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June 28, 2010

A comparative study shows that Japanese preschools have hardly changed over the last twenty years

prechool.jpg'Preschool in three cultures Revisited', a new book by Joseph Tobin, Y. Hsueh and M. Karasawa, is based on a comparative study in China, Japan and the US. The book is a sequel to a study in the same three countries over 20 years ago.

In China in 1985, the emphasis was on control, regimentation and discipline, but there has now been a shift to child-centred, progressive approaches, promoting the rights of the child, independence, and creativity-factors considered to be the driving force of a modern economy. There has also been a shift towards a balance between creative and individualistic values imported from the "West" that also emphasises academic readiness and traditional Chinese socialist values.

In the US, there has been an expansion in enrolments in early childhood education. Another change is increased pressure for preschool educators to move in different directions due to two conflicting authorities: the US government's "No Child Left Behind", a national policy which places importance on academic readiness, particularly, literacy; and, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a professional and accreditation regulatory body, placed emphasis on "developmentally appropriate practice," and the importance on play and social relationships. A unifying factor for the US preschools' curriculum in both time periods was focus on children verbally articulating their feelings and opinions. Other similarities in the US preschool system reflected cultural beliefs: the right to free choice and democracy; individualism and child-centred approaches; and the power of words and self-expression.

In Japan, hardly anything has changed. Japan's goal is to make Japanese children more Japanese, decrying how much has been lost. The values the preschools emphasise are the "education of the heart" in contrast to preschools in the US and in China that emphasise cognitive stimulation and academic preparation for participation in the market economy. Japan's preschools place emphasis on the development of social and emotional competencies, of empathy, care, problem solving, conflict resolution, and the ability to function as a member of a group. Children are encouraged and expected to resolve peer conflicts and disputes among themselves while the teacher is non-interventionist, a careful observer to ensure the aggression does not go too far. In addition children are encouraged to respond to the feelings of others.

Click here for a full review of the book.

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