By Saki Ikoma
Private supplementary tutoring functions as a significant educational sphere in Japan. This so-called shadow education, proposed by Steven and Baker (1992) as “a set of educational activities that occur outside formal schooling and are designed to enhance the student’s formal school career” (p.1639), has been a worldwide phenomenon during the last decade (Baker et al., 2001; Bray, 1999, 2001, 2010). Intimately matched with the current market-oriented climate and entrance examination system for private schools, Japanese tutorial schools (juku) now seem geared towards elementary schoolchildren. Due to the current advocacy for high stakes testing, high accountability, and tying testing to teacher pay in the U.S. K-12 education, exploring juku teacher quality is also valuable for educators, scholars, and researchers in the United States. However, as Dierkes (2010) accounts, there is little literature, in both English and Japanese, to examine: (1) why there is a lack of governmental regulation for Japanese shadow education industry, and (2) why juku as a social institution has gained such high autonomy and authority. Given elementary school years as one of the most critical periods for children’s socialization, juku teacher quality may significantly influence the promotion and sustainment of a quality teacher workforce in Japan. Therefore, this literature review focuses on the shadow education sectors for elementary schoolchildren in Japan. After a general description of juku, this review explores the current context of juku and concerns surrounding juku teacher quality. The primary purpose of this review is to call for an attention that the examination of juku as an institution is worth scrutiny, in order to enhance the conceptualization of teacher quality and teacher professional development.
According to Rohlen (1980), juku refers to “after-school tutoring establishments and cram schools to which ambitious and nervous parents send their children in hopes that supplementary education will help them get ahead of their peers or at least help them keep up in the [entrance examination] race” (p.207). Especially in the Tokyo metropolitan area of Japan, the number of elementary school students who take the entrance examination of private junior high schools has been increasing. Yotsuya Otsuka School (2009), which is one of the most popular juku for elementary school students in Japan, reports approximately 54,000 6th grade students took the entrance exams in the given year (p.2). In the central region of Tokyo, for example, 37.7% of parents of elementary school children have a plan to let their children take the private junior high school entrance exams, whereas 17.6 % of those in other major cities of Japan (Benesse, 2007). Furthermore, of all elementary school students who take the private junior high school entrance exams, 56.3% of 10-year-old children (4th grade in elementary school) and 23.5% of 9-year-old (3rd grade) children go to juku (Benesse, 2007). In order to game this competitive entrance examination system, juku plays a critical role to give students packages of knowledge and to get them into highly ranked junior high schools.
Juku is a private and business-oriented institution (Dierkes, 2010; Rohlen, 1980; Russell, 1997, 2002). Having parents and students as customers, “juku are not required to follow the official requirements for compulsory education and can create their own professional practices, curriculum, and educational standards” (Russell, 2002, p.162). In order to gain their profit, juku can sell their test-taking strategies and publish own textbooks. Despite of that, there is no need of teaching certificate to become a juku teacher. That is, in principle, teachers without certificate can implement any profitable plans, programs, and curriculum to meet the customer need, and parents and students receive it as service.
Elementary school years are the most critical period for children’s socialization. Thus, experience in juku can significantly shape not only their knowledge, but also their behavior and values. In any schools, teachers communicate with students not only directly, but also covertly through their conversation, behavior, norms, and expectations. However, unlike daily schools, juku do not have any responsibility for moral aspect of education. Russell (1997) argues, “Juku are an embarrassment to the Japanese government and a threat to teacher union ideals that stress ‘whole person’ education” (p.154). Later, Russell (2002) further warns that “[i]n case of Japan, private tutoring helps to erode the authority of the public school system because private tutoring need not align itself with official education standards” (p.159). Since juku teachers provide test-taking strategies as the shortest cut to get to the point, their students may look down on daily schools and identify test-taking strategies as all they should learn. Without any teaching certificate, it is possible for juku teachers to gain high autonomy and authority in juku classroom settings.
