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Our Changing High Schools and the Kind of Teachers Required—A Factual Investigation into Shinrotayoukou High School

Institute for Advanced Studies in Education, General Research Committee, “Educational Challenges at Shinrotayoukou High School [1]”

With the current rate of entry to high school at more than 98%, these schools have been diversifying drastically. Some have introduced credit systems or brought in integrated courses, and new types of high schools such as secondary education schools have been established. Others are being closed down or merged as a consequence of Japan's falling birthrate. Meanwhile, changes can be seen in the career paths of graduates, and even pupils from vocational high schools, which used to emphasize employment, are now aspiring to go on to university. At the same time, faced by bleak work opportunities, more and more high school graduates are entering non-regular employment, casual work, or unemployment.

Against this backdrop, there is a project to visit and investigate in detail a number of so-called “shinrotayoukou high schools,” that are not necessarily committed to sending pupils to university but offer a choice of career paths including university, vocational college, full-time employment, part-time work, or casual work, and to consider the role of high school teachers. We asked Sawako Yufu, Professor of Waseda University’s Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences (Graduate School of Teacher Education) and head of this “Educational Challenges at shintotayoukou high school—Internal Requirements for Successful High School Reform” investigative research project being conducted by a team from Waseda University’s Graduate School of Teacher Education, about the challenges revealed by the investigation.

Professor Sawako Yufu, research leader

Education system centered around schools that focus on university entrance

The investigative research project is and, has now been running for three years, including its previous research that started in 2011 supported by the internal research fund of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Education, Waseda University. Four teachers from the Graduate School of Teacher Education have been working in the investigative team.

“Although a bit old, here is a diagram showing the overall make-up of high schools (Figure 1). It shows the correlation between the make-up of high schools according to the degree of difficulty of their entrance exams, and the degree of difficulty of university entrance exams. Nearly all people who work as teachers were educated at high-ranking schools that focus on preparing pupils to get into university before going on to university, attended classes modeled on schools that focus on university entrance, and did their teaching practice at high-ranking schools that they graduated from. That is, their experience has led them to think of such high-ranking schools as being “normal.” But as the diagram shows, there are a wide variety of high schools, including those focused on both entering university and finding employment, schools that send many pupils to vocational college and not just university, and schools that turn out casual workers or unemployed, and in fact such high schools are more numerous than those only focused on university entrance. What we found in working on teacher training was that students, long steeped in the idea that all high schools in the world are tertiary education-oriented, took up teaching posts at schools offering a more diverse choice of career paths, but got a cultural shock when they first encountered this other world and found themselves unable to deal with such a situation. We launched our project with the idea of doing something about this.”

Figure 1 Overall make-up of high schools (provided by Shinya Fukumoto)

Challenges at shinrotayoukou high school

In addition to learning from previous studies, the researchers have conducted interview investigations into the current situation and educational issues of triple-shift part-time high schools, integrated courses, shinrotayoukou high schools, and so on. In each case, teachers in charge of career guidance and pupil guidance were seen to be struggling a lot (some of the results of which have been compiled in a Waseda education booklet – see photo).

Waseda Education Booklet 9: High School Diversification and Teacher Training [Waseda Kyoiku Bukkuretto 9 Koko no Tayoka to Kyoinyosei], in which graduate school of education students describe the teacher training experiences of at shinrotayoukou high schools (edited by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Education, Waseda University; Gakubunsha, March 2013)


“We are in an era when pupils can enter a university so long as they have economic resources. Except for some schools that focus on university entrance, the previous framework of general courses and vocational courses has collapsed, and what have emerged are general courses for pupils entering vocational colleges and miscellaneous schools, and integrated courses on which learning motivation and career choice differ for each individual. Meanwhile, the job seekers who make up roughly half of high school graduates enter non-regular employment or unemployment and more than a few move from job to job. In preceding studies, the cause of the high number of high school graduate non-regular workers and unemployed was cited as being a change in the labor market, of course, as well as a decline in the career channeling function of high schools.”

Looking at current teacher training, it is divided into the old-fashioned subjects such as Japanese language, social sciences, and sciences. Partly because of this, teachers have become motivated to increase subject specialization and improve their schools' standard score and university entrance rates. However, at most of the schools where the main focus is not on getting pupils into university, issues for which teachers are unable to give suitable guidance with only such specialized intellectual ability are increasing.

