The results for my eldest son’s entrance exam for junior high school were announced on February 3rd. No matter what the result, I wanted to share in the outcome of the hard work that my son had put in for over a year and a half, so I decided that I would also go along. If he passed, we could celebrate together and if he failed, I could encourage him. My eldest son, a student in elementary school, must have felt an absurd amount of pressure for the past 18 months and, in particular, the past several days. Regardless of the results, I wanted to praise him for the hard work he had done.
There were three days of exams on February 1st, 2nd and 3rd. My son got up at six every morning, did some light review of his work while eating breakfast, and then left the house accompanied by his mother. Then, when the exams were over, he returned home together with his mother. Tired out, he had a nap at home and spent his time relaxing before taking a bath and going to bed early.
This routine was repeated on February 1st and 2nd but on the afternoon of the 3rd, the cycle changed. After the exams on the 3rd, the results for the exams sat on the 2nd were announced on the web at 2 pm. Since my son and his mother were out of the house and not able to check the results, I looked them up on a computer at work instead. Timidly I scrolled through the ID numbers for the examinees. Then, when I found the number, I pumped my fist in the air and quickly rang my wife’s mobile. I said only one word, “Congratulations.” She passed the phone to my son, and I told him, “Congratulations. You passed.”
“Yes! I’m really happy!” His voice carried his excitement over the phone. This was the moment when junior high school exams were finished for my son. If he had failed the exams on both the 1st and the 2nd, the exams would have continued on the 4th, 5th and beyond. A rigorous schedule with a long exam load would have been waiting.
I made arrangements to meet them and went in my car to get the two of them. Picking them up at a school in the metropolitan area, we headed to the preferred school for the announcements of the results. Recently, many schools post the announcements on the web, but this junior high school still persisted with posting announcements on a notice board.
With pounding hearts, we headed for the school, passing through the school gates and entering the courtyard. In that place, dramas of alternating joy and sorrow unfolded. I led the way, glancing through the numbers, looking for my son’s examinee ID. My heart continued to pound and beat wildly. I was able to confirm the ID on the notice board and when I turned toward my son, it was as if he had seen it at the same time because the expression on his face relaxed and changed into a smile. Mother and son, the whole family was happy together. Feeling the cold air under the expanse of blue sky, we were able to share our joy as a family in that courtyard.
Some friends of my son from his cram school had gathered at the other side of the notice board. They congratulated each other on their hard work, holding each other by the shoulders, pumping their fists in the air and taking photos to commemorate the occasion. But there were also many people who, unfortunately, had struggled in vain and had not been able to pass. The success ratio was one in three applicants. Thinking that an exam score alone had the power to change a person’s destiny, I had very mixed feelings. It may have been a difference of a single point. There may have been a mistake in the grading. But this is the reality.
(Even as I write this column, I am worried about parents who still have not finished with the junior high school exams. I hope you get good results. When you go through this process, you begin to understand so well how it feels if one’s wishes are not granted. Also, rather than talking about passing or not passing exams, the aim of this column is to share my thoughts on education with everyone. The story I have told above is a lead-up to that. Below, I will share my thoughts on education.)
As a couple, my wife and I have been discussing our children’s education ever since they were born.
(Please refer to the columns below)
A Diary of a Stay in Perth, Part 1: Educational Concepts in the Hori Family (Japanese)
Striving to Overcome Adversity, Part 1: Personal Development in an Affluent Environment
Each time I participate in international meetings such as the Davos Conference and come into contact with world leaders, it always makes me wonder how we can educate people who will be active on the world stage. Coincidentally, I have also started to think seriously about the best educational environment we can provide for children.
After elementary school, some families enroll their children in overseas boarding schools, while other families enroll them in international schools after elementary school. There are also cases where children are enrolled in escalator-style private schools where they study from elementary school through university. Another pattern is to go to public elementary and junior high school and then take the exams for high school and university. “So, what is best for the children?” becomes an important question.
