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Schoolteachers in Japan

1. Research Outline
2.  Teachers' Training at College
3. Trends in Teachers' Training and Certification System
4. Recruitment of Schoolteachers
5. Situation of Teachers' Recruitment and Their Breakdown
6. Labor Conditions of Schoolteachers
Teachers' Status
Teachers' Working Hours
7. Issues Surrounding Schoolteachers
8.  Various Trainings
9. Viewpoints on Students who want to become Schoolteachers

1. Research Outline

Qualitative and quantitative improvement of schoolteachers is essential for the development of school education. Therefore it is always an important issue in any era to train teachers with good talent and ability, and to arrange an environment and working conditions so that they can fully make use of their competence.

Schoolteachers in Japan, those in public schools in particular, must conduct the majority of their educational activities in the framework of school education system.1 Teaching is limited to the scope of the course for study and teachers have to use textbooks authorized by the Ministry of Education and Science. They have to teach designated subjects for designated number of classes. Therefore it is difficult for them to show their individuality under the present system. However, this is very important in order to observe the basic principle of "equality in educational opportunity," which is a base of Japanese educational system. In Japan all children have the right to receive an education (six years of elementary school and three years of lower secondary school). Wherever children live in Japan, they are guaranteed the same level of education (equality in educational opportunity). In line with this equality principle, the importance of education is recognized compliant with the designated curricula. In a uniform style of education so far, however, it is difficult to bring up human resources in the 21st century and various types of educational reform are being called for. Schoolteachers are also required to change their teaching style to make appropriate directions to an individual child instead of the conventional uniform education. This is the reform of school educational concept itself. With such a viewpoint included, we will be able to find out features of schoolteachers in Japan, and eventually features of Japanese educational system.

One of our main investigational activities is a quantitative survey titled, "Japanese University Students' Perceptions of Teachers" (July to October 2000). We also conducted the same survey on students at non-teacher-training colleges for comparison. In addition the study team sent out individual questionnaires to, and held discussions by, college students who want to become teachers. Individual questionnaires were also sent to those who had had schoolteacher's experience. We learned the things which they had not known before they became teachers. The survey also pays due attention to their recommendations to the students who want to become teachers.

In the following chapters I would like to make a brief statement on schoolteachers in Japan, including their training, salaries and present issues.

2. Teachers' Training at College

The origin of schoolteachers' training in Japan goes back to 1872, when a normal school was established in Tokyo. Normal schools that were made in each prefecture provided a secondary level education and the students were being given salaries. Before the World War II elementary schoolteachers were trained at normal school while secondary schoolteachers were trained at upper normal school. After the war ended, however, the teachers' training system so far was abolished and a new training system for schoolteachers was established, in which teachers' training is open to four-year colleges, including both ordinary colleges2 and teacher-training colleges with their own unique characteristics (the so-called "Open Principle"). Most of the national, public and private colleges in Japan have a teacher-training course and one can get a teachers' certificate once he or she acquires a certain number of credits designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology at college with a teacher-training course. Each prefecture has a national university and most of those post-war national universities with a teacher-training course descend from former normal schools.

In 1998 about 130,000 people (on the actual base) acquired a teacher's certificate after graduating from college and 13.5% of them became schoolteachers. Once a teacher's certificate is obtained, there is no need for renewal.

3. Trends in Teachers' Training and Certification System

Various reforms have been made in Japanese teachers' training and certification system in a changing social environment. For instance, in order to ensure teachers' expertise, an advanced certificate system was introduced in 1988 for every type of school, which is equivalent to the completion of a master's course. The criteria of a teacher's certificate was also upgraded (increase in the number of credits necessary to obtain a certificate) and a part-time teacher system was introduced, enabling schools to employ members of the community.

In 1998, schoolteachers' training curriculum was improved at colleges in order to train teachers who can appropriately cope with various school educational issues with practical teaching skills, having a sense of mission, areas of strength and unique personalities. This was in response to various school educational issues such as problematic behaviors including bullying and non-attendance at school, as well as to realize an educational system to enhance children's personalities and cope with social changes. Specifically in order to cope with those problems such as bullying and non-attendance at school, educational consultation like student guidance and counseling were strengthened and the period of teaching practice was extended from two weeks to four weeks at the lower secondary schools with many educational issues in relation to student guidance. That is to say, through this change of a certification system, the conventional theory-oriented teachers' training course shifted to the more concrete and practical training scheme.

