What, I often wonder, are juku for? A huge number of students attend these after-school cram schools, often several times a week and often for several hours. They study there but I’m not sure I get why. Mothers of students and indeed students themselves have told me it is to help them get better scores at school, and that sounds reasonable until you start to wonder why so many students need help to get better scores. If the schools are doing their duty and educating, surely there isn’t the need for so many juku in every neighbourhood in the country. If the schools are doing their duty, then why the need to spend so much time after hours to study the same stuff again? And if, as it is often claimed, schools just teach to get kids through exams, why are they so poor at doing so that they need the help of juku? I don’t think schools in Japan are particularly poor. I think they do a reasonable job. And I don’t think they need half as many juku.
Some parents say, ‘Well all the kids go, so ours have to go too or they will fall behind at school?’ Again, why? Why will they fall behind? If juku were teaching additional stuff that wasn’t taught at school and Japan was creating a plethora of geniuses, I could understand that non-juku attending kids might fall behind their peers in their level of education generally, but if schools are teaching well (and I believe many of them are) then kids shouldn’t fall behind in their school-work because they don’t go to juku. They would learn what they needed to do for school at school and through homework. Of course, it is admirable to want to learn more and to attempt to educate oneself to a greater degree, but that shouldn’t mean repeating the same stuff at night that you didn’t learn in the afternoon because you were, quite simply, too tired and you knew you would get a chance later on anyway.
Junior high school kids here are often exhausted. With so much time spent at juku and school clubs, they have little time to do any self-study. Wouldn’t time be better spent (and money saved) by having kids learn how to study by themselves? I can understand juku at the extreme ends of the spectrum – those to help slower kids who are struggling at school, and those to work with exceptionally gifted kids and help nurture their particular talents – but that’s not what most juku are about. No, many of them simply want the average and the good kids; they want the kids who probably don’t need juku in the first place. Some juku don’t accept very academically weak students. Well, it would bring down the percentages on those big posters they put on their windows boasting about how many of their students got into such-and-such prestigious high school. And who wants to teach a thicky? If they are doing that badly at school, the message from some of the ‘better’ juku seems to be one of can’t-be-arsed. Their advice when the school scores of kids that do come get no better? ‘You should probably spend lots more money coming here more often.’ When will people understand that educational excellence is not only about time spent studying?
I wonder what would happen if nobody went to juku. If it resulted in a sharp plunge in Japan’s standard of education, then that doesn’t speak well of the schools and places those who can’t afford supplementary education at an unfair disadvantage. If it made no significant difference, then what is the point of juku?
Can juku help some students? Of course. Do the vast numbers of students attending need that help? I doubt it. If they do, then my confidence in Japan’s public schools is greatly misplaced.