Considering the issue, I had to think back on the paths we ourselves have taken. My wife and I both went to national or public schools until university. We attended elementary and junior high school at local public schools and, after passing the exams for public high school, went to national universities. Like “weeds,” so to speak, we carved out the path to our destiny by ourselves. It was also the cheapest way to do it. We both earned scholarships to attend graduate school (in my case, my company dispatched me) and studied at Ivy League schools in the United States. I spent one year of high school as an exchange student while my wife lived abroad during her elementary and early junior high years. That is how we were able to learn English reasonably well.
I think that this pattern of “making one’s own way like a weed” is actually the best one. Incidentally, in Tokyo the environment is completely different from the environment of rural Mito where I grew up. Briefly, it is a unique environment where many children in education-minded households tend to sit the junior high school exams.
In my son’s elementary school, a third to half of the students are sitting exams for junior high school. I am a little appalled to think about it myself but, for argument’s sake, let us suppose that the top 20-30% of the students in my junior high school had not gone to that school. What would the school I attended have been like then? Lately, people are saying that public schools are “rough” or that “there is chaos in the classroom,” and to some degree I agree. If the children of education-minded parents had not gone to my public school, it is possible that, even there, the tone would have been completely different. These days, teachers at school don’t use a slap in the face or other corporal punishment like they did in our time. It must be very challenging to maintain discipline. I can only guess about the hardships of school teachers, but I hope that the methods used today empower them to be successful.
If I were able to raise my children in a rural environment like Mito, I would choose pattern (1) of public elementary and junior high school followed by an entrance exam to public high school but, unfortunately, I can only acknowledge that under the circumstances, it is not possible to adopt this pattern in Tokyo. If I can’t choose the pattern that I myself followed, I have no option but to look at the range of alternatives, analyze the advantages and disadvantages and make a decision. In other words, we need the decision-making methods used at the “Graduate School of Management, GLOBIS University.” Thinking it over, I also assumed an inexhaustible supply of education funding in order not to rob myself of freedom of thought (under normal circumstances, international schools and boarding schools are absurdly expensive and do not enter into the picture for families like ours with many children. But then your thinking gets bogged down, in order to ensure freedom of thought I did not impose any restrictions.)
When you sort through the patterns, you get the five classifications below:
(1) Public elementary and junior high school and sitting exams for high school and university (the weed pattern that I followed)
(2) International school
(3) Overseas boarding school
(4) Escalator-style private school from elementary school to university
(5) Sitting junior high school exams (including public, private, and national) beginning from public elementary school.
There is also the alternative of moving abroad and putting children through schools overseas.
It becomes a matter of which of these to choose. Before making this important decision, you must define what kind of person you want to raise. After some discussion we arrived at the conclusion that it was “someone with the ability to be active in the world. A person who can contribute to both Japanese and global society.” So, we tried to think about what qualities are necessary for this.
(a) the strength and vitality of someone who is energetic and sturdy with a combative attitude
(b) the personal magnetism, leadership ability and kindness of a good personality
(c) the capacity for thought, insight and focus of an intellectual
(d) the ability to communicate in Japanese and English, and
(e) someone who retains a strong identity as a Japanese person.
Every time I encounter “people who have the ability to be active in the world” and who are of my generation, I make it a rule to ask them what kind of education they have had. As a result, pattern (1) mentioned above is relatively common among those who come from provincial areas. There are many good people among those who have graduated from prestigious schools in the provinces. We have hired relatively many at GLOBIS. In the city, pattern (5) is common while pattern (4) is common among owner-entrepreneurs. Patterns (2) and (3) are not very common, perhaps because there were not so many alternatives in those days .
On the other hand, I think that the qualities I mentioned above of (a) personal strength and (b) good personality are actually not acquired by schooling pattern alone. Generally speaking, there seem to be many people who have joined athletic clubs in junior high and high school, setting major goals and keeping up the self-discipline while training both mind and body every day. In short, it appears that many of the people who succeed are the sports-minded type. Hiroshi Mikitani (of Rakuten) and Takeshi Niinami (of Lawson), who are alumni of Harvard, are both the sporty type. Yoshiharu Hoshino of Hoshino Resort plays ice hockey, and since I swim I think that basically I also come under the category of the sports-minded.
