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Teacher says Japanese schools’ mandatory extracurricular activity rules don’t benefit students

30 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Japanese society is often described as being group-oriented, and that’s something that extends all the way down to youth education. Students are strongly encouraged to participate in school-administered extracurricular activities such as sports, art, and music programs, and students that don’t are sarcastically, and somewhat pejoratively, referred to as being members of the kitakubu or “going-home club.”

Many schools even go so far as to mandate that all students must join a club of some sort. That’s the case at the high school where Japanese Twitter user @kimamanigo0815 works as a teacher, but she wondered what the real rationale is for forcing the students to participate in extracurricular activities.

To investigate, @kimamanigo0815 took a faculty opinion survey, asking her colleagues if they felt a compulsory extracurricular activity system was necessary, and if so, why. Roughly 80 percent of her coworkers responded that they believed the school should keep the requirement in place, with the four major reasons they cited being:

  1. The students will be more likely to misbehave if they aren’t made to participate in extracurricular activities.

  2. Without the requirement, some clubs won’t be able to attract members and will be discontinued.

  3. Without the requirement, it will be harder to attract new students/their parents to the school.

  4. The school will no longer be able to collect an “extracurricular activities fee” from all students’ households if some of them are not participating in any such activities.

While those are all pragmatic reasons to keep the current requirement in place, @kimamanigo0815 couldn’t help but notice something missing from the responses. “No one mentioned anything about the mandatory extracurricular activity system benefiting the students themselves,” she tweeted.

Online reactions included:

“My school was like this, so I had no choice but to join a club. I ended up in one I didn’t have any affinity for, and since we couldn’t just change clubs when we wanted to, I ended up being forced to stay in the same one. How can anyone think this is a good system?”

“It’s just easier for the school to manage the students if they’re all doing the same sort of things.”

“When my junior high school got rid of its extracurricular activity requirement, kids stopped ditching sports practices and club meetings. You stopped hearing kids say they hated school because of extracurricular requirements, and they started behaving better, so I really can’t say making extracurricular club activities mandatory is good for the students.”

“I’m a student…Some [of us] have things we want to do other than join clubs, and some don’t have the physical stamina for regular extracurricular activities. But occupying students’ free time is the quickest, easiest way to keep them from getting into trouble after school, but then that’s not something students themselves are going to agree with.”

In their defense, many of the teachers in the survey who supported compulsory extracurricular activities probably feel that keeping kids out of trouble, as well as introducing them to athletic or cultural activities they wouldn’t have otherwise tried, give the children fuller, more wholesome lives, and thus do, in fact, qualify as benefiting the students themselves. However, @kimamanigo0815 and critics also make a compelling point that you can’t force someone to like something, and trying to do so with extracurricular activities might make students hate school in general.

Source: Twitter/@kimamanigo0815 via Jin

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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-- Is Japan overworking its teachers? One exhausted educator says, “YES!”

-- What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair…

© SoraNews24

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30 Comments
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While I completely agree with the idea of doing away with compulsory club activities, it will not happen in my lifetime. It is too ingrained in society, and just like this teacher's colleagues, the majority of teachers feel that it is necessary. Heaven forbid, students could go to school, study and then go home at a decent hour to play, relax, study, work part-time, or anything of their choosing. But no, this is Japan, and you will be forced to join something you don't like or don't want to do, just to keep the social "wa".

16 ( +17 / -1 )

He is correct. Students spend a shocking amount of time away from their studies. If they spent more time actually studying we could probably do away with this national obsession with cram schools...

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Agree. The students are overworked. Most of them look exhausted on the trains. Not to mention many of these activities occur on the weekends, especially sunday. Enough already. Give these kids a break.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Come to that, I see very little in Japanese schools mandatory intracurricular activities that is of any benefit to them in life. The whole thing, curriculum, teaching methods and top management needs to be scrapped and rethought.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

A mandatory GPA should be set and students cannot participate in any club activities if the go below this line. JH is to prepare students for HS. HS is to prepare students for college. Need to get priorities straight. If the students were receiving a proper homework load, they wouldn't have time for both juku (cram schools) and 24/7 club activities.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

And then they continue it into working life with those ridiculous after-work drinking gatherings.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The students will be more likely to misbehave if they aren’t made to participate in extracurricular activities.

