September 2nd, 2010
10:25 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan – Akihisa Shirota has piles of manga in his office. He likes to take math drills with the students. And he dismisses the “ivory tower” types as living too “in the box.”

Not your average junior high school principal in any country, but especially in Japan, a country renowned for its rigorous and rudimentary educational system.

Look at Shirota’s resume and you notice what’s not there: the words "teacher" or "educator." It’s instead dotted with high tech and publishing companies he’s headed as the president or manager.

Shirota’s lack of experience in education is exactly what made him attractive to Wada Junior High School.

Watch how Japan is seeking to revamp its education system

“Principals are people who became teachers right after graduating from college,” said Shirota. As a former Japan Inc. man, Shirota treats his students more like his employees. He knows the name and test score of every single student in the school, all 400 of them.

The day at Wada Junior High begins with a math drill known here as “brain training.” Stealing from the theory that puzzles may prevent dementia among the elderly, Shirota believes drilling with puzzles and problems everyday under time pressure will sharpen young minds.

Later in the day, the students head to a seminar headed by a company. The class teaches business manners, like how to politely greet clients and behave at a board meeting.

Then at 7pm, night school begins. Cram schools, as these evening classes are called, are common in private schools, but not in public ones. Shirota says the purpose is the same: to boost test scores for school entrance exams.

Critics have varied from calling Wada Jr. High too rigorous or too lax.

Koya Nakamura, 15, says he enjoys the school, even if his school day ends at 9pm. Other students call their principal “different” but “cool.”

Call him what you like, says Shirota, both good and bad. But his philosophy has paid off in higher test scores, he says. At the core of this principal’s beliefs is this: Japan’s companies must adapt to the times to compete in an ever-changing global environment. Schools should be no exception.

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. JC YIN

    I wish I had attended his schools when I was at high school :p

    September 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  2. MIke

    How many US students are willing to stay at school until 9PM? How many of their parents are willing to let them? How about the teachers unions? That is why students in nearly every developed country are ahead of those in the US - competitiveness is their top priority.

    September 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  3. Martin Murcina

    This is the only way out of the dead end the educations systems in many countries got into during the last 2 to 3 decades.
    Only teachers knowing how to overcome the demotivation factors can motivate kids to learn all the stuff the today´s student has to learn.

    September 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  4. cartous

    In Japan,we definitely need one teacher like this guy
    because recent education system of japan is too lax and outdated

    September 2, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  5. Renato

    Compete compete compete... isnt that why the whole world has dived into a depressive self destructive game where people take extremes and push themselves to the point of mental breakdown or absolutely give up altogether.

    Isnt compete compete compete what makes people want more and more and more because they are raised in an environment where you need to compete and win to survive .

    isnt compete compete compete reason people are greedy and always want more.

    how about educating people for the sake of learning and being educated instead of just mass producing "robots" for companies that ultimately exploit not just the people but the world and its resources.

    September 3, 2010 at 5:37 am |
  6. sloxx

    good thing to do (quitting leading companies for high school kids!) but poor idea (extended hours in school! ). Or did he quit money making and moved down the chain to manufacture more money making 'robots'??

    September 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  7. jack

    In (URT)Tanzania we do not have that.
    But i Think we need to do more than that.

    September 4, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  8. Mai jin boo

    In a way, his management style as a principal is perfect for preparing these students for life in business. i.e. Working all day and into the night being good little worker bees and having almost no social life and dysfunctional families and unhappy marriages.

    We need to find a balance between being competitive in business and being human. The saying that most people work just enough to keep from being fired and most jobs pay just enough to keep employees from quitting to is too true.

    One last brain dropping, though Japan only has a token military, their educational system and the entire society to some extent has retained a lot of its militaristic structure. You`d be surprised how much time is spent in school with teachers correcting the way students bow or the way they they must announce themselves when inquiring at the teachers office. It is weird.

    September 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  9. Janet

    I saw this on CNN news this morning and I think is in not only ingenious but also very creative and "out of the box" thinking. I think the Principal Akihisa Shirota is a Visionary with "all" children contributing to the success of their school, community , nation and ultimately globally. He is committed to ensuring the success of "all" his children. Wouldn't we do this for our own if one of our child needed extra help, tutoring etc...?
    For people that think this system is negative, maybe it is because you have never been outside your own country to appreciate other cultural values and worth. It's a global connection "get out of the box".

    September 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  10. Area Man

    @Renato – yeah, 'cause competition is bad. We all should strive to mire in mediocrity.

    September 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  11. Fernando Medina

    Prof. Shirota probably knows something about the "reward schedule" used in the videogame industry taking from his experience in the high tech universe.

    Why does an average teenager become addicted to gaming with electronic devices, one of the vices of modern urbanity which thrives on your vanity and, how can you translate that into the classroom?

    I'm a violin teacher in Puerto Rico and am in awe at how these games compete with my own motivational skills! If this is the case with this school I'd like to find out more about it.

    Best wishes to Prof. Shirota!

    September 6, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  12. Lame Student

    I think it's a great idea. Even the staying at school to 9pm. No, this man is not nuts, and he does not over exert children. He is a visionary. He is teaching them what they need to know. What they need for their daily lives.

    If I had heard about his methods sooner, I would have failed repeadedly just so I could stay at that school.

    I wish mister Shirota best of luck!

    September 9, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  13. Kumi

    To make it clear...

    The night school (cram school) starts at 7PM and goes until 9PM. The regular school hour should be over at 2:30PM or 3PM if they don't play sports after school. So, the students are NOT in school all day until 9PM.

    It is cool that this public school is providing the night school (extra studying time) for free. Usually, parents have to spend a lot of money for their kids' private cram school in the afternoon.

    Good job, and good luck to the new principal!

    September 10, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  14. brent

    As a Canadian, sitting in a Japanese teachers office in a High School as I speak, I firmly believe most of Japans High Schools are very outdated and need to change. They do not at all challange kids to be creative.These students are mainly shy and awkward in most social situations, at least more so compared to other countries (still bearing in mind they are only teenagers).
    Teachers in Japan need to focus more on having students be creative & expressing themselves.
    I can't dismiss the fact that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

    September 13, 2010 at 6:58 am |
  15. Nilesh

    I am happy that someone is taking good initiative. Education system all around the world need to reform...

    September 14, 2010 at 7:07 am |

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