Education in Japan

Thursday 30 Nov 2017

Recently I have been incredibly privileged to have been invited to do some work in Kawasaki, Japan and this blog is an attempt to summarise the purpose of the visit together as well as outlining what I learnt during the visit.
Most people in Sheffield are unaware that we have a 'sister city' or 'friendship city' in Kawasaki, Japan. In fact we are one of seven cities all over the world that are part of this group and which all have a link to the manufacturing of steel. The sister cities are as follows:

Rijeka (Republic of Croatia)
Baltimore (United States of America)
Shenyang (People's Republic of China)
Wollongong(Common wealth of Australia)
Sheffield (Britain)
Bucheon( Republic of Korea)
Kawasaki (Japan)

During the visit, representatives from the sister cities converged on the city of Kawasaki (which is next to Tokyo) to take part in an education conference but also to visit educational establishments in the city. I went to see a primary school, a secondary school and a special school. 

Despite the obvious differences, what was striking during the visit was the similarities in the challenges that we all face in education, be it internet safety, bullying, attendance at school or special needs. No education system is immune from these challenges and although we often look to Asian countries for the answer to our own problems, the message was clear: they have not got all the answers and there is no simple solution. Educational strategy in this country has often seemed to be reactive rather than proactive, and lacking confidence in what we already have, taking ideas from elsewhere and expecting them to work, despite the cultural differences. The Chinese delegates warned against this approach and highlighted examples of where the UK has copied Chinese Maths strategies for example, without adapting them, when the Chinese themselves have concerns about their effectiveness.

The rise in the number of pupils with complex special needs in schools is a challenge all over the world. In Japan the facilities were often superb with more special schools being built to meet demand.
I was impressed by the diverse and varied curriculum which catered for the needs of the whole child and which was not unduly focussed at Primary on just Maths and English, as it is in this country. Testing does not occur at Primary and there is no Ofsted, yet Japan has one of the highest performing education systems in the world. Teachers enjoy their jobs and the Headteachers are trusted to lead with minimal interference from the government or the local education department. This was reflected in the other sister cities with our children appearing to be more tested and our schools more scrutinised than any other country that was represented.
I think that there are important lessons to be learnt for our own education system around the theme of teacher and pupil wellbeing since the unprecedented degree of pressure on schools is already risking an exodus of teachers from the profession and a generation of children with a narrowed curriculum, both at Primary and Secondary levels. 

There is much more I could say but as this is a blog I will conclude at this point and leave you to enjoy some pictures of Japan!

Below: Happy Japanese children doing PE

A colleague headteacher who shares our school's values of 'learning through enjoyment' and 'everyone's good at something'.

A maths lesson in progress.

These unicycles are used at lunchtime by pupils

Yes this Primary school had a swimming pool on the roof. The children were so jealous when I showed them in assembly!

Ladies in Kimonos entering Senso-Ji temple, Tokyo