Under the system parents pay for private education from a young age. As long as the student passes all their grades (or meets other minimum requirements) — they're guaranteed to get into university.
University entrance exams in Japan are notoriously difficult — some see the escalator school system as a easy way out. Others see the system as a way to get a top notch education from a young age.
The universities say there's competition for the best and brightest students — they want the best students as early as possible. In recent years, more universities have turned to the escalator system as enrollment numbers have plummeted (Japan has an aging population).
It's well known that there are both easy and difficult escalator schools in Japan.
Easy Escalator SchoolsEasy escalator schools are a guarantee to parents that their child with graduate from university. They seldom fail anyone.
Children in these schools are somewhat socially isolated — attending school with the same classmates for their entire education. They also bypass the most difficult challenge in a Japanese student's life: the dreaded university entrance exams.
Difficult Escalator SchoolsDifficult escalator schools weed out students at each level of education — kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and university.
Kids in these schools face intense competition from an early age. They must pass difficult examinations to move from one level to the next. The school accepts new students at each level to replace those who don't make the cut.
Students who succeed at these schools often reach great academic achievement later in life. Many choose to take university entrance exams in hopes of making it into a top university such as University of Tokyo or Kyoto University.