Shadow education, Bourdieu, & meritocracy: towards an understanding of Juku and inequality in Japan

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Abstract

Private educational activities designed to enhance student outcomes outside the formal schooling system are increasingly referred to as shadow education. In Japan, shadow education traditionally consists of for-profit cram schools or juku. Juku take many forms in Japan, yet their primary function is to offer students extra educational opportunities. As such, there is a strong belief that investment in shadow education leads to a higher educational level, thereby strengthening educational inequality by unfairly advantaging families of higher socio-economic status (SES). By applying Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of social reproduction and symbolic violence, this study seeks to elucidate the extent to which neoliberal policies and a lack of guidance from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) have allowed shadow education in Japan to sustain anti-meritocratic access to higher education. The study critically analyses how laissez-faire policy-making decisions, a reliance on juku attendance, and an emphasis on English language as a test subject operate in conjunction with neoliberal policies to disadvantage lower SES families through uneven access to educational opportunities.

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Samuell, C. (2024). Shadow education, Bourdieu, & meritocracy: towards an understanding of Juku and inequality in Japan. Current Issues in Language Planning, 25(1), 45–66. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2023.2209467

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