About the Pressure on School Kids in Japan

Even before school started, my boss made it very clear: „The Oh my poor child doesn’t exist in Japan. Kids have to work hard and achieve good results from a very young age.“

This is only my second week of teaching at a primary school in Japan. (It’s not a Japanese but an international school. Which might entail the even more ambitious parents, now that I think about it.)

Maybe I’m not entitled to write about this subject just yet. But then again, maybe I am. I’ve trained hard for my qualification in this profession and know a thing or two about child development. Also, I was a child once.

This is only a snapshot of my current impressions. But maybe they can be more of an insight than the horrific statistics that are available on the internet. Like the one I just read about the numbers of teenagers committing suicide in Japan skyrocketing when or even before the new school year starts.

There is a boy in my year two class. His smile opens up my heart. He is so good-tempered and always, always (always!) follows instructions immediately, without ever complaining. He works thoroughly and fast at the same time and when he’s done with all the work I gave the class to do, he comes up to me and asks for more work. A kid who asks for more work? He sure must love school, right? That’s what I thought. Until I read what he wrote in an assignment yesterday. I asked the kids to write a little bit about themselves by finishing the sentences: “I like…“ and “I really don’t like…“ This boy’s “I really don’t like“ went like this: “I really don’t like school. I have to work so hard and I just don’t like it.“ He is seven years old.

There is a girl in my class who doesn’t speak the language well that is spoken in our school (which isn’t English. That she speaks fluently.) She also doesn’t speak Japanese because she wasn’t born in Japan. To put it in a nutshell: It’s hard for her to keep up. Or to understand the most basic instructions. She tries so hard though. She works like a machine during my lessons and gets a lot done. To her parents, this is not enough though. Today in the late afternoon I was in my classroom, preparing the first parents’ evening, when she suddenly popped in. “I forgot something“, she said. Turns out that what she forgot was to pack all of her workbooks to do more work at home, even though I hadn’t set any homework. Why? “Because my mum told me to do more work.“ Yes, after a long day at an all-day school, her parents ask her to continue to work at home. Ask her? Make her seems more like it.

What I’m describing here holds true for a lot of kids in my class.

At the parents’ evening later that day, I address the issue. I tell the parents how hard the kids work at this school and that they need time to wind down and relax, or to be physically active, or to meet friends. Or to just hang out in front of the TV. (I didn’t say the last one. I should have.) Some parents reject my concept and let me know. They are so worried about their child falling behind and not meeting the expectations of the school. Being a failure in life at the age of seven.

You think those parents are heartless and don’t love their children? Wrong. I believe they love them very much. They only want the best for them. They want them to have a future and to be able to provide for themselves one day. In a good job that makes money from which they can make a decent living. Who doesn’t want that for their children?

I’m questioning the methods though. And I’m questioning myself for playing my part in this system. For possibly being a factor that pushes the statistics mentioned above. Tomorrow, I want to go to school and abandon all the lesson plans and just do something fun and relaxing with he kids. Hey, maybe I will.


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