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I talked about My Japanese education a while back, but wasn’t able to adequately discuss Japanese cram schools(塾/juku). So, why don’t we talk about that today?

Cram schools are specialized schools that train their students to meet particular goals such as achieving good marks or passing the entrance examinations of high schools or universities. Many Japanese students feel relentless pressure to get ahead of the 受験戦争 (Juken-sensou), also known as the “entrance examination war,” so many kids attend a full day at school and then a few additional hours of cram school in the evening before doing a couple more hours of study at home so they can get to bed right around midnight. That’s a pretty heavy load for a child, isn’t it?

KUMON

kumon

Look at how sad that Kumon logo face looks…

My first cram school was 公文 (KUMON), which is a math and reading cram school. I forget exactly when I started it, but I’m going to say it was around my third grade of elementary school. Following that, I moved on to another cram school when I began junior high school. Unlike usual cram schools, KUMON is intended to supplement rather than replace school lessons, so students work individually and progress through the program at their own pace, advancing to the next level when they have mastered of the previous level.

The system was pretty well suited for me since I prefer studying at my own pace and the sheets that we worked on were kind of like a fun puzzle for me to complete. When I was a university student, I even worked at KUMON as an assistant teacher, so I’ve spent a lot of time at Kumon schools. It’s now even present worldwide, and I was even able to find a couple in the Canadian city close to the town that I’m currently living in. So maybe you’ve seen it before even in your own home country?

For The Entrance Examinations

English teacher Rose Lee gives a lecture at a cram school in Seoul

Despite all this Kumon time, I found myself wanting to go to a different cram school when I reached junior high school. I needed something that would specialize in high school entrance examinations. In order to go to the new cram school, I had to take a train every evening, so my parents at first didn’t want to enroll me there. However, I begged them because many of my friends were there. Wanting to hang out with my friends was not the only reason, though. I also didn’t want to find myself academically lagging behind my friends. Keep your friends close and your high school entrance examination enemies closer, eh?

Although the new cram school was much more competitive, and everyone could see how well you did on the mock examinations by looking at a board with all the student’s names on it, I honestly didn’t dislike the school. As I mentioned earlier, the school was a couple of stations away from my town so I had to take the train which was sometimes a bit troublesome, but it also allowed me to make new friends from different schools. The teachers were great, too. I enjoyed that school a lot and was glad that I made the move. When I became a high school student, I once again changed cram schools to focus on the upcoming university entrance exam. At this point it wasn’t that big of a change, so I enjoyed the new school as well.

Special Events

hatuhinode

Photo by eeweiga

As for special events, both KUMON and the cram school I attended during junior high school had a “New Year’s Eve All-Night Studying Event” (年越し徹夜勉強会/toshikoshi-testuya-benkyoukai). The teachers encouraged us not to fall asleep and to keep studying until morning. There were even a few games to help stimulate and relax students as well. It was a lot of fun to stay up late with my friends, but everyone reaches a wall and you would get sleepy at some point and find it nearly impossible to keep studying. Granted, it wasn’t an effective way to study at all, but it did teach us some discipline.

I know you’re probably sarcastically thinking “Right on! That sounds like a fantastic way to spend New Years Eve!” However, after saying that, studying all night together actually made us feel as though we achieved something great and it was a real confidence booster. The New Year’s sunrise, known as 初日の出 (hatsuhinode) was quite memorable, too. Everyone made the same New Years resolution: study hard to achieve good marks on the entrance exam.

The Interview With Juku-experienced People

Now, you may think I’m a bit of an oddball because I actually liked juku (cram school), but I’m not the only one. I interviewed some people who attended cram schools when they were younger and I found that every single one of these girls really enjoyed going, at least in retrospect.

crammming
Rina (pen-name), who is 19-year-old female, went to cram schools while she was in elementary and junior high school. Although she had to go there every day, except on Sundays and summer vacations, she said she liked it. 

塾は好きでした。他の人と楽しく勉強できて行くのが好きだし楽しかったから。勇気づけるための言葉とか目標とかをいつも言ってくれたり、壁に紙がはってあったり、先生が面白いから毎日塾に行きたがってた!
I liked my cram schools. It was enjoyable to study with my friends. Teachers also gave us many quotes, posted phrases on the wall and set goals for us, all with the purpose of encouraging us.  I found it fun and funny so I wanted to go to the cram school every day.

Paeja (pen-name), who is 28-year-old female, also liked her cram school. She went to her cram schools during all of her elementary, junior, and high school years. Her cram school also had a New Years Eve camp-in for working on a collection of past entrance exams from many choice schools.

他校の友達としりあえたし、塾の先生が好きだったから塾は好きでした。
I liked my cram schools because I was able to get to know students from other schools and I also liked the cram school teachers.

I also asked her why she liked the teachers. She answered they were nice and funny and she gave me a couple examples of why she thought so.

