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International Schools in Japan's Situation & Major Advantages of International Schools

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International schools range from preschool for infants to elementary, junior high, and high schools, but if you live abroad, you may have many opportunities to consider international schools.

In Japan, awareness of globalization is gradually increasing. As if in inverse proportion to the decline in the number of children, the cost of education per child has increased significantly, and the number of students of international preschools (daycares, nursery schools, and kindergartens that provide care in English) with high daycare and tuition fees is increasing every year.

There are probably about 800 international preschools in Japan, but when it comes to international schools starting from elementary school, the number of international schools is drastically reduced compared to international preschools.

In the first part of this article, I will touch on the negative impressions and concerns that parents may have about their children attending international schools, and in the second part, I will explain the various systems, structures, and realities that will help you resolve these concerns one by one.

Rapidly Growing International School Industry in Japan

As mentioned earlier, education costs per child in Japan have increased significantly, as if in inverse proportion to the decline in the number of children. The number of international preschoolers with high daycare and tuition fees is increasing every year.

Reference source: 子どもの減少と相反する 一人あたり教育費の増加
増えるインターナショナルスクール、専門家に聞く(日本経済新聞)

While most international preschools and kindergartens in Japan are still in their infancy, international schools themselves have a long history. The oldest international school in Japan and the oldest in Asia is Saint Maur International School in Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, founded in 1872.

In recent years, international schools have been opening one after another.

Reference source: インターナショナルスクール、日本で開校ラッシュのなぜ アジアからの留学先としても注目
(新しい教育のカタチを考える|朝日新聞EduA)

The number of international schools worldwide has increased from 6,001 in 2010 to 12,300 in 2021, according to ISC Research, a British organization that provides statistics and research on international schools.

Reference source: 【最新版】2021年 世界のインターナショナルスクール校数と生徒数 | eduJUMP! 編集部

Few international schools after elementary school

The number of international schools in Japan is extremely small after elementary school, which is a complete change from international preschool and kindergarten. In terms of maintaining and improving the skills developed in preschool, parents would naturally consider international schools after elementary school, but why are there so few?

Barriers that exist as reality and illusion

Let's see why there are so few international schools in elementary, middle, and high schools in Japan.

Low number of applicants: negative reasons for hesitation to enroll
  • Tuition is expensive. It is not particularly expensive compared to international preschools and kindergartens, but compared to so-called Article 1 School (*1), a public school, or a private school that is subsidized by a private school subsidy (*2), it seems expensive, and the school has no choice but to make it more expensive.
  • Fear of being out of the mainstream in Japan. If there is not enough information inside an international school, it is difficult to imagine what it would take to make a decision on enrolling their child in an international school. If they want to change schools after their child enters an international school, will he/she be able to transfer to a Japanese school or will he/she have trouble transferring to a Japanese school? As a result, there would be many cases where the safe path (general Japanese school) is chosen.
  • Negative image of violation of school attendance requirements
  • False perception of not being qualified to take Japanese university entrance examinations
  • Is it possible to have competent foreign teachers in Japan?

*1 Article 1 School: The ten types of schools (elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, secondary education schools, universities, technical colleges, schools for the blind, schools for the deaf, schools for the handicapped, and kindergartens) degined by Article 1 of the School Education Act. Most international schools are Non-Article 1 School.
*2 Private School Subsidy: Subsidies provided by the national and local governments to private school establishers and students. Private schools operated by incorporated educational institutions (Gakko Hojin) are eligible, but private schools operated by limited companies are not.

Schools are not willing to open: why they are not ready to open
  • Difficult to provide an environment with a large play ground and gymnasium
  • It is too costly to create an integrated elementary, middle, and high school. Although it does not have to be an integrated elementary, middle, and high school, parents are unlikely to want to send their children to an international school that does not take care of them until before the university entrance exam, so the school should aim to be an integrated school.
  • Not certain that school will get many students. If a school is already operating an international preschool and kindergarten, it is easy to realistically consider expanding their international schools after elementary school by carefully planning each one and expanding step by step. If not, it would be very difficult to make a business decision in opening an international school after elementary school.
    In addition, a school would like to make the school an Article 1 School so that parents can leave their children with peace of mind, but it is not easy to be accredited as an Article 1 School, and there are various restrictions when an Article 1 School operates as an international school.

