Spending a whole school year in the US, I, as a foreign exchange student, realized there are far more differences than similarities in the high school education system between Japan and the US. Although I am not going to conclude which is better, as I have taken the American high school education only for a year, I am going to compare the high school education system in the US and that in Japan.
Japanese high schools have a similar form of education as American schools, in which they have six to seven hours of class in a day where each class is about 50 minutes long. However, Japanese schools only have three grades, since the elementary schools have six years and the middle schools have three years. They have as many club activities, including both athletic and non-athletic options, as most US high schools do. The students usually are involved in one or two clubs, and have practices or games both after school and on the weekend.
The reason I specifically wrote that they have a similar “form” of education is because what happens in the classroom is totally different from American high schools.
In Japan, all classes are like AP classes, except they don’t allow the students to use digital devices, and don’t have time for “discussing with your neighbors”. Some of them even ban bringing phones to school, and in that case, the teachers will take your phone and give it back to your parents if they find you using it in the classroom. Teachers talking for 50 minutes straight is the most common type of class, and they give you as many assignments as AP classes. Those assignments are often harder than that of AP classes, although you will always have a week until the due date because they have different classes everyday.
There are also differences in college applications. In Japan, what decides everything is the several tests at the end of senior year. In February, a month before the Japanese school year ends, they have the first test where every high school student solves the same problems, just like the SAT. There is no retake for it, and the score will decide which college’s entrance exam you can take. If you get an unsatisfactory score, you may not be able to take the entrance exam of the popular colleges. After that, they have actual entrance exams. Since most colleges in Japan tend to have two stages for the entrance exam, and the students usually apply to about 2 or 3 colleges, they have more than five tests within a few months. The biggest difference would be that the Japanese colleges don’t take into account your grade or your extracurricular activities in the application process. Although this system has been forcing the Japanese students to spend most of their time while they are awake studying, it also has an advantage in that it is almost impossible for the colleges to subjectively choose the students. This is unlike the system in the US where someone “evaluates” your essay and your activities—you will be accepted if you get the problem correct.
My perception of the US education system before I came to the US was that students have more free time than Japanese students have and spend it on things they are interested in. It feels like my perception was wrong, since many students are stressed not only because you have to study a lot for AP classes, which are essentially required for college applications now, but also because you have to dedicatedly contribute to sports and extracurricular activities. While neither education systems seem perfect and both will not fit in other countries, it might be interesting to take a page from the education system abroad.