I’ve heard from people in Toyokoro can be roughly the same cost as post-secondary tuition in Canada.
Even though high school is not mandatory, the majority of students attend.
There is no high school in Toyokoro, therefore all students must travel daily to attend school nearby or attend a boarding high school.
Second, in order to become a teacher in Japan, the requirements are much different than that in Canada.
Similar to Canada, to become a teacher in Japan you must complete a four-year undergraduate degree in education, however Japan does not offer a one-year BEd after the completion of a bachelors degree of your choosing as Canada does.
In Japan, once you complete your undergraduate degree you can be hired as a teacher, but you are not technically a ‘licensed’ teacher.
In order to become a licensed teacher in Japan, you must pass a government teaching examination.
The teachers in my schools have told me that this test is extremely difficult, but the worst part about the test is that the government only allows a certain percentage of people to pass the test each year, therefore you may pass the test and do extremely well, but if you do not score within the top five to 10 per cent of teachers taking the test that year, you will not receive a passing grade, and therefore not receive your teaching license.
If you are not a licensed teacher, you can only have a one-year teaching contract; therefore you must move to a different school and different town every year until you pass your teaching exam.
But what shocked me the most about being a teacher in Japan is not the fact that they must pass a teaching exam, but it is what happens after they pass their exam.
Once you become a licensed teacher, you can only stay a maximum of four years at one school.
So the dream of becoming a teacher and then teaching at your old high-school in your hometown from the beginning of your career until the time that you retire, does not exist here in Japan. It is not possible.
Teachers are also not guaranteed that they will be moved to a different school in the same district or even the same town; they could be placed at a school in a completely new city.
Luckily for me, I’m not a real teacher so I don’t need to write any exams, I just get to be the celebrity resident foreigner of Toyokoro.
Lastly, I have found that the schools in Japan are very energy efficient. I’ll give you an example of how my junior high school operates on a daily basis.
There is one class for each grade in the school, so there are only three classrooms that are in use throughout the day.
Unlike the Canadian school system, each teacher does not have their own classroom within the school. Instead, the classrooms are designated to each grade and are essentially the student’s space.
The teachers all share one big teachers’ room at the entrance of the school.
Every teacher has their own desk with their computer and teaching supplies.
This room is also shared with the school secretary and vice-principal, while the principal has a separate office that is connected to the teachers’ room.
At the start of every class, the teachers will leave the teachers room and go to the classroom for the respective grade that they will be teaching.
How does this relate to energy efficiency?
The school only turns on the heat in these four rooms: the teachers’ rooms, and the classrooms for Grades 7, 8, and 9.
They do not pay to heat the rooms that are not in use, such as extra classrooms, the hallways, and the gym.
If a class is going to be using a specialty room such as the band room or art room, the heat will only be turned on for that 50-minute class time.
Not only are they saving on heating costs, but they are also saving on lighting costs, by not turning on the lights in the unused rooms and the hallways.
Therefore, even in the larger schools that are not running at full capacity, they are not paying to heat or light the unused or infrequently used areas of the school.
As well, they don’t have hot water in the schools. In the washrooms, there is only one tap and you can only use cold water to wash your hands.
Finally, one of the most interesting things about the schools in Japan is that there are no custodians.
The students are responsible for cleaning the whole school.
There is a scheduled time in the day, normally after lunch, that the students will clean the school for 30 minutes.
Students are divided into groups and given different jurisdictions and they rotate so that all students learn to clean different rooms in the school.
When I tell my students that in Canada we don’t have to clean our school and that we have adults that it is their job to clean the school, they think I’m crazy!
They like that it is their responsibility to keep the school clean.
Overall, there are a lot of similarities between school in Japan and Canada, but there are also a lot of differences.
I believe that there are many things that we can learn from the Japanese schooling system, and their ideas on how to create more responsibility for the students, how to save energy, and how to constantly create new teaching dynamics by shuffling teachers, is valuable information and insight that could be implemented in our school system in Canada.
Allyssa Hooper is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.