With recent news about the Education Ministry aiming to restart Saturday classes by 2017, KA Moms had a lot to say on the subject.
Kids in Japan attend a lot of school. Besides the regular 5 days a week, most kids begin juku (cram school) classes after school for a few hours. As they grow older their weekends begin to get sucked up by school club activities. Many parents don’t see their kids from morning till 7 or 8 pm once they get into Jr. High, and most of these kids will come home from club for a quick bite to eat then head right off to their juku class until 9 or 10pm.
Following are opinions from moms on the restart of Saturday classes:
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KA Moms have several concerns regarding this change. Some use Saturdays to spend time tutoring their kids in English, so kids can keep up with their non-Japanese mother-tongue. Other moms appreciate having the weekend to spend together as a family, and plan activities, outings, activities that connect them together, considering the weekend especially important in building a strong family. As Heidi E said, ‘I’m not a fan of Saturday classes. Kids deserve a weekend to play, spend time with their families and study other things,’ and has chosen a private school that has no Saturday classes nor Sunday activities.
Moms felt strongly that while the education system in Japan needs changes, adding another day into the school schedule would not benefit the country or the children. Even parents with children in private school are not happy with changes being made in their schools, as Louise K said: ‘Our private junior~senior high school hasn’t had Saturday school up until this year–one of the things the kids and I really liked about it. But probably to keep pace with other private schools, which almost always have Saturday morning classes at the least, they have announced they’ll be having Sat school from next year. Miss 12 is NOT amused. Neither am I, really. Kids need two full days off a week! And so does Mum.’
Corin K said: ‘Kids need a 2-day break from school. With the club activities after school every day and other programs, re-instituting Saturday school just makes school even more central in the lives of the kids and teachers!’ And from Heidi H: ‘I am dreading Saturday school. My kids barely make it to Friday as it is. They definitely need 2 days off. Perhaps as they get older they would cope with it. I haven’t heard any wind of it from our school yet so I hope it’s still a long way off. I also feel desperately sorry for the teachers and their family time.’ Claire O worries about the effect it would have on her son’s overall spirit: ‘I’m really against Saturday school too! Teachers and kids need 2 days off school! My son already does football on Saturdays and hubby is usually at work, so it wouldn’t really change anything family time-wise, but it would be so wrong for my son. He just doesn’t thrive sitting at a desk in a classroom. He learns so much more being outside, playing, going to football club, exploring the neighborhood, chatting with his friends, reading by himself or with me, etc. I would hate to see his spirit crushed by more classroom time.’
Parents pointed out too that there is enough time in the school year for kids to get all the education they need, if schools would schedule more efficiently. Schools in Japan have many half-days during the year, which if switched to full-days would make more efficient use of the days kids are already scheduled to attend. Heidi E. gives us some insight to why the daily school schedule has very odd hours (most schools let kids out at a different time each day, with younger kids getting out earlier than older kids): ‘I think Japan has a set number of hours for each subject over the course of a year. From the way a former teacher explained it the school can arrange the classes how they want, based on local/prefecture regulations, but because of things like Undokai (Sports Day) and many half days the school year needs to be stretched out to accommodate all the required class hours.’
Laura K questioned the reasoning behind more days: ‘I wonder [why it was decided that] the answer to low performance is to have Saturday classes. I don’t think it will help, just like how productivity doesn’t necessarily go up with longer hours. They should focus on quality rather than quantity of hours. Why not put the money intended for Saturday classes instead to smaller class sizes or training for teachers?’
Some parents, like Christa Y are debating whether to take a stand and refuse to send their kids on Saturdays or not, and if this is an option they can do: ‘My son starts elementary school next year and I am stressing about this Saturday stuff already. How feasible is it to not send them? Five days a week in a classroom is plenty in my opinion. Not everything is learnt in the classroom. Family time, free time, hobby time and English time are all really important too.’ But other moms said that if there was school, their kids would not want to miss it, due to the peer pressure to attend, even if they as a parent wanted to take a stand against the extra day.
Quite a few moms said that when they discussed this with other mothers in their children’s schools, most moms seemed very much pro-Saturday school, with one of the biggest reasons being ‘I don’t want my kids home on Saturday’, and would prefer not having to spend extra time with the children. Heather S said ‘One of my ex students’ mums complained when Saturday school ended as she would have to pay for Saturday juku when school is free.’
Fortunately though, other moms have many Japanese friends who love having their kids around, as Amy N: ‘Most of my Japanese mom acquaintances still have young kids not yet in daycare or kindergarten, and almost all of them say they love spending time with their kids. I’ve heard some variation of “I thought about putting her in preschool/ichiji hoiku but I don’t want us to be apart” from a few moms, and know some who chose 2 year kindergarten instead of 3 so they could have an extra year together.’
Long-time resident mothers remember what it was like more than 15 years ago, when Japan still had 6-day work and school weeks: Vicky K: ‘It was a six-day work week when I got married. Just after that it was cut to five days, and about three years later the schools cut to two Saturdays a month then finally none. [This will be a] total backwards step. My kids will be done by 2017 but if I had young ones they wouldn’t be going on a Saturday, end of story.’
Louise K remembers too what the system was like over a decade ago: ‘Japanese education has come full circle in between my oldest and youngest. When my son was in first grade, they still had two Saturday mornings once a month at public primary schools. That was abolished when he started second grade, and they cut lots of the curriculum and introduced ‘yuttori kyoiku”–a more relaxed education. Then gradually cries went up about how kids were falling behind in international rankings and were entering college with huge gaps in their knowledge, so little by little the hours and workloads increased and here we are, with Saturday school staring us in the face again.’
To wrap it up though, Wendy M reminded us that adapting to the system and taking advantage of what we have to make do with is a way of staying positive about it: ‘My children all had Saturday school. Only mornings, but I used that time to clean up and get organized for the rest of the weekend and usually baked bread so that the children came home to a super smell and nice lunch. I just tried to use the system to our advantage.’
Erinn LaMattery: workaholic SAHM with a possible touch of ADD. Favorite question: Free time? What's that?? Days are spent: raising 4 children, teaching part time, developing a jewelry business (http://facebook.com/offonawhim), and following the lives of the KA Moms! Cooking, cleaning and shopping are all secondary.