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Divided Japanese and Education Divided

1. Purpose

I examined the relation between family backgrounds - such as parental occupations and academic careers and mother's educational expectation, educational choice, daily relationship to the children and their study.

Japan is now on the edge of becoming a class society.

Until recently, almost all Japanese believed that there was only one class and opportunities were meritocratically distributed. Or at least, they wanted to believe so. With regard to schools, Japanese educational system had been believed to be meritocratic. *Due to this reason, it used to be a taboo to conduct research on social classes in Japan. For instance, many schools would refuse questionnaire research which contained questions concerning students' family backgrounds. However, with changes in the economic and social conditions and the emergence of winners and losers, we Japanese have gradually come to realise and admit that we are indeed divided.

In the case of education, as academic standards declined and the number of children refusing to go to schools (i.e. school phobia) increased in state schools, the myth that "state schools are good and worth going" has come to a finish. The myth of "equality of opportunity" has also become questionable. As the new policy allowing parental choice in the selection of schools for their children has just started only in a few restricted areas, while Japanese children with good family background can afford and choose to go to good private schools, their poorer peers have no choice but to attend local state schools even if they want good education.

Nowadays, rich parents and well-educated parents have become sceptical about the legitimacy, relevancy and effectiveness of state schools. They now prefer private schools to state schools. Private schools, especially private junior high schools in Japan, pride themselves on their academic excellence and good discipline. On the other hand, state schools, which are losing their well-disciplined and academic-oriented Middle Class students, became disreputable.

What is important here is that parents and children are not only sceptical about state schools but are also sceptical about formal schools! Middle Class families are aware of the usefulness of their children's schooling but make much of Juku (cram schools) rather than formal schools. For example, after successfully being admitted to a competitive private junior high school or private high school, many Middle Class families would send their children to Juku, once or twice and sometimes even three times a week in the evening. As Juku usually lasts two or three hours in a session, these children would be so tired that they normally fall asleep during boring day lessons. According to my son who is a student of a very competitive and snob private school, there are times when only 10% of the students in his class are awake, 80% asleep and the other 10% away.

Similarly, Working Class families do not expect much benefit from attending state schools or attaining 'academic' qualifications.

We can thus say to some extent that both Middle Class and Working Class families are trying to find 'benefits' outside the schools. While there are indeed many 'benefits' (or opportunities) outside the schools, Middle Class families tend to be at an advantage in giving good education to their children.

Japan is now on the edge of falling into a class society and schools are increasingly becoming the apparatus for social reproduction.

2. About Our Research

This report reanalyses a questionnaire that was distributed in September 2002 to 6,085 parents of children in the first through ninth grades within the Tokyo metropolitan area. The research is called The Third Basic Survey on Child Rearing and I was one of the research team members. The Benesse Advanced Education Research Centre, Tokyo-Japan, who conducted the research, published the original report, which was unfortunately written in Japanese, in April 2003.

3. Methodology

Survey Topics:
1. Child rearing in families with children in the first through ninth grades and mothers' awareness of discipline and education.
2. Information sources and concerns regarding child rearing, norms, and the enjoyment of raising children.
3. Views on disciplining and educating children (e.g. in cultivating daily habits and independence).
4. Roles of parents and teachers in disciplining and educating children.
5. Awareness regarding scholastic ability studies and lessons.
6. Views and expectations regarding the child's future, higher education, and junior high school entrance exams.
Survey Period: September 2002
Subjects: Parents of children in the first through ninth grades (6-15)
Survey Regions: Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa
Survey Method: Distribution of questionnaires at schools
Sample: Number distributed: 9,038 (in 24 schools). Responses: 6,085(67.3%).
Sample analysed today: 695 ( "Middle Class" and "Working Class" mothers of 5th and 6th grades)

4. Definition and our sample

Although the survey originally covered parents (mothers) who have children in the first through ninth grades, the focus of this paper will be on "Middle Class" and "Working Class" mothers of children in the fifth and sixth grades.

In this paper, "Middle Class" (MC) mothers refer to wives whose partners are graduates of higher education institutions (Universities or Junior Colleges) and are white-collar workers. "Working Class" (WC) mothers refer to wives whose partners do not possess higher education qualifications and are non white-collar workers. Table 1 shows the distribution of MC and WC mothers with children in the first through ninth grades.

