Difficulties of High School Entrance in Japan

Entering high school can be a difficult process in Japan.


(picture was drawn by Marc Mondor)Let me prefix this writing by stating that these are my ideas of how things work. I may be mistaken in a many areas of this writing, and if so, I apologize and hope someone will point out the mistakes.As a Canadian, my experience with education is limited to my personal experience growing up in Canada. When I was of high school age, entering high school was nothing I ever thought too much about. All students HAD to attend school until the age of 16, which usually occurred sometime during a student's first year in high school. Most students went to the high school nearest their home, and if there was more than one high school, students had a choice. In my case, the choices would have been between one regular high school, one technical high school, and one French-language high school.Many years later, I am now living in Japan. Things work a little differently here than they do in Canada.For starters, children are only required to go to school until the age of 15, which means technically they don't have to go to high school. This is an important point. Of course, most children finish high school and even go to university, but it's not required that they enter high school.Children, important as they are, even more so here in Japan where the population is rapidly diminishing, seem to be in a continual schooling battle. Try to enter a good pre-school to get into a good elementary school, to enter a good junior high school, to enter a good high school, then university, then company. Do the ends justify the means? Well, I have my opinion on that, but that's for another day.Yes, public schools are free. But, there are school lunches to pay for, uniforms to pay for, school trips within Japan and abroad to pay for, and so on and so on. My idea of free and this idea are a bit different.So, let's say you're living in my city of Naruto and you want to go to high school. During your 3rd year of junior high school, you'll be writing tests (multiple-choice, often) in a variety of subjects. All students in the territory (called prefectures in Japan) write the test the same day, and your score is compared to everyone in your school.After many of these tests, you're given a comprehensive score which is compared to all other students in your territory. To enter your chosen high school, if your scores are high enough, your teachers may write a letter of recommendation allowing you to enter the high school.If not, and this applies to the majority of students, it's first come first serve. The higher your scores, the more schools you can apply to, knowing that you'll probably be able to choose the school of your choice. Those with lower scores have limited choices about where they can apply to go.Individual schools may also hold entrance tests, for a fee. A high score on one of these tests, held on the weekends, may allow you entrance into your favourite high school.There is a lot of juggling of the students' requests and the schools' availability of seats in the school. After months of juggling, teachers recommend the best choice for students to apply for. It must be extremely stressful for the teachers as well as the students and their families trying to find a place in a high school.Last night, our family was called to the junior high school at 3 AM to meet with the teacher to discuss the final choice of placement for our daughter. 3 AM. Yet, surprisingly, we were not the last people to meet with the teachers that night.In the end, most students are matched with a high school and continue with the education. But there are times where a student may choose to ignore the schools' recommendation and try for a school that may be beyond their capabilities. The students may hope that their scores on one of the special entrance tests may be high enough to enter, and also hope that there will be a spot available for them to enter the school. Unfortunately, sometimes there is misjudgement, and a student is not accepted into any high school. These students then have to sit out for one year and try again the following year.At the end of the day, I just have to ask 'why?'. When children are so important for society, why is this stress forced upon them, upon their families, upon the schools and their staff? Why isn't education a guaranteed right until the end of high school, especially considering the situation where the population is decreasing?I wish all students the best of luck for their high school entrance; may it be smooth and free of difficulties.

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