Something else that is relatively common is that there is without fail some point of contact with other countries. Returnees (Japanese who spent some parts of their childhood abroad), high school exchange students, students who went abroad for university or graduate school, and those who lived overseas when they were students in elementary school have had this experience. Basically, it is important to create some opportunity to come into contact with foreign cultures and languages.
Meanwhile, it is important not to ignore the importance of education at home. Living in the same home, you have to be strict while giving them affection. You need to give them “rigorous trials” but always treat them lovingly. If there is nothing but rigor, it may break their hearts but if there is only affection, they may become pampered. Both the father and the mother need to constantly provide their children with balanced guidance.
Then, finally, there is their identity as Japanese. The more I travel overseas, the more predominant my identity as Japanese becomes. I believe that the samurai spirit of the Japanese people and our desire to contribute to society is something that can be universally accepted around the world. At the Davos Conference this year, there were discussions about the new style of capitalism and social contribution in business, and I often thought that the world has finally started to learn from the Japanese way of thinking. There is something beautiful about a figure that is straight in stature, maintains a high level of spirituality and has the historical viewpoint of a Japanese person. I would certainly like my children to acquire these virtues. Likewise, the game of go also entails “the way of go.” It starts with courtesy and it ends with courtesy. Being strong is not the point.
In short, I arrived at the conclusion that there are five important issues: training the mind and the body through sports, contact with other countries, education in the family, moderate trials, and an education in Japan.
At this point, the remaining alternatives among our choices were (4) escalator-style private school from elementary school to university and (5) sitting junior high school exams from public elementary school.
We thought about pattern (4), the escalator-style private school from elementary school through to university, but we dropped this alternative because in the view of our family, it was necessary to give the children the opportunity for the “rigorous trial” of taking a moderate exam, and we thought it would be important for the children to get to know ordinary Japanese society in a public elementary school.
So, in our home, we basically chose pattern (5) of sitting junior high school exams after public elementary school. With a local elementary school, the commute between home and school is also easy. Since our family is all boys, we had better give them trials. Sometimes people ask me about education for girls but I can only say that I don’t know because I have never seriously thought about it (laughing).
However, I don’t think that sitting the junior high school exams after public elementary school is perfect. There are many problems. There are ways of fostering Japanese identity in both international schools and boarding schools and I think that it is also possible to set trials at elevator-style private schools. Outside of Tokyo, there are also many public junior high schools.
It is not a matter of which option is the best. The important thing is that parents seriously think about what is the most appropriate.
When you go to public elementary school, there are children from all kinds of homes, which is actually interesting. There are people from the local shopping street, people from government-subsidized condominiums and people who live in apartment blocks. This variety is good. On the other hand, there is the problem of “bullying.” It is not a big deal in itself because “bullying” has been around for a long time. But I have a lot of doubts about the attitudes of adults toward “bullying.” Some become monster parents, overreacting and running to the board of education, and then there is the attitude of schools that cannot take the firm stance that “this is a problem for the school so please leave it to us.” But this is society in miniature. As a learning process, I think this is also important.
In order to play an active role after going out in the world, I believe it is necessary, wherever possible, to create a tough climate of competition that is similar to real society in the school setting. I studied the hardest for my university entrance exams and in my first year at Harvard. “Competition is good.” If there is no competition, there is no evolution or growth.
There are also other incidents that I find problematic. When I visited a certain junior high school to file an application, the content of the “application” gave me a surprise. The application for the GLOBIS Graduate School of Management includes essays and letters of recommendation so it is bulky, but the application for that junior high school was a single scrap of thick paper. The information to enter included name, address, name of elementary school and the name of the school principal and that was about it. In short, there were absolutely no questions about extracurricular activities such as go or involvement with class representation in elementary school. No school records or interviews. I handed over the scrap of paper and the receipt for the exam fee payment, and in return the scrap of paper was stamped with the examinee ID and half of it was handed back as “the admission slip for the exam.”
