|National Profiles in Technical and Vocational Education in Asia and the Pacific - Japan (ACEID, 1995, 40 p.)|
|Part II: Historical and Current Perspectives of General Education|
Japans educational system was reformed in the aftermath of the Second World War and great improvements were made in the quantity and quality of education. Japan is internationally known for its high level of education, and this is widely recognized as being the force behind the countrys dramatic economic progress.
Quantitative expansion, however, has brought a variety of strains and with the dawn of the 1980s there has been a steady stream of criticism directed at the educational system. In response, the government is implementing a new educational reform to prepare for the 21st century.
Modern education in Japan began in 1872, based on European and U.S. models. The government directed its efforts toward broadening the availability of elementary education, and in 1920 enrolment reached 99 per cent, similar to the levels in the advanced West. Secondary and tertiary education were also expanded based on a policy of developing human resources to meet the objectives of the state. It may well be said that education was one of the major factors in Japans success in establishing a modern state in such a short period.
The foundations on which Japans education system developed were first laid around the beginning of the 17th century. The system was a dual one with separate schools for the governing samurai and for commoners, but some scholars claim that by the Meiji Restoration of 1868, levels of school enrolment and literacy were as high as those prevailing in England or France.
The postwar reforms were aimed at democratization and took the U.S. system as their model. Under the new system rapid progress was made in improving educational standards. In 1987, no fewer than 94 per cent of students completing the nine years of compulsory education went on to high school and 36 per cent of all 18-year-olds were attending university or junior college. These figures stand among the highest in the world.
This rapid quantitative expansion, however, has given birth to a variety of strains, and in an effort to overcome them, Japan is currently engaged in a reform of education with a long-term view toward the 21st century.
The Japanese people are well known for the high value they place on education, and they have always taken great interest in this subject. For centuries, under the influences of Confucianism and Buddhism, people tried through education to realize the moral and ethical virtues of diligence, industry and harmony. Since its 17th century beginnings, education has opened the way for people of ability to move into high positions without regard to their parents status or position.
In the wake of the post-World War II reforms and the resultant democratization, the passion for education has been further intensified. The career path by which one enters a first-rate school as a prelude to joining an elite corporation has become an important measure of the individuals value system.
The reform in education that is now under way is based upon a re-examination of the present system with its excessive attention to academic background.