・夏期講習の最終日に友達が家出をしたが、塾の先生が親身に面倒をみてくれていた。
・同じ塾に通っていた兄が通塾を拒否し無断欠席を繰り返したら、塾の先生と学年主任が夜中にアポ無しで家庭訪問に来た。
・地理の授業で地図の特産物マークを「ワカメちゃん」「綿花ちゃん」と擬人化する先生がいた。
・On the last day of the summer program, one of my friends ran away from home. The cram school teachers were genuinely worried about her and looked after her after she was found.
・My brother went to the same cram school I did, but he rejected the idea of cram school and was repeatedly truant. His teacher and the head teacher of his grade worried about him and unexpectedly visited our home at night after the cram school closed.
・In a geography class, I had a teacher who always personified the principal product of each country’s district like ‘Wakame-chan (Seaweed-chan)’ or ‘Menka-chan (Cotton-chan)’. I found it funny and it helped me memorize them.

Surprisingly, she confessed to liking the cram school teachers so much that she even fell in love with one of them. She ran into him 10 years down the line and they actually dated for a while. She also told me that it’s fairly common for a student to develop a crush on a cram school teacher. She had a friend who had a crush on a teacher while going there, too. She remembers that she dreamt up an imaginary love story between her friend and the teacher and wrote the short story out for her, but it was discovered by the teacher somehow and both of them felt monstrously embarrassed.

teacher

Yukari (pen-name), who is 28-year-old female, also liked her cram school, though she had a rather bitter experience there.  The teacher scolded her for having a secret Christmas party in the self-study room with her friends. As you might presume, she had a lot of friends there and that was the reason that she liked the cram school so much. She also worked at a cram school when she was a university student. She often looks back on that period in her life and remembers how busy her days were. 

3年間進学塾で中学理科を教えていました。塾の講師は自分のプライベートな時間はほとんど取れなくて塾内でのコミュニティが全てという感じになっていました。
そのため、昼ドラのようなドロドロした恋愛模様がそこら中でありました。”
I taught junior high school level science at a cram school for three years. Being a teacher at a cram school means being very busy. I barely had any private time and  neither did the other teachers. Our whole lives existed within the cram school. Therefore, there were actually a lot of complicated, soap opera-esque relationships among the cram school staff.

However, there are of course some people who don’t like cram schools and 8-chilis (pen-name) is one of them. He didn’t like cram school because you are bound to a lot of things. He once attended a winter session when he was in junior high school, but he thought he could do it by himself because a cram school is just a tool and not necessary.

constitution稲田塾憲法249条: Article 294 of the Inada-Juku Constitution

Although he succeeded in doing well on his high school entrance exam, he failed the entrance exam for university which resulted in him becoming a 浪人(rounin). Rounin means a masterless samurai, or a jobless person / high-school graduate who has failed to enter a university and is waiting for another chance to obtain a place. While he was a “rounin,” he finally went to a cram school because he felt that he needed to regiment his studying and also thought it would have been fruitless to continue studying by himself for one year without seeking any assistance. After doing so, he successfully rewrote the entrance examination and was accepted to Kyoto University a.k.a Kyoudai, which is the second oldest Japanese university and one of the highest ranked universities in economics in all of Asia. It is also one of Japan’s Seven National Universities. However, he told me that he still didn’t regret his decision of not going to cram school when he was younger.

たらればで、もし塾いってたらどうなってたかなーとは考えたけど、行ってても落ちてたと思うわ。
ちゃんと受かった人って志望校も目的意識もはっきりしてたけど、俺にはそれがなかったから何回やっても結果はだめやったと思うねん┐( ̄ヘ ̄)┌
そんな状況でよく浪人して受かったな~と思ってるぐらい(笑)
He continued, “Of course I imagined the “what if” stories, but I probably still would have failed the exam, even if I did go to a cram school. The people who did move on to university had a clear goal in their minds, but I had no such goals. I figure that even if I could go back to that time and try the exam again, I would fail it. So I kind of impressed myself when ended up passing the exam after one year of being a rounin”, he chuckles.

Remember, he still ended up going to Kyoto University, so he was a smart guy after all, but we can’t be sure how a cram school may have benefited him on his first exam, if he had gone to one. Initially he told me that he disapproved of cram schools because he didn’t want to feel bound to it in order to succeed, however, after one year of being a “rounin,” that is the exact reason why he placed himself there. He utilized his time and motivation very well. Anyways, I’d say that becoming a cram school student is a very wise path to walk down, although it is often an arduous and uphill one. Whatever your reasons for going, rest assured they are probably good ones.

The Importance To Be Liked By Students

juku

Granted, there may be some drama among the cram school staff, like Yukari mentioned, but there are many teachers beloved by their students and it is one of the main reasons why students continue to go back to cram school, as Rina and Paeja did.  I think it’s fair to say that most teachers would agree, to some extent, that being liked by students creates a better learning environment and eases the job of being an effective teacher.  However, there is a secondary truth to that, as well, which is that if teachers are not well liked or accepted among the students, they face the possibility of losing their jobs.

According to a research study conducted by Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry about cram schools, of 2,071 parents who have one or more children attending a cram school, over 90% of them agreed that teaching methods are incredibly important, but they also believed the eagerness of the teachers and how intently they take care for their children is critical.

Additionally, another research study, conducted by the Japan Juku Association, administered a questionnaire to over 5,000 separate cram schools with the intent of discovering what criterion they hold as the most important in the evaluation of teachers. The results showed that 46.6% of employers consider teacher reputation among students as the main benchmark and it was the single most important criterion. Surprisingly, academic improvement was secondary to reputation with a score of (45.8%) and the third most important consideration when evaluating teacher performance was teacher reputation among the students’ parents (41.3%).

