Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Entrance exams

Many Japanese Jr. High school students are in limbo this week. High school entrance exams were yesterday and the results won't come back until next week. It is the topic of conversation everywhere I go. The poor students. The poor parents. The dramas that unfold. The paths lives will take.

The Japanese system is so confusing. My family went through it once and I didn't understand it then and still don't now. Somewhere in the line of education, parents and children decide that the child is mentally equipped to take the path to higher learning. Often children will start going to cram schools from 4th or 5th grade. And getting into cram schools can be a process in itself! Best to go to a great cram school if you want to get into a good jr. high and then a good high school (and then a good college) later on down the line!

But my family didn't take that road. Tetsu and I wanted our kids to have a normal (whatever that is) life with a lot of options along the way. I didn't like cram school which was fortunate because Takumi had no intention of going. So he went through the local elementary school education and entered a local jr. high school. (Some kids take entrance exams to the higher private jr. high schools.)

After three years of not studying through jr. high school he was ready to think about high schools. Well, we've got public and private. Public being the more appealing because they cost less. Private, in essence being the pot where the kids who couldn't get into public are thrown. All the jr. high students will take entrance exams to get into SOME private (you can apply and pay for numerous private high school entrance exams) high school and once your seat is assured in a private high school the student can now concentrate on passing the test for the public high school.

Takumi passed his exams for private high school! Oh good! At least we know he has SOMEWHERE to go when April comes! But he and the rest of the jr. high school students were aiming for a public high school and those are definitely set by rank. The teachers had already informed us about WHICH public high school might be suitable.

"If your son applies himself he has a good chance of getting into such-and-such a school."


"It might be better for your son to think about a less challenging school."

If the student does not pass the public school examination then it is off to the private school with his head hung in shame (the whole world knows that he FAILED, right?)

It seems so stupid now, but parents and students and teachers hold that the child is standing on the brink of a life of success or a life of failure at the age of 15!

Takumi took his test. A week later the high school test results were POSTED at the high school so Tetsu and Takumi went to the school and checked the result board, NOT finding his number and Takumi entered private high school in April. Whether it was a shock for him to find that he did not pass his entrance exam or not I don't know. For the parents it means thousands of dollars a year to go to high school... (A couple thousand deposit on registration day!)

I can remember Tetsu saying to Takumi.

"Listen, Buster. I am not stupid. If I am going to pay out all this money I expect you to go to school every day and get a diploma. If you are planning to drop out along the way then I'm not even going to bother giving the school this deposit!"

(Takumi was less than a sterling student in jr. high school. He is now thinking of graduate school. "Ho-ho-ho-ho~~~" this mother says with a toss of her head!)

Leiya skipped all the above. She decided to go to American high school.

Leiya's good friend was the top student in her jr. high school. We all knew that M-chan was headed places! For her entire 9 years of education she had gotten straight A's. There was no doubt that she would easily pass her exams and gain entrance to the elite girls high school in the next city over. But SHOCK! M-chan didn't pass! (Caught a cold that day? Forgot to sign her paper? Who knows why...) The despair of the girl, the buzzing that went around the community, the tears of the parents, the empty words of comfort and consolation from the teachers. I know M-chan's mother cried and avoided people for WEEKS after the test results.

But you know M-chan went off to a private school and the last I heard she is studying law, so it goes to show that the public high school seat doesn't need to be so revered after all.

I wish I could tell that to the poor kids who are waiting in limbo this week. You are 15 and your life can lead ANYWHERE! Enjoy it!

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