Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Art Lee expresses shock to learn that high school education is not mandatory in Japan (“Children’s right to an education,” March 10). I presume that he means senior high school, since completion of junior high school is mandatory. This means that unlike in his own country, in Japan the whole citizenry is required to achieve a minimum level of education.
As an American, he ought to know that U.S. law requires students only to reach the age of 15 or 16 to be eligible to decide for themselves whether or not to continue schooling. American citizens, unlike Japanese, are not required to accomplish a minimum level of competence through schooling. If a 16-year old finds himself stuck in grade five, he can retire.
Some people use conditions like these as contributory arguments to explain the Japanese government’s claim of higher literacy among its people than the American government can boast about. However, since in Japan promotion through the school grades is largely automatic and assured regardless of the students’ proficiency, I think that Japanese claims regarding the extent and breadth of literacy in this country are at least moot.
Finally, I think that the proposition that education is a child’s “right” is insufficient to support the notion that it is something to be given by adults and teachers and only received by students. Schooling is certainly not education. It falls to individuals to go out and capture their education more than to sit passively and wait for teachers, schools and governments to provide it.
Published on Sunday, March 21, 1999 as “No free lunch in education.”
Art Lee is an American, and in America they tend to see education as some kind of scheme. I object to things that are schemish. In America itself, just as in Canada, mandatory education only goes to about the age of 15 or 16, which is comparable to Japan - the end of junior high school, or Grade 9. The difference is that in America students are only obliged to achieve a certain age before deciding for themselves whether to stay in school or not. In Japan students are required to achieve a certain level, creating the impression that Japanese are better educated than Americans. But that is only an impression, because the reality is that in Japan students do not fail no matter what their academic performance is. It’s like the assembly line in business. Students are automatically promoted each year along with their peers. Unfortunately that means that education levels and literacy in Japan are not nearly as good as statistics suggest and government boasts. It means that there is fantastic ignorance among students who ought to know better, and similarly fantastic ignorance among the adult population.
Americans also favor commercializing education, turning schools into for-profit businesses and imagining that in a free market environment such a scheme is optimal. But I think the results do not support an optimistic view of commercialized education. Of course, negative things can also be said about state education, but free state / public education is best for
society. But I disagree about the extent of ‘necessary’ schooling. I think more education is better, but I shirk if it is imposed, which amounts to more intrusion into ones’ lives by the state.