Hybrid school in Japan. This is our final post in the series, spanning many years! We will be covering N-school and the hybrid school model we went with and talk more about my son’s learning experience. For this post we asked for questions, as we have had numerous people contact us wanting to know more about N-school.

If you haven’t read the previous posts, What is school like in Japan (not international school) covers our school journey – Japanese kindergarten, Japanese elementary school and homeschool for junior high.

A new type of school in Japan, this post explains how N-school works, some questions we were asked for this post are actually answered in this older post, so I suggest reading that one too. N-school education system – this is the post we did at the end of his second year.

Before we start, some of the questions were very similar, so we combined them. If you submitted a question and it’s not answered here, we probably answered it in one of the previous posts. And please take into account this is just our personal experience. N-school has a lot of campuses around the country and as they are a growing school environment and business, they do change things up.

A quick recap. We have always used Montessori at home, and the follow the child method. Leo went to a Shinto kindergarten, the local Japanese elementary school, then we homeschooled for junior high using online learning for the Japanese curriculum and then finally he joined N-school choosing a hybrid schedule for high school. His school days were three times a week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Tuesday and Thursday were his home days.

Learning at Hybrid school in Japan. Blending Tradition with Technology online. A teenage boy wearing the N-school uniform, blue blazer and tie and a white shirt.

What advice do you have for transitioning from regular school /the regular school system to N-school? 

I can’t really answer this because I was homeschooled for junior high. One thing to note is that if you join late in the year, you have less time to complete all the reports, so you need to be prepared to cram to get them done.

How did you adjust to the schedule of on and off campus?

I already had a schedule from homeschool for Tuesday and Thursdays, so that didn’t change. Generally, I did my school reports at home on those days in the morning and went climbing in the afternoon.

The three days on campus I did online courses from EdX courses and biology and chemistry in English and also made/mixed music. They were my own study choices, not N-school coursework. In my 2nd year, I did a lot of research about where to go to university. I also joined the investing club in the 3rd year and did most of that on campus. 

I liked the flexibility of homeschooling and going into campus. Basically, making my own schedule and still have a place to hang out with friends. I preferred the 3 days on campus to homeschooling full time. 3 days is the most flexible and I could take advantage of the school’s curriculum. The hybrid model was a great balance.

What challenges did you face?

The reports didn’t pose much of a challenge, and I completed them all online. And because I was already used to studying online because of homeschooling in junior high, I didn’t find that hard at all.

Sometimes it was annoying trying to do my English homework from the high level English class. The teacher was based at another campus and sometimes it took a while to get an answer if I had questions. 

The only other thing I can think of was when we were trying to schedule everyone in a group for the investing club work, trying to find a time that suited everyone was difficult.

Would you have joined the school now with your experience? Can you recommend it?

The first two years I was there, definitely yes. The third year, they made some changes to how the school was run and it wasn’t as good, in my opinion. You can still get plenty out of the school though. 

One thing they changed was that originally there was a fixed curriculum for school days unless you were AL (Active Learner) or preparing for university. This meant that they fixed the class time and classes, but they changed it so that everyone could have a flexible schedule. This meant many of the teachers ended up supervising and trying to get the kids to do their work (the not very motivated kids) which had the knock on effect that there wasn’t enough support for everyone else when you needed it.

The other thing, both with Project-N Beta and AL, they lowered the threshold to join the groups, which lowered the standard of the groups. 

This sounds a bit mean but the best thing about Beta and AL was that you had people surrounding you who were either better than you or motivated to get better. Many of the students focused on specific areas such as programming, creative arts, English, entrepreneurship etc. Basically the group was made up of mini experts so it was great to ask for help and get encouragement, I enjoyed being surrounded by others with the same drive. 

With N-school Beta, you needed 75% attendance rate and if you fell below that, you got kicked out of the group. But then they took that off and kids joined but then didn’t show up. It is hard doing group work anyway, but if half the group doesn’t turn up, it’s really frustrating.

Learning at Hybrid school in Japan. Blending Tradition with Technology A student joining an online conference

Least favourite thing or anything you didn’t enjoy?

I didn’t always enjoy doing the reports, but you can’t really graduate without doing them as they are the high school curriculum! Mainly, it was just the changes made in the third year that I didn’t love.

Do you get support with organising your own work (executive function support)? How do you organise your study time and stick to your learning schedule? 

When I was homeschooling, I already learned how to set my schedule up, calculate how much I needed to study each week to stay on track and that sort of thing. This is what happens when your mom is a productivity coach! I didn’t need much help in from school this area.

I think there was more help for those who are not an Active Learners. There was part of the curriculum that helped you to get organised. They give a learning plan of a project sheet to help you learn how to organise your time. 