Thus, there are factors on both the parents' and the school's side that make them hesitant about international schools in elementary, middle, and high schools.
Some of these problems are real, while others are just illusions and do not exist in reality, but we need to look at each one carefully because you cannot easily venture into choices that will determine your children's future.

We would like to resolve these barriers one by one in this article.

Reliable systems and facts that dispel your worries.

If the need arises, your child can transfer to a Japanese school.

If your child is in a public elementary or junior high school, your child can transfer to a public school without any problems. Since both elementary and junior high schools are compulsory education, strong class="marker ls_1">it is extremely unlikely that your child will be refused acceptance to transfer to a different school. However, from the high school entrance examinations, there is a possibility that their points on their school evaluation will be subject to evaluation, so be sure to consider the timing of your child's school transfer after understanding the period during which your child will be subject to evaluation.
However, there are also a variety of examination formats that do not include points on their school evaluation, and an increasing number of schools have established returnee quotas for students who have attended international schools in Japan as well. There are schools that will give high marks to students who have attended international schools, so it may be advantageous for students to have attended an international school.

In addition, there may be cases where a student transfers to an overseas school or enters a school overseas, in which case, having attended an international school may be an advantage. If your child is transferring from an IB school to an IB school, it will be easier for your child to catch up with the classes at the school in an English-speaking country, and since the IB is a universal program, it will be easier for you to catch up and the school will be more likely to accept your child actively.

Gather information on international schools.

The information provided on an international school's website may not be sufficient sometimes. And although most schools have only English websites, there are some websites that provide information in multiple languages.

Below are websites of major international schools (integrated schools or schools that are planning to open integrated schools) that also have a Japanese-language website.

List of International Schools (with Japanese page)

It is also a good idea to attend information sessions and school tours, and to have opportunities to talk with current students and graduates of the school themselves or their parents. You may have the opportunity to speak with such people at information sessions, or you may find them on blogs or social networking sites and contact them directly.

Violation of School Attendance Obligations (for Japanese Nationals)

International schools are generally Non-Article 1 Schools, and therefore, in the case of a child of Japanese nationality, it is technically a violation of the parent's obligation to send the child to school (but not in the case of a foreign national). According to the MEXT, there have been no cases of criminal charges since 1956. The parents are not abandoning their efforts to provide their children with an education, but rather, they have chosen to send their children to an international school as a result of their desire for a better educational environment.

In Japan, the national government (MEXT) is leading the promotion of IB schools and has created the MEXT consortium for promotion of IB education in Japan. Since the IB has been introduced mainly in international schools, this policy is like an endorsement to international schools. But on the other hand, there is a big contradiction in the fact that the current situation, which is formally a violation of the school attendance requirement, has not changed.

The problem of violating the school attendance requirement was assumed to be the social situation in the immediate postwar period, when the right to education was not fully guaranteed, and therefore did not take into account the diverse realities in the education of children, and we hope that this discrepancy will be corrected in the near future.

Qualified to take entrance exams for universities in Japan as well as abroad.

Not all international schools, but most, will qualify students to take entrance exams for universities in Japan upon graduation, as well as for universities abroad.

First, let's review the standards set forth by the MEXT regarding eligibility for university entrance examinations in Japan.

Admissions Eligibility in Japan’s Universities

Eligibility for admission to Japan's universities is granted to those who have not graduated a Japanese high school in Japan or the equivalent, if any of the below cases apply. It is also granted when none applies but the prospective admittee has passed a high school equivalency exam (高卒認定試験).

