A lesson made in Japan

Japanese schools in Britain are models of parent/teacher co-operation, says Anna Udagawa
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The Independent Online
"What am I going to do today?" my six-year-old son asked somewhat optimistically. He had just heard me tell his seven-year-old brother that he was first going to have a Japanese lesson then maths, then a double lesson of science, and after lunch he would have an English lesson and then another Japanese lesson.

We are an Anglo-Japanese family and the reason I could tell him exactly what he would be doing at school is because he attends the Japanese School in Acton. This school, like every school in Japan, gives parents a copy of the week's timetable. Like all school timetables, this shows what lessons the children will have and when, but it also shows what they will learn in that lesson - which is why we get a new timetable every week.

Even for PE we know whether he is going to run, or practise throwing and catching a ball, or use the apparatus. This means that discussion of the day's activities is meaningful for all concerned and rather than saying, as you might do to a child going to a British primary school, "What did you do today?" and generally being told "Nothing" or "I did what I wanted", my husband and I can say, "How was your maths lesson?" and, "Did you find it easy to understand the difference between centimetres and millimetres?"

The outline details given in the timetable are reinforced by the fact that there is a textbook for every subject so that parents can see in greater depth what their children are doing. The Ministry of Education in Japan sets the national curriculum and publishers produce textbooks to fit the criteria - schools are then free to choose which publishers' books they prefer.

Because the children have to bring home their books every day, it is easy for parents to see where their children are having problems. My son has always found things to do with reading and writing fairly straightforward. But it is clear to us now that maths, in particular subtraction, is not a strong point. Thus my husband has sat down with him and is trying to help him to understand what to do - parents are expected to take an active role in their children's education in Japan.

It is reassuring for us that difficulties such as this are immediately apparent and that we do not have to wait for the termly "conferencing" session that most British schools offer in order to find out what our particular child's weaknesses or strengths are. We can visualise what goes on in the lessons, too, because parents are invited in once a term to observe one.

Through the Japanese system we can see his progress on a daily basis - and we still have a chance to talk to the teacher once a term about any particular problems.

There is also a get-together at the beginning of term for the parents (mostly mothers) to meet each other and also the teacher. The teacher explained to us what he expected of the children in the class and also said that if we had any concerns we could telephone him.

In the first month or so of term my husband talked to my son's teacher several times, because my son had a few problems, such as understanding what his homework was, since it is his first term in the Japanese School and his Japanese is not yet fluent. The teacher was always ready to listen and help out.

School life in Japan generally receives a negative press, but for all of us the switch to the Japanese system has been a positive and interesting experience. The British system, with its less developed parent/home links, could learn some lessons from the high levels of informed co-operation between school and home in the Japanese systemn

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