So it seems that the primary requirement for a teacher’s longevity in a cram school is that they are liked by the students.  This study may not be something that those teachers should read as it might add a whole new level of stress as they attempt to cross off yet another strenuous goal on their list of career accomplishments – acceptance.

I can just imagine all the elderly teachers wearing parachute pants walking into a classroom with a boom box blaring AC/DC or Run-D.M.C. planted firmly on their shoulder and saying “Ah yeah, this is my jam!” while passing out sticks of peppermint bubble gum and yoyos to a room of bewildered students. 

‘Hayashi Osamu’ Boom

47-year-old Osamu Hayashi is probably the most famous and successful teacher currently working in Japan. He teaches contemporary Japanese literature at a nationwide cram school called Toshin High School that mainly focuses on preparing students for university entrance exams. 

Toshin High School is known for its unique TV commercial series, which focuses on some of their most popular teachers and shows a few quick clips of their actual classes. Each teacher has their own distinct character and uses strong words to encourage their students. Hayashi is one of the teachers that appears on Toshin‘s commercial series, and his  signature phrase during class and on the commercial is: “Itsu yaru ka? Ima desho!“, meaning “When will you act? It should be right now!

The message was originally intended for students planning on taking college entrance exams and, in fact, he was already famous among students even before making his way into the TV world. Yet, some business people recognized the phrase’s great potential and thought of how to use it. He started  appearing in a number of TV commercials and campaigns, and the phrase became a nationwide catchphrase, especially among the younger generation.

The phrase is now used in many places such as drinking parties or even business situations. For example, some people ask their colleagues, “If you don’t drink now, then when will you?” in order to make them answer, “Imadesho“.   Salesmen try to encourage their clients who are hesitating on signing a contract, “We have a great campaign rate at the moment and if you don’t sign up now, when will you sign up? It should be done right now!

So what does the fad of Hayashi tell us about Japanese cram school education? After all, is cram school a business whose “product” quality is solely based on their number of admissions? If the reputation of a school is decided upon by children and their parents, and if advertising helps to develop a positive reputation for your school, then all the more power to you. Thanks to its commercialsToshin High School is now famous for having “unique” teachers, though its mission is simply to help their students to pass the entrance exams for some of the top universities in Japan, including the University of Tokyo from which Hayashi himself graduated.

From my experience, I felt that my teachers were in it for more than just money. You could probably pick that up from Paeja’s comments, as well. Some teachers even visited a family for one student because they worried about her brother’s future. It may have been a part of their business’ protocol, but to me, it’s more than that. If things like this were done solely for business purposes, I don’t think that they would have bothered to take so much care of a runaway girl, either.


Now, what do you think of the Japanese cram school? Do you think that it’s too much work load for children? Or, have you had harder experiences in your country? As for the teachers, do you think that they are doing favors for themselves? Or, do you think that they are truly worried about children?


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  • totoro

    I went to Kumon when I was younger (about 9-11ish years old) in England, but it definitely wasn’t so intensive. It was only around two hours per week, plus “homework” but it was incredibly useful and they made it fun for the children by offering prizes once you had accumulated a certain number of stamps!

  • Mami

    Oh!!! You went to Kumon in England!!! Are there a lot of Kumons in UK?
    Kumon wasn’t actually that intensive in Japan, either. It was twice a week for me and each time was 3-4 hours. Yeah, I now remember the prizes!! lol I totally forgot about it, but I really liked the system, too.

  • Aya

    This ‘今でしょ!!’ should be a thing in WaniKani. Koichi would be all

  • Mami

    Aha❤Nice!!! Is the turtle saying ‘baka’?? lol

  • HatsuHazama

    I’ve done Kumon for the last 12 years, since I was 3 (I asked to join though!) from England as well. Although I may have got through it faster, my younger self couldn’t manage all the time, so yeah. I still kinda like the sheets given, though about 3 and a half hours each week extra of pure maths is kinda annoying at times (especially when you’re just given it to do).

    Really has helped though, I still have the drive to self study maths on top of this, so maths schoolwork is less than a breeze!

    Mami, It sounds like you did a more intense program than I’ve ever done though! I dunno how it compares exactly, but you must have had some resilience!

  • HatsuHazama

    I kinda like the idea of a cram school myself, but that’s because I kinda enjoy studying and stuff. There isn’t much of this cram school stuff in England, though I’m not surprised, as I doubt many parents would approve (exceptions of course). It’s sorta a shame I guess, as the more options people have available, the better I guess. I wouldn’t (have) mind(ed) trying out something like this, but hey, I don’t think I’ll likely end up doing so.

  • Aya

    He’s a very angry turtle, ahahaha~

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    you’re getting very close to my dream: turtle shoes.

  • Mami

    ❤怒亀❤怒亀❤Doki❤Doki❤

  • Mami

    lol you have to walk really freakin slowly!

  • linguarum

    This is one area that really shows up the cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan. When I was growing up (in the U.S.), it was just expected that All Kids Hate School. Nobody was supposed to like it, but it was something that you knew you had to do, so you did it begrudgingly – like eating your vegetables. (Speaking of that, Japanese people don’t seem to have the same aversion to vegetables either, but that’s for another post.) If you liked school, you had better not admit it. I had several classmates who intentionally answered wrong on tests, just so they wouldn’t get good grades and the “nerd” stigma and bullying that came along with it. It amazes me how Japan is the complete, total opposite of that.

