Okinawa’s “Free Cram School” paving the way to dream schools

Okinawa’s “Free Cram School” paving the way to dream schools

At Okinawa Shogakuin, (from left) Arisa Chibana and Suzuna Nakamura celebrate their acceptance to university.

January 10, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Manato Akira

Last June, a “Free Cram School” initiative targeting high school students from economically deprived families opened its doors to the public in Okinawa City. There has already been news of students getting accepted to their first-choice schools through entrance examinations, such as the selected student screening. Among this batch of students are 18-year olds Suzuna Nakamura and Arisa Chibana. Nakamura, a junior at Maehara Senior High School, was accepted to the University of the Ryukyus, while Chibana, a junior at Okinawa Prefectural Koza High School, was accepted to Okinawa International University. “It’s meaningful to have the Free Cram School in central Okinawa, where there is a particularly high concentration of poor families,” said Tsukasa Yamashiro, their teacher at Shogakuin Cram School.

He added, ”Exams for selected candidates and Admissions Office (AO) exams require special ways of preparing. As a selected candidate, students need to receive the school’s recommendation. For AO, universities will look into the students’ qualities to see if they match with the student persona they are looking for.” Both students agreed, “If we didn’t have the Free Cram School, we wouldn’t have been able to pass our exams.”

Nakamura had always wanted to attend university. However, she deemed it impossible to take any college preparation courses, thinking of the financial burden it would cause on her single-parent household. When she learned about the Free Cram School, she didn’t think twice before signing up. Nakamura continued her part-time job to financially support her family, on top of preparing for both the general entrance exam and the selected candidates exam. Next year, she will begin her undergraduate studies at the University of the Ryukyus. She has secured herself a spot in the Industry Management Department at the Faculty of Tourism and Industrial Management. “I want to continue working part-time and pursue my studies in management and languages. I’m really excited,” she says, her eyes full of hope. Her long-term goal is to start her own company with great working conditions for its employees.

Chibana registered for the Free Cram School after she read about it in a newspaper advertisement. “If it wasn’t for free, there was no way I could have attended a cram school,” she said. She prepared for her entrance exams in parallel to committing to softball practice, which took her team all the way to the Kyushu Competitions. Having watched her parents undergo employment struggles, she began to question the unstable job market in Okinawa.

Naturally, she decided to major in Economics. “I want to help improve the economy in Okinawa, even if it’s a tiny step,” she stated. After university, she hopes to become a high school teacher who can nurture the next generation of Okinawans.

The “Free Cram School” began as part of the prefectural government’s “Comprehensive Support Model Project for Child-Rearing”. Naha Shogakuin was entrusted with the management. Of the 21 students who registered, a noteworthy 81 percent have received acceptances from universities. In addition, Okinawa Shogakuin began holding its Free Cram School this fiscal year, giving high school students in central Okinawa a chance to attend. Of the 13 students enrolled, five have been accepted to their first-choice school.

Yamashiro at Shogakuin comments, “Poverty transmits from one generation to another. We can’t simply blame ourselves for making our children live in poverty and leave it at that. It’s important for the government to allocate funding where necessary. I hope more measures will be seen at the municipal level to help students get into college.”

(Translation by T&CT, Kaya Doi)

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