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Report on lousy schools in Japan spurs debate on who’s to blame

23 Comments
By Scott R Dixon

A report last week from the Japanese Ministry of Education about the sorry state of some low-ranked universities, lovingly called “F-rank,” sent ripples through the country and reignited a debate about how to properly prepare students for “life in the real world.” While the Japanese government’s announcement sparked renewed interest in higher education reform, these low-level schools (and their terrible textbooks) have been the butt of jokes on the Internet for years.

F-rank universities are notorious for their extremely lax entrance requirements, high student-to-teacher ratio and producing graduates who simply aren’t ready to enter the real world and join a company. Education advocates and people tired of dealing with incompetent co-workers all wanted to share their ideas about how to change the system to avoid a generation of poorly trained workers.

In the scathing report, the ministry pointed out how some schools were teaching junior high school-level English lessons. Since the Japanese education system requires at least six years of English classes before even entering university, the government seemed quite surprised to find out how many schools are spending time each week teaching topics like “how to read and write the alphabet” and “reviewing the verb ‘to be’.”

Japanese Internet commenters were quick to point out that the almost laughable quality of these schools is hardly a secret on the Internet where the slang term “F-rank” was coined. And co-workers of these graduates were more than happy to share their experiences working alongside unprepared colleagues. Besides their overall poor work performance, readers complained that F-rank graduates embarrass their companies when dealing with business clients and write barely legible emails filled with grammatical errors.

While the government seemed keen to improve the schools and bring them up to proper academic standards, many on the Internet wondered if regulations should be even further tightened to prevent a “watering down” of university degrees. Some even wanted a strict limit on the number of universities allowed to exist in the country to prevent an over saturation of graduates. Others blamed Japanese companies that insist that all employees, even those in lower skilled positions, have a degree, further increasing the demand among the public to enter into higher education.

Another problem pointed out was the existence of “Black Companies” that hire many of these F-rank graduates when no other employer will take them. Since the companies know the workers cannot get a job elsewhere, management takes advantage of workers by forcing them to work long hours for very low pay. An employee at one such company posted on a Japanese job site about his experience, explaining that almost everyone who enters the company has a poor academic record. The 20-something man said everyone there would rather work somewhere else, but their educational background apparently prevents a better company from hiring them.

Twitter users debated back and forth about who is to blame for these untrained workers with some placing the fault on the ministry’s “loose” guidelines for higher education. Other blamed the F-rank universities for taking desperate people’s money without providing any appropriate education or training.

"The ministry should coordinate and publish third party reviews of every university’s curriculum."

"It’s not the quality of schools, it’s the quality of the students that is decreasing in this country."

"This is what happens when society dictates everyone needs a university degree. Academics turns into 'baka-demics.'" (baka= “idiot” in Japanese)

Ultimately the question about who is to blame seems to boil down to the classic principle of supply and demand. Should the ministry of education tighten restrictions on higher education and revoke the accreditation of the many low-level schools currently spewing out lousy workers? Or should Japanese companies (and society) let up on their insistence that all students enter a four-year university and focus on creating better specialized schools?

Source: Niconico news

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23 Comments
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And co-workers of these graduates were more than happy to share their experiences working alongside unprepared colleagues. Besides their overall poor work performance, readers complained that F-rank graduates embarrass their companies when dealing with business clients and write barely legible emails filled with grammatical errors.

I've seen this same kind of incompetence from alumni of the so-called elite schools as well, so I think the whole thing about "f-rank schools" is a load of crap. Just another example of Japanese society picking on the easy targets.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Schools anywhere are nothing more indoctrination camps, stuffs they teach in schools are quite useless, the West is even worse with their liberals and what not from what I see and heard.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

In the scathing report, the ministry pointed out how some schools were teaching junior high school-level English lessons. Since the Japanese education system requires at least six years of English classes before even entering university, the government seemed quite surprised to find out how many schools are spending time each week teaching topics like “how to read and write the alphabet” and “reviewing the verb ‘to be’.”

On the other hand there are universities (most) where they teach obscure "high level" grammatical structures where the students can't correctly produce sentences using the "be" verb.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Those "F-rank" universities would be called degree mills where I come from. I know about these so-called universities through some foreign veterans of those places. There is the so-called technical university whose students, one friend swore, tried to push him in front of the incoming subway train. He used to come to class in a leather jacket and address the brawling chaos by slamming the blackboard with his fist and saying, "Any of you fers want to step out and fight? I'll take to on a beat the s out of you." That won him some respect and probably kept him from getting knifed. When summer vacation came, he and his wife left Japan and never came back. Another friend managed to survive a semester in a so-called business college, where the students sat on their desks and smoked and talked on their cellphones.

That is a glimpse of what F-rank schools are like. They ought to be shut down. Period. There are complaints when universities of fairly good quality are set up. This is the first time I hear of complaints about these ipso facto degree mills that have been around forever.

