Saturday, February 11, 2006

On Japanese Schoolchildren

As of this moment, I am sitting in an NTT DoCoMo phone store using one of their many computers they have set up for people to just come in and chill and hopefully, buy a phone from them. The nice part is, it is only about a half mile away from my house. So as the title states, I am going to talk about Japanese Schoolkids. Jake wanted to know about them and this is a post that doesn`t require me to upload pics which is good because I cannot get to the tower for this computer to put anything in or hook anything up.

As I know I have said earlier, part of my degree is in Japanese and Chinese history and I have studied the Japanese culture pretty extensively so I was not totally shocked by some of the stuff I have seen here. I knew the kids here would be different from American kids but I did not know the extent to which they were different, now I do.

Before I get into the kids behavior, let me explain the Japanese school system a tad. Their system is similar to the American system but varies in a few different ways. First, American highschool kids take the ACT or the SAT their junior or senior year of highschool, these are supposed to be the tests that make or break whether or not you get into a good college and as a result, kind of determine the rest of your adult life if you do really well on them. I know people who absolutely wigged out when they had to take these tests, they are a little stressful if you let them be.

In Japan, the equivalent to these tests are taken in the ninth grade. These tests DO make or break the rest of your life here. In Japan, getting into a good highschool is the important thing, college is a breeze here as long as you survive highschool. Like colleges in the United States, there are different highschools for different vocations. Some highschools are known for their computer science and math programs, some are excellent schools for educational studies. Like universities in the States, these schools can be expensive and private. It is an unwritten rule in Japan that if you pass highschool, college is the time to unwind and slack off a little.

Once Japanese kids reach junior high, they are required to do certain things that are optional in the United States. First, you have to do a sport here. It is mandatory that some kind of extracirricular sport be played by each student. It is also frowned upon to not join a club here. Many of the junior high kids will also attend an afterschool cram school to help prepare them for the entrance exams for highschool. So when you add up all of the time these kids spend doing school or sport related activities, they are busy kids. If you were a Japanese junior high kid, your day would break down to something like this. You get up and go to school, school gets out around 2:30pm. After school, you go to your sport or club and do that for an hour or two. Then, you go to you cram school for another couple of hours so when you finish there, it may be like 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening. At that point, you may go to another club or in my kids` case, you may go to an English school to help you out with your English language skills. By this point in time, you are tired, hungry, and just want to unwind. After you are in English class for an hour, you finally get to go home, do you homework, and eat something. After your homework is done and you have maybe watched a little tv or played some video games, its bedtime and you go to sleep, knowing that you will be getting up at 5 or 6am to do it all over again. Basically, a lot of stress is placed on very young kids and once they hit junior high school, their childhoods are transformed into a young adulthood. Some of these kids take to this better than others, some don`t survive well into the new world they have just been forced into and get really depressed and/or don`t do well in school. Some of the kids end up killing themselves; Japan has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the world for this reason.

Now to my kids. Most of my kids are really cool and fun to teach. This is especially true for the younger kids. I teach kids that range from 3 years old to 15 years of age. The little kids are the most fun. My teaching is a lot more like playing with them and they are like sponges. I have found that the little kids are way better at picking up English than the older ones. This is usually true in learning most foreign languages but the difference in learning speed is like night and day. It is really cool to be able to see this.Many of the little kids are what the Japanese call genki. Genki is a term that loosely translates into good or energetic. Or in the little ones` case, hyper. That is what makes teaching them fun. Little Japanese kids also have to be some of the most adorable munchkins on the face of the planet.

The junior high kids are pretty much the exact opposite. The difference between 9 year olds and 10 or 11 year olds is night and day. The older kids will split into different groups automatically. First, the two sexes do not intermingle very much at this age. The kids do not like being put on the same team as the opposite sex and when they are, they usually will not participate. I have one class that is all girls and one boy and he will not do anything; he doesn`t like being there.

Aside from the sexual segregation, there are the cliques. This is especially true with the girls. The girls that I have observed are much more clique-ish than girls in the U.S. The guys will for their own groups too but usually they will at least interact with other guys even if they are not really friends. The girls don`t like being placed on the same teams as someone that is unpopular or not in their group of friends. When I say they don`t like being placed on those teams, I mean they won`t play or participate if they are put on to a team of people they don`t like. This makes team games difficult when I have classes like this.

There are ways to get around the barriers though. First, if the kids draw hashi they are okay with the teams they are put on. Hashi are chopsticks. I get chopsticks and put either a red or a blue mark on them and mix them up. For one reason or another, the kids are okay with the teams if they are placed in them by chance. On that same note, is jankin. I hope I spelled it right but jankin is the Japanese flavor of rock, paper, scissors. Any problem or dispute can be resolved with jankin and the results of the game are golden. The kids have absolutely no problem with the outcome of a jankin match and will not argue the results. There have even been cases where ties in politcal elections have been resolved by a game of jankin. It is weird but at the same time a very cool thing to watch. I may try to up a link to a video of the kids doing it if I get a chance.

Anywho, the older kids are either very very quiet, especially the girls. Or they are very rowdy. They will use my class to blow off steam from school and life in general. I can`t say I blame them too much either, here you are in a classroom with a white guy that can`t speak much Japanese and you had a bad day at school, you do the math. With the older kids, it is very difficult to get them to speak outloud to a group. They are taught in school to not really speak out and it shows. Very seldom have I seen the older kids willingly present something to the class.

It is funny, I can deal okay with the wild kids but the quiet ones really bug me. I hate teaching classes of nothing but junior high girls. The older kid classes usually don`t have more than a couple of kids in them and when it is just you and two or three girls that won`t interact with you at all beyond your lesson, it is odd. I hate hearing dead silence when I teach and that is all it is with the older ones sometimes. They also sometimes won`t make eye contact with you either. They are like children of the corn. In the States, it is the junior high kids that are usually the loudest and rowdiest, not in Japan.

Okay, this post has gotten really long. I am going to stop now and write another post on a phenomenon that some of the younger boys will exhibit every once in a while.


At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Phyrry said...

The best teacher I ever had made the class participate; she went through roll and made each and every person there answer a question, and in a class of ~75 she went through the roll list once for every two and a half class sessions or so. Of course, she was also an utter bitch, so we were all afraid of her and would do every problem just in case we were called upon.

Anyway. Backups are at 9 discs done out of God knows how many, the next one is giving me trouble (some Bach files have the same tags or something, grr) but I'll probably just skip it for the nonce and keep going. Just wanted to let you know the progress since I slacked on it pretty much up until this last weekend, but am now going strong; everything should be done by the end of the month at worst, by the end of the week at best.



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