IB vs. the Japanese High School System

Which Education is best for you?

              As a tenth grade student who is currently studying at a Japanese high school, there is one question that I cannot ignore: is this the best education for me? Privileged with experiencing the IB MYP (Middle Years Program) and now the traditional Japanese high school program, I have forced myself upon the question of whether this education path was best for the life ahead. Completing the MYP and moving on to the IB Diploma Program would have opened up more options for universities abroad. Though this would have been a more appealing option on paper, realistically, to achieve a full IB Diploma with the highest grades would have meant ridiculous amounts of work. Whilst graduating a Japanese high school meant that options abroad would be limited, it would mean not having unnecessary workloads. Completing the course would still require a decent amount of studying, but significantly less than the IB. It also allows more time to work on other things, most likely extra-curricular activities. Some of the pros of the Japanese high school system are getting used to the examination process, belonging to a ‘bukatsu’ and experiencing the Japanese culture. The main cons are that there is less interactive work and the chances of enrolling at a university abroad become fewer.

              In an IB school, examinations are not taken as seriously as a Japanese high school until the students enter the Diploma program, which is only the last two years of the IB. In a Japanese high school, in total, there are five examinations in a school year, all of which count heavily toward the students’ grades. This prepares the students well for any future examinations that they may face, such as in universities, or even taking the SATs. The routine for studying for an exam does not come quickly to any student, as they need time to become comfortable with studying for hours and enough rest to achieve the best score. In contrast, the IB does not offer many examinations until the final two years of school, which is not enough time for the students to get used to the examination process. Therefore, the Japanese secondary high school offers a better environment to create a student who is well prepared to take a test.

              In Japan, belonging to a school ‘bukatsu’ is different from joining a club or a team in an IB school or any other English speaking school. An IB school has seasons in which different clubs are available, and those activities are only available during certain seasons. Belonging to a ‘bukatsu’ means that a student will participate in that ‘bukatsu’ for three years. This form of belonging to one club for a long period of time is a Japanese tradition, and not belonging to one during high school is taboo. This is excellent preparation when entering any long-term activities in the future (e.g., a company, a society, or even a marriage). The act of belonging to a single activity for a long time can help strengthen physical and mental abilities, because of the time each student spends working with the club. These abilities can be obtained from teachers that chaperone the activities, team or club mates and discovering things yourself. Most sport-based ‘bukatsu’ have practice six times a week. The fact of going and doing something other than work for six days a week trains one mentally, and working the body out most days helps physically. Compared to the season form that schools outside Japan have, this is much better preparation for the future of the student.

              Finally, the experience of Japanese culture is most thorough at a Japanese high school. One of the cultural differences from a Western school is that there is neo-Confucianism in Japan. A very common part of this neo-Confucianism in Japanese high schools is the respect juniors have for their elders. Respecting elders is an important factor when living in a Japanese environment. Elders are treated with a lot of respect by their juniors. Whether it is a teacher to student relationship or a senior student to junior student relationship, the fact that they are being treated with much more respect stays the same. Juniors speak to their elders with a more respectful language and greet them respectfully by bowing their heads. The fact that there is such a large gap between juniors and seniors leads to hazing, where seniors make juniors work unnecessarily or make them do stuff simply for their entertainment. The hazing of the juniors is very common among high schools in Japan, and almost everyone has experienced a taste of what it is like.

              On the other hand, Japanese high schools create environments for students to become too isolated, and social skills are harder to obtain than in an IB environment. Small things such as having a single desk instead of small group tables, and during almost all classes having little or absolutely no interaction at all with peers contribute to the fact that Japanese people have very few social skills. In an IB school, almost every class has some sort of group work where students share thoughts on a topic and generate ideas together. These group activities are vital in preparing the students to be more social, and to be more interactive. The lack of social skills is reflected in how some students find it difficult to communicate with teachers or even with other students. In an IB school, there are opportunities such as when students are approached by other students to work together for a lab or a presentation even if they aren’t friends. The level of interactivity in Japanese high school is extremely low, thus students having little knowledge of how to approach other people, and become uncomfortable talking with people they don’t really know.

              Learning at a Japanese high school can make it difficult for students to apply for universities abroad simply because there are few Japanese schools that offer programs such as the SAT, which is required when applying for any university in the States. Teachers at the school will only help students if the students come and ask for help. Students who are not sure about what they might do in the future do not get any information about how to enroll at a university abroad. At an IB school, the primary goal is for students to get into the university they want to attend. To do this, each IB school hires college counselors to help guide the students, whilst in Japanese high schools, there is no such person. The environment in Japanese high schools makes it difficult for students to even approach the idea of studying abroad, as there is too little information given out by the schools.

              Given these pros and cons several facts have become clear. Firstly, the Japanese high school system creates a student who will succeed in a Japanese environment and prepares students individually for the future. The system strongly encourages students to become more independent and take steps on their own so that they can overcome the problems facing modern society in Japan. On the other hand, the IB teaches students to be more interactive and prepares the student for globalization. So the decision here is whether being Japanese or being globalized is more important.

              Going back to the original question as to whether this education path is better for me, the answer is yes. Although the IB offers a much better curriculum to prepare students for globalization, the work load does not accurately reflect the final outcome of what happens most of the time, and it focuses too much on getting into a good university. A Japanese high school teaches students to be traditionally Japanese and prepares them for life even after university. In the end, it is a decision of whether being more globalized or being yourself is more important.  For me, as a Japanese person, it is important to learn the culture during high school. Belonging to a bukatsu, learning how to study for a Japanese-style exam, and having respect for elders are all excellent examples of how a Japanese high school is specifically designed to create a ‘Japanese’ citizen. Although being international and social is important, being Japanese is always going to be a priority. Applying for universities abroad can be difficult, but it is not impossible. A lot of work will be needed, but working hard for what you want is important. Therefore, the route of studying at a Japanese high school was the better option for me.


About genmaeda

My name is Gen Maeda and I lived in Bangkok for sixteen years. I look forward to reading and writing more creative stories in Sarah's class.
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2 Responses to IB vs. the Japanese High School System

  1. Hi Gen. I was interested by your mention of Confucianism. My knowledge of it is extremely limited but to me it seems very individualistic, in a way. Isn’t the first step to cultivate the self with the very best knowledge? It’s difficult for me to understand. Anyway, I like your blog, I hope to see more posts in the future.

  2. Hillel Weintraub says:

    Hi Gen, I read your essay comparing your experience with IB education in your middle school experience and your Japanese education experience in High School, specifically at Doshisha International High School. What I particularly liked about your essay was that it was very personal and you wrote about your own experiences and ideas, and what was best for your own life, rather than try to make broad general statements about these two very different experiences. I taught at DIJr/SrHS for almost 20 years, coached basketball there, and had to children attend JHS in Brookline Mass. USA and the HS at DIHS. So I could relate to a lot of what you wrote. I’m not a big fan of many of the sepai/kohai traditions and ran my club a bit differently, but reading your article I was able to get some new ideas about the value such things have for those who CHOOSE (that’s an important word) to enter into a traditional Japanese company.
    … well done, Gen

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