    BTW, do all cram school teachers lecture in 6-inch heels? Great picture. :-)

  • Mami

    Aha, I’m not sure if I had some resilience, but I really like doing the sheets. It was like a puzzle game to me:P (especially the math sheets) For instance, now I’ve been pretty into a phone game called LINE BUBBLE and solving the math questions on the Kumon sheets was like playing such games to me. So, it was fun. (^^)

  • Mami

    Thank you for sharing your experience and clarify the difference between U.S. and Japan.
    lol no! Not all teachers ware such high heels! but I’ve actually seen quite many do. Like Yukari pointed out, teachers are very busy and it’s very common that they have a love drama among them…so, I guess some female teachers dress up to look hot to make teachers. Does it make sense?? :P

  • Mami

    Oh, do you doubt many parents would approve cram school?? Well, I guess if there was an entrance exam system to enter high school or university, they might approve thought? What do you think??

  • HatsuHazama

    Well, I suppose to some extent. I remember for high school entrance tests, parents frequently hire tutors for their kids. Not the same, especially in the time actually spent studying (much less), but very much focused.

    What I really believe is the key thing is the looking for all-rounders at school (good at sports, exams, extra-curricular etc.). Most universities here just look at accomplishments in the last two years of high school in terms of academics, and as most people toward the top end have similar results, people tend to take sports and other extracurricular activities to get in to universities. My parents already try to push me toward extra curricular stuff for this reason, hehe ^_^’

    As such, studying is only important here to an extent, and a considerable number of people already reach this level without external help from school. Hence cram schools could be deemed useless.

    On a shorter note, I also think parents would be reluctant to make kids here study for long amounts of time extra, owing to the culture of study here.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Kumon mascot face is not pleased with Kumon. Maybe he mistook it for Kumamon.

  • Yuki

    I went to something like a cram school my final two years of high school to try get into medical school since its so competitive where I live (Ireland). Classes were 9am to 5pm, then after school study from 6pm to 9pm, which was extended to 10 pm at Christmas and April-June. The education system is all about rote learning as opposed to actual learning, so we just memorize chunks of stuff for exams only. But in comparison to regular public schools, students at this school were closer to the teachers so it was a better environment. Also there’s no uniform!

    So i think i can kinda relate to the Japanese cram school. My school was mainly full of repeats (same as rounin), everyone studying just for university entrance exams.

  • Milly

    On teacher reputation – My favourite teachers have always been the ones who are clearly very enthusiastic about the subjects that they teach. Their enthusiasm rubs off on you, so you can enjoy the subject more too. It really does help :)

  • Mami

    That’s really true.

  • Mami

    Wow, that sounds so similar to Japanese ones! Now are you a student of the medical school? :D

  • Mami

    Right!!! Is Tofugu team’s enthusiasm rubbing off on you, too?❤(๑❛ᴗ❛๑)♡

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Okay, I am going to be judgemental: the idea that schooling should be all about passing tests is a very narrow-minded view of what education is or could be. Yes, you gotta work hard. But those that excel at what they do are almost always those push themselves rather that being pushed by social/parental forces. Look at any Nobel Prize winner in the sciences and you will see this trend. People that excel at what they are not pushed by anybody. They push themselves. Because they love what they do. It seems to me that motivation is the missing element in education systems like the Japanese one that emphasizes hard work solely. Cram schools kinda look like the embodiment of these education systems: kids memorising stuff they don’t care about. Stuff they will forget once the test is over. Cramming is useless. Learning is useful. It seems to me that best intellectual achievements of humankind have come from learning rather than cramming. What is cramming good for apart from being a core element in the rat race?
    A brilliant student is not he who knows all the stuff but he who understands stuff and can think in new ways about that stuff.
    Rant over.

  • Mami

    I like what you say, Casual Pirate Game Player! (๑❛ᴗ❛๑)♡

  • Mariana

    Well, this article kind of makes Cram School seem fun.. :o
    But then again, what use it /cramming/ information? You’re not actually learning it – your memorising it because it’s convenient for a test but will forget it as soon as you’ve completed it so..

  • Mariana

    Is Kumon a play on words of Come On? (as in “Come on, are you serious…? *sigh*”) Even if it isn’t, the double meaning is funny and somewhat fitting. :p

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    http://images4.fanpop.com/image/answers/1943000/1943674_1314754306613.47res_500_375.jpg
    Thanks, Mami! I feel so praised by the Great Fugu Writer. :o

  • Mariana

    OoOoOh! That’s interesting…
    Though I can’t fathom how maths can be as fun as LINE games ~(*u*)~

  • Casual Pirate Game Player

    Hai, Mami Sensei! :)

  • Mauro

    Interesting article Mami san ! I have a lot of questions about this argument !! But I will concentrate on one issue ^_^
    I noticed that you underline very much the fact that the cram school was a place to meet new friends or even a place to fall in love. Is it really necessary to go to a cram school to create new friendships ? Don’t you think that for students could be better to spend the New Years’ Eve with their friends without the “help” of a cram school ?
    My impression is that socialization among students is kinda difficult if it does not involve the preparation of an exam or studying. Maybe that’s because the society makes pupils think that studying is the only right thing to do and so there is almost no time left for other things. I study a lot to pass my exams at university but I think lectures and text books are not the only means of learning.