They do help you and nudge you in the right direction, and when deadlines are coming up, they will nag you, but basically you have to do it yourself. 

Just as an idea of what to expect. The reports are done on the N-school software.

We used google sheets to fill in our daily tasks and reflections, etc. Everyone has to do that and teachers do check in with what you are doing. You need to be able to show where you are up to whenever they ask. I didn’t like the spreadsheet method so I personally used Notion and set up everything there, then when the teachers wanted to check in I could show them on there.

Remote learning, it is easy to be distracted and side-tracked. I think because I already did 3 years of online school, I was already into a routine. And maybe because we did Montessori when I was little and I was used to learning with Work Cycle so I naturally focus on one thing, finish it, put it away before starting the next thing. 

Is it lonely if you take the online option or the hybrid school option? I’d like to know about the social life there. 

I can’t answer really about the online option but I think it is more difficult to make friends. 

There are some clubs and extracurricular activities, field trips and work experience types of things and the schooling, but often the students are from all over the country, so it’s difficult to find local friends. 

I feel the hybrid learning worked well. I always saw the same kids because we attended the same days each week. The physical space of the campus isn’t that big so and there are no classrooms like in the traditional public schools, everyone is in together and it’s mixed age. It was easy for me to make friends with kids both older and younger than me. And then being at home 2 days let me keep my homeschool schedule from the previous years.

Jo: I just want to add here. This is of course, a generalisation, but one objection to homeschooling and a question that all of us get repeatedly is “What about socialisation?”
No one locks homeschoolers in the cellar with no human interaction! If anything, homeschoolers get to interact and socialise with a broader ranger of people, from different backgrounds, ages and situations. They go to the library, museums, extra curricula classes both on and offline, out shopping, homeschool co-ops, meet-ups with other family, etc.
Whereas at traditional school, kids spend most of the day with the same kids, at the same age, and told when and when they can’t talk.

How do you find the school’s physical environment? Pros and cons?

It was comfy. My campus had a quiet room for study. In the main room we had ‘the long table’ which where our gang kinda hung out. When I was studying, I had my headphones on so it was no problem being disturbed. The campus is basically an office building. There were no sports facilities or canteen. To be honest, the most annoying thing was waiting for the lift because our campus was on the top floors of the building!

We also needed to take a bento which isn’t a problem unless you forget it!
We did have a system where you could go and buy lunch if you forgot it, but you had to eat whatever you bought, on campus.

What year was the toughest? Was there a particular time/period that stands out regarding workload/expectations?

In the first year, I didn’t really know what to expect, so I just followed the recommended lesson plans. In hindsight, I would have focused more on the reports to get them out of the way quicker.

Third year was the bigger workload, mostly because of preparing for university. I don’t think this is special to N-school. My workload was less than those cramming for Japanese university but it also felt like stepping into the unknown because I want to study overseas and the staff didn’t have much knowledge about it. I had to do most of the research myself. 

What changes would you make to make N-school better?

Hmm this is a hard one. There was an increase in students, so there was a lower teacher / assistant ratio. I would increase that by getting more staff.

One of my friends went to study overseas for 6 months, but there wasn’t a system in place to accommodate that regarding fees. There should be some kind of setup where kids can go overseas, but keep their place at a minimum rate or something.

What is your favourite thing about N-school?

The diversity and flexibility. Being able to, and encouraged to, follow your own passions. I liked the blended model of spending part of the week at school and the rest at home. It felt like the best of both worlds. I also like that it was a continuation in some respects of my homeschooling, in that I could choose when and what to study depending on my mood. I had total control over my learning.

Learning at Hybrid school in Japan. Blending Tradition with Technology two Japanese students working oon a laptop

Would you also recommend the school to those who are less able to motivate themselves?

The teachers make an effort to help you explore and find your passion, and I believe that once you find your ‘thing’, being self-motivated becomes easier. I feel that compared to a traditional school, there is a higher chance to find your passion because you are not just studying the standard subjects.

If you are just looking to get the high school graduation certificate, then it’s pretty easy to do. It doesn’t take much effort. And you learn things like how to use the Adobe suite, Google suite, etc. 

But if you have the motivation to learn, the school will provide you with much more. There were plenty of kids that didn’t have great attendance or would just dick around, but I think that happens with any high schoolers, really.

Were the subjects offered from N-school or did you also supplement your learning?

The reports are the national curriculum for high school students. You can do those in your own time. The motivated kids try to finish all their reports as early as possible in the year because then the time is yours to do what you want, which is great. You can use that time for specialised learning or working on a passion project.

