Education in Japan and the Netherlands

In this blog article, I thought it may be interesting to take a look at the educational systems and ethos of primary and secondary schools in Japan and the Netherlands. It is important to note that both countries are listed in the world’s most educated nations. I hope this article will inspire and educate. I aim to give an insight into how other countries teach their younger generations and ultimately shape them into better people for the good of the future. Perhaps we can all learn from these nations and reflect and seek to improve ourselves. Some points mentioned in this article must be remembered in our everyday lives and may not be reserved just for the classroom. 


The Japanese schooling system is quite similar to what we have here in England. There are public and private schools available and public school is compulsory. Pupils attend elementary school or shōgakkō, which is designed to develop the pupils’ minds, bodies and personalities.


Respect for one another is a key aspect of a pupil’s education. Older children often take younger children in their neighbourhood to school as well as younger siblings. This is so that the children can develop a sense of responsibility and bond with all ages. It is important that they can work together and live harmoniously. At the beginning of every school day, one pupil will stand at the front of the class and say that they look forward to working with one another. This brings a sense of togetherness; everyone is working as a team and no one is to be singled out. 


As the pupil’s progress through the latter part of their time at elementary school, more subjects are added to the curriculum, such as home economics and computing as well as the usual subjects such as mathematics and Japanese. They are also encouraged to join after-school clubs such as cookery or craft, in which a high percentage of them attend.

Meals are eaten within the classroom and the pupils will clean up afterwards together. Lunch will also be served by the pupils. They will also take it in turns to clean the entire school. Cleaning is seen as a vital part of life and teaches the children not to dislike work. This is known as Gakko Soji or ‘school cleansing.’ This practice has roots in Buddhist teachings which stress the importance of keeping the body and its surroundings clean. Uniforms are not often worn at this stage in a child’s education, but shoes are required to be changed once entering the school building. Outdoor shoes are changed into special indoor ones and some classes require no shoes at all. This is so no dirt or grime from outdoors is brought into the school. Animals are often kept on the school grounds which pupils look after. This is so the children have an opportunity to connect with nature and helps them to develop a respect for living things.

Japanese secondary school is split into two, lower secondary school and upper secondary school. Many students attend private as well as public schools to get extra help. Secondary schools are much more regimented in comparison to primary schools. Uniforms are worn and these include both an indoor and outdoor uniform. In many schools, this comprises of a military style for boys and a sailor style for girls. This is a reflection of the many wars that saw many officers become teachers. This is also reflected in the style of teaching. Students are taught to respect and to honour and value the distance between teacher and student. At the beginning of the day, students have 35 minutes of silent reading time, where they can read whatever they like. This quietens the students and gets them focused for the day ahead.

Whilst researching, I came across a quote from a book about Japanese education titled ‘Looking into the lives of Children’ which I think perfectly sums up the whole ethos…’the ultimate goal of Japanese education is to foster the student’s ability to become a fully integrated and productive member of Japanese society.’

Let us now head over to the schooling system in the Netherlands. Primary school or largere school begins from the age of 4 to 12 and is similar to schools in Japan on the idea of working together and sharing responsibility. There is emphasis on the strengths of each pupil. Meetings with teachers often involve pupils from different age groups. The learning process does not stop with the pupils. Teachers are also encouraged to constantly develop their skills too. One other focus is that there is a good level of special needs support. Overall, the Dutch system focuses on directness, equality, independence, and active learning. It emphasises the importance of following the rules and encourages interaction in class. It is quite common for students to wear uniform at primary school.

The secondary school system is somewhat complicated. Secondary schools (voortgezet onderwijs) is split into three different routes. These routes are based on the individual student’s academic level and interests and they can only enter one of the three. VMBO is known as Preparatory Secondary Vocational Education. This is 4 years of study focused on practical knowledge which is then followed by vocational training which is completed at around age 16.

The second route is HAVO or Senior General Secondary Education. This is for a period of 5 years and prepares students to study a bachelors degree at universities that offer applied science courses. This is completed at around the age of 17.

The third route is VWO and is for a 6-year course that is focused on theoretical knowledge. It prepares students to study for a bachelors degree at a research university. It is completed at age 18.

I suppose there are many positive and negative aspects to a system like this. It may be a positive thing that students are able to focus on what they want to do in the long term and get properly prepared for university or vocational study, but are students able to know what they want to do by the age of 12? It may put unnecessary pressure on students, but in any case, Dutch children/students are rated as being amongst the happiest.

In summary, it seems that both educational systems do well to educate the young and prepare them for the wider world and is ultimately a reflection of their culture and society. In all evidence, each way of teaching shapes the younger generation into hard workers and respectful individuals. And so, in short, I hope this article leaves you feeling enlightened and uplifted.

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