Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No Fail Policy

Before I started working at the college I had no idea of the existance of Japan's 'no fail policy'. Students who were getting 25% in exams were being boosted to an 85% so it all looked good on paper and so that everyone remained happy. Especially as they had paid. Not realising it wasn't only the college I worked at that did this, I talked to a few more people and was horrified to learn it's a widespread thing throughout Japanese schools and universities.

It doesn't matter how well you do. You cannot be failed. How terrible is this for a lesson in life?

I think this thread from the Japan Forum explains it very well. Actually, it talks about the Japanese education system in general and is well worth a read, including all the comments.

What do you think? Do you think this is an acceptable lesson to teach to kids, teens and young adults? Is it common-place in any other countries?

I find it particularly ironic in a country where success in private English exams like IELTS, BULATS, TOEIC (oh the dreaded, pointless TOEIC), EIKEN and so on are so highly encouraged and sought that academic institutes have such a different point of view on regarding every day studies.



Anonymous Lulu said...

When you talked about this before I thought it sounded strange (unfair on you and the students...You are right that is not a lesson in life people should be taught) and I am so surprised that it is widespread...

Especially considering if they are definintely going to pass why do they stay up all night studying....Shumpei`s highschool study stories sound horrifying...


8:11 pm

Blogger Jo said...

DO share some of Shumpei's stories please!

10:53 pm

Blogger Sigsy said...

My husband just scroed 915 on the TOEIC test and I am very proud!

11:45 pm

Blogger Jo said...

yeah well, we wouldn't expect less of him, would we?!

i feel a celebration may be in order!

the thing IS, he has wonderful spoken english. many people who take TOEIC AND get high scores, cannot speak english. THAT'S my problem with that exam.

12:07 am

Blogger Sigsy said...

Ok I just read the article.
I teach in a Japanese high school and I don't agree with the teaching style, but that is because I am a huge advocate of a more experiential way of learning with free thinking as well as teaching. The kind of education that I was lucky enough to have received in the UK comprehensive system in the 1980s. So I think there are some things to bear in mind.
Japan is different is a good place to start. It is different, with an entirely different belief system and cultural matrix.
Wa - the wish to keep harmony.
Group think - the success of the group is far more important than that of individuals. Thus keeping scores within certain parameters is encouraged in order to bring up the performance of the group.
Maveriks or failures are discouraged because this will negatively impact the group performance, which is key.
The idea is to have an avergaely higher score, or performance as a group rather than individually. It is very very difficult to get one's head around the logic of this because Western culture places far more importance on individuality and that is prgrammed into our cultural DNA.
Just as a Japanese people find it very difficult to express opinions that use 'I' rather than 'we Japanese' or more generalised expressions. Group think is the cultural inheritance.
Peak performance: If one focusses on successes, it is said that one can achieve greater successes in the future. In the West, this had been extensively researched by Bandura. When one puts the exam marking into this context, it makes more sense. Assess the performance of the students, log it, ensure that the group has average scores that are above a certain level, bring the collective self belief of the group up and consequently allow the students to perform better in the future.
Hofstede's values are very interesting with regards to explaining the cavernous differences of cultures with some quantitative assessment.
To give a well rounded view of how we judge other cultures:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orientalism_(book) Edward Said's thinking on orientalism is good to have as an overview, and while I don't advocate all of his thinkings I can understand many of the concepts and accepting myself as intrinsically orientalist in the first place, helps me think in different way when assessing some ideas I have about 'rightness' and 'wrongness' of cultural differences.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of the education system in Japan. I think it needs a serious review, but I can tell you this in my school:
Kids work very bloody hard.
They arrive as early as 7 (along with the full time teachers) to do club activities.
They have regular tests and if they don't make the grade they have to resit and get a lot of support from the staff.
They leave school as late as 7 after club activities.
The teachers too.
Teacher don't get the same holidays as their UK counterparts.
The kids, for the most part, enjoy school and look happy.
Some clearly don't. Just like my secondary school.
They sleep a lot less than I used to.
Kids of more affluent families are more likely to go on to higher education, just like the UK.
If you go to certain schools, you are more or less guaranteed a place at university. Just like the UK. (Oxford or Cambridge anyone?)

I went to a super school, for which I am very grateful!
Shout out to St Mary's comprehensive, Wallasey, Merseyside.

12:27 am

Blogger berusplants said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:00 am

Blogger berusplants said...

A comment, happy now!
To be honest its not a subject I have any interest in or wider knowledge about so I have no relevant comment, sorry.
All I need to know about education here is what I have to do to get paid the most! If I ever had kids that might change, but then again it might not.


1:02 am

Blogger The Pixy Princess said...

Maybe I am missing the point here -is it just the language schools that are doing this? or everyone?

even in the case of the lang schools, I'm not in favour of "passing" someone who would other wise be scoring as low as 25%this jsut means that you are creating a false impression of a) the student b) the course - its so "easy" that everyone passes.

I have been studying languages for a long time now - French, Italian and ASL. In all cases, if the student did not "pass" the final exam, they were not allowed to progress to the next grade. They had to repeat the class. this is only fair because if they move on to the next grade, all they do is hold everyone back.

Case in point - my dance classes. everyone is allowed to move on to the next level if they wish. But in reality, some people should not be allowed to continue as they have not mastered the information/skills from the previous level and this makes it frustrating for the rest of the students.

Discussion continued on my blog!

5:09 am

Blogger Jo said...

sigsy - thanks for your considered response! i'm not questioning that kids work hard. i've seen enough exhausted teens coming to lessons to know that they are pushed to the hilt, often six days a week and, in some cases with juku (cram school) on top of their regular days and club activities for up to six days a week. i've taught kids who in the school holidays have to go to juku every day. i know that they get homework from school and from juku and i know how knackered they are.

to be honest, i don't know about exams in schools. i do know the kids get a lot of tests, but the point i'm wittering on about is the news of how in universities things take a turn for the easier in some cases. i've spoken with students who studied in japan and in a foreign country and were amazed at how they had to actually DO work in foreign universities.

i've also seen how difficult the (english) university entrance exam is for the students here - and yet, i've also taught students who've passed the exam and who cannot speak more than reasonably bad elementary level english at best. ditto the toeic. i've taught students with high scores who cannot speak english either.

most frighteningly i've taught high school teachers of english who can barely put a sentence together.

but i'm going off on a major tangent here.

it doesn't really matter how widespread the 'no fail' policy is. the fact that it exists in higher education at all is, in my opinion, a very frightening thing and i think it is extremely sad for the students that do work really hard that their not-so-hard-working fellow students are also being handed a pass.

but then, this is a country where kids can be put into juku from 2 or 3 years old in order to get into the best kindergardens - and never have to worry about whether or not they'll get into a good school higher up the line or have to worry about university entrance exams.

(some universities are connected to schools, so if a student gets into one of these schools, it's a clear trip through to the end of their education without needing to apply to another institute again).

nic - i'm not talking about language schools, i'm talking about regular higher/further education.

10:54 pm


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