A group of Kansas University and area public school educators, having recently returned from a five-week trip to Japan, said they were astonished by the Japanese educational system and students' attitudes.
"The Japanese work hard and play hard," said Valerie Janesick, KU associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the education school.
"I guess one of my biggest impressions is how happy the kids were," she said.
Participants were in Japan from May 21 through June 24 for a comprehensive look at the Japanese educational system.
The project was sponsored by International Studies and Programs and the School of Education at KU and was funded by the Fulbright Group Projects Abroad program.
TWELVE people, including KU professors and educators from Lawrence and northeast Kansas public schools, stayed in the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area much of the trip.
During an interview last week with five participants, Jerry Bailey, associate dean of the education school and leader of the delegation, said the group toured public and private schools, met Japanese Ministry of Education officials, and were honored by representatives of Hiratsuka, Lawrence's sister city, and Kanagawa University, KU's sister university.
Bailey and other participants said Japanese culture has a profound influence on the school system and children's attitudes.
"It's very clear that education ranks very high in the social values," said Jane Imber, librarian at Quail Run Elementary School in Lawrence.
"The expectations of family (for children to do well in school) are so high," she said.
PARTICIPANTS said most Japanese children attend school six days a week. Classes begin around 8:30 a.m. and end about 3:30 p.m. However, they said most Japanese children stay after school to participate in arts, music or social clubs.
"Sometimes they don't get home until 10 o'clock at night," said Sam Green, associate professor of education psychology and research.
Participants said many children even those attending elementary schools ride the Japanese mass transit train and bus systems on their way to and from schools.
They said parents do not worry about the children traveling on their own because there is virtually no crime in Japan.
"YOU CAN walk around anywhere at anytime without worrying that something could happen," Janesick said.
Bailey said the Japanese educational system is modeled after that in the United States. But, he said, there are no problems with guns or drugs in the schools.
Teachers are relatively highly paid, the educators said, and students are taught to treat them with high respect.
In addition, students are encouraged to think of their school as their facility, not one owned by the state or controlled by adults.
"What works in Japan works well," Bailey said.
KU professors said the trip will help them teach students about cultural differences in education.