WHAT TO DO ON A SATURDAY?
Five-Day School Week Gets Underway in Japan
July 18, 2002
The beginning of the new school year in April saw
the implementation of the new Courses of Study. As part of measures aimed at
giving students more room to grow, public schools are closed every Saturday
now, whereas students previously had only two Saturdays off each month. The
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology hopes
to provide kids with opportunities to have enriching experiences of society and nature with the help of schools, families, and communities.
The idea is to enhance children's ability to learn on their own.
Taking the Initiative
On one Saturday in April, nine-year-old Shun Tamagawa, a fourth grader at
an elementary school in Tokyo's Higashi-Murayama City, took part in a
special Saturday class offered at the National Science Museum located
in Ueno, Tokyo. He had been looking for something interesting to do on
Saturdays, so when he heard about the program at the museum, he hurried
to sign up. The theme of the class is different every week, and the day
that Shun went, students made microscopes out of glass balls and examined
strands of their hair. Shun said, "This was the first time for me
to really look closely at one of my hairs. It was really cool." The
program is extremely popular, and the museum saw a 50% rise in Saturday
attendance in the month of April, drawing about 3,000 people.
FM Miki, a radio station located in Hyogo Prefecture's Miki City, began
broadcasting a new program timed to coincide with the start of the five-day
school week. The program, titled "Youth Corner Blackboard,"
is aimed at middle-school and high-school students and is broadcast from
12:00 to 1:00 PM every Saturday. It features two high-school students
who take up various challenges on the air that have been "written"
on a blackboard. Among their future activities, they plan to perform rakugo
(a traditional Japanese form of comic monologue) in English.
Yoko Okada, who lives in Kyoto, has been taking her six-year-old daughter
on excursions to learn about nature and inviting families with children
of similar ages to come along. In April they went to a nearby river to
collect edible wild plants, and in May they went to the beach to make
salt from sea water.
From Aromatherapy to Canoeing
Many localities are also providing organized activities for kids. Tokyo's
Shinagawa Ward is already operating one "smile school" that
holds introductory classes for children in such subjects as go
and cooking. After the introduction of the five-day school week, though,
the ward plans to open three more such schools in September. These learning
centers will be made by remodeling classrooms left empty by the falling
number of students. And at specially designated model schools in Tokyo's
Itabashi Ward, a program is being implemented that provides elementary
and middle-school students with opportunities to experience with
such traditional arts as flower arranging and the tea ceremony. Students
can also study English and sports, and all the classes are taught by community
Different regions have been making different types
of programs available for children. In Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture,
students are learning about local history and culture. Elementary-school
students in Chiba Prefecture's Miyoshi are getting a taste of farming.
Kids and their parents in Kawamoto, Saitama Prefecture, are participating
in sports camps and competitions together. In Gunma Prefecture's Takasaki
City there are classes in canoeing. Students in Takanezawa, Tochigi Prefecture,
can study aromatherapy. In Akeno, Ibaraki Prefecture, meanwhile, there
are plans to teach children about the wadaiko
(Japanese drum) and other traditional arts.
Some Schools Opt for Extra Study
While many cities and towns across the country are providing children
with opportunities to gain new experiences, other places are offering
supplementary tutoring instead. In Tokyo's Taito Ward every middle school
has set up "Saturday schools" at which kids can take supplementary
classes in Japanese, mathematics, and English on Saturday mornings. In
addition to giving students every Saturday off, the new Courses of Study
also cut the curriculum by 30%, something that has led many parents to
fear that students' academic abilities may decline. And while public schools
went to a five-day school week in April only 43% of private middle schools
and 59% of private high schools give students every Saturday off. This
has led some parents to fear that public-school students may fall behind
their counterparts in private schools. It appears that the tutoring sessions
offered on Saturday's are aimed to ease parents' anxieties.
In Ota, Gunma Prefecture, a program has begun that provides one-to-one
instruction for elementary-school students in the fifth and sixth grades
who are having difficulty with math. The local board of education believes
that math is a subject in which it is relatively easy to determine the
areas that students are having problems with and that scores can be brought
up quickly with a bit of practice. The idea is that once math scores rise,
children will gain confidence and enthusiasm that they can apply to their
studies in other subjects as well.
These extra-study courses are not mandatory, though, and some parents
seem quite content to take Saturday as a day for family outings. Whether
they go to school on Saturdays or not, kids these days have no shortage
of things to do.
Copyright (c) 2002 Japan
Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese
news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes
and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese