September 2nd, 2010
10:25 AM GMT
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.
“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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