Confined Future Vision: The Visibility of Educational Selection and “Self-selection” of Junior High School Students
The analysis above has indicated that junior high school students strongly associated their academic achievement with social success in the future. This subjective link reflects the reality of educational selection in Japan.
First, the educational selection in Japan, which is mostly based on examinations, almost absolutizes the importance of academic achievement as a selection criterion and represents it in a one-dimensional scale. Regardless of whether total test score, hensachi (deviation score), or naishin-ten (grade by teacher’s evaluation), it is common to quantify the academic achievement of different subjects, convert it as a one-dimensional scale in a “comprehensive” manner, and then use it as a selection criterion. Once academic achievement is represented in a one-dimensional scale, it becomes a crystal-clear selection standard in a competitive field of selection. Relative positions that students occupy within the order according to the standard are regarded as an indicator that predicts their future success.
The second characteristic of the educational selection in Japan is that it involves almost all students in the process and the existence of high school entrance examinations, which provide more realistic meanings to academic achievement. Now that 95% percent of people go to high school, the process that sorts almost all students to the hierarchical high school system according to their academic achievement involves a meaning as a standard to predict their educational achievement beyond high school. Furthermore, mock exams that repeat until high school exams represent academic achievement in a one-dimension scale and provide the opportunity for students to consider their grades again and again. As a result, with the “effect before entrance” that the hierarchical structure of high schools has, the self-evaluation of grade becomes a clear and realistic standard to form subsequent educational expectations.
These characteristics have succeeded in making the process of the educational selection in Japan quite visible by setting academic achievement represented in a single dimension as a standard of selection. It enabled the educational achievement in the future to be highly foreseeable. As long as a simple and understandable criterion is used in an actual selection, it is a realistic strategy that students form educational expectations according to it. It suppresses an impossible overexpectation and directs students to more realistic educational pathways. In this sense, the educational selection in Japan, which is highly predictable, fosters a self-selection for students and increases the efficiency of selection.
On the other hand, however, as the academic achievement as a one-dimensional selection criterion reinforces the visibility of educational selection, there has been growing concern that the self-selection regarding occupational and social achievement in the future is also heightened. The paper, which has analyzed the evaluation on the chance of occupational and non-occupational achievement in the future, suggests that such concern is not negligible.
Ushiogi once pointed out that a basic characteristic of the Japanese credential society is that “competitions are confined within school systems” and noted as follows.
“Although the meaning of educational credentials has already decreased in companies and their weight in personnel arrangements and promotion routes has gradually diminishing, the educational world and its environment are still moving in the way as if the competition within educational systems had the absolute meaning for the later life.” (Ushiogi 1980: 19)
Here Ushiogi shows a phenomenon that can be called the “over-adaptation” of educational systems to the credential society. He bore in mind the difference in educational qualification, or academic achievement. However, the analysis in this paper indicates an even more excessive adaptation. Regardless of subsequent educational expectations, the difference in academic achievement determines the evaluation of the prospect on occupation (whether it requires higher degree or not), economic success, and domestic happiness. The results of this paper observe that the difference in academic achievement that is independent from the difference in educational degree is perceived as if “it had an absolute meaning on the subsequent life.” What is noteworthy is the attainability of self-employment. Even in self-employment, which was traditionally regarded as providing an alternative social success to the one ensured by a degree, junior high school students judge the attainability according to their self-evaluation of grades, as in the case of occupations that require higher education.
The over-adaptation of educational system to the credential society, through the highly visible process of educational selection, firstly gives a meaning to academic achievement, which is a more detailed standard than educational qualification, as a criterion of judgement to predict a future success. Secondly, the over-adaptation has culminated in the fact that academic achievement, which is a standard of selection for the credential society, is used to predict the successes that are supposed to be accomplished through other mechanisms. The peculiarity of the credential society and its underlying education systems in Japan should be recognized well.
The highly visible process may increase the efficiency of selection by suppressing the over-expectation of students through their self-selection. At the same time, however, the visibility forms inside the school system an infected image of the credential society, which itself may be a virtual image, in a way that can be called “the grades (deterministic) society.” If the virtual image of “the grades society” that is constructed in the mind of students also stimulates their self-selection in the socio-economic successes in the future, it may partially result in forming real images thorough the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the agendas for the sociology of educational degree and the sociology of school is to investigate both theoretically and empirically why and how such an over-adaptation of school systems has been invented and what it has caused in the social selection in Japan.