How do you eat your lunch at school? In general, students at many elementary schools in Japan eat school lunches in their classrooms, with everyone eating the same meal. Students are assigned to school lunch duties, where they work together to serve the meals on plates and in bowls, and they also tidy up afterward. Students assigned to cleaning duties work on their own to clean the classrooms used for lessons, as well as other locations. This article is a special feature on schools in Japan, and gives examples of classroom duties, or Toban Katsudo in Japanese.
What Are Classroom Duties?
Schools in Japan have a classroom duties system, or Toban Katsudo in Japanese, for conducting activities in school life without any issues. In this system, all the students in the class carry out tasks in turns, with different people carrying out different roles. The kinds of duties vary between schools, but some typical examples are as follows: cleaning duties where students clean classrooms and other areas; school lunch duties where students serve prepared food on plates and in bowls; and day duties where all the students in the class carry out tasks every day in turns.
Typical Examples of Classroom Duties at Schools in Japan
Let’s have a look at the main activities carried out at the Omiya Elementary School in Suginami Ward within Japan’s capital of Tokyo. Before lessons start in this school, the classes have a morning meeting. The students assigned to day duties lead these meetings. They give morning greetings, do health checks, and confirm whether there are any messages for the students in the class to give to everyone else. The students assigned to day duties also lead a meeting before going home after lessons end, and they hand over their roles to the students assigned to day duties for the following day. Students who did their day duties on that day said, “I felt like I was the representative for that day” and “I got used to speaking in front of people, and I came to like leading the meetings.”
The students assigned to school lunch duties play an important role during school lunches, something that students look forward to. Students have different roles as they serve the school lunches that were prepared within the school. For example, one person puts the rice in a bowl, and another person puts the other types of food on plates. School lunch duties seem to be popular, with students expressing the following opinions: “It is fun serving food for everyone,” “I feel happy when people thank me,” and “I like school lunch duties because I can cooperate with my friends.” Also, some students took on the challenge to make their own creative additions to the activities, based on ideas they had during classroom duties, such as to serve the food quickly so that there is more time to eat, or to serve an equal portion to each person.
Students assigned to school lunch duties do not only serve food. They have a role to do tasks all the way up to tidying up the bowls and plates after the other students have finished eating. “I tidied things up neatly so that other people can wash them easily,” said one of the students. The cart for this class even had all the spoons neatly pointing in the same direction. The students assigned to school lunch duties also thoroughly dried the milk cartons after everyone had finished drinking, and arranged them in a compact way so that they could be recycled.
For cleaning duties, students split up and use brooms and cloths to clean the classrooms as well as shared spaces such as hallways, stairs, and the area where students leave their shoes when entering the school. They move the desks in the classroom to make space and sweep as a team, they work together to collect trash with a dustpan, and they carefully wipe the desks, blackboard, and mirror. Students gave the following opinions about cleaning duties: “It feels good when everything looks as good as new after cleaning” and “It is fun making things clean for everyone.” Also, one student talked about their personal style of cleaning: “I start with the places where trash is easily found, then I move to the places that are usually not visible when cleaning.”
The teachers give instructions to the students about how to use the brooms correctly and how to sweep efficiently. They also paste easy-to-understand labels in the closet with cleaning equipment, and they make a diagram showing who is assigned for each kind of duty and paste it to the wall. In this way, the teachers give advice and make creative efforts so that the students will want to clean on their own.
Students gave the following opinions about classroom duties: “Everyone started to work proactively to help” and “I got a stronger awareness that I am also a member of the class and that I am working for everyone.” This shows the impact that classroom duties give to students.
The Effects of Classroom Duties
The teachers watched over and offered advice to the students during their classroom duties. We listened to what these teachers had to say as well. One teacher spoke as follows: “The classroom duties aim to develop a sense of responsibility and independence, and we aim for the students to perform these duties on their own as much as possible.
When the other students see how positive these students look on duty, they respond in a flexible way in the system where they take turns, and they work naturally as a whole class to help one another.” This teacher expressed a desire for the students to think on their own while cooperating in classroom duties and to build a stronger friendship together. One teacher said: “The motto for classroom duties is that one person performs one role each. For this reason, we make the role very clear for each and every person.” This teacher instructs the children with the hope that teaching them about the roles and aims will help create a sense of achievement, and will help them feel positive about themselves.
With classroom duties, all the students divide up the same tasks between themselves. Meanwhile, another kind of class activity called “Kakari Katsudo” where students volunteer to do tasks that they want to perform themselves. There are many kinds of Kakari or Gakari (people who are in charge of a certain task) at this school. For example, pupils who like exercise can be a “Taiiku Gakari” or “gym Kakari” where they prepare and put away the balls and other things used in gym lessons. The “Tanjobi Gakari” or “birthday Kakari” is in charge of organizing celebrations for people on their birthdays. The “Ikimono Gakari” or “animal Kakari” takes care of the animals kept in the classroom, and the “Hoken Gakari” or “health Kakari” helps people go to the nurse’s office if they do not feel well. In this way, each student had fun by participating in Kakari Katsudo.
The classroom duties and Kakari Katsudo carried out at schools in Japan help build students’ sociability and independence, and they have an important role in students’ growth.