Recently, some of my students have been missing class to go to cram school, stinking cram school. Let me fill you in on this strange concept that is cram school.
Cram school is a school for after-school extra learning. They are independently owned, but they have good and bad reputations. You can study any subject there that you would learn in school at a higher level. Japanese opinion is that you cannot get into a good junior high, high school, and definitely not any university if you do not go to cram school. Okay, maybe, I should back up and explain the public school system for a clearer understanding of the need for cram schools.
Imagine your homeroom class. Now, in the states, it is probably just a random collection of students in your grade so that attendance can be taken before you go off to your regular classes. In Japan, that homeroom is that group that you spend your entire day with. There is often no transferring between classes. In fact, most often, the students stay in one classroom all day, and the teachers will change to different classrooms. Because the class is made up of students of all different learning levels and caabilities, the classes and learning in the classroom is very basic, so that everyone can understand. There are no advanced classes available so that, in line with Japanese culture, while no one will stand out as being unable to learn and feel stupid, no one is able to shine for their intelligence.
But, unfortunately, in order to gain entrance to the junior high, high school, or university of your choosing, you have to take an entrance exam. Now, to the American mindset, that probably sounds horrible, but I dont think that its so horrible. The problem lies in the fact that the entrance exams are extremely difficult and cover subjects that the students dont gain through their basic public education classes. Thus, the necessity of cram school comes into play. Many students will spend an entire year studying at cram school, as often as everyday if they are planning to take entrance exams that year. And their parents pay for it. The average cost of cram school, if your child is going once a week is about $3,000 a year. But if your child goes everyday, which is becoming more the trend, you can look at paying up to $10,000. Yes, that could be the equivalent of a year in college.
So, needless to say, I am not a fan of cram school. Kids in Japan study way too much just to be at an acceptable learning platform. And now, I will step off of my cram school soapbox, because I could keep going and you all are probably sick of reading by now, if you have even made it this far.