How a teacher in Japan rates his job: robot

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Hideaki Nakajima (an assumed name) wants to quit teaching. He is disgusted at the ''intolerable pressures'' members of his profession are facing.

''There is no longer any joy, any sense of a sacred vocation,'' the social studies teacher laments.

''Too much is being demanded of schools,'' he continues. ''The government expects us to turn out model citizens who will solve all the nation's problems. Parents expect their children to be educated to become one of the intellectual elite, able to get a good job with a famous company that will impress the neighbors.

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''If miracles don't occur, it is we individual teachers who get the blame.''

A teacher's life in Japan these days, he says, can be summed up: If you are not being beaten up by your students, you are being blamed by parents for their bad marks or even bribed to fiddle a few changes.

Around this time every year, Japanese newspapers carry articles about defects in the current education system. They concentrate on ''examination hell'' --the bitter struggle from kindergarten to high school to gain entry into the handful of prestigious universities from which the government and big-name companies do most of their recruiting.

The gate is narrow. Many try, but only a few get through.

For the average parent, the educational emphasis is on ''pressure cooker'' rote methods that will result in high marks in exams.

Nakajima says this obsession with good marks means he and his fellow teachers are little more than robots ''standing up in front of a class of bored youngsters parroting the words of government-approved textbooks, with no time for explanations for slower children.''

Attempts at creativity quickly lead to parental complaints and a rebuke from school authorities, a number of his colleagues claim.

The teachers' union, Nikkyoso, says there is widespread parental mistrust of the formal education system.

As a result, in the past decade, the majority of parents have resorted to the extra boost offered by privately run ''prep schools'' that operate in the evenings and weekends.

Typical was the recent opening of a Tokyo ''prep school'' for two- and three-year-olds being trained to pass stiff entrance exams for top-rated kindergartens with either good connections or a good record of placing their pupils on the next rung of the education ladder.

Saying it wants to create ''cheerful, creative, and cooperative citizens for the 21st century,'' the school charges a $250 admission fee, plus monthly tuition costs ranging from $150 to $200. Its five classes are already full and there is a long waiting list.

The Education Ministry has attempted reforms of the examination system, but the reforms have been less than successful and have even lead to abuses.

A number of schools have been accused of fiddling marks to help favorities or merely improve their image.

A top Tokyo Christian university, Aoyama Gakuin, was recently rocked by scandal. Its president had admitted children of politicians and businessmen likely to help graduates get good jobs, even though the students' entrance examination marks were not up to scratch.

Other famous schools have been embarrassed by similar backdoor admissions revelations in the past few years. Teachers have complained they face pressure from parents and school authorities to improve students' marks.

Teachers speak of late-night visits to their homes by mothers bearing gifts or envelopes stuffed with money.

Teachers are also on the receiving end when youngsters exposed to the ''study harder'' solution to all their problems lash back in frustration. Police figures show there were 772 attacks on teachers last year. The national police agency has just warned of violence for the graduation season approaching in March.

A recent national teachers' conference was told that the violence that began in high schools in the early 1970s has seeped down to elementary schools.

But Hideaki Nakajima says bluntly: ''Given the present obvious flaws in our education system, maintained by egotistical parents obsessed with the image of 'success,' I don't blame many of these kids for striking out. I think I would.''

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