1. The prospective admittee has spent 12 years or more in primary and secondary education in another country and...
- he/she has completed 12 years of school courses overseas; or
- he/she is over the age of 18 plus has pass an equivalency exam for 12 years of school courses overseas; or
- he/she has completed the courses at an officially designated overseas Japanese school; or
- he/she has completed the courses for 12 years at an international school accredited by an international accreditation body(WASC, ACSI or CIS).

2. The prospective admittee has spent less than 12 years in primary and secondary education in another country and...
- he/she has completed courses at an overseas school comparable to a high school plus completed the required university preparatory courses; or
- he/she has completed a high school equivalency exam overseas plus completed the required university preparatory courses; or
- he/she has completed designated courses at an overseas school comparable to a high school.

3. Regardless of number of years in primary and secondary education and...
- he/she has obtained the International Baccalaureate (IB), the Abitur, the Baccalauréat, or the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level; or
- he/she has passed an university’s individual qualification screening plus is over the age of 18.

*"Completed 12 years of courses" means "completed the 12th year of a legitimate school education."
*"College preparatory coursework" means college preparatory coursework officially designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Reference source: Admissions eligibility in Japan’s universities: MEXT

Of course, those who have graduated from high school in Japan (Article 1 School) are also eligible for university admission.

Many international schools meet the following criteria: "he/she has completed the courses for 12 years at an international school accredited by an international accreditation body(WASC, ACSI or CIS)." out of 1 above, or "he/she has obtained the International Baccalaureate (IB)" out of 3 above.

There are currently 63 high schools (plus 6 candidate schools) in Japan that are IBDP accredited schools, which qualify for university admission, including 31 so-called international school accredited schools (as of June 30, 2022).

Reference source: 認定校・候補校 | 文部科学省IB教育推進コンソーシアム

Eleven international evaluation organizations, each of which accredits the following schools.

WASC: 24 schools (as of August 3, 2022)
  • WASC stands for Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
  • An American Accrediting Association
  • Evaluates and accredits schools comprehensively in terms of facilities, operations, faculty, curriculum, etc.
  • Mission: WASC advances and validates quality ongoing school improvement by supporting its private and public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary member institutions to engage in a rigorous and relevant self-evaluation and peer review process that focuses on student learning.

Reference source: WASC - Accrediting Commission for Schools

CIS: 17 schools (as of October, 2022)
  • CIS stands for Council of International School.
  • It is a membership organization originating in the UK that provides educational accreditation.
  • It comprehensively evaluates schools, including their facilities, operations, teachers, and curriculum.
  • Mission: CIS is committed to the development of children world-wide through high quality international education: connecting ideas, cultures, and educators from every corner of the world.

Reference source: Council of International Schools | International Education Organisation

ACSI: 17 schools (as of October, 2022)
  • ACSI stands for Association of Christian Schools International
  • An American Accrediting Association
  • Mission: ACSI exists to strengthen Christian schools and equip Christian educators worldwide as they prepare students academically and inspire them to become devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Reference source: Association of Christian Schools International ACSI

NEASC: 4 schools (As of October, 2022)
  • NEASC stands for New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • An American Accrediting Association
  • Mission: NEASC partners with schools to assess, support, and promote high quality education for all students through accreditation, professional assistance, and pursuit of best practices.

Reference source: NEASC - New England Association of Schools and Colleges

It may be comforting to know that international schools are not an out-of-mainstream option, as the system allows students to gain admission to universities even if they are, technically, in violation of the school attendance requirement. Conversely, schools that are not accredited, or do not seek accreditation, such as IB, WASC, CIS, ACSI, or NEASC, may have a difficult road ahead of them when considering their subsequent career paths.

In the future society, international schools will be an option to be considered on an equal footing with the old Japanese school system.

In fact, does choosing an international school narrow or broaden your future career options? Let's take a closer look in the next section.