Table 1. Father Job & Father Education (FaEd&Job)
white-collar jobs: Professional, Company director, Lecturer/Teacher, Factory supervisor/Line Managers
non-white-collar jobs: Agriculturist, Owner of small businesses, Services/Sales worker, Skilled worker, Semi-skilled worker/Unskilled worker
other jobs: Homemaker, Retired/Unemployed, Others


However, there exists an "age lag" in obtaining white-collar jobs. Table 2 shows that the percentages of WC mothers with primary school children and junior high school children are 38.7% and 33.5% respectively. It is thus estimated that approximately 5% of the fathers were promoted from non-white-collar to white collar jobs.
Table 2. Social Class and children's school

*Grade of one sample is unknown.

In order to avoid age bias, only mothers of children in Year 5 and 6 were selected. The reason for this is that while nearly all children in Japan go to state primary schools, a third of junior high school students, which starts from Year 7, are private in the inner Metropolitan area. Thus, parental opinion is expected to be strongest and clearest at Year 5 and Year 6. Based on this, 695 mothers were finally selected (279 WC mothers and 416 MC mothers) (see Table 3).

Table 3. Children's Grade and Our sample

5. Social and family difference between "Middle Class" mothers and "Working Class" mothers (Basic Attributes)

1. Mother's working status
28.3% of WC mothers are housewives and 67.3% are part-timers or full-time workers, whereas 44.3% of MC mothers are housewives and 53.4% are part-timers or full-time workers (see Table 4).
Table 4. Mother's working status

2. Family circumstances
Family circumstances are different between WC families and MC families (see Table 5). Parents and children of MC families are likely to use PC at home than those of WC families. Having a lot of books, taking one's child out to Museums or out for outdoor activities and nature-based experiences can be a merkmal of cultural capital. Table 5 shows that MC mothers score higher in this respect than WC mothers do. Last but not least, 71.4% of MC mothers are graduates of higher education institutions but only 14.7% of WC mothers are.
Table 5. Family circumstances

Figure shows % of mothers answering "Yes"
*1: % of mothers answering "Often" and "sometimes"


6. Concern and Consciousness

1. Current concerns
WC mothers are more concerned with 'Doing homework' and 'School life' than MC mothers. On the other hand, MC mothers show more concerns toward 'Future educational plans' and 'Preparation for entrance exams', indicating that MC mothers are more interested in their children's academic qualifications than WC mothers (see Table 6).
Table 6. Current concerns on child rearing

*Figures shows % of mothers answering "yes"


2. Parents' educational policy
Table 7 looks at parents' educational policy. Again, there is a big difference here. In comparison with WC families, MC families tend to finance children's education, keep up with what others are doing for their children's education and think that their children should take lessons after school or go to cram school.
Table 7. Parents' educational policy

Figure shows % of mothers answering "very much" and "somewhat"


3. Views on academic performance
There are great differences among mothers' views on academic performance. Traditionally, we Japanese have wanted to make rapid advances to compete with the world, and in order to do so we made much of academic qualification rather than ability.

Now, 70.0% of WC mothers think that they are "satisfied with children's academic performance if it is good enough to lead a normal life in the future" and about half of them "Do not care about child's academic performance if she/he enjoys school" . However, about half of them think that "Vocational qualification is more beneficial than academic career" . In a word, compared with MC mothers, WC mothers tend to attach more importance to vocational qualifications than academic qualifications.

On the contrary, MC mothers tend to answer that academic performance "Should be as good as possible to enter competitive university" "It is essential to go to cram school for entering good school" and that they "want to know their child's weak point in learning" . Compared with WC mothers, MC mothers make much of academic qualifications and want to look after their children's learning.

Table 8 How mothers view academic performance

% of mothers answering "yes"


3. The highest level of education expected
As Table 9 shows, three quarters of MC mothers expect their children to go to University or Graduate School (73.3%), but only 34.9% of WC mothers expect so. Instead, about 40% of WC mothers expect their children to finish school at senior high school or Vocational School.

In Japan, recurrent education is not so popular and academic qualification is an important determinant of job career. Therefore, the future of a child is strongly influenced by family background.
Table 9. The highest level of education expected


4. Private Junior High School
Private schools pride themselves on excellent standard, remarkable University entrance exam results and good discipline. (See Table 10)

Many private schools have 6-year courses (Year 7 to Year 12) so that their students do not need to take senior high school entrance exam. This is also one of the reasons why private schools can educate their students more effectively. Students in the state sector do not have to take junior high school entrance exam, but they must sit for senior high school entrance exam.
Table 10. Plan to take private junior high school entrance exam

About 30% of MC mothers plan to let their children go to private junior high school and about 15% have not yet decided.

