The Japanese school system (namely the primary, middle, and high schools) has built quite the reputation for itself. Education is taken very seriously here in Japan. I heard from the manager of my Eikaiwa that parents will wait in line for hours just to have a chance for their child to get into a well-respected kindergarten…KINDERGARTEN!! I would imagine that Kindergarten an elementary school would be pretty similar to what it is in the United States, but I don’t know for sure. I know that students also have to learn kanji which must be pretty challenging at times (I know it is for me). I mean, I remember taking spelling tests in school, and looking back, the words really weren’t that hard. Kanji, though? There are literally hundreds of those things. I know it’s broken down from year to year, but I can’t imagine having to learn so many symbols as a young child.
Once students reach middle school, they are funneled into this “play time is over” system. They go to cram schools to get a double dose of studying in hopes of being ready for high school entrance and exit exams; students can seem detached and overworked. It really seems like middle and high school students here have a significant deal more pressure than I remember having in middle and high school. I’ve heard from so many of my adult, Japanese students that it’s harder to get into and finish high school than it is to finish university in Japan. From what I’m told, once students are in the Japanese college system, it’s really hard to fail, and that things are a bit more lax. I don’t know how true that is because I’ve never attended a Japanese university.
I definitely think students can obtain a strong educational foundation by going through the Japanese school system (look at how well Japanese students do on American, standardized testing). I think Japanese students become masters of process; they have a great understanding of how to do the subjects they’re doing. Being a technical master is a wonderful accomplishment. However, there is the theory, that the overemphasis of testing and process can create learning deficiencies elsewhere. There is argument that the Japanese school system isn’t conducive to producing problem-solvers or creative students. Does the Japanese method turn children in methodical drones? Some people think so.
But honestly, I haven’t seen enough of the public school system to make an informed opinion.