On the same level as the 'salary men'

JAPAN. It has been a mixed year for Japan's teachers. Reforms which they have long demanded are being implemented but they still have concerns.

Bullying, suicides among school children, delinquency, violence at home and school, over-emphasis on academic ratings, and cases of teachers torturing pupils are all increasing.

In addition the number of pupils at elementary and secondary schools is falling rapidly, threatening job security.

Hisayuki Uehara, 40, recently left a private high school in Yokohama, to teach at a UK school for Japanese nationals.

"I gained my licence to become a science teacher a little earlier than most in Japan while I was studying marine agriculture at college. Most teachers usually start their first job aged 22 or 23 after one or two years' training. For the past 20 years I have been teaching at Japanese primary, junior high and high schools.

"Public (state) school teachers are hired by the government as civil servants but I have taught exclusively at private schools. Private schools are almost identical in teaching standards, but private schools tend to specialise in certain areas, particularly sports. They have the same curriculum. Pay very much depends on the teacher and the school, of course, but generally speaking public schools have a more strictly graded pay structure."

He believes teachers' status has changed in the past few years. Once they were highly regarded, but now they are bracketed as "salary men", office workers.

Some find the high standards of conduct expected of teachers a strain. State school teachers are hired by government and as public servants are under much stricter codes of behaviour and educational standards than their private school counterparts.

"A typical day for me started at 6am or 6.30am when I got up," said Hisayuki. "Morning assembly is followed by the first lesson at 8.30am. We lunch at midday - usually taken with the students in the classroom.

"This is over in about 15 minutes and then it's often back to work preparing for lessons which start again at 1pm. Classes finish at 3pm or 4pm. There are a great deal of after-school activities in Japan which we call club activities. Those teachers involved supervise their club students until 5.30pm or 6pm.

"Generally wages and conditions are good. A 40-year-old teacher at a private school can expect to earn around 6-7 million yen (Pounds 30,000-Pounds 35,000) before tax. Teacher unions are very popular; each school is represented by about two or three, and there's quite a lot of industrial action to demand more pay and a change of conditions.

"If I have a criticism of the system it's that the hierarchy is too strict. Also, the national curriculum has its strengths but its weakness is that it makes too many problems for students, because it's far too much an exam-based system."

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