Between Us Education

Clean up!

What does the Japanese model of integrating a cleanliness regimen into the curriculum teach us?

Imagine a scenario where a student comes back home to report that the entire class was made to clean the school premises and their duties included washing rest rooms and cleaning classroom floors! In all probability, the school management would face the wrath of a community of families, allegations of child labour and an eruption of protests on cyberspace. Or perhaps if the school communicated the intent behind such an enterprise, explaining the process and the value of such an activity, there might be a fewer rumbles.

Recently, these thoughts surfaced when I met a parent whose children attended a summer school in Japan. Apparently, a cleanliness routine is woven into the timetable where students, as a community, are given chores to clean and rest rooms are washed on a weekly rotation basis. The parent shared that the whole experience was an eye-opener and the experience helped foster a sense of responsibility and kinship with the institution they studied in. Apparently, they did not feel like they were being forced, and instead, unanimously gave it a label of “fun”!


In schools, it can be found that over the years, students have been less involved in the maintenance of classrooms. This attitude is not restricted to the elite schools with students from upper class families. Many years ago, a maid who worked in our apartment complex protested vehemently when her children’s class at a corporation school was asked to sweep their classrooms. Her objective of sending them to school, she said, was to give them a life away from her own line of work, and hearing that her children were made to sweep a classroom was a painful reminder of what she herself was trying to escape from.

In the more elite schools, students openly told us that they were not “maids” and some of them even proudly asserted that they were not allowed to do any work at home! A colleague shared that a simple task of asking students to shift tables to create space for her class resulted in complaints by the parents who felt that their children were being burdened.

In both the cases, the underlying belief is that there is a stigma attached to chores such as cleaning and that such work is the domain of only ayahs and attendants. This attitude is quite common in our society, and, in many ways, is reflected in the way we behave — the indifference with which we dump our garbage, litter our streets and generally take pride in someone else cleaning up our mess.

The involvement of students in Japan in cleaning is a reflection of a deep value that is fostered in their society. The belief is that students are being schooled to become responsible, connected members of society, and taking pride in something that seems as inconsequential as cleaning has a domino-like positive effect on the roles that children will later play in their community. In more practical terms, it would probably make young people responsible citizens wherever they live.

A colleague, whose 21-year-old niece had come to stay with her, was shocked by the nonchalance with which she refused to participate in any household chores, and moreover, whose room reflected a total lack of respect for the other family members. When she confronted her, she found that it was not intentional but ignorance. She had been brought up in a value system that did not give any importance to being independent. The assumption was that someone else would take responsibility.

Many students who go to work or study abroad quickly learn the value of cleaning up, as not doing so comes at the cost of hefty fines! A friend confessed that she learnt the hard way, after having been evicted from three rooms she rented due to poor maintenance. Life, as clichéd as it sounds, is often the greatest teacher.


In a society as diverse as ours, while we may not be able to emulate the Japanese model, we can be inspired by the value behind their programme. What are the ways in which we can adopt practices that inculcate these values in a natural, non-preachy manner? How can we, as individuals, shift our perspectives to see the value of things we consider trivial? Do we really see the importance of cleaning up our own mess? These questions are definitely worth exploring and the answers would be a process of finding the right solutions to adopt in one’s own environment.

Actions do speak louder than words, and as I watched the YouTube videos of young Japanese students cleaning up their classroom, there was something extraordinarily beautiful about the harmony with which their actions were performed.

A lesson in grace, and the joy that comes with selfless action.

Are we really ready for change? That, perhaps, is a journey to undertake.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 6:15:25 AM |

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