The new curriculum has been applied to the students who entered college in the school year of 2000. The new system requires students to get a larger number of credits than before, in order to acquire a teacher's certificate. Ordinary college students do not have to acquire a teacher's certificate to graduate. Therefore it is expected that students at ordinary college will find it more difficult to get a teacher's certificate and the 'Open Principle' will become an issue.

4. Recruitment of Schoolteachers

Teachers at public schools are recruited once a year by screening. Those who have passed the screening test can become schoolteachers.

Teachers' recruitment tests are highly competitive; only one out of 12.3 people can pass the test (the ratio of successful applicants to total applicants is 12 at elementary school, 15.9 at lower secondary school and 11.9 at upper secondary school). This is partly because the number of new recruitment is down and there is an increasing number of people who want to become schoolteachers, which is regarded as a stable occupation in bad economies. Not only new graduates but also many of those who have already graduated from college also take the screening test. So new graduates account for only about 30% out of those who have been employed (school year of 1998).

The screening process includes diverse testing methods such as a written examination (general knowledge on teaching3 and non-teaching matters4, professional knowledge5, and essays, etc.), an interview, a test on practical skills, a test of physical strength and an aptitude test. In order to see a sense of mission and practical teaching skills as an educator, the screening process put a higher priority on interviews and tests on practical skills in addition to written examinations. Club activities and social volunteer activities are also highly evaluated. Thus the screening process is now putting a higher emphasis on personal characteristics.

5. Situation of Teachers' Recruitment and Their Breakdown

Recently the number of newly recruited teachers is drastically declining as the school consolidation goes on and the number of classes is reduced since the number of students is getting smaller. Recruitment of teachers at public schools for the year of 1998 is less than the previous year: the number is down by 15.4% (698 people), 27.3% (1165 people), and 7.0% (238 people) at elementary, lower and upper secondary schools respectively.

Since the number of new recruits is down, the total number of teachers in 1999 is decreasing by 4183, 4516, and 2091 at elementary, lower and upper secondary schools respectively. Schoolteachers' aging is also going on due to the reappointment system of retired teachers introduced from the year 2001 and the average age of teachers is getting higher accordingly year by year. As was mentioned in "Trends in teachers' training and certification system," teachers' training in Japan is changing with the requirement of the times. The number of new recruits who have learned the current required skills and have acquired a teacher's certificate is decreasing year by year. The majority of teachers who are working today have acquired their teacher's certificates under the old system. Therefore it is difficult to realize the school education that matches the current needs.

Female teachers account for 62.3%, 40.6%, and 25.2% at elementary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools respectively and the ratio is going up every year. There is no difference between male and female in terms of certificates and salaries, etc. by law, guaranteeing the equal rights for both sexes.

6. Labor Conditions of Schoolteachers

Teachers' salaries at public schools are decided based on "The Law Concerning Salaries of Staff of the Administrative Grade" by each prefecture. This is because it is considered necessary to guarantee national-level salaries of schoolteachers in order to secure equality in educational opportunities. It is not that salaries of public officials are much higher than those in private companies, but it will be fair to say that teachers are getting standard level of salaries under stable conditions.

Teachers' Status
In the post-war laws and regulations, schoolteachers are stipulated as "public servants of the whole community." Teachers at public school are guaranteed for their status as local government employees as well as educational public officials for their occupational specialties (Article 2 of the Special Law on Educational Public Officials). According to Articles 75 and 90 of the Government Officials Act and Articles 27 and 90 of the Local Government Employees Act, all the public officials are guaranteed their status and they are not demoted, dismissed, given leaves and punished against their will without specific reasons provided by laws.

Disciplinary actions (dismissal, suspension, reduction of salaries and warning) shall be taken against schoolteachers when 1) they violate provisions stipulated by laws and ordinances, 2) they violate their occupational obligations or neglect their job responsibilities, and/or 3) there is delinquency not appropriate to "public servants of the whole community." However, there are very few cases of dismissal (54 in 1998) and their status is guaranteed unless they commit an illegal act. However, there have been cases of dismissal these days due to their lack of guidance skills. Teachers may be fired in case that they are judged as lacking teaching aptitude such as guidance skills.6

Teachers' Working Hours
Working hours of teachers at public schools are 8 hours a day and within 48 hours a week based on the Labor Standard Law. However, following the working hours of teachers at national schools, many public schoolteachers have a 44-hour week system. In practice, though, many teachers have to do a great amount of work. They work not only within their working hours and share some of their school duties, but also supervise extra-curricular activities, prepare teaching drafts and get ready for their classes at home.