Not surprisingly, there is little research in juku classroom settings. Since juku is a private and market-oriented sector, it is rather challenging for scholars and researchers to gain entrance within the juku system. In a broader sense, for example, both Kariya and Dore (2006), and LeTendre (1999) point out one of the problems of Japan’s education system is that meritocracy leads to ambivalence between regular schools and juku. With a concern about subjectivity of data, Russell (2002) argues a potential for juku assessment within the juku system: “At large corporate-run juku…assessment of student progress is more quantified due to the need of large companies to systematize and replicate their learning program on a larger scale” (p.167). As an example, Russell (2002) introduces Kumon and Bennese as the two biggest mass-market juku in Japan. Indeed, Benesse has a research institution, which is capable of conducting a large-scale survey for systemic analysis of K-12 education students across Japan. However, both of them tend to be categorized into remedial tutoring for low achievement students to be accountable in daily schools; either of them has never been in the mainstream of the market for the passage of competitive entrance examinations to enroll in private junior high schools.
Interestingly, Dierkes (2010) points out the unique feature of Japanese shadow education. According to Dierkes (2010), Japanese shadow education is entirely unregulated as an educational sphere compared to other East Asian countries, such as Korea and Taiwan, and “[d]ue to the lack of regulation and the resulting lack of accreditation of shadow education institutions, little is known about the teaching personnel involved in shadow education” (pp.25-26). Indeed, it is often said that juku has made a certain contribution to raise Japanese educational standards. However, whether or not juku’s pedagogy gains superior results than that of conventional school has not been tested because of “[t]he lack of value-added testing of juku” (Dierkes, 2010, p.25). Therefore, the scarcity of scholarly research on juku calls for attention to overhaul the effect of shadow education onto Japanese education system.
In the cross-national contexts, however, there is a growing body of research on shadow education. For example, conducting comparative research of shadow education among eighteen countries, Bray (1999) argues that shadow education can be a threat to the formal schooling in those countries. Also, this research points out the importance of understanding the economic, cultural, historical, and political contexts and examining the mechanism behind shadow education: why parents and students demand tutoring and why juku provide it. Baker, Akiba, LeTendre, and Wiseman (2001) examine shadow education activities among forty-one countries, using extensive cross-national data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Confirming considerable cross-national variation how to utilize shadow education across the sample of nations, this study shows the role of shadow education functions mainly as remedial training to support low performing math students (p.11). Focusing on East Asian cram schools, Kwok (2004) points out that the examination-oriented knowledge in mass tutorial schools can make students devalue their daily schools. Altering their attitudes and values toward formal learning, as Kwok (2004) writes, “the distinction between formal and informal learning has been blurred after the emergence of mass tutorial schools” (p.72). As shown above, this analysis is similar to Kariya and Dore’s (2006) and LeTendre’s (1999) arguments about the ambivalence between regular schools and juku.
This growing body of research on worldwide shadow education shows not only its reliability and validity of understanding the cross-national contexts as a whole, but also demands for understanding economic, cultural, historical, and political contexts how shadow education has been embedded in each country’s education system. In the recent article, Bray (2010) concerns “while shadow education is a convenient term to cover a broad phenomenon, in many settings it is unsatisfactory because it lacks specificity” (p.10). Thus, questions such as: (1) why Japan has a significant lack of governmental regulation towards juku as an education sphere, and (2) why juku has gained such high autonomy and authority, may be critical to understand the intertwined contexts and mechanisms behind shadow education. Since juku teacher’s responsibility is conceptualized mostly in student accountability, it is also applicable to the current U.S. political discourse, which advocates high stakes testing, high accountability, and tying testing to teacher pay. That said, exploring juku teacher quality is also valuable to learn how the political contexts affect teacher quality in the U.S. public education and how teacher’s attitudes, norms, and expectations driven by student accountability influence student’s behaviors, values, and actual performance. Therefore, the examination of juku as an educational institution is worth scrutiny, in order to enhance the conceptualization of teacher quality and teacher professional development.
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