Japanese way of doing things has its limitations

8th June 2001 at 01:00
I was interested to read the article about Japan and Japanese schools (April 27). I live and work in Yokohama, and was recently privileged to visit a Japanese middle school in Shizuoka prefecture. The students were less regimented than I had expected, but their uniforms were very much in keeping with the naval style that schoolchildren often have to wear here. However, the students were just as lively and diverse as their English counterparts.

The teachers are very overworked, often starting extremely early and running clubs on evenings and weekends. I met several teachers who had been working a seven-day week for nearly two months without a day off. Students have to attend school on Saturday morning, and often n Sunday.

The science lesson I observed was alarming. Students were holding sealed Coke cans above bunsen burners - but holding them with rags, one of which I saw catch fire. One of the two exits to the packed classroom was locked while all the students did this experiment at the same time.

English was a matter of reading by rote and it is here that the Japanese are beginning to realise the limitations of their approach to education. Even though all children have to study English at school, virtually no adult can speak English. This is a factor that politicians say they are keen to address, but no significant changes are forthcoming.

Jeremy Fox, St Maur international school, Yokohama, Japan

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