That's just wrong, and, quite frankly, insulting to their students.

Without the requirement, some clubs won’t be able to attract members and will be discontinued.

Then those clubs should be discontinued. Simple.

Without the requirement, it will be harder to attract new students/their parents to the school.

"I'm not going to send my child to a school without a chess club!" said no parent ever.

The school will no longer be able to collect an “extracurricular activities fee” from all students’ households if some of them are not participating in any such activities.

Correct. Good for those families. I'm sure the money could be put to better use.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

garypen - Spot on! The logic behind clubs is staggeringly nonsensical. But TIJ!

To add to the students woes, you also then have a bunch of grumpy, insular teachers who switch to 'survival mode' as opposed to teaching passionately. The whole system needs major reform.

TBH, I see a lot of what goes on in schools as borderline systematic child abuse. And every now and thern when a voice of reason comes along (like the teacher above), their voice is drowned out by the sound of inter-generational nonsense.

The adults can't think for themselves because they went through the system that crushed their innate critical thinking abilities. So they just parrot what their seniors say, and the sad cycle continues.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Extracurricular activities, including sports and, presumably, music are great. Your time at school should be more than just academics, especially in Japan where class participation is mostly discouraged and there is no effort to teach critical thinking. However, forcing students to be involved in a club, which almost always including mandatory participation on the weekends, is just another example of Japan's "groupism." You always have to belong to one group or another whether you want to or not. Further, club activities invariably lead to just one more useless senpai-kohai relationship(s).

5 ( +6 / -1 )

“No one mentioned anything about the mandatory extracurricular activity system benefiting the students themselves,” she tweeted.

Touche. For context with the first reason, keeping the kids out of trouble (from the viewpoint of teachers), the use of school uniforms in Japan means that kids can be identified by anyone unhappy with their behaviour. The standard reaction in this case is to contact the school, often without confronting the kids themselves. This makes whatever happened a school problem, not an individual kid problem, and is probably mendo kusai for teachers.

Using mandatory membership to get enough members for the handball team etc. is worthy of a facepalm. The idea that parents will choose a school with forced clubs is also questionable. Any parent has the option of forcing their child to join a club without relying on the school to do it for them. Its not as if parents don't force their kids to do other things, Kumon, piano, swimming, English etc.

The inability to change clubs or do multisports are also evidence of very backward thinking.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Do teachers get paid extra for being club supervisors? If yes, of course they don't want clubs to disappear. Clubs don't foster anything but resentment unless the student is passionate about the activity to begin with. They do, however, prepare students for a lifetime of boredom in the work place.

Part-time Jobs, on the other hand, teach responsibility, time management, and organizational skills. Traits not required in Japan's corporate world where “do as the boss says,” is the main criteria. (Toshiba, Olympus, Takata, et al.)

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This is not the case in all schools, because only one of my five kids did any extracurricular activities after school, and he quit after the first year, thinking it was a little too hardcore for his liking. The teachers tried to tell us that they had to do it, but they didn't, and they all graduated and are all doing just fine. When my oldest went to collage they tired to get her to do some club activity after school, but she told them that she was not staying that late and have to take the two and a half hour train ride home only to have to get up in 6 hours after eating and bathing, then have to do it all over again day after day. I don't believe it is mandatory, but it is implied that it is! My family has always been the nails that sticks out, but we never let them hammer us down!

Reminds me of when my sons teacher came to my house and told me I should not make my kids do housework, I told him, "So it is OK for them to have to scrub the toilets at school, but not at home? how about you teach them, and I will raise them, I am the parent, not you!".