The problem is that while Japan has F-rank universities it does not really have A-rank universities. Japanese universities, no matter what their official and unofficial ranks are, are notorious for being "leisure lands" with lax standards, where students sleep in class or otherwise screw off.

The problem is being compounded because of the low birth rate. The dearth of 18-year-olds has forced many universities, including public universities, to dumb down their courses of study in order to get the necessary quota of incoming frosh. (Less literature and more so-called practical English, for example.)

I blame the lousy entrance examination system for much of this. Schooling in Japan is purely industrial. Teachers teach to the examination and not for the sake of knowing something to be a better person. Thus, the university degree is little more than an industrial stamp.

With the decline of young people in Japan it may be that not "black companies" will be forced to hire F-university graduates out of necessity.

Meanwhile, those degree mill level F-rank "universities" have got to go. Let them be replaced with something even marginally better.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The problem starts far, far sooner than these silly token "colleges." It starts as early as elementary school, where the impetus to keep kids together with their "group" far outweights the necessity to make a student repeat a school year for poor acedemic performance.

Kids get pushed through the system whether they've mastered the proscribe curriculum or not. By the time they're in junior high school, they've got neither the mental tools nor the desire to process information and knowledge that is even more complex than what they faced (and failed at) in primary school.

Then, when they've utterly bombed the curriculum of JHS, they are allowed to sit a ridiculously easy exam to enter any number of high schools that cater specifically to these underperforming students. These highs schools will teaching, among other things, JHS English, as if it were the first exposure to the language these kids have seen.

Enter the "colleges" mentioned in the above news story; Same problems, same self-perpetuating failure.

Tack onto this what should be an utterly disurbing realization that the public education system isn't what produces top-performing students, but rather after-school cram schools, and you've got the perfect recipe for the kind of problems we're seeing today.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

LFRAgain: spot on. I've taught at several elementary and junior high schools in my time here, and was once amazed at the number of students who basically coast through to high school. Now I am more jaded than anything. If the concept of actually failing a class or grade had real repercussions, I do believe it would jolt some (not all, but some) of these students out of their torpor earlier.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Kabukilover

The problem is that while Japan has F-rank universities it does not really have A-rank universities.

Totally inaccurate statement. Japan's top shelf universities are definitely A-rank. The big problem is, however, that there is a massive gap between them (say the top 12) and the rest.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Egads! My apologies for the numerous typos above.

In any case, Japan has world-class universities that produce leading-edge research in a number of fields. But the stark truth is that in order to enter one of these univeristies, one had better not rely solely on a public school education to do so.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

one had better not rely solely on a public school education to do so.

Don't know about that. From personal experience, I know lots of kids from top-end public high schools that didn't attend cram school. There are also a number of top-end schools that run extensive seminar programs (both after school and during the holidays) to help the kids pass their exams and not attend cram schools. I also know of a teacher at one such school who is famous for his annual speech (to prospective students) about the evils of the cram school business. Then again, the issue at hand is the gap between the top-end and the rest.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Top-end junior high schools? What area of the country are you talking about, if you don't mind my asking?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@LFRAgain

I was actually talking about some senior high schools in Tokyo. For example, the one next to the Diet Building (formerly the First Tokyo Middle School) whose alumni reads like a whose who of Japanese politics, commerce, academia, etc. The kids who go there are both very smart and very lucky. They get access to some of the best minds in Japan as guest teachers. Over the last 3 years they have hosted a Nobel Laureate (in Biology), a host of politicians, a number of business leaders, academics on exchange to Tokyo University, etc. The school also has a long tradition of arranging summer study internships to various places.

In terms of junior high schools, there are the feeders into both Tsukuba Komaba and Gakugei High Schools. I don't know the most recent data, but both the high schools sent 70+ students to Tokyo University 3 years ago. There is also the TIT (Tokyo Tech) feeder school that gives about 20 students each year a direct route to the university based on academic performance.

Again, as I said the quality of the education that some receive is not the problem. The issue is the vast gap that exists between the pampered few in the public education system and the unwashed masses (for want of a better term).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's all about money. Those of us who have taught in Japan for a number of years know this. It's like a pyramid system when the intelligent ones get to go to the top schools (intelligent in that they can pass tests after thousands of $ have been spent in juku over the years. I don't believe the Education Ministry realizes that not all people are cut out for college, university, and you name it. Then those that can't make it into higher ranked schools pay all this money to get admittance to a school who would take anyone; as long as they have money. As an old friends of mine used to say, God rest his soul, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken S ##$% T.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

HongoTAFE

the quality of the education that some receive is not the problem.

Quality is a real issue. In today's world, studying for a test score or having just fact based learning, as most Japanese schools still adhere to, is very different from a more modern inquiry based learning that emphasizes the process of problem solving, and the focus is on how students learn, rather than what they learn.