Expanded pathways to national and international universities

Most international schools are accredited by IB, WASC, CIS, ACSI, or NEASC, which means that graduates will be qualified to take university entrance exams in Japan, but they will likewise be qualified to take entrance exams for universities abroad (not all, please check the website of each university).

As mentioned above, even if you obtain the IB DP qualification, you will be qualified to apply to universities in Japan and also to universities overseas. IB qualifications are highly regarded by universities, and many major overseas universities have very higher acceptance rates than those for general applicants.

Below is an overview of the IB (International Baccalaureate).

IB (International Baccalaureate)
  • IB stands for International Baccalaureate.
  • It is divided into four programs: PYP (ages 3-11), MYP (ages 11-16), DP (ages 15-18), and CP (ages 15-18). PYP, MYP, and DP are the mainstream programs, while CP focuses on career and vocational education.
  • It began as an attempt to create a unified worldwide examination to unify university entrance qualifications that differ from country to country.
  • Mission: To develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through inter-cultural understanding and respect.
  • Holistic approach to education: IB learners are taught to be internationally minded and to strive for ten main values.
  • When graduating from high school, the qualifications needed to pass the IB Diploma Program will allow students to qualify for university entrance exams in any country. The IB DP is accepted by about 2,500 universities around the world.
    For example: In Japan, it is usually necessary to graduate from an Article 1 high school and take a nationally standardized test. In the US, scores from nationally standardized tests (SATs etc.) are also required. But the IBDP eliminates the need to take these tests.
  • The number of IB accredited schools is increasing every year worldwide, and the number of universities in Japan that offer entrance examinations using the final IBDP score (IB entrance examination) is also increasing every year.
  • MEXT Consortium for Promotion of IB Education in Japan has been established to conduct research, comparison, information disclosure, and support for schools and local governments in order to promote IB in Japan.
  • Even if it is not an IB entrance examination, being an IB student can lead to high evaluation in AO and recommendation examinations.
  • Some credits may already be acquired at the time of admission to the university, as they may be convertible to university credits.

Reference source: International education - International Baccalaureate

You might have heard that the DP, the final two years of the IB program, is very difficult, but that does not mean that students cannot obtain a DP qualification; in fact, 87% of students passed the DP in the November 2021 exam. I believe that students who have been studying in the IB for a long period of time will have more time to work on their studies.

*Our school, CGK, aims to be accredited for all PYP, MYP and DP.

English Proficiency and Nationality Required of Parents

Please check each school's website for policies regarding English proficiency and nationality required of parents. Many international schools use only English on their websites, and all communications from the school are also in English. It seems that many schools have an English proficiency requirement for parents, and one of the criteria is that they expect parents to be able to understand communications from the school in English.

For those who are not good at English, there are also places where it is OK if you can read English, that is, if you can understand English sentences using a dictionary. Incidentally, if you limit the number of international schools to those that accept Japanese, the number of target international schools will suddenly decrease.

September enrollment or April enrollment?

Although the timing of school entrance differs around the world, September is the most common entrance month in Europe and the United States, and many international schools in Japan also follow this practice.

If an international school enrolls students in September, at the time of advancement from Japanese preschools / kindergartens, or entering a Japanese university, they will have to leave the school (drop out) or take a gap year (gap term) after graduating from the school or entering a Japanese university, which may or may not be considered a disadvantage.

There are a certain number of international schools that use April enrollment, and CGK International School is one of them.

Faculty Skills

Whether the school's philosophy, policies, and attitude are appealing. Is there an environment of cooperation and respect between the staff, who are in a position to support students' growth together, and the management and administration? Simply by improving these points, good teachers will naturally be attracted. If a school continues to provide good things well, it is easier to attract good faculty and staff to an international school than to a regular school, because the population of international schools is smaller.

In particular, in IB accredited schools, it is easier to attract good faculty and staff and to develop good faculty and staff because of the following advantages.