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Yep, cancel the clubs so the kids can go home/stay home and play video games. Great idea.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Agree it shouldn't be mandatory, but its also very beneficial to get really really good at one thing, especially at a young age. it carrys on into adult life. I help run a very competitive high school karate team and the start to life these young karatekas get would be the envy of parents around the world. You have to be serious though and not just go through the motions like some other clubs run by unqualified and unenthusiastic teachers. You can spot the kids who do bukatsu in the classroom too. Better posture, more socially adept, better focus, manners the works. Actually think it is one of the charms of the education system in Japan as the stuff going on in the classroom is often left wanting. Leave bukatsu alone and work on the other stuff to try and engage the students lacking in ambition and motivation.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

One of my daughters had joined an art club. She eventually stopped going and no one even knew she stopped. She told me the teacher never showed, and besides, she had way more talent than this so called art teacher. Perhaps that is why he quit showing, or perhaps he was not even an art teacher.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Often times the teacher has little or even no experience in the activity they are teaching. Yet they are expected to come across to students as an 'authority' regardless and will often berate and 'coach' students on how to do what they are doing.

To me it makes far more sense to make it optional and open the way for private clubs outside school. That way, teachers can get a rest, students can choose (god forbid!) what they want to do, and for those kids who want to do it (or if the parents push them into it), they can go to their local sporting etc clubs after school and get coached by accredited people. Skill and motivational levels would increase. It may also help the local economies...

The school will no longer be able to collect an “extracurricular activities fee” from all students’ households if some of them are not participating in any such activities.

I've read before that Japanese schools are among the highest costing to send a child to, yet the school's total expenditure is among the lowest in the developed world. Judging by the 30 year old paint on the walls of almost every school and the overworked teachers - it rings true. I think the above is a cop-out of a reason.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@Middleoftheroad - I'm interested to hear why your son's teacher thought you shouldn't have your kids do housework? And why he thought it was any of his business?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A mandatory GPA should be set and students cannot participate in any club activities if the go below this line.

That would only work if all the kids wanted to do bukatsu. I think it would be an invitation for all those kids who didn't want to do mandatory bukatsu in the first place to deliberately flunk their tests, just to get out of it.

The inability to change clubs or do multisports are also evidence of very backward thinking.

I agree. One of my daughter's friends in junior high who was in the swimming club developed a medical condition that prevented her swimming, long-term. Instead of letting her join some other less strenuous club, the school insisted that she 'ganbaru' and 'support her teammates' by sitting by the poolside every day after school, twiddling her thumbs.

If kids want to do extra-curricular activities, they should be free to enjoy them outside the school environment, in a community club or with private lessons.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Jeff Huffman,

Your time at school should be more than just academics, especially in Japan where class participation is mostly discouraged and there is no effort to teach critical thinking.

I'd put it much more strongly than that.

Class participation plays no part whatsoever in most High School classes that I've observed. The teachers seem unaware of the presence of the students and vice versa. I used to have an English conversation school and we did a lot of study abroad work. Trying to get high school teachers and headmasters to write a report on their pupils is mostly a waste of time. I was told by one teacher that there are books that give suggestions on what to write because the teachers just don't know their students.

"No effort to teach critical thinking?"

Gosh, ANY kind of thinking is totally banned. What passes for education in Japan is a stuck one way flow from teacher to students. The flow doesn't go the other direction. Students are never given the opportunity to express themselves. There is no class discussion. No show and tell. No essays. Everything, including homework mostly consists of a question and checking off the "right" answer in a series of alternatives. Students are not allowed to think.

By the time students get to university graduation, they haven't got an ounce of creativity left in them. They write their "graduation thesis" based on the "advice" of their tutors.

Education in Japan is mind control. It's designed to produce model citizens who haven't a clue how to think logically, but will obey any command given them without thinking.

One of the few slightly useful things that students are given any kind of free choice in is extracurricular activities. And now they question those!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Students are never given the opportunity to express themselves. There is no class discussion. No show and tell. No essays. Everything, including homework mostly consists of a question and checking off the "right" answer in a series of alternatives. Students are not allowed to think.

