Monday, June 08, 2009

Trying to sort the system out

As some of you may remember my son began school this year. He liked his teacher and although his class was (still is) a bit out of control he really enjoys his time there and has made some great friends. On May 7th the teacher came to our house for her annual visit and then on May 8th she was absent from school (hopefully there was no relation!). From that day onwards we have been getting weekly letters from the principal saying that due to illness the teacher will be away for another week..... Unfortunately in Japan they do not have a relieving teacher system so the vice principal did his best to teach the class while also juggling his other duties. Then on Friday we were informed that the teacher would need 3 months bed rest and therefore wouldn't be returning till the second term. They had somehow found a replacement for her and she had already started teaching the class. We were all summoned to school at 7pm tonight to meet her.
What I find really confusing about the Japanese teaching system is their qualifications for teachers. As far as I can work out there are two kinds of teachers - those who are fully qualified and those who are not... To become fully qualified as a primary school teacher you seem to have to have a university degree with a major in education (although this seems to vary a bit too) and then pass two different tests. The first is a written test set by the prefecture you are applying to that people spend months and months and months studying for and that has very little to do with teaching, classroom management etc. and a lot to do with your ability to retain useless facts. If you live in Oita prefecture and took the test in the past few years you could also pass by slipping a few hundred thousand yen worth of vouchers to the markers to increase your chances, but that practice seems to have been stamped out for now! The second is a "demonstration lesson" test with an interview where the applicants are expected to do a demonstration lesson in front of the examiners. Problem... there are no actual children in the classroom but the prospective teachers have to pretend there are and therefore ask them questions, pretend to hear their answers and then respond etc. Why they don't get them to do it in an actual classroom I have no idea... but I digress! The thing I have trouble with is that approximately 30% (a figure I was told yesterday and cannot vouch for the accuracy of) of all teachers have not actually passed the tests fully, but are employed by the schools as "instructors". Their duties are the same as a regular teacher in that they are in full control of a class all day every day, but they have no actual responsibilities beyond that and if anything goes wrong they can't actually be held liable for it. My daughter's teacher is one of these teachers. Now my son's teacher is also the same.... I'm not saying that they are bad teachers - in many cases they are actually better than a lot of the stupid teachers who have passed the tests. I just don't understand how they can be teachers full time without having passed the tests. I guess I should be grateful that my son actually has a teacher at all (my daughter had "self study" all day Friday as the teacher was away for the day... a class of 8 year olds, a whole day with no teacher... fun!) but sometimes it makes me question the equity of education that children get here. Not that any Japanese parents would question it.....


  1. And if you don't pass the test you can teach at a private school no problem, too. Weird, huh? I went to a University of Education here for a year and it was an eye opener- no student teaching until 3rd year and even then it's all very staged and involves reams of paperwork on your philosophy and reason for doing what you're doing and seemingly little priority on the actual lesson. Agghhhh.

    The uni is not enough/ exam system exists in lots of areas here. There was a famous ex-homeless/ street/ gang girl in Osaka who took the law exam and passed despite never going to Uni. She's now practising. Weird....

    And what on earth did you feed the poor teacher? ;P

  2. it endlessly confuses me, too. not really looking forward to sending my children to public school in japan, but as i don't really have a choice *sigh* i guess we'll just have to make the best of it.

    is the teacher pregnant?

  3. First time commenting but the way Japanese schools are run really makes my blood boil sometimes... I hate the thought of sending my future kids to schools over here. I mean, I'm not saying everything is bad but when I hear stories like this I worry a little!