Conversely, only 9% of WC mothers plan to let their children take private junior high School entrance exam, 9% of them have not yet decided and about 80% do not plan to let their children sit for exam.

To prepare for private junior high school entrance exam, children must start to study hard from the end of Year 3. At year 6, they usually have to study four times a week at cram schools. These cram schools open after day schools (formal schools) and normally last three to four hours until 9pm each day. However, what is important here is that children like cram schools more than formal schools because learning at cram schools is more interesting and exciting. For them, learning at day schools is boring, and the standard and discipline there are also miserable.

7. Actual child rearing

1. Mother's encouragement to study
About 80% of both WC mothers and MC mothers say 'Do study' often or sometimes. Also, more than 80% of both WC mothers and MC mothers "teach my child what she/he cannot understand" and "check the exam result." Without regard to family background, Japanese mothers help out with their children's study. They are really "Education-bent mothers" .
Table 11. Mother's encouragement to study

Figure shows % of mothers answering "Often" and "sometimes"


2. Mother's frequent interactions with children
Almost all of both WC and MC mothers "Talk about teachers and friends" , "Go out with children" , "Have meals with whole family" , "Talk about daily things happen at school" and "Take part in school events." Again, without regard to family background, Japanese mothers are likely to interact with their children. They are really "devoted child-loving mothers" .

However, concerning future educational plans, MC mothers talk to their children more than WC mothers. WC mothers, like MC mothers, are interested in everyday child rearing but less interested in their children's future educational plan.
Table 12. Mother's frequent interactions with children

*Figure shows % of mothers answering "Often" or "Sometimes" out of (Often, Sometimes, Rarely Never)


8. Student performance

1. Juku (cram school) and private lesson
Children of MC families have higher rate of experience of Juku or private lesson than children of WC families. Although the rate of experience are high in both groups, in the case of MC children, the percentage is as high as 99% (Table 13).

The types of experience differ greatly between WC and MC children. Compared with the children of WC, MC children have experienced more in 'Swimming schools', 'Ballet and rhythmic classes', 'Music instruments', 'Music classes', 'Language classes and private lessons', 'Preparatory Juku (cram schools)', 'Infant classes and playrooms not for entrance exams', and 'Correspondence education'. As compared to WC mothers, the mothers of MC tend to invest more in helping their children cultivate aesthetic sensitivity, train their body, and excel in academic education, etc.
Table 13. % of Experience: Juku(cram school) and Private lessons


2. Monthly average education expense
57% of WC families spend an average of ¥10,000 or less a month on education. On the other hand, 41.4% of MC families pay more than ¥20,000.
Table 14. Monthly average education expenses


3. Study days per week
In Japan, it has become a social problem that children do not study. In our investigation, 22.6% of WC children answered that they do not study at all at home and the percentage of those who study four days or more per week is no more than 43%. On the other hand, the percentage of MC children who do not study at all is 10.3%, and those who study four days or more reached 62.9%. It can be said that the difference in terms of study days between both classes is large.
Table 15. Study days per week


4. Study hours per day
Table 16 shows the study hours per day. 17.2% of WC children do not study at home while 40.8% of them study about 30 minutes and only 36.9% study 1 hour or more. On the other hand, 55.6% of MC children study 1 hour or more. The children of MC families study more hours and more days than the children of WC families.
Table 16. Study hours per day


9. Discussion

Schools in Japan have not been successful in responding to rapid social changes, such as short-sighted capitalism, diversification of the society, and the rise of consumerism, etc.

Having lost the traditional functions of socialisation and social distribution, schools have become ineffective in controlling social mobility.

Both Working Class and Middle Class families equally treasure education and they actually care a lot regarding their children's education. (Table 11,12) While both Working Class and Middle Class families do not fully rely on schools, the reasons behind this are quite different. For Working Class families, schools seem to be offering too much, whereas for the Middle Class families, schools just seem not to be sufficient. Working Class families hold vocational qualifications, which cannot be acquired through formal education, in high esteem. On the other hand, Middle Class families still value "academic qualifications (school career)" . (Table7, 8, 9,10)

These differences among parents in educational consciousness and educational behaviour create inequality in education and cause Japanese education as well as the Japanese to be divided. (Table 13, 14, 15, 16)
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