    P.s. Sorry for my English!! =D

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think the thing is that everyone is at a cram school. So if you want to see your friends… well, they’re in a cram school, so that’s where you’ll be able to see them.

  • Tiffany Harvey

    I totally understand! I’ve always liked puzzle games & often thought math problems were kind of similar. I tested out of math in college & didn’t have to take any classes, and was almost a little jealous when I’d see someone doing math homework. (I would have much rather had some math that I could hang out & talk while solving them rather than having to read a bunch of chapters on history or something)

  • Hideki

    Oh, Kumon. Such good memories… In foreign countries (at least in Brazil), there’s two kinds of course: Japanese (for non-native learners) and Kokugo (for native ones, the same material used in Japan). If we focus on reading, Kokugo’s material is terrific: it’s light-years ahead of any other Japanese course here, introducing a lot of expressions and vocabulary rarely presented in other textbooks.

    The Japanese course have explanations in Portuguese, describing grammar rules and syntax as they appear in your study. It works very well as an introductory course, enabling you to advance by yourself. But Kokugo is an altogether different beast, raising the bar very sharply, with a lot of new vocabulary. At first, it was a shock for me: I had a good grasp of the language (since I already finished the “foreign course”), but couldn’t read a lot of children stories, for example (lots of giseigo and gitaigo). As you progress, grammar points are explained, but shallower than Japanese, expecting you to memorize and “learn by osmosis”. For what it’s designed for (helping native people to improve their reading and comprehension ability), it’s very good.

    Which brings me to this point: when I went to a more advanced plateau, I started to realize the patterns of how the exercises were designed and more and more I saw them as a math problem. Solving the blank spaces was becoming just a matter of “finding the correct word or expression in the provided text” rather than “understanding the context”. Memorization and learning by heart are very present in the Japanese people’s way of thinking, but how do they cope with it when things start to seem mechanical?

  • iamoyashiro

    WHOOOA kumon is japanese????? i went there as a kid :P

  • Jonathan Harston

    Politicians in the UK keep talking about re-re-re-reforming the school system here and often point to Japan as an example, but they never suggest locking kiddies in school for 8 hours a day. I wonder why. They seem to think English children can get the same schooling attainment in 20 hours a week that Japanese get in 40(?) hours a week.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Tha’s norra turtle, issa tortoise. Turtles live in water and have flippers. Tortoises are land creatures and have loverly ikkle little legs.

  • Jonathan Harston

    For comparison, it’s probably worth me outlining the school system in England&Wales:
    There are 190 teaching days each year, Monday to Friday from September to July. Yes, that means you do you end-of-term exams in the baking summer heat :(
    School day is typically 9am to 3:30pm, teaching hours typically 9:20-12:00, 1:00-3:30.
    Lessons typically in blocks of 30-35 minutes, though most lessons are two blocks.
    School years are:
    optional: under 4: Nursery, 4/5: Reception,
    compulsary: 5/6-10/11 Year 1-Year 6 Primary School, 11/12-15/16: Year7-Year12 Secondary School. 16/17-17/18: Sixth Form. Until last year school leaving age was 16 (end of secondary), it is now 18.
    optional: 18+ University.

    From a look at Wiki it looks like Japanese schools start a year later than UK schools. I started at Nursery School at age 3 !

  • James O’Neill

    I think university admissions in the UK are very different to in Japan. Typically university places are decided before we take any exams and the are awarded based on lots of factors, this means middle class kids and their parents often focus on getting the right selection of extra curricular activities.

    This is one British commedian’s take on what would happen if Harry Potter had to apply for university.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGaovJJ25BM

    Of course the actual exams are still important in order to get in but it’s more about doing well enough rather than striving to score the highest you can, plus universities have no way of distinguishing between lots of kids with all A grades.

    I’m not sure if this is a better system or not. I like that it’s not all about exams but the whole process of picking how you spend your leisure time based on how it’ll help you get into the right uni somehow seems even more distorted.

  • Trọc Tinh Tinh

    In Vietnam, most students – I daresay 3/4 of us – go to cram school. We study in normal school from 7 am to 5 pm, then in cram school from 5.30 pm to 9 pm, then rush back home and finish our homework for tomorrow. Very few of us don’t attend cram school, including me. I used to study there, but it didn’t make me get any smarter at all, so mom decided to let me quit (yay!). It’s not that I hate Vietnamese cram school, but it’s really boring there. I’d rather stay at home, finish my homework and surf the Fugunet. That’s how you should spend your school life, huh?

    P.S: If you don’t go to cram school and you still top the class, they’ll think you’re a genius and start asking for photographs. Oh yeah :D

  • Cory

    Another very informative and excellent article. I probably needed something like this when I was in school. I hated to study, but this would of made me a much more disciplined at my studies.

  • Jonathan Harston

    7am to 9pm? When did you get time to, well, be children?

