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Students Urged Not to Goof Off on First Free Saturday

September 11, 1992

TOKYO (AP) _ Millions of Japanese students will have Saturday off from school, as the government attempts to give children in this workaholic society a break.

The Education Ministry, hoping to reassure parents of the soundness of its decision to give 18 million public school students one Saturday off per month, has arranged nature hikes, museum trips, visits to aircraft control towers and the like for responsible recreation.

″If you don’t tell kids what kind of things they can do in their spare time, they get confused and just end up loafing around,″ says Tsuyoshi Shimakura of the Education Ministry.

A random survey at an elementary school in downtown Tokyo found most students without a clear battle plan on what to do with their new freedom now that the half-day Saturday morning school session is off.

″Mainly we want to catch up on our sleep or play with our friends,″ says 13-year-old Satoko Matsuura.

One thing the government hopes the kids won’t be doing is spending even more time in the dreaded juku, or cram schools, that already offer supplemental education to about half of all elementary school students.

The Education Ministry is starting a new survey of the cram schools and may consider steps to regulate their activities.

The idea of a monthly five-day school week has been under discussion for about three years and still does not enjoy wide favor among parents. In a poll of 3,000 people by the Yomiuri newspaper this spring, 56 percent of respondents opposed the change while 32 percent were in favor.

Parents feel extreme pressure to prepare their kids for grueling high school and college entrance exams that are widely perceived as the key to one’s eventual career and place in society.

In the meantime, businesses this Saturday are going all out to lure future customers. Several department stores are offering free admission to in-house art galleries and more than 2,000 karaoke studios will open their facilities to youngsters and their parents for free.

The Education Ministr, has issued pamphlets with explanatory photos of ″Things kids can do on Saturdays,″ such as helping mom wash the dishes, picking up trash in the neighborhood or having a riverside picnic.

″It’s not that hard to think of something,″ it reassures.

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