Center on International Education Benchmarking

Japan: System and School Organization

Overview | Teacher and Principal Quality | Instructional Systems
System and School Organization | Education For All | School-to-Work Transition

Education Finance

Public schools are funded by a combination of support from the national, municipal and prefectural governments. Public upper secondary school did require tuition, but in March 2010, the government passed a measure intended to abolish these fees. Now, schools receive enrollment support funds that they apply to the cost of their students’ tuition which equals about $100 a month, per student. However, if these funds are not sufficient, the students must make up the difference. If students come from a low-income household, the government provides further subsidies of up to $200 a month.

Private schools also receive a great deal of public funding, with the Japanese government paying 50% of private school teachers’ salaries. Other forms of funding are capital grants, which go to private schools for specific costs, including new buildings and equipment. While private schools are considered to be more competitive and prestigious than public schools, public schools still account for 99% of primary schools and 94% of lower secondary schools. There are many more private upper secondary schools, however; 23% of upper secondary schools are classified as private.

The Japanese government spends less on its schools than do many other OECD countries. Schools are functional but unadorned, and most schools have a very small administrative staff, with only a principal, an assistant principal, a janitor and a nurse. The focus of the funding is on teachers and students. In 2011, Japan spent 5.1% of its GDP on education – lower than the OECD average of 6.1%. Japan spends $8,280 per student in primary school, $9,677 in lower secondary, and $10,093 in upper secondary, compared to the OECD averages of $8,296, $9,377, and $9,506, respectively.

School Management and Organization

In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) sets policy and curriculum, establishes national standards, sets teacher and administrator pay scales and creates supervisory organizations. MEXT also allocates funding to prefectural and municipal authorities for schools. Local governments are responsible for the supervision of schools, special programs, school budgets and hiring personnel.

At the prefectural level, there is a board of education comprised of five governor-appointed members; this board is responsible for several activities, including appointing teachers to primary and lower secondary schools, funding municipalities, appointing the superintendent of education at the prefectural level, and operating upper secondary schools.

Within the municipalities, there are boards of education appointed by the mayor. These boards are responsible for making recommendations on teacher appointments to the prefectural board of education, choosing textbooks from the MEXT-approved list, conducting in-service teacher and staff professional development, and overseeing the day-to-day operations of primary and lower secondary schools. In the schools, principals are the school leaders, and determine the school schedule, manage the teachers, and take on other management roles as needed.  Teachers are responsible for determining how to teach the curriculum and for creating lesson plans, as well as being in contact with parents.

Accountability and Incentive Systems

Schools are evaluated and inspected by municipal and prefectural board of education supervisors, who are expected to provide external guidance on school management, curriculum and teaching. Typically, these board of education supervisors are former teachers and administrators.

As of 2009, teachers are also required to renew their education personnel certificates every 10 years, after undergoing professional development to ensure that their skills and knowledge are up to date. This new system ensures ongoing professional development, and also provides schools with the ability to remove teachers who are not willing to upgrade or renew their certifications.

A final accountability measure is the newly introduced National Assessment of Academic Ability, a set of examinations in Japanese and mathematics for students in grades six and nine that began in 2007.  The results of these examinations are used by schools and prefectures to plan and make policy decisions.

Annual Expenditure by Educational Institutions per Student for All Services

JapanExpenditure2016(2013, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, by level of education, public institutions only) Source:OECD

Parent and Community Participation

Parent involvement is a major component of Japan’s education system. Students often have “homeroom” teachers for several years in a row, and these teachers establish individual relationships with their students’ parents to facilitate open lines of communication about the students’ academic progress. Teachers are given support not only from parents but from other teachers, who often step in to provide guidance to their new or struggling peers. Teachers and parents are in constant communication throughout a child’s academic career. Teachers will send a notebook home with each student daily, detailing their progress and any concerns they might have. Parents are invited to enter a dialogue with their child’s teacher via this notebook, so that both parties have a clear sense of how the child is doing and may intervene early if the child seems to be going off track.


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