This is not the first thread about education, but it is an important topic, and one that is particularily interesting to discuss in an international community like ours.

I have expressed my concerns about the Japanese education system before (e.g. this thread), and I still feel like discussing it as there are high probablities that my future child(ren) will be born in Japan, and possibly also educated there.

Among the most negative aspects of the Japanese education system are :

1) too based on memory, and almost complete lack of critical analysis and debate.
2) no choice of other foreign language than English before university
3) very poor English teachers (often they couldn't hold a conversation with a native speaker)
4) teachers lack professional knowledge. One secondary school teacher can teach several unrelated subjects (eg. maths, history and English), which is unheard of where I come from.
5) too uniformised curriculum. Teachers have no freedom to choose their textbook or create their own syllabus, or to choose what part of the curriculum should be more emphasized.
6) low level of education in general (eg. now students learn that the circular constant (pi) is 3 instead of 3,1415; students can speak English when they complete highschool; some university students have a 13-year old kanji level...)
7) poor general knowledge curriculum (little history and geography)

I hope things change before I have kids and they reach the age of compulsory education.

Here is how things were when I was at school. I think it is quite representative of the "typical" Western Europen curriculum and system. Please let us know about your own experience in your country/state to compare. Each point is developed in contrast with my complaints about the Japanese education system above. American members, note that "primary school" means "elementary school", and "secondary school" means "(junior & senior) highschool" in British English.

1) I was taught since primary school that memory was less important than understanding. Tests were usually made in such a way that those who simply memorised without understanding could not answer the questions (especially in secondary school). Typical questions for history would be "read the text and explain why things were like that at the time or what causes these events... In physics or chemistry, we usually had to explain our calculations in margin. A student that reached the right answer to the problem but was not able to explain his/her reasoning would fail a year end exam.

2) In my school, all students had to take at least 1 modern foreign language for 6 years (4h/week), 1 for 4 years and optionally 1 more for 2 years. Ancient languages (Latin and Greek) could be added to this optionally since the beginning.

3) Language teachers in Europe normally must have a university degree in the language they teach (even if they speak like native speakers).

4) Similarily to 3, all teachers must have a university degree directly related to the subject they teach. A mathematician will never be allowed to teach language, arts or even sciences subjects for instance. However a chemist could be allowed to teach physics too, as physics courses are included in studies of chemistry at university.

5) This is one of the most contrasting point with Japan. Teachers have the freedom not only to choose their textbooks (not from an officially approved list, but from any books), but can also decide not to use textbooks at all, create their own syllabus, or just write on the board and speak without material, like at university. In fact, several of my secondary school teachers (about a third) had also taught at university.

In primary school, teachers usually write everything on the board, and pupils must copy everything, so as to memorise everything once (which they wouldn't necessarily do if they had a textbook with everything in it). Textbooks are only used for exercices, especially in maths (sometimes the teachers would give photocopied pages instead).

Teachers are also free to emphasize parts of the government's curriculum and usually add things that are not in the curriculum. Therefore, what students really study depends not only from the school and options, but also of the teachers themselves. And the differences can be huge. For example, teachers usually go faster with a "good class" (more able students), and those students may learn up to half more in a year than students from another class with the same teacher.

Japanese teachers so not have any of these freedoms.

6 & 7) In my secondary school, all students had 6 years of compulsory maths, native and foreign language, sciences, history, geography and Phys.Ed. + options (more of some of these subjects + other subjects). From what observations of the Japanese textbooks and classes, the level of maths is a bit lower and that of languages, history and geography is much lower in Japan.

If you are from Europe, can you identify your (former) school with my description. If you are from outside Europe, how is/was your education system ?