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Caught on Japan's education escalator

For a few days recently the indomitable Benjamin Spock became the spokesman for children caught on Japan's education escalator. Speaking before a thousand mothers, teachers, and administrators here for a Year of the Child celebration, the pediatrician-writer-agitator exclaimed:

"I was horrified to learn that Japanese children have to go to school after school!"

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At this reference to "juku," or cram schools, mothers and teachers interrupted his speech with sharp applause. They were, it seemed, delighted with his outspokenness.The occasion was the International Mothers Symposium, held this past summer in Nagoya, as part of Japan's observance of the 1979 International Year of the Child. Guests were Japanese parents and educators and 74 foreign delegates, or "the foreign mothers," as conference officials called them.

Representing 39 nations, including China, Egypt, Finland, Ghana, Israel, Peru , the United States, and the Soviet Union, most of the women live in Japan as wives of Japanese.

Most of their children attend Japanese schools, which the mothers appeared to both respect and deplore.

Invited as guest speaker by the Private Kindergarten Association of Aichi Prefecture, the province of which Nagoya is the capital, Dr. Spock spoke out against what he called the "major evils" of education. He was quick to admit that his ideas in education result primarily from his experiences in the US.

Yet, he hit on one area dear to the Japanese school system. He condemned an emphasis on memory work, which is essential for students taking entrance examinations for Japanese universities.

To pass the exams, Japanese students must memorize huge amounts of material in history, science, mathematics, literature, and languages.

Dr. Spock labeled the giving of excessive homework "an illusion of teachers and parents" which implies that the more a child does, the better prepared he is for the university.

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At the same time the cram schools, or "juku," meet for 40 of those 50 days to prepare students for February entrance examinations into junior or senior high schools, or to universities.


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