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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Entrance examinations in prewar Japan, late Meiji to 1941 Datta, Shammi


The focus of this thesis is the influence of entrance examinations on the education and lives of students in prewar Japan. I investigate the content and the extent of the tests’ effect through contemporary media reports and official criticism. I show that the influence was similar to that in postwar Japan, and that it extended beyond the few who entered the elite schools. In a direct or indirect manner, the tests affected the education of most elementary school students. Official criticism of this extensive influence was followed by vigorous reform efforts from the late 1920s. Despite these attempts, the influence persisted and was routinized. The reasons for this are explored by tracing the responses of the schools, the students and their parents to the bureaucratic reforms. These sectors of society defied official directives, for the tests (in their established form) served an important purpose for each of them. The government tried to alter the nature of the examinations and prohibited many activities resulting form them, but it had an interest in the continuation of the tests as well. This multiple interest facilitated the persistence of difficult entrance examinations and their effects. The basic reason for their extensive influence and for their multiple utility is found in the gap between the demand for and supply of post-elementary education in a society where success through academic credentials was accessible and appealing to most youths. The defiance of government orders by the concerned sectors of society illustrates aspects in the government-society relationship that suggest the need for revisions in the existing general interpretation of that relationship--the former exercising totalitarian control over the latter.

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