“For example, the subject of “industrial society and human beings” was introduced into all integrated courses. The objectives of introducing this subject were “to make pupils think about their own existence and way of living in industrial society, and to foster the motivation and attitude to contribute positively to society and engage in learning throughout their lives,” and “to help pupils choose their subjects and courses independently.” Although the same was true of “integrated studies,” there are no teachers that can deal with the subject now because, as I mentioned before, they have been trained to give specialized teaching and guidance in their academic subjects. In shinrotayoukou high schools, career guidance has to focus on each individual pupil and take a more flexible, wider-ranging approach. With many students dropping out of school, they cannot be dealt with by the stereotypical guidance that offers a choice of advancing to college or finding employment.

Figure 2 Institutional changes and current situation in high school education

Comparative review of schools

The researchers have visited a number of schools to date, in order to find the required role of teachers at present-day high schools and discover a training model from characteristic study cases of shinrotayoukou high schools. When comparing the schools, they are looking for what teachers need to be able to deal well with their circumstances. The schools in the comparative review are a high school in prefecture A that provides an integrated course and a small-scale high school in prefecture B that offers four courses, a general course, a pharmaceutical course, a business course and a marine course.

“The careers results at School A show that two-thirds of its pupils go to university and one-third find jobs, but career guidance is difficult because there are few companies in the prefecture. In addition, it is hard for pupils who have gone to university to return to their hometown because of the lack of industry there. One teacher we interviewed expressed their concern: “I feel there is a vicious cycle. Even if pupils want to work, they cannot find the kind of job they want nearby, but guiding them toward university entrance exams means they gradually leave the community which, as a consequence, becomes even less vibrant.”

Newspaper article posted on a bulletin board at School B about the cherry salmon farming initiative

In contrast, the community where School B is located is blessed with local industry. There are challenges for each of the courses, but the teachers have worked together and shown creative originality in resolving them. The technical education program includes history, and the teachers do their job with a strong sense of mission as they are well connected with local companies and see career guidance and employment support as an important part of their own work. Because there are so few pupils, they can peek into the senior pupils' classroom next door and see themselves in a year's time—that is the kind of environment within the school.

“In School B, there is an awareness of the link between all of the courses and society, and teachers have achieved lessons that give pupils a future vision of “working for the community” and make them think about what they themselves can do. We have also been impressed by the teachers' shared awareness of problems and their teamwork. Lessons are well designed too—in the pharmaceutical course pupils take practical lessons that make them industry-ready for the manufacturing floor, and the business course includes on-site, hands-on lessons where pupils discuss ideas for rejuvenating shopping districts and learn about sales and distribution from first-hand experience at a shop in Tokyo selling local specialties. And the newly reorganized marine course now includes education on coastal fish farming and food processing, a reflection of the epochal change within the fishing industry from catching fish to cultivating fish. Education initiatives to sustain and increase motivation have recently been launched, such as cultivation trials to produce cherry salmon for school lunches at elementary schools within the city. The teachers themselves have designed the curriculum in line with changes in society.”

How to close the large gap

Teachers are engaged in providing career guidance that is in keeping with the changing times. As the background of this, schools have developed a culture of close ties with local industry and, at each juncture of history, amassed experience as they face changes in the times and in their surroundings. Already a common approach on vocational courses, considering the link between school and society is the starting point for the kind of teachers needed in this age.

“In that sense, things may be graver for schools in Tokyo than those in the regions. Tokyo schools have weak relations with their local communities, and their pupils have very few chances to really connect with the community or get a true sense of industry and the workplace. There is also a lack of motivation and incentive among teachers to give serious thought to what pupils need in order to confront these times and their situation.”

The reality of schools and the reality of teacher training—there is a huge gap between them that needs to be closed. This project has only just begun, but expectations are high that its continuing investigations will produce a model of the kind of teachers needed in this era of diverse career options and, accordingly, a plan to reform the teacher training system.

[Note 1] Sinrotayoukou high schools consist of general and vocational high schools which prepare students for various career paths. Standard scores of sinrotayoukou high schools are at the bottom of high school rankings.

Related links

Institute for Advanced Studies in Education, Waseda University

Graduate School of Teacher Education, Waseda University

Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University