Everyone is supposed to do project N too, you can opt-out but you need a good reason to not do it.

I also studied my thing, university level EdX courses, biology and chemistry at English A level, investing, making and mixing music. And at home I went bouldering and would cook too.

Will N school graduates be competent enough for Japanese colleges like 東大, etc? I’m just worried that my kiddo neither being in Japanese stream education (read traditional route) nor international route.

If the student is motivated (and smart enough), they should be able to attend a university known for its academic excellence. But they will have to do more than just the very basics. I imagine if a student is gunning to get in at one of the top uni’s, then they will be super-motivated and doing the work, anyway. The N-school website lists how many students have gone to the various top uni’s.

I understand, kids have to prepare for TOEFL, IELTS separately. But How do you rank the English skill readiness, if they aspire to attend western college?

I’m fully bilingual but had to sit IELTS, anyway. I didn’t actually do anything to prepare and got a high score. If I had actually studied, I would have got a higher score, but I don’t need it, it’s basically a box ticking exercise for overseas university. With a score of 7.5 you can get in mostly anywhere. In N-school they test your language skills. I was in the highest level English class with kids from other campuses, some were ‘hafu’ and native speakers, the others were returnees. We didn’t study grammar, it was more discussion-based classes. 

The lower level classes do more of the grammar and language improvement but I didn’t take those classes so I’m not 100% sure what it entails.

I see from you other posts that some famous athletes attend N-School. Did the school nurture the talent? Or they had the dedicated coaching elsewhere and attended N school for flexibility.

The school doesn’t have sports facilities so the athletes use N-school because of the flexibility to fit it to their sports schedule. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on FOMO around regular high school, face-to-face events- sports day, school trips, etc. 

I didn’t have any FOMO for not attending regular high school. We had school trips; we had to do 5 days in Okinawa too. And we had events at the school, festivals, etc. Even though it was hybrid school, we still had plenty of time to socialise and hang out. Often after school hours, I would just hang out with my friends at the school or go into town. 

We have an annual, student run festival. The school gives us a budget to buy anything we need and then the students organise the whole thing. The teachers don’t really get involved. There is a team who runs the whole thing then students apply to have their ‘stall’. In the first year I didn’t know what to expect so it was hard to get involved. The second year I was in the team that ran the stage. I was the stage manager for the main stage, making sure all the acts were ready on time and had what they needed. And then in my third year we had the DJ room, we had 3 DJs doing different sets and sold mocktails.
It’s a lot of fun but also you learn a lot of skills, not just about putting on an event but communication, budgeting etc.

Learning at Hybrid school in Japan. Blending Tradition with Technology. DJ Leono doing a set at the N-school festival

How did you find the support for tertiary education applications either here or abroad if you followed that path. How strong is the career counselling?

If you are taking a normal route into higher education or work, it seems quite good. I decided to take a different path as I want to study abroad and there is a dedicated department for overseas study but they weren’t great, I had to do most of the research myself. I had a friend also planning on studying abroad, so we helped each other and split the research between us. 

Combating loneliness or any other mental / emotional awareness you’d like to share. 

I didn’t really have any issues myself. There are teaching assistants that are like older friends that are easy to talk to and the emotional distance between students and teachers is closer than in the traditional classroom settings. We also have regular meetings with teachers and they ask how you are doing, if you need help, etc.

What characteristics did you feel were enhanced by the experience?

Other than the academics, I felt I learned a lot. 

  • Discussion skills in both English and Japanese. 
  • Working with a team. 
  • How to use basic IT tools. 
  • Leadership skills, I didn’t have much experience with this, so it was an excellent skill to work on. 
  • Presentations, when I started I found the third years students presentations amazing, but we got lots of practice so by the time I graduated I like to think I was at that level. 
  • General confidence.
Learning at Hybrid school in Japan. Blending Tradition with Technology A student typing on a laptop

How much does it cost and are there any scholarships or such for low-income families?

Jo: I’m not going to answer this as the prices are likely to change and it also depends on the track and other options, the best thing is to talk to the school about the options you are interested in. I the previous posts I talked more about the various add-ons etc.
The same with scholarships, I think there is a government subsidy. It is probably best to contact the school about information about that too.

Wrap Up – Hybrid school was it worth it?

We all agree that this was the best option. Leo had a great time at the school, enjoyed the freedom to study what he wanted and the flexibility to continue with the homeschool set up he had for junior high. I found the forward thinking regarding education impressive and the way students are encouraged to take charge of their own learning is something that aligns with our own values. All in all, we still recommend N-school, of course, it’s not going to be for everyone but for a child who doesn’t work well in the Japanese system – being put in a box and doing what you are told, it is a great option.

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