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The Three Main Types of High Schools in Japan

The Three Main Types of High Schools in Japan | ITTT | TEFL Blog

There are three types of senior high schools in Japan. Each senior high school (grades 10, 11, and 12) has a different purpose and students attend it. Understanding this helps us learn how English language learning in Japan is differently yet similars each school. With this knowledge, as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) you can adapt your lessons plans, materials and style to fit your school/s.

Overview of School Types

There are three main types of high schools in Japan with sub-categories:

Academic Schools

  • Elite Academic Schools
  • General Acadmeic High Schools

Vocational Schools

  • Technical Schools
  • Commercial Schools
  • Agricultural Schools
  • Colleges of Technology

Correspondence Schools

  • Evening Schools

Note: There are also Special Needs schools, which teach students with physical and mental disabilities. These schools will be covered in another blog post.

Academic High Schools

Elite Academic High Schools

Purpose: These schools focus on intense academic excellence and scholarship. The school’s curriculum prepares students for college entrance exams, and each school is ranked based on the number of high school graduates that attend university. This school prepares students for entrance exams to highly respected national colleges and strong academic skills. Students apply for these schools because they know they would have the best chance to get into their selected university.

Students: Students who attend these schools are studious and bound for highly respected national universities. They are the top-of-the-top. Students study courses either in the humanities or sciences, and they also participate in extra-curricular club activities in sports or culture.

General Acadmic High Schools

Purpose: These schools are about academic studies and getting into a university. Studies are balanced with club activities in sports or culture. This school is the most common. Most students at these schools apply for less prestigious or competitive universities.

Students: The majority of Japanese junior high school students attend these schools. They attend school in their local district, deciding between a public or private high school. Some private high schools may accept low-achieving students that did not pass other entrance exams.

How do elite and general academic schools approach English learning?

On the whole, English language learning is about passing college entrance exams. Reading and writing skills are higher, but speaking and listening skills might be lacking due to the heavy demand for direct grammar-translation into Japanese and memorisation. Students pour over small pocket vocabulary books and flashcards containing obscure grammar uses and terms.

Preparing for and passing college entrance exams is the main goal. Reading, writing and grammar-translation of topics from the textbook and past entrance exams are the bulk of lesson plans and classroom teaching. Classes balance communication-based activities with grammar points from the required textbooks.

Vocational Schools

Purpose: Vocational schools offer introductory academic courses and special training such as mechanical engineering or construction. They are also apart of Japan’s higher education system. Graduating with a high school diploma is a common goal for most students.

Students: Students are focused on learning specific trades for future employment within a particular job area. Many that attend have different academic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Technical Schools

Purpose: Technical schools focus on civil, electrical, chemical or mechanical engineering, information technology and programming. Alongside learning their field of study, all students still study compulsory subjects like Japanese, maths, English, etc. and participate in club activities. First-year students study like an academic high school, but classes become hands-on lab work in the second and third year in the second and third year.

Students: They want to graduate or find work in their current field of study. The majority of students at technical schools are male.

Commercial Schools

Purpose: Commercial schools teach business, marketing and accounting, and they are similar in structure to technical and agricultural schools.

Students: Similar to technical and agricultural schools, students want to graduate or find work in their current field of study. The majority of students at commercial schools are female.

Agricultural Schools

Purpose: Agricultural schools teach farming, agronomy and biotechnology. These schools are also important to rural areas in Japan and provide job-related skills connected with the local community. They are similar in structure to technical and agricultural schools.

Students: Class sizes are smaller and mixed depending on the area of study. Many will seek employment after graduating.

Colleges of Technology

Purpose: These schools focus on combining college-level education for students who wish to gain technological skills in technology, IT or engineering. They are similar in structure to technical, commercial and agricultural schools.

Students: Students are focused on learning specific trades for future employment in one particular job area. Graduates go on directly into employment or education at university.

How do vocational, technical, commercial, agricultural schools and colleges of technology approach English learning?

Vocational schools have developed a reputation of being “low-level schools.” English education is the same here among other schools, but different expectations can make teaching English difficult. English classes are conducted in Japanese.

Since college entrance exams are not the main focus for a lot of students, there is more freedom for communication or topics relevant to those students. Motivation levels vary significantly. Lessons are textbook and grammar-focused. Class sizes vary too. Classes sometimes apply aspects of a student’s field of study to English as motivation.

Lessons are still textbook and grammar-based. However, more freedom is given to focusing on conversation practice. Students also do presentations or projects in English based on their field of study for motivation. Students enjoy seeing the real-world application of their language studies, especially in technology and IT-related courses.

Correspondence Schools

Purpose: These schools provide distance education for students in remote or low-populated areas.

Students: These students have other commitments that prevent them from attending a traditional school. They wish to graduate and receive a high school diploma. Classes and courses allow dropout or once-truant students to learn at their own pace.

Evening Schools

Purpose: These schools allow students to attend and graduate with a high school diploma. The curriculum is the same across the board, but instruction is similar to low-ranked high schools. Students take four 50-minute classes on weekdays and graduate within three to four years.

Students: In the past, these schools helped educate working youths. Today, evening schools are for those who failed their high school entrance exams or dropped out of or expelled from high school. Class sizes are smaller, allowing more individual attention. Students can also apply for college entrance exams.

How do correspondence and evening schools approach English learning?

English learning is similar to the structure of a vocational high school. Lessons are textbook and grammar based. Reading and writing skills are adjusted for a low-level audience. Opportunities for English conversation practice depends on the teacher, but the curriculum is the same as it is for academic and vocational schools.


Overall, there are three main types of senior high schools in Japan and their sub-categories. Exploring each school’s purpose and the students that attend, shows how they approach English language learning. Each type of school is different yet English learning is done in a similar way. Those teaching in Japan will find it helpful to know what to expect when preparing lessons.

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