“Do they only want those who can score points?” It was a moment of doubt. In real society, not one thing is decided by points alone. Interviews or past career and achievements as well as the comments and critique of other people account for a lot. Assessment by points is hardly significant.
But because entrance exams to universities, the final gateway to integrated junior high and high schools, are decided by scores alone, there is not much to be done. Unless the way university entrance exams are handled is changed to be like universities in the United States, this issue will basically not be resolved.
In addition, some people have pointed out that “the effort spent on studying for junior high school entrance exams is not wasted.” As might be expected, I think there is no need to study for exams from 3rd or 4th grade in elementary school. But I think each one of the subjects of arithmetic, Japanese, science and social studies is very useful. Hiroshige Seko, a member of the House of Councillors who passed through the junior high school entrance exams, has said, “Not a single subject was a waste of time.” Since I have not had the experience, I don’t have the confidence to make such a definitive statement but it is probably beneficial for molding a structure for knowledge in the head. However, I certainly have some doubts about the effectiveness versus the time invested.
At any rate, there is no perfect alternative. There are advantages and disadvantages. You have to decide which path to take while keeping the advantages and disadvantages in mind. The home ends up compensating for the gaps in each of the patterns. In the case of our household, we equip the boys with “go, swimming and English” as “compulsory subjects.”
Recently, people have started saying the following, “Play go in elementary school. Do sports in junior high school. Study abroad in high school. Then, spend either the graduate or postgraduate years at a university overseas. After that make your own decisions about your own life.” These words are repeated like a mantra. Any other basic discipline can be done at home.
After we had decided on “the entrance exam for junior high school,” my eldest son started studying at cram school in the fall of the year he attended fifth grade. In our household, we had prioritized go until the summer of his fifth grade year. Even after he started sixth grade, my eldest son participated in a summer go tournament. When he was a fifth-grader, he had placed fourth in the country in the team event, and in the summer of his sixth grade year he topped this with the national victory that was his heart’s desire. Then, we moved on to the next goal. Since the world of go is tough, it is not easy to reconcile with other things.
(Refer to column: Striving to Overcome Adversity, Part6).
After agreeing on sitting the entrance exams, we had to decide on the first choice of schools together with our son. We visited arts festivals and school orientation sessions. The most important thing was to find a school where he himself wanted to go.
The environment for studying is also important. Even though we have five children, our home is relatively small. We felt strongly that it would not be to his advantage to make him work in an environment where there were many younger brothers. On the other hand, we also thought that the older brother’s entrance exams must not come at the expense of the younger brothers.
Basically, we divided the roles in such a way that my oldest son studied for the exams with the help of his mother whereas I looked after the younger brothers. As often as possible, I shared in taking the younger boys to go, swimming and tennis lessons. Twice or three times in the winter, I went skiing with the four boys, leaving my eldest son and his mother in Tokyo. While their older brother was immersed in studying for exams, the younger brothers were having fun skiing.
During the period of exam study, I tried to eat at home as often as possible. Otherwise, my eldest and second eldest sons would often quarrel. Both of them had already grown big and their mother could not control them. If a fight started, it was a big deal with holes in doors and broken glass. It is a mystery how it all settles down when the father is at home. Until the exams, I did all I could to reduce overseas business trips and I often declined dinner engagements at night.
At any rate, my son’s entrance exams are over. It’s a relief. I am not sure how to raise them in the future, but the entrance exams for the first one have finished for now. The entrance exams for the other four boys are waiting in the wings, and then there are the university entrance exams. Although we have to go through this kind of tribulation, I want them to grow at a steady pace.
This is the “tweet’ I posted on Twitter yesterday.
Getting up in the morning, my eldest son said, “Dad, I got into xx school,” once again reporting the results of two days before. I responded with “Congratulations. It’s the result of working so hard for a year and a half. Where there is a will, there is a way.” He must be very happy.
I want him to grow even more by passing through this trial.
February 6, 2010
On the plane to India