To be fair Bertie, it depends a lot on the school. My daughter's (public) school was a lot like you describe; my son's (private) school was very different. There was plenty of discussion, plenty of essays, plenty of opportunity for self-expression. The school encouraged the kids to have interests outside school. My son did no bukatsu at school, instead he continued the piano lessons he'd started in the first year of elementary school and now that he's all groomed up he still enjoys making music. (As an aside, neither of them are very good at obeying commands... :-) )

One of the few slightly useful things that students are given any kind of free choice in is extracurricular activities

In many public schools the kids have no free choice in extracurricular activities; I know plenty of kids who were unable to get into the club of their choice (taking it as a given that they have to choose something) because it was too popular, and were forced to spend three years running around sacrificing mornings, evenings and weekends doing stuff they were not remotely interested in, because that club needed to make up the numbers.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@Striker10

I have no idea why they thought that they could try and tell me how to raise my kids, I grew up on a farm and everyone of my 12 brothers and sisters had to know how to do everything, my father would say that you have to know how to live when you get on your own, so it is best to learn now. So I did the same when it came to my kids, they all knew how to do everything from washing clothes and dishes, to paying bills and fixing stuff around the house, all by the time they were in high school.

I think sometimes they just think since they have some sort of power they can come and tell you how you should raise your kids, also, I think since I told all teachers never to come to my house for Katte Homu, my house is my house and you are not coming in, that they just wanted to see how we lived!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Not being able to change clubs is stupid. How do ya know if ya really like something or not until after ya try it? What if ya discovered ya like something else? What if ya like more than one? Having multiple interests shouldn't be set in stone

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Middleoftheroad - But what was their reason for saying your kids shouldn't be doing chores?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Striker10

The only thing that came close to a reason was "かわいそう!" Growing up and then going out on your own knowing nothing, now that is kawaisou!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

now that he's all groomed up...

Meant to write now that he's all growed up, before the dreaded JT spell checker thought it knew better than me wot I was trying to say, and did the dirty on me.

He probably thinks he's all groomed up, too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I read and understand a lot of the complaints here and agree. I do have to praise their special education teachers though. Fantastic. None of that massive IP written overbearing legal stuff like stateside in the US.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Only problem I see is iPhone / smaho usage will go up. Pity it’s boring for the students.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great thread. Id say there are some deep seeded differences in culture to what constitutes education, and yes it can be jaw dropping stuff to see what goes on in the classroom here in Japan. The groupism is so strong that teachers themselves don't even understand the concept of critical thinking and self expression. Definitely not for the faint hearted, a bit like falling down a rabbit hole sometimes. If you can shift your focus away from the obvious systemic flaws and focus on one class at a time kids are still young enough to be able to be inspired to open up a bit and think for themselves. With the whole system heavily weighed against this however, better be mentally and physically tough enough to endure the constant onslaught of group think and trained inherent mediocrity. the nail that sticks out is still instinctive for most. 20 years in the game, not giving up quite yet.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I understand, Cleo. I'm sure there are some schools that offer a more balanced education. I ran an English school in Tokyo for many years and then in Hokkaido. There was a lot of interaction with schools and jukus. There was one school in Sapporo that came close to your son's private school - Minami Ko. There was a lot more interaction there. But, on the other hand, they can afford to do this in a private school because the classes are much smaller. My experience is mostly with classes of 50 or so where there isn't much time for interaction. And recently, teachers are given all kinds of useless "busy" work to do, writing detailed reports and lesson plans that just get shoved in a drawer, so they have even less time to interact with students.

It's not a good system, Cleo. Agreed that it's not all bad. But most of it is. And the irony is that because of Mombusho's total failure to teach English in six years of Junior High and High School, gaijin like me can make a living teaching English here.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My family has always been the nails that sticks out, but we never let them hammer us down!

Reminds me of when my sons teacher came to my house and told me I should not make my kids do housework, I told him, "So it is OK for them to have to scrub the toilets at school, but not at home? how about you teach them, and I will raise them, I am the parent, not you!"

I wish I could give this more than one +vote!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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