Education levelJapanese students have continuously scored above the worldwide average in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests that are conducted every three years by the OECD. The most recent results showed that Japanese students in 10th grade were particularly proficient at mathematics and science. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) also assesses the academic ability in the subjects Japanese and Mathematics of students in primary and secondary schools annually. In 2021, the students in Japan achieved an overall score average of around 58 percent to 70 percent in all subjects.
On the other hand, the Japanese education system has often been criticized that it disproportionally values scores and rote memorization. To improve on this perceived weakness, the MEXT enforced the fifth education reform in 2020. The reformation aims to achieve active learning and foster independent thinking skills in schools. The Common Test for University Admissions was also updated accordingly and now includes description-type problems apart from multiple-choice questions.
Psychological pressure on children and long-term absentees from schoolAll schools except for public elementary and junior high schools have entrance exams. Students and their families strive for schools with the highest possible standard score. According to the most recent survey, parents whose children were in private elementary schools paid a yearly average of 348 thousand Japanese yen for supplementary tutoring. As a result, children may have a heavy workload and could face significant psychological pressure to perform.
A recent problematic trend for school education in Japan is the increasing number of chronically absent students. As of the academic year 2020, around two percent of pupils did not go to primary or lower secondary school for more than 30 days because they refused to or were unable to attend. The number of those absentees at junior high schools amounted to nearly 132.8 thousand in the academic year 2020, representing a nine-year consecutive increase. The most common reasons for this were general anxiety or uneasy relationships with schoolmates or parents. To combat this problem, an alternative schooling system such as correspondence or free schools was introduced. These schools offer homeschooling or flexible learning schedules and programs.