Dear Bill and Melinda,
We recently received a comment from Japan, which we feel deserves greater visibility and consideration in light of your recent corporate education reforms in the US. Please read it.
How do you feel about the prospect of our children attending cram schools here in the US? As teachers, we’ve already seen the effects of high stakes testing, and the narrowing of curricula, on students’ morale. Let’s not continue on this road.
-Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates
My name is Beniko Mason. I am an English teacher in Japan. From many messages that I receive on my facebook page , I can see that US teachers are very upset about being told how to teach and about being forced to give tests to children and students all the time. I do not understand why US is doing this.
That is what has been going on in Japan for the last 50 years. I am sure it is the same in Korea too. Japanese children from K to 12 are tested all the time. The teacher’s job is to help her/his students score high on tests. As the result Japanese students are not happy in school. When they don’t feel worthy of themselves in school, they will look for somewhere else to feel that way. Most of them find fun somewhere else outside of school.
Young Japanese people like to buy designer brand clothes and bags, dye their black hair yellow, shave their eyebrows to change the original shape, pierce their lips, and tattoo their body. Some of them work at night and become prostitutes to buy things. These young people are children from middle class families. These are the by-products of the wrong kind of education.
Test-centered education has been going on for 50 years. This kind of education has damaged two generations in Japan. With the current ways of teaching in Japan, only a tiny percentage of the students are winners. The rest are losers. Even when they spend money and time at a cram school, they don’t achieve the scores they need. Most children are educated to feel stupid and are forced to follow. Children are told that they are stupid. Their parents are told that their kids are stupid. They are afraid and feel threatened. So, they follow.
Many students commit suicide because of poor grades. Parents began to criticize teachers. Those parents who complained and voiced their opinions have been called “monster parents.” Some sneaky parents managed to manipulate teachers and get better grades for their children. Sometimes these “monster parents” try to fire teachers whom they don’t like. Teachers sometimes physically abuse their students. 12th graders bully the 10th graders. There is little respect for teachers from parents and students. Everyone has to work off their frustrations.
I am surprised to hear that the US is trying to do something that has been proven to be wrong in Japan. Japanese teachers are forced to give lessons to prepare for tests. Students are forced to do hundreds of mechanical drills endlessly so that they can automatically write correct answers on tests (mid-term tests, final tests, proficiency tests, practice tests, entrance exams, and daily tests).
There are cram schools everywhere in Japan where they charge high tuition, and many children are forced to go to a cram school after school as late as 9PM or 10PM. I see small children on commuting trains coming home from a cram school late in the evening. Parents must work overtime to pay for the cram school tuition. Many families can’t enjoy a summer vacation as cram schools offer summer intensive courses. The cram school teachers don’t get a vacation, either. Those cram schools hire college kids to teach some of the classes. The college kids don’t know how to teach, but they need money, so they teach according to their own method without any evidence of efficacy.
It is a big mess. Those teachers who understand all this try to be compassionate and do as much as they can, but when they do a good job, the current system gets the credit.
I hope you will not repeat this in America. The USA is supposed to be a good example to the world.