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Education in Japan - statistics & facts

After the enactment of the School Education Act in 1947, the school system in Japan was primarily structured into six-year elementary schools, three-year junior high schools, three-year senior high schools, and four-year universities. School from first grade to ninth grade is considered compulsory. Subsequently, the government, municipalities, and guardians are legally obliged to ensure the education of all children aged six to 15 years old.
For tertiary education, students can choose from universities, junior colleges, or specialized training colleges, depending on the profession and subject. Schools in Japan can be categorized into either national, public, or private. National schools are operated and financed by national university corporations, whose budget is largely covered by governmental funds and supplemented by tuition fees and university hospital revenue. Public schools are established by municipalities and tuition fees are publicly funded, mainly by regional taxes.  

 Education level

Japanese 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 school

All 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. 


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