  • What the IB (other than DP) presents is a framework, not detailed instructional content. Since it is not a traditional style of completing a prepared curriculum, teachers who have experienced the IB are constantly improving their skills.
  • >The philosophy and policies of the IB are clear, and when a school has adopted the IB, it is easy to establish a system in which teachers collaborate with each other with a common understanding of the IB and work together on daily education, and it is relatively difficult for disagreements of ideas to occur.
  • The faculty and staff are highly motivated to educate students because they work in support of the IB's philosophy and policies.
  • Teachers are actively taking workshops to improve themselves.

Disadvantages that still remain

We have to admit the fact that "tuition is high." Public elementary, junior high, and high schools are free, and private elementary, junior high, and high schools are also very inexpensive compared to international schools because they are subsidized by private school subsidies if the school is an Article 1 school operated by incorporated educational institutions (Gakko Hojin).

This is not necessarily a disadvantage, but if students do not have sufficient English proficiency at the time of enrollment, they may be denied admission, or even if they are admitted, they may face difficulties after enrollment. In order to maintain a high quality of instruction, some schools will not accept students with low English proficiency, and many schools offer EAL (English as an Additional Language) support for students who are not proficient in English. Before enrolling in an international school, make sure a child has as good an English level as possible, and check carefully what kind of support the school offers.

Other Benefits

As a non-Article 1 school, we are not bound by the Japanese curriculum guidelines (学習指導要領) and are free to introduce foreign curricula. Incidentally, CGK International School is a non-Article 1 school, so it is not restricted in any way. Although we will have to comply with certain requirements as an IB school and when we receive accreditation from CIS and WASC, we are still able to pursue a better environment and program for our students compared to the restrictions that an Article 1 school is subject to.

CGK International School in Yokohama, Japan

Our CGK International School is an international school located in Yokohama, Japan, which opened a preschool/kindergarten in 2016 and an afterschool (for elementary school students) in 2020 with over 100 students.

The elementary school will open in 2023, followed by the middle and high schools.

CGK Overview
  • Mission: Maximize Your Opportunities for Happiness in an Increasingly Global World
  • Non-Article 1 School by a limited company
  • Became a candidate school for the IB PYP in 2022. In the future, we will aim for PYP, MYP, and DP accreditation, as well as CIS and WASC accreditation, to create an environment that allows students to enter universities not only in Japan but also around the world.
  • Parents need only speak either English or Japanese.
  • We value community building with parents and carefully share lessons and activities with them while holding regular information meetings for parents.
  • In order to provide more people with the opportunity for an education at our school, we keep our tuition lower than that of historic international schools.
  • Taking advantage of being a non-Article 1 school, we are not bound by the Japanese curriculum guidelines, but rather, we teach the skills and mindsets necessary for the future society, and actively incorporate ICT education, moral education, sex education, LGBTQ, minority education, SDGs, discussion/debate activities, and financial education.
  • Students will study abroad for one year in the sixth grade.
  • English proficiency is checked in the admissions process and a standard of English proficiency is set for admission. We maintain a high quality of inquiry-based learning in English and also provide EAL (English as an Additional Language) support for students who need assistance in English.
  • April enrollment.
  • We provide lunches for every students (which is rare in international schools).
  • We aim to construct a school building in the near future.

Study abroad for one year

Gap years are common in some other countries. It's studying abroad before, during, or after graduation (before employment) from university, and when I lived and traveled abroad, I met many people who had taken a gap year to study abroad, and I thought it was a wonderful system.

Time spent outside and experiencing society is important to consider what you want to learn and what you want to do for a living.

With the expectation that students will have such special experiences at a young age, develop diverse viewpoints and values, cultivate independence, and act independently with purpose and goals during their subsequent school years, CGK goes abroad for a year in the sixth grade to study abroad.

Summary

I have written at length to make it easier for those who may have thought that international schools are somewhat irrelevant to their children to consider them more concretely. I hope that this article will be of some help to you and that it will be the best choice for your children's future.

Minoru Kai
School President, CGK International School

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