Learning, The Japanese Way  


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Japan is well known for several things: amazing food and culinary presentation, advanced technology, and excellence in attention to detail. However, there is an important part of Japanese culture that is often overlooked – their education system. Tasks considered insignificant to many are rites of passage in Japan – and the results of adopting such a culture are evident in how the Japanese carry themselves.

Here are some of the practices Japanese schoolchildren grow up with, that we can all learn from.


1. Taking responsibility with Souji


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Souji is an honourable task that every Japanese elementary school student does with pride. In fact, this system is so ingrained that there are no janitors hired in schools there! Every day, 15 minutes is allocated for students to clean the school, including sweeping and mopping the floor, emptying trash bins, cleaning the windows and even scrubbing the toilets – thus having a high sense of responsibility instilled in them from young.

While going about their cleaning duties, students also interact with their classmates, forming a lively atmosphere.


2. Eating as education


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There are no canteens in Japanese schools, and students and teachers eat the same meals together in the classroom. Meals are usually cooked in a central kitchen, but students take turns to prepare and transport the food and drinks on a special cart from the kitchen to their classrooms.

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Moreover, students who are on duty for the day need to dish out portions to their classmates on a tray. All this is done with proper attire – like masks and hair caps – and the whole process is organised and sanitary.

The Japanese believe such exercises indirectly cultivate children to feel gratitude towards the food that nourishes them. In essence, every kid is taught to appreciate food from young and to never waste a single grain.


3. Learning through farming


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Elementary school students planting bitter gourd seeds in their school’s garden Source

Getting one’s hands dirty is part and parcel of a great learning experience. In Japan, it is very common to see elementary school students growing their own fruits and vegetables in classrooms or out in the field. In fact, most of their produce is grown locally and these include rice, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet potatoes.

Hands-on activities like these are believed to impart interest, respect and appreciation for the healthy and balanced diet they have every day. Brilliant indeed.


4. Students teach what they learn     


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A typical Math lesson in Japan starts with the teacher showing the students how to approach a problem, before asking them to complete one question on their worksheet. Whoever solves it first will raise his hand and have his working checked. If done correctly, this student will go to the second student who raises his hand – to check his peer’s work and guide him if necessary.

I find this method pretty effective and commendable. By teaching someone else what you’ve learnt, you will understand and remember more of it, compared to someone who is merely listening to the teacher talking. Besides, it also promotes the spirit of looking out for others and lending a hand when needed. Hopefully, Singapore can implement this method of learning in the near future!


5. A high sense of respect and self-discipline


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Teachers are often faced with the unenviable task of handling and controlling unruly students. However, this is rare in a Japanese school as children there are taught a sense of self-discipline and respect for others from young. Students bow every morning to greet their teachers and they also serve lunch to them in class. As a result, Japanese kids have far fewer disciplinary issues compared to other countries.

In the Japanese education system, it is considered more important to put in your best efforts than to achieve the goal being set – a value deemed to central to a child’s development.


Back to basics with Japanese education


There is no perfect way to educate a child as every kid is unique in his or her own way. However, some of the fundamental values that Japanese schools inculcate in their students are worth highlighting. Even though it is not possible for a country to transform itself completely according to the mould of another, there’s definitely something to be learnt from our neighbours.

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