American College education system

Differences between the U.S. and Japanese Education Systems

outdoor_classI was born and raised in Japan but moved to California to attend college. Even though I was able to read and write English, I was nowhere near the level necessary for me to succeed in college level classes. So I signed up for a five-week intensive English program at the California State University.

It wasn’t a degree program so the overall atmosphere of the program was much more relaxed but even in this program, I noticed the differences between American and Japanese educational styles.

My American ESL (English as Second Language) teachers really encouraged the students (the majority was Japanese!) to actively participate in the class. They wanted us to ask questions during the class, discuss our opinions with our classmates and give oral presentations in front of the class. All of which was new to the Japanese students in the program.

There were many differences between the U.S. and Japanese education system. Here are three differences that I found challenging.

#1 Raise Your Hand To Ask A Question!

I was surprised to find out that it is ok to raise your hand and interrupt your teacher to ask a question. They actually like that because it shows that you are interested in learning the subject. But it’s the complete opposite in Japan. Japanese teachers expect students to stay quiet while they teach and write on the blackboard. I was used to copying whatever my teacher wrote on the board and then anxiously waiting for my teacher to ask me a question.

I went to a very competitive high school in Japan and the teachers would randomly ask questions to make sure that we were paying attention. If we had any questions, we would just see our teacher after class and we had to make sure the question was important enough for the teacher to answer.

I was very surprised that American students would just raise hands and ask questions during the class.

#2 Discussion and Presentations

The American curriculum emphasizes the importance of group discussion and presentation. Again, I was so used to just sitting in class quietly that it was really hard for me to speak up and join in on group discussions. I wanted to remain silent but had to force myself to speak up because actively participating in the discussion section and doing a group presentations or a solo presentations were part of the grading. Sometimes the presentations took up nearly 25% of the total grade. So I couldn’t afford to remain silent just because I was shy.

#3 You Actually Have To Attend Class

Japanese students study very hard in high school, so they can pass the entrance exams to get into a reputable national or private university. Once they get into their dream college, things become more relaxed as they are almost guaranteed to graduate. This is the opposite of many American universities where the entrance is easy but graduation is difficult.

Some Japanese students whom I met didn’t graduate because they didn’t understand what it took for them to graduate from a college in America. University students in Japan often skip their classes to party and have their classmates sign the attendance sheet but instructors in America would not tolerate their students faking their attendance.


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