Choosing a School in Japan for Your Kids - Latest Columns

Parents: we all want our kids to have a good education, right? We want them to have the best, however we might define "best."

What about expat children? Third culture kids? Bicultural youth? Their success in school is influenced by a few more factors.

Then there's the looming issue of language fluency in more than one language, if that's important to you. And how do you also help them read and write well in both or more languages?

Will they fit in, wherever they are in the world? Will they learn enough; will they learn it well? Will they learn the skills your culture deems important, or will they learn the emphasized skills of another culture, or more than one, and what skills do you want them to learn?

Then there's the issue of moving and kids changing schools, perhaps within one country, or perhaps attending school in a new one, and what if you decide to return to a country they previously lived in?

My latest two-part column series covers issues of reentering the Japanese school system after being away, although some factors can also apply to other situations. Please let me know what you think, especially if you or your child or even someone you know has gone through a similar situation:

Rejoining school system in Japan after time away can be tough (Japan Times)
Acceptance — social and otherwise — a crucial issue for Japan returnee kids
(Japan Times)

As mentioned above, there's a lot to consider regarding returning to Japan and reentering the school system, but what about deciding what type of education to pursue for your child(ren) in Japan? Public school? Private? International school? Alternative education? These points were argued to some extent in the following two articles published in conjunction with part 1 of my column series:

Local Japanese school is the obvious choice if you want your child to fit in (Japan Times)
International education a triple-A investment in your child's — and Japan's — future (Japan Times)

Both writers make valid points that all parents should consider, but I think they miss a few important factors, too: the personality, learning style, and resiliency of the individual child. I don't believe there is a "one-size-fits-all" education, and I do realize that this concept wouldn't fly here in Japan, and probably some of you may even disagree as well.

I don't typically share my opinions on Surviving in Japan, more or less because I just want to provide information for others to form their own opinions. This topic hits close to home now that we have a baby.

It's also important to me because I was educated in a variety of ways, including public and private schools, and homeschooling. I did a program in high school that allowed me to attend the local community college full-time for two years, earn a two-year college degree and graduate high school at the same time. After a year attending university the traditional way, I took a few years off and later finished my undergraduate degree completely online. I definitely did not follow any sort of traditional education path, and that worked well for me.

I don't think any form of schooling is perfect. They all have pros and cons. And above all, the pros and cons may vary depending on the individual child. I've worked with kids and teens who've experienced different forms of education and they all respond uniquely.

Some kids excel with alternative education in which they are allowed to follow their own path of curiosity and, driven by their own motivation, learn at a much faster pace than in public school, while other kids need guidance, encouragement and external motivation to learn.

Shy children may struggle in public or private schools, while some may overcome it, others may find themselves bullied (I was one of those kids). We all need to learn social skills, but when a child is fearful at school, it may not be the best environment for learning if the situation can't be resolved.

So when you're choosing a form of education in Japan:
  • What languages are spoken and used at home?
  • How well do you want your child to read and write in either language? (Alternatively, perhaps it's not as important to you if you won't be here very long that they learn Japanese)
  • What type of learning do you want to encourage and will it work for your child?
  • How invested are you able to be in their learning (for example, do you and/or your partner have to work long hours?)
  • Is your child an independent learner or do they need support and guidance?
  • How resilient is your child? Are they easily stressed?
  • What type of education do you want your child to receive? (Some of the subjects taught at public schools in Japan may differ in how they are taught from those in your home country, such as History)
  • Will you be moving to another country at any time during their school years? (I moved to a few different cities during the middle of the school year and though I did all right, it was somewhat disruptive).
  • What kind of doors do you hope will be open for your child upon graduation?
  • Can you afford international or private school? (That said, can you afford the expensive backpacks the kids get here?)
I could go on, and I'm sure many of you have additional ideas (please share them in the comments!) I think the main point is that there isn't an easy answer. This type of thinking may not be Japanese, often requiring youth to conform to a mold, but I really do think the type of education you choose comes down to the child and what works best for your family. I don't believe public school in Japan will fit every child, nor do I think International school will, though I don't think either is a bad choice.

I'd like to hear your thoughts though, and please share your stories in response to the columns if you have an experience to share for a follow-up column.

What experiences have you had, either personally or with your own children? Do you think International school or Japanese public school is better in some cases, or all cases? What about kids returning to Japan from abroad - do you think it would be easy/difficult to fit back in to the school system here?

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