Guest Post: Online learning – the latest trend in jukus – Japan’s shadow education system

In January, Manabu Watanabe caused a few waves when through this site he gave a brief introduction to the dual structure of Asian education consisting of school and shadow education systems. Now Manabu has written a follow-up post for us, this time reporting on the latest trend in jukus – the Japanese shadow education – around the area of online lessons…

The juku industry, which is completely a private business, has reacted directly to the changing market environment and embraced technological innovation while school education, by contrast, has been slow in responding to the demands and conditions of the outside world. And Internet technology, especially video-on-demand, has been having a huge impact on the industry and is now changing its landscape considerably.

Many jukus nowadays look more like Internet café than school classroom. (For example, Kawaijuku Manavis…)

And some companies have launched home delivery services. (For example, Shinkenzemi Challenge Tablet Next…)

Distance learning in the Japanese shadow education system has been around for about 20 years. Initially only the big juku companies were offering it by means of expensive satellite communication in 1990s. And there was a long-standing debate over the relative merits of video (distance) versus live lectures. For example, many juku practitioners questioned the effectiveness of distance learning, saying that it is one-way communication, impersonal, boring, short of face-to-face contact, unable create empathy and so on.

However, with the advent of inexpensive Internet video-on-demand systems, many more juku companies have entered the distance learning market and as a result some of these questions were solved by their efforts whilst others were found groundless.

The result is that although the conventional classroom is still in use now, the levels of creativity and innovation around distance learning have been significant and are making a real impact.

Compared with the conventional classroom style, I would argue that online distance learning offers a number of benefits:

  • Cost reduction: Juku companies don’t have to assign a subject teacher to each classroom
  • Quality control: Juku companies can maintain or improve the quality of teachers at a central office in an integrated manner.
  • Egalitarian education: The same video lesson of high quality can be distributed equally to students.
  • Schedule personalisation: Students can take the lessons at any time according to their own schedule.
  • Work pace personalisation: Students can stop, repeat, and fast-forward the video at their own will.

But is online learning limited by the fact that you cannot see teachers in the jukus except on the screen? Well, that’s not exactly the case. Video-on-demand lectures rarely stand alone. It is usually one of the components of the overall lesson package, which contains other items such as verification tests, Q&A systems, performance management systems, counselling services and others. Therefore advisers or mentors usually take their place in such jukus to give advice to client students concerning which lecture to take, how to manage the study schedule, future career and so on. (For example, Waseda Juku…)

In some jukus that deal with junior high students or younger, the mentors take on greater levels of responsibility in order to develop age-appropriate discipline among students. (For example, One-to-one Kobetsu Gakuin…)

So it is not true that teachers in jukus are replaced by the online lessons, but it has to be admitted that their role is being transformed significantly by it.

You can see more from Manabu at his blog

Your thoughts on these latest insights from Asia and, specifically, Japan? Feel free to ask Manabu any questions in the comments below…

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