  • Trọc Tinh Tinh

    That’s the problem. In Vietnamese cram school, their teaching pace is faster than in normal school. For example, in normal school, you’re learning lesson 1, but in cram school, you’ve already learned lesson 3 or more. So back then, I usually sleep in class, because I’ve already learned and mastered it, so I would still be able to do the test without diffculty :/

  • Mangakania

    It’s amazing how very different it is compared to cram school in germany. (๑>◡<๑) In japan it's strange when you NOT attend juku, because everyone goes there. But over here it's strange when you DO attend one, because then you have to be stupid or slow of some kind to not get the stuff right at school.
    And of course the discipline matter is completely different. In our schools you have lessons until 1pm regularly and until 4pm MAX twice the week. Hell lot of free time, isn't it?
    Also, thank all the gods for that, we don't have entrance exams *yay* ( ̄▽ ̄)ノ

    Kinda missed the "bad juku" aspekt of the article. I mean sure, a lot of people go there by free will and have fun, but there are others who are sent there or even coerced. And I think one can mention 'hikikimori' in one breath together, or even suicide because of the pressure to perform.
    I read like a lot about these topics in the net and books (*little japan otaku*) but it would be interesting to hear your point of view about this, Mami. ♪(๑ᴖ◡ᴖ๑)♪
    (Funny language lesson at the end? "Mami" in german means "mommy" (☆^ー^☆) )

  • Guest

    I’m a maths teacher at a cram school in NZ. It’s my part-time job after school (I’m 16, in high school). At our cram school we use the computer lots for activities but working is done in notebooks. Usually students only come 2 hours each week so it’s not as intense as Japan. But the classes have a maximum of 4 students so they have to work hard for the time they come :) Also, it’s expensive because after-school tutoring is not very popular in NZ.

  • Yuki

    Yup! I successfully got into medical school and am in my 4th out of 6 years, all thanks to my “cram school”! Our education system system is also criticized and compared to the American one since its all about rote learning, studying for hours on end for only university (and probably forget everything after!). And we also dont need to have extra curricular activites or work experience or interviews to get into uni like they do in the US and UK. But the good thing is out education. Btw, is the lunch in Japanese schoold free?

  • Koko

    In Turkey it’s much the same system, but ours is called “Dershane”, meaning “house of lessons”. I like the Japanese name more :D Especially the “entrance examination war” really brings an epic-ness to it – We call it “The Horse Race”. I’m not even getting into how cool it is to call someone a “rounin”. I would probably fail the exam just for the privilege of being called that for a year! :D

  • Mami

    Did you!? Yay, we are KUMON companions! :D

  • Mami

    Yokatta❤

  • Mami

    Aha! I’ve never thought of that! lol Kumon is the name of the founder of KUMON, but I like your way ‘Come on’ better❤

  • Mami

    kawaii❤ dare dare??

  • Mami

    Wow…tortoise…it looks difficult to pronounce….

  • Mami

    Schedule is very similar to Japan’s. I guess not-boring cram schools tend to be popular, so Japanese cram school teachers tory not to be boring, but some of them are boring for sure…

  • Mami

    be children…
    I guess recent children play video games or go online to chat with their friends if they get time, so studying may be better???

  • Mami

    You have your friends in your own school, but you can’t usually make friends in other school especially when they go to a couple stations away, so it was just a place to make ‘more’ friends and learn ‘what the other schools were like’. Of course, like Koichi says, your friends from your school may go to the cram school and if you want to hang out with them, you may have to go to the cram school they go to, too.

  • Mami

    actually, the exam is always 3 years away. Of course you prepare for each school exam, too, but we usually study for the high school big entrance exam and the university big entrance exam, so some of the knowledge can be long-term memory.

  • Jonathan Harston

    “とーといす” is very close, with the omitted -u common to Tokyo.

  • Mami

    Dershane(^^) You like the Japanese name more? I pretty like Dershane❤ Aha, you would deliberately fail the exam to be rouin!? It’s funny❤lol

  • Mami

    I’d like to attend your class! It sounds fun!!!

  • Mami

    Wow it’s interesting!!! Thank you for sharing us the difference between Japan and German.
    Mami means mommy too eh? I guess it means mommy in many countries. I feel embarrassed whenever introducing myself. lol

  • Mami

    maybe トーティス とーてぃす is the closest. (I’ve just asked my husband to demonstrate saying it for me!)

  • Mami

    Oh, I forgot to say Arigatou to you! AG!!

  • Mami

    Thank you Cory:) Is cram school not really common in your country?

  • Mami

    Wow, really? Do they point to Japan as an example? You mean, as a good example!? It’s surprising. Not Sweden?? (In Japan, Sweden is pointed to as a good example)

  • Jonathan Harston

    torr – toy – sss
    torr as in tornado
    toy as in plaything
    sss as in soft plural suffix, not zzzz.

    “とーてぃす” to my eye would be torteyiss or tortiss. Maybe the Queen speaks like that.
    If you ever hear somebody shout: Oi! Gerroffa my lawn!! That’s the -oi- bit of tortoise.

  • Jonathan Harston

    They tend to point at Sweden for examples of government-funded schools with no government control (“free schools”) and point at Japan for their exam results (“Japanese six-year-olds do maths better than English 12-year-olds”) (eg http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18057883).

  • Endar

    Cram school may be alright as an optional thing, but if I were forced to go to that, by high school surely I would have been insane.

  • Endar

    But if all time is spent studying, when does one learn about interacting in the world? Or gain friends? Or get closer to their family maybe? It seems like there is such a heavy focus on study with this cram school mentality, but there is so much more to life than studying things. If children can not see that, surely it will hinder them later on… Chatting with friends builds relationships, which will make for a happier life. Playing video games will improve hand & eye coordination, and can be quite thought provoking. So I wouldn’t see those as inferior to studying by any means.

