Japanese education system “Juken”

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What is the Japanese education system like?

In Japan’s education system, compulsory education is mandated by the government from ages 6 to 15. Children aged 6 to 12 attend elementary school, and children aged 13 to 15 attend junior high school. Although it is not compulsory after high school, many young people (99.9%) go on to high school. High schools are divided into technical high schools and commercial high schools, where students acquire vocational skills, and general courses, where students aim to enter university. The university entrance rate in Japan has been 50-60% in recent years.

There are national, public, and private schools for everything from elementary school to university, and tuition fees tend to be lower at national and public schools and higher at private schools.

Why are young people so desperate to take entrance exams?

In order to receive an education at the school of your choice, you must take and pass an entrance exam. Generally speaking, it is necessary to pass an entrance exam when entering high school or university, but if you attend a private school, you will also need to pass an entrance exam to enter elementary school or junior high school.
Therefore, people who want to receive a better education at an earlier stage try to take entrance exams at elementary and junior high schools. In Japan, taking an entrance exam is called “JUKEN.” Examinations generally involve tests that measure students’ academic ability in subjects such as Japanese, mathematics, English, science, and social studies. Schools with a higher level of education have more students applying for admission, so competition will inevitably be fiercer. In order to survive the competition, students devote themselves to studying for entrance exams.

For example, a large number of students from famous preparatory schools enter the University of Tokyo, Japan’s highest academic institution. As you can see below, when it comes to top-level high schools, nearly 30% of students are accepted into the University of Tokyo.

RankSchool Nameacceptance rate(%)
1University of Tsukuba Komaba High School54.4
2Nada High School39.1
3Kaisei High School37.7
4Seiko Academy High School34.1
5Komaba Toho High School31.4
2023 University of Tokyo acceptance rate ranking

Therefore, competition for entrance exams is heating up in urban areas where these high-level schools are located.

Recently, an increasing number of high school students are aiming to enter top universities overseas instead of universities in Japan in order to play an active role in the globalizing world. However, only a small number of top-level high schools are able to support students going on to universities overseas, and these elite schools are becoming increasingly popular.

Inequalities are widening in the educational field as well.

Japanese society has traditionally been considered a society with little disparity, but in recent years economic disparity has been widening. Reflecting this situation, there are now large disparities in children’s educational environments depending on their parents’ financial strength. While there are children going on to top-level universities in Japan and around the world, there are also an increasing number of young people at the bottom, like Toyoko Kids, who have no choice but to devote themselves to drugs and prostitution.
Even so, it can be said that the educational disparity in Japan is still small. Compulsory education is provided well, and children of any poor family can graduate from a top university if they are able to attend university and receive financial assistance if they have high academic ability.
But will this continue? We Japanese feel anxious about the future of young people.