The reason for this is the amount of human information, which doubled about every century till 1900, now doubles every 13 months. That means the way education is taught must keep up, and children's information they learn today, will be irrelevant in 10 years, but the process of learning will not be.

As the world internationalizes, it behooves countries to understand others better, so qualities, such as empathy, open ideas, transparency, being principled, are things that should be emphasized. If Japan does not believe the importance of these qualities, and the importance of communicative abilities that are a part of inquiries and discussion among students and teachers, she will have educational difficulty, on an international level, and it will get worse. But does she care?

Japan does not seem to emphasize the idea of greater acceptance and understanding of the world, rather, she seems to believe in isolationism. For Japan, education is mostly to get the Japanese to fit into Japanese society and not the world wide society, and that's limiting in this information age. It's a major reason why I believe the education system in Japan is troubled.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Too many universities, too many attending. This is not just the case in Japan, but in many of the countries it emulates, such as the USA.

For the majority, they would be far better learning through doing an actual paid job than wasting 4 years in an institution which will give them a certificate but not much else.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I work in a big public university. You would be amazed to know how many students in high ranked universities in Japan get PhD degrees while they lack self reasoning, the ability to question something and the ability to express a clear point of view.

I am not surprised at all about the existence of these F-rank universities (which are just business driven, you just pay for a degree, you don't earn it), you see also quite insane things in public universities.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

They dont need to prepare Japanese students for life in the real world because Japan sets up every aspect of society so that the govt protects Japanese from real problems. Japanese schools help Japanese people to live in Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

LFRAgain: good on you for the apology about your spelling. Frankly (pardon the pun) in this English pedant's opinion far too many commentators in JT discussion threads are much worse at spelling and grammar. Perhaps they, too, graduated from the F-rank schools?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Some even wanted a strict limit on the number of universities allowed to exist in the country to prevent an over saturation of graduates.

I do think that this is a big problem. Simply put, there are too many universities in Japan.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

To say that the 'F' rank universities are responsible for black companies is funny to me. I know plenty of people who went to decent 'B' universities (as in not Todai, but good schools) that are working crazy long hours for little compensation and cannot quit because of the taboo that goes along with quitting a company, and the difficulty of finding new work if you 'abandon' the company that has been so gracious to nurture you and give you money.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Is there any Japanese educational institution that prepares students for life in the real world?

Some of the senmon gakko's do, but in order to enter them you have to get through the incredible crap of the high school curriculum, which has NOTHING to do with life - ANYWHERE.

Japanese "education" needs scrapping and redesigning from the ground up.

And NOT by Abe and his ultra-right "we dun nuffink wrong" revisionist mob.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Im a foreign student, graduating from the University of Tsukuba. It is ranked at top 10 in Japan. Academically, I am disappointed. Students sleeping in during class. No class discussion nor participation. Cant even use the diploma for tiolet paper, bc Im scared my a$$ might fall asleep. Professors don't care. Universities don't care. Its another business were they take your money. I literally did not learn any theory in 5 years! I focused on my research and publications. I was deceived into thinking I was going to be challenged academically in Japan. I have discussed current issues in my field with students from Tokyo University (ranked #1) and those clowns are just the same, they can't hold a discussion. Doesn't matter what rank or University is mentioned. F or A rank the problem is within Japans educational system. They need to generate students with critical thinking, leadership, troubleshooting, problem-solving skills, etc.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I wouldn't worry too much about the so-called F-ranked universities. I be more concerned by the fact that little meaningful work is going on as well at the supposedly elite schools. There isn't one Japanese university ranked in the top 20 in the world.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking/range/001-200/order/country%7Casc

http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2013#sorting=rank+region=+country=+faculty=+stars=false+search=

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hongo,

Thanks for the reply and apologies for responding so late.

For example, the one next to the Diet Building (formerly the First Tokyo Middle School) whose alumni reads like a whose who of Japanese politics, commerce, academia, etc. The kids who go there are both very smart and very lucky.

As I suspected, the schools you're talking about are not the norm nationwide or even locally in Tokyo. I'm sure you're familiar with the fuzoku school system in Japan, but briefly they are elementary and junior high schools that are affiliated with the education departments of nearby universities. These schools, despite receiving public funds, enjoy cutting-edge curriculum, non-traditional course work, and the best teaching staff a rigorous interview process can produce. Its students have to test to get into the school and once there, enjoy the best of the best academically.

My point being if these fuzoku schools, despite receiving taxpayer funds from a pool that is ostensibly supposed to be used to provide constitutionally protected equal access to education throughout Japan, then it's not too hard to imagine that rules are being bent a tad to funnel greater funds and better teachers to the high school (and feeder junior high schools) you mentioned. The school you cited serves, as you said, alumni whose names read like a Who's Who of Japanese politics, commerce, and academia." Make no mistake; they get the best of the best while "regular" schools throughout Japan simply make due.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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