    Those are just some thoughts though. :)

  • Mami

    Many Japanese people suffer from katakori (tense shoulder)…maybe because the intensive juku system from their childhood…?

  • totoro

    I don’t know if there are a lot, and it wasn’t that common! There were a few kids from my school who went to it, but generally only those who aimed to go to private school or those who needed extra help.

    The prizes are a great motivator for children!

  • Mami

    I think rote is sometimes important when you have to remember a lot of kanjis or expression. I took the kumon’s kokugo and the sheets were made to practice kanji or phrases repeatedly, but there were some parts you have to explain what you think or summarize the story by yourself, too. However, there are mechanical things more than those parts like you said because ‘KUMON’ is a studying method and that’s exactly how the method works.

    But, it’s extremely boring and useless once you reached beyond that level. You remember enough knowledge without learning words or phrases over and over again. There are such materials for the level and I reached it because I was doing KUMON for years, but teachers didn’t really understand that level of literature and didn’t really know how to mark it. It was sad and left KUMON because it was no longer useful for me. (It was very useful under the certain level, for sure.)

    Yet, I think being mechanical is sometimes important especially when you are leaning the language itself or such because our brains are a sort of machine (very complexed one, though). I think like that because I learned the memory process recently through an English reading material.

    You want to set the new Japanese words/vocabs/phrases as a long-term memory. How do you do that? Well, of course you have to make your brain think that it’s important.

    The most memorable way is you get some surprise or impact beside the word, but of course it’s not efficient to memorize a lot of words at a time in the way.

    The second memorable and efficient way (BUT BORING) is repeating the word in many ways. (write/say it loud/ read) Then, your brain realize they are important because those word/phrase/vocab show up in your life over and over again. It’s like a song with TV show.

    When you watch a TV show, you don’t really focus on its song at first, but more and more you watch the show, you somehow remember the song because you listen to it and watched the motion video made for the song over and over again.

    If it’s too boring, it won’t last long, so the balance is important, but you sometimes have to be patient when you want to learn something for sure. You have to keep trying. I think finding the best balance between rote-studying and learning interesting things for you is the most important.

  • Mami

    Wow, congratulations!!! (^^)/ Good luck with the rest of your school years!(๑❛ᴗ❛๑)♡

    The lunch in Japanese school is not free. Parents pay for it.

  • Mami

    I see. When I was going there, the best prize was a microscope, if my memory is right. What about you guys??

  • Mami

    Thank you for sharing this:) It’s very interesting. What is D of E by the way?

  • Mami

    I see:) Thank you for explaining it for me❤ It was really easy to understand!

  • Mami

    Yay(^-^) You like puzzling math too!

  • Mami

    (๑❛ᴗ❛๑)♡ You may find it fun someday❤

  • Mami

    Wow! Thank you for explaining such a detail! It’s very helpful.

  • Mami

    They learn it in school, too. School teach you how to deal with people. You can gain friends at school too. You learn responsibility through school activities including cleaning school too. School School School!!!!!! (You know, I’m just trying to be sarcastic.)
    Kids should learn the world outside the school for sure. Many kids believe the school world is the whole world so they sometimes commit suicide when they are bullied just by mare classmates. That’s so sad. They should learn that the world is so vast.

  • Mami

    I see(><)

  • totoro

    A microscope? How cool! I don’t remember exactly, but I don’t think there was anything that big ever available, it used to be things like pens and toys and so on, which was still pretty exciting!

  • Mariana

    I see :)

  • Mariana

    hehe :3

  • Mariana

    無理です。xD

  • Mauro

    Mmmh! Yes I understand…!
    What I tried to express is that maybe students are so focused on the preparation of the exams that they have not time to see what happens in the world, outside their classroom. I think you expressed the same thought in a comment above.
    返事をありがとうございますまみさん!^^

  • Mauro

    It’s like a dog biting its tail ! XD

  • Mami

    ゚+.(◕ฺ ω◕ฺ )゚+.

  • Mami

    Mauroさん、コメントをありがとう(^^) Yeah, the cram school opportunity widen our world a little bit more by knowing more people from different places, though we still had to focus on studying. I agree with your opinion that children should know what are happening in the world.

  • Mami

    I personally like watching a dog biting its tail. so cute❤

  • Mami

    but it’s true that you will eventually forget a lot, if you don’t utilize the knowledge you have. For example, I’ve studied English over 10 years in school but couldn’t speak it at all when I met my husband. I’m pretty sure I knew more english before me taking the big university entrance examination. I would have be able to speak more if I met him at the time…
    In university, my major was business and i took some english courses too but i less studied and forgot more and more…such a shame…sigh

  • Mami

    I see!!

  • Mami

    lol

  • Mami

    Oh, I see゚+.(◕ฺ ω◕ฺ )゚+.

  • James O’Neill

    Duke of Edinburgh Award. It’s a scheme designed to encourage team skills, volunteering, participation in sports, etc.

    I never did it myself so I don’t have first hand experience but it’s something that lots of kids will do because they think it will look good on a university application.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Edinburgh's_Award

  • Cory

    I swear I’ve seen Kumon commercials on tv before. Not 100% sure if the US has many because I’ve never really looked into it. Some other Tofugu reader probably has a better idea than I do.

