Why pay a janitor to clean the school when it’s filled with lively little laborors?
How many of our readers living in western countries remember cleaning up their classrooms and school grounds every day, or serving lunch to your classmates in your homeroom? I know it varies from region to region, and even from school to school, but the most cleaning we ever did at my school was erasing the chalkboard, and maybe giving overhead projector a quick wipe. We would of course have a big end-of-the-year cleaning before classes ended for summer, but even then all that consisted of was emptying out our desks and wiping them down.
Lunch too was certainly not handled by the students. If we had chosen to buy school lunch that day we would file through the lunch line in the cafeteria and be served by the lunch ladies, who slaved away all day in the kitchen reheating the processed, frozen food that was shipped to all public schools throughout the district.
Things are, however, quite different in Japan.
School lunch is still prepared in the kitchen by hired cooking staff—generally prepared from more fresh ingredients, not packaged frozen foods—but it is the students who wheel carts of food to their classrooms and serve their classmates.
After lunch, students clean up after themselves, and continue their cleaning duties by dusting, sweeping, and wiping down the floors in their classrooms, hallways, and throughout other areas of their school.
Elementary teacher Kyoko Takishima explains that children do this to build confidence and to help prepare them for adulthood.
Alice Gordenker, writer over at The Japan Times, explains that it also helps the kids to respect their surrounding, writing: “They are learning that it’s better not to make a mess if you are the one who has to clean it up.” Gordenker also alludes to a custom at some schools that she finds especially endearing: “A group of sixth-graders is sent to each first-grade classroom to help the little kids clean. Many schools provide this kind of interaction between the upper and lower grades because so many Japanese kids are hitorikko (only children, i.e., they have no siblings). Teachers believe older students need to experience helping younger children. And little kids need older role models.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Japanese schools don’t have custodians. Janitors, called yōmuin, are still employed by schools to handle maintenance and repairs, clean any areas that students may not be in charge of (not all schools have students clean the toilets, for example), and to follow up with a deeper clean than what the students may be able to achieve. Many commentors on the above video love the fact that the kids have to clean up their own space, wishing it were implemented at schools in the west.
But how do the kids feel about all of this? We’re sure not all kids particularly like cleaning, but here is one girl who can see the glass half full:
Tell us about your experiences! Did you have to clean your school classroom? Do you wish they would implement this custom at schools where you live, or do you think kids school be spending their time studying instead?