7. Issues Surrounding Schoolteachers

Recently problems such as bullying, non-attendance at school and classroom collapse are becoming social issues. As a result there is an increasing number of teachers who take leave or resign due to their mental disorder, working at school with such various issues. In 1998, out of those who took sick leave, almost 40% did so for mental disorder.7 There are various reasons such as too much work, interpersonal relationship with colleagues, teaching problems, relationship with parents, and so on. It is inevitable due to their occupational features that they have some stress, but it is desirable for teachers getting in touch with children to be able to work in a stable mental condition. Therefore how to make a working environment easy to work is also one of the current issues on school education.

8. Various Trainings

Schoolteachers in Japan have to make continuous efforts in their research activities and improving themselves in order to execute their unique job responsibilities as educational public officials (Article 19 of the Special Law on Educational Public Officials). Therefore after being newly employed, they have to receive a variety of training. There are various training programs with different objectives including one-year's induction training for all newly-employed teachers, training by special fields, and training by job grades and years of experience.

Induction training has both in-house and off-site programs. New teachers are given instructions or advice by instructing teachers about twice a week in training courses at school. Out-of-school training includes academic teaching, student guidance, services and IT education reflecting the current needs, and so on. Some prefectures arrange volunteer activities and visits to private companies.
Recently Sabbatical leaves started to be introduced and more and more long-term training programs at graduate schools are being conducted. Since teachers are required to be able to cope with various problems, training these days includes visits to other types of school, on-site training at private companies, such as department stores, and training at social educational and/or welfare facilities.

9. Viewpoints on Students who want to become Schoolteachers

As the social situations change, school education in Japan has various issues. To train teachers who can cope with those problems is one of the most important challenges from now on. Reform of teachers' training and certification system is exactly reflecting such current needs. What is required to school education differs from one another among the state, children and parents. Nowadays what was good until yesterday may become a center of criticism today. In such an environment teachers must have their own educational values and should take appropriate actions as required.

The students who want to become schoolteachers, the target group of this survey, will be working at school with heaps of issues in the near future. It would be a very effective clue to know what kind of image they have on the present teachers and what kind of teachers they like to become in order to think about the desirable school education in the 21st century.


All data used in the text and figures are quoted from Heisei 10 nendo gakko kyoin tokei hokokusho (Statistical Survey on Schoolteachers of FY 1998) by the Ministry of Education, 1999.

Gakusei hyakunenshi (The Past One Hundred Years of the Japanese Educational System). Ministry of Education, 1981.

Wagakuni no bunkyo seisaku heisei 12 nendo (Japanese Government Policies in Education, Science, Sports, and Culture of FY2000). Ministry of Education, 2000.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology web site:

Saishin kyoiku ki-wa-do 137 dai 8 han (The Newest Educational Keywords 137 Eighth Edition). Compiled by Egawa Binsei and others. Jiji tsushin Press, 1999.

Kyoiku de-ta bukku 2000-2001 (Educational Data Book 2000-2001). Compiled by Kazuhiko Shimizu and others. Jiji tsushin Press, 2000.

Shin gakko kyoshoku zenshu 26 Kyoshokuin (Complete Works of New School Education Volume No. 26 Schoolteachers). Compiled by Jun Nagaoka and Toshiyuki Mizukoshi. Gyosei, 1995.

Shin gakko kyoshoku zenshu 27 Kyoshokuin no kenshu (Complete Works of New School Education Volume No. 27 Teacher Training). Compiled by Jun Nagaoka and Toshiyuki Mizukoshi. Gyosei, 1995.


1 The basic principle of school education system in Japan is laid out in the Constitution of Japan and the Fundamental Law of Education, and is materialized in the School Education Law.

2 In this report, colleges other than teacher-training colleges are called ordinary colleges.

3 Educational theory, educational psychology, educational history and educational laws, etc.

4 Japanese language, mathematics, science, economics, law, current topics, etc.

5 All subjects at elementary school and special subjects of examinees at lower and upper secondary school

6 At present a bill calling for a partial revision of "The Law Concerning the Organization and Management of Local Educational Administration" has been submitted in the 151st Diet session. When the bill passes the Diet, boards of education in each prefecture can dismiss teachers for not having enough guidance skills.

7 4,352 people took sick leave in 1998, out of whom 1,707 for mental disorder.

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