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Plenty of links but no say in governance


In Japan, parents - particularly mothers - are seen as having a crucial role to play in educating and socialising their children, but social change is making this more difficult. The country's rapid industrialisation means that many children have less physical freedom than when they led a more rural existence.

The schools are preoccupied with high academic achievement, which exerts heavy pressure on young people, and does not leave them much time or space for personal development. There is great anxiety concerning bullying and school refusal.

Compared to schools in many other countries, Japanese teachers are called upon to perform a wide range of duties - particularly since traditionally Japan has had a six-day school week. The Japanese government is gradually reducing the school week, in the face of some resistance from parents.

The key link between schools and families is the class teacher who is responsible for every aspect of the daily living of his or her class. There is a great deal of communication between school and family, but it tends to be one-way. Teachers are keen to let families know what is required, but it is often difficult for parents to voice their concerns.

Methods of communication include: newsletters; daily communications notebooks between teacher and parent; diaries kept by pupils, recording how many hours they have worked, special things they have done, and their feelings and problems; home visits, which are made by teachers at the beginning of the new school year; report cards, which are sent at the end of each term.

Parents do not help out in the classroom, but unique to Japan are observation days, when schools offer demonstration lessons for parents to watch. Afterwards, teachers and parents discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the class.

Homework is particularly important in Japan's highly competitive system. Teachers often set lengthy homework assignments in order to cover the curriculum, and parents are keen that their children should be given plenty of homework. Many also pay for their children to attend private "cram schools" (or juku ) in the evening.

Japanese parents do not have a role in school governance, because schools do not have their own governing bodies. Neither do they have any say in the curriculum-making process.

Many schools have parent-teacher associations based on the US model, and which meet regularly. These, however, do not always represent an equal partnership, since teachers often use such meetings to assert themselves in relation to both academic matters and discipline.

The government is encouraging schools to move towards an open-door style of management.

But in a country where it is common to see notices in the playground warning that no one (including parents) is allowed on the premises without the principal's permission, such policy changes are hard to realise.

* Tamagawa junior high has 519 pupils, and has an active PTA with 459 members. The association is organised in sections, each of which has a separate responsibility (local activities, health, publicity and so on). Each class has a representative, and these meet regularly as a group.

The main aim of "local activities" is to encourage the students to join in healthy pursuits; during the summer holidays, PTA members patrol the area to keep an eye on things.

The "research" section organises lectures on topics such as better parenting, which usually attract more than 100 people.

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