Learning from Japanese schools

We can learn from Japanese schools, writes Bill Costello of Making Minds Matter on Education News. On Okinawa, Kadena Elementary has no janitor or cafeteria workers. Students clean the school and serve the school lunch.

The social curriculum helps students develop autonomy, responsibility and a strong work ethic.

The school lunch, cooked at a central location, is much healthier than typical U.S. school lunches.

Students “have recess every day and participate in a rigorous physical exercise program.” In class, students “stood up and moved around while learning. They played educational games and learned by seeing, hearing and doing.”

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  1. For some reason, part of the article isn’t showing up.

    I agree that there are things that can be learned from Japanese schools, but there are also a number of disadvantages to be careful of.

  2. Thanks for posting this Joanne – I’ve been meaning to make a similar post for a while.

    I was just talking about this with my students the other day, after a student opined that schools should teach personal responsibility. I love this idea – one that would never, ever happen in the US, especially in suburbia.

    When I lived in Taiwan, across from a school, every day the bell would ring and the kids would come streaming out with brooms, mops, and garbage bags. The kids cleaned the school as part of their day – no janitors required.

    However, as I’ve noted before, this is a cultural issue. The Confucian ideal of community over individual guides Asian culture, and thus submission to the common good is fundamental. Americans, by contrast, are focused on rugged individualism, and people rant, frothing at the mouth, about collectivism and socialism.

    Great idea that will never happen on a large scale (though in private schools and charter programs it can and has been instituted)

  3. Our school tried to have a community clean up day. The Janitors’ union quickly complained and the district decided to stop any official event with such a stated purpose. So it became a Green Day with students planting flowers and shrubs as well. That was deemed educational and was allowed.

  4. Joanne: Thanks for mentioning my article. The feedback from your readers is useful.

  5. Are you all out of your gourd? Using kids as free labor?

  6. Ponderosa says:

    “Free labor” –oh yes, the horrendous exploitation of having kids pick up brooms to clean up after themselves. It’s so much better for their development to throw wrappers on the ground and expect some (often underpaid) custodian to pick it up for them.

    I really wish we’d adopt a Japanese-style lunch system. Every day I’m appalled by the plastic-wrapped squishy soggy things (burritoes, burgers), processed cheese and sweets that our kids get at the cafeteria. These kids need to be shown what healthy food is, and better nutrition would make them better learners.

  7. What are some of these downsides of Japanese schooling? All I ever hear about is how we’re failing and they’re not.

  8. A couple of years ago, one elementary school would have the kids sweep and wipe down the lunch tables. The health department shut down the practice.

  9. Margo/Mom says:

    Camps routinely have kids do such things as wipe down tables, sweep floors, empty trash. I have been around a couple who resisted such traditions as being demeaning to the class of kid that they worked with. In my experience this was just an invitation to mindless trashing of things.

    Even if there are tasks reserved for adults for health and safety reasons, I think things go better overall if kids have some responsibility for ongoing upkeep.

  10. The ISS kids clean up the cafeteria in my building. We also have a group of kids that maintains the landscaping — not the mowing, etc., but all the flower gardens. We have a great custodial staff. The combination of factors keeps our building in outstanding condition. We actually had a delegation from Europe come through once and compliment us on our orderliness. (We’re just a regular public school.)

    It’s probably worth noting that they don’t have competitive team sports in Japan like we have and several hours of that longer school day are devoted to intramurals and clubs.

  11. When I went to a boarding school, we had to do some of the cleanup. Definitely the dorm rooms, halls, and dorm bathrooms. Not the classrooms, though. Everyone had to spend at least one semester doing 3 hours of work service per week either in the cafeteria (serving, cleaning up) or grounds crew (raking leaves and picking up cigarette butts… but at least you got to go outside). I thought it was a good idea, especially since it was a state-run boarding school and they were spending lots of money on us already. It was a small price for us to pay for our our education.

    At the very least, it makes sense for kids to clean up their own desks. But I doubt that adding in cleanup duties is necessarily going to help with educational results. I think personal and communal responsibility are proper civic education targets, and this would help there, but picking disparate items from other countries’ schooling practices is unlikely to give the same academic results.

    Also, cooking their own food is a good idea, to the extent that home ec classes no longer exist. Home ec was one of my favorite classes (late 80s), up there with industrial arts (loved drafting). It’s nice to be able to make stuff.