Japan on the Edge of Reforms – Education, Success and Modernization
In the latest PISA results, an international survey evaluating the worldwide education systems worldwide through testing of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, Japan is placed first in science and reading, and second in mathematics. The number of Japan’s Nobel Prize laureates in Natural Science in the 21st century is again the second in the world after the U.S. Despite these prominent achievements, Japan is considering new educational reforms on which AUBG’s honored guest His Excellency(H.E.) Mr. Shinichi Yamanaka, Ambassador of Japan to Bulgaria, shed light on Wednesday, March 29.
As emphasized by Provost Emilia Zankina in her welcoming speech, Yamanaka has worked at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and has occupied various high positions in the field of education.
Yamanaka presented a detailed SWOT analysis (“strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats”) of the Japanese education and stressed on the problems that should be solved over the strengths of the system. Decrease in the percentage of students studying abroad, lack of motivation among young people for studying, decreased educational time, and changes in the demographic map of the country were some of the main weaknesses that the ambassador pointed out.
Other important factors that Yamanaka highlighted were the current computerization of the higher education, seen in the replacement of human labor with machines, and the emergence of massive online university courses. He further expressed the need for competition, but also the necessity for cooperation among universities both in their own countries and worldwide.
“The quality of education provided by each university has become even more important,” stated Yamanaka. “Education system has to be changed [in order] to respond to changes in society and demands on education.”
According to the ambassador, acknowledging the strengths of the Japanese education is essential for advising effective strategies. Integrated courses of studies, collaborative work in groups, and the defining role of the teachers as educators were some of the main qualities he praised. He also pointed out other advantages such as the different levels of Japanese education – from primary school and high school to university and even education at the workplace. Yamanaka shared his views about the educational reform in terms of the globalization of educational standards, expressed in the promotion of interdisciplinary education as well as specialized education combined with more practical knowledge.
As an example of achievements Yamanaka mentioned the names of Japanese scientists who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014: Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, and revealed that they are visiting the Bulgarian capital Sofia in April.
Yamanaka talked about the aims of the upcoming educational reforms.
“We must provide the kind of education that […] forces 21st century academic skills, creativity, humanity, and communication skills,” he noted.
According to Yamanaka, critical and creative thinking, modernized style of teaching with thought-provoking lectures, encouraging students to study abroad, and abolition of memorizing as the only way of gaining knowledge will sit at the core of the reforms.
The presentation drew the attention not only of staff and faculty, but predominantly of the students. They initiated a Q&A session following the presentation.
“What caught my attention the most were [the statements] that people in Japan do not want to study or work in a foreign country, as well as that most of them lack fluency in English,” shared Inka Henry, a second-year student. “It was difficult for me to understand the ambassador sometimes, because of his accent, but as a whole I found the presentation interesting.”
The Bulgarian and the American educational systems could borrow some ideas from the Japanese’s aim for progressive reforms. Henry also acknowledged the beneficial nature of the lecture and added that she has learned many things about a country, which she feels is worth visiting.