  • Mauro

    ahah indeed! ;D

  • Hideki

    Mami-san, thank you very much for your explanation!

    I don’t know about Japan or other countries, but from my experience and from conversations with teachers and Kumon franchise owners in Brazil, those who work as instructors not necessarily have a background in education and their experience in motivating students and working with them in devising approaches for a better learning is sometimes limited. Everyone receive basic training in following the answer guides and giving feedback, but it’s not uncommon to have students who knows more than the assistants, and when this happens, the latter doesn’t really know how to explain the finer points of grammar, wording and differences in nuance. “Oh, just keep going, doing your best, aiming for 100 and you’ll eventually get it”.

    And I think this is something that deserves attention, regardless of subject (Japanese, English, math et cetera). Cramming and rote memorization are important to give students a basic foundation and framework, but if what was taught isn’t put into context or made meaningful, everyone one time or another will suffer from burnout. Exams and scores shouldn’t be the ultimate objective, since “learning to learn and apply it to one’s living” is an ability that everyone needs to develop. It’s not about how much, but how you study.

    Just my couple of cents about education. I’m sorry for the long comments/walls of text and I don’t mean to sound bossy or like a smartass!

  • lychalis

    I wasn’t aware Kumon was a Japanese cram school x3 we have a bunch of ‘em over in England – hell, there was one right by my school, but it’s more like after-school tutoring here – often for kids in primary school or doing their GCSE’s. Pretty cool to know that :D

  • DarksStars

    I had no idea Kumon was an japanese thing! I have seen the logo with that face quite often when I bus to Montreal, for there is a school like that near the bus station. Now I’ll think of this article next time I go there

  • Endar

    Maybe there should be massages offered after classes..? :D

  • Vicky

    Canadian, just wanted to chime in KUON is everywhere around me.
    And also to say I know cram schools are less common here but I would have loved to go as a kid. I struggled with math since youth and it only got harder and harder every year to the point I was getting pity-passed with 50% grades just because the teachers knew I was trying LOL

  • Mescale

    So how do you explain the Ninja Turtles? They didn’t have flippers! And I think Michelangelo’s legs were particularly nice as well.

  • Mami

    (๑❛ᴗ❛๑)♡Ah…sounds so good!

  • Mami

    No! You don’t sound like so at all. and I’m sorry if I sounded like so(><)
    And I really understand what you mean too! That's exactly why I left Kumon. The teachers are supposed to be just women who aren't educated in teaching(not everyone, I guess. but most of them). The Kumon system was made for self-studying so it's okay until certain level, I guess, but it's not enough when you reach certain point.That's a little shame, isn't it? (TT)

  • SpicedWolf

    In North America it’s usually pronounces “Tortiss” not “Tortoys”

  • dovorobuchin

    That’s Suou, Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club. (⌒▽⌒)

    P.S. OMGSSS I Thought someone was playing with Koichi’s cross-dressing アハハハ

  • The JET person

    I went to an American highschool, pretty rigorous program, a lot of studying until 11 or 12 at night for AP classes, etc, and I also worked fairly hard in college. But In general, I like school. I am pretty much a self professed nerd. Still, I kind of shudder at jyuku and I don’t think I’d want my own kids to go through this! As much as I love learning and classes, I can’t imagine who I would be today, if I didn’t have the time during middle and highschool to goof around making movies with friends, help with theater productions, mess around with photoshoots and making art with friends, go do volunteer stuff, write stories, go wander and explore my interests outside of school hours. What I studied during college and what I want to do with my life was greatly affected by the exploring I did during middle and highschool (ie, I became fascinated with the movie making I did with friends in highschool, and ended up studying film in college).

    I have heard from Japanese people that they liked cram school as well, and I keep thinking, “That’s because you never had a proper chance to live a little and do your own stuff during middle and highschool, and to really hang out with your friends in a non-school setting.” I guess college, the spring break of life or whatever (as mentioned in the other articles) is when all this happens? Reading the article, I can see why people would want to/have to go to jyuku… I guess… but I’m really glad I didn’t have to do it. I also don’t envy the way people work in Japan. (I am currently working in an office in Japan and I am pretty sure I will be going back to the US, once my contract ends.)

    Also, on a slightly related tangent — OK, this is not official at all, because I have only talked to a few Japanese college students and listened to a few college experiences in Japan. But I feel like people have a delayed adolescence. One woman was talking about how she had a huge crush on a singer during college and was basically quite convinced she was going to marry him. “That sounds like a highschool thing. Don’t people get beyond that by college?” I remember thinking to myself. Well, it’s not a very big sampling of people.

  • De Men

    I am Vietnamese too. I do not agree with you. The situation you said that is in some cities but in the countryside is not like that. Moreover, normally we only have half-day at school except gifted schools (for junior and senior high school), and full-day for elementary school (7:30 am to 4:30 pm). Right! in Vietnam we have “cram school” but most of them are opened by our teachers. They offer us join in their classes after school or we would get not good scores in class. In Vietnam, i think, school call “shadow education”! However I think the most popular cram school is in Korea. Second is Japan, and third is Taiwan…Vietnam, may be fourth !!!! :)))