Japanese Higher Education as Myth (英語) ペーパーバック – 2002/2/19
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In this dismantling of the myth of Japanese "quality education", McVeigh investigates the consequences of what happens when statistical and corporatist forces monopolize the purpose of schooling and the boundary between education and employment is blurred.
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I basically agree with all his major points, and his ideas had already occurred to me before I read the book. The book only confirmed opinions I already had. When I came to my own Japanese university, there was a lot of talk about educational change and reform and becoming a school with a "special flavor," but most of it was just talk and came to nothing. Some professors are still trying to make changes, but most of the changes are superfluous. However, I think that nowadays thanks to political correctness probably American higher education is worse than Japan's, since it often promotes self-righteous activism instead of true education.
The main flaw in the book is that the writer believes in Postmodernism, which works against his whole thesis. Postmodernism claims that there is no objective truth, but McVeigh claims that his analysis of Japanese higher education is "true." He even makes the self-contradictory statement that "that there are many truths is a Postmodern truism." A Postmodern "truism" is an oxymoron. Japanese students are often relativists already and don't want to find truth, and Japanese professors often uncritically accept Postmodernism and teach it. This sort of relativism undermines meaningful intellectual activity as much as careerism does. American universities are now reaping the results of an ideology that devalues truth and glorifies political activism.
1. Being Anerican.
2. Having gone to, and I suspect taught at, Ivy League universities.
The central ideas of the book seems to be (and I'm going to have to confess to not having read the whole thing);
1. Japanese students have no study or debating skills.
2. Japanese students are lazy and want to have a good time.
3. Japanese students think university assignments are optional.
I went to university in the UK, and I have taught at an American university in Japan mentioned in the book, and I have to say all of these could apply to British or American students, with the proviso that Americans tend to be ruder and more vocal when they don't understand, and British students have a bigger problem with alcohol. The American professors I met, who taught Japanese and American students side-by-side, didn't seem particularly impressed by their boorish American students!
Certainly there is a lot of truth here, but there is no attempt to seriously stand back and ask these questions:
1. Isn't it our job to teach these students, however bad they may be?
2. Isn't it our job to disabuse them of this notion, or at least work around it?
3. Isn't it a bit much to assume students should all live up to the standards of the Ivy League?
Don't get me wrong. I think the majority of what McVeigh writes is true. Liberal arts in Japan needs a real kick up the arse. At least in terms of liberal arts, Japan is way behind the US or Europe. However, we can hardly say this for the sciences, or for any "hard" subject. Europe, the UK in particular, is way behind Japan in sciences and mathematics.
I think one earlier reviewer gets very near the heart of the matter though. Liberal studies tend to have these issues in many other education systems as well, including the US's. And Japanese universities are often unfairly under-rated in terms of science and technology. The language barrier is huge in terms of them getting the credit they deserve. For example, the TRON OS project at Univ. of Tokyo.
This is a good book for those who are going to work at a Japanese university. But realize that if you are coming to Japan to work at teaching, you will be asked to teach English, most likely, followed by teaching some sort of content in simplified English or to do scientific research on a short-term contract. And being limited to such endeavours will also limit the perspectives you are going to get, no matter how long you stay in Japan, moving from job to job.
Japan's colleges facing 'meltdown'
Sapio (Sept. 28)
"One has to think of education in Japan," wrote sociologist Ronald Dore in 1982, "as an enormously elaborate, very expensive testing system with some educational spinoffs, rather than as the other way around."
Criticism in that vein fueled 20 years of off-and-on education reform, a gradual deregulation process culminating, on April 1, 2004, in government-affiliated national universities becoming "independent agencies."
So where does Japan stand today, pedagogically speaking?
"Japan's universities," declares Sapio, "are on the brink of meltdown."
Intellectual bankruptcy is already here; financial bankruptcy is around the corner; and the nation's demography, with its rapidly declining university-age population, hardly promises an academic resurgence any time soon. That is the broad picture emerging from Sapio's series of reports on the state of "reformed" higher education in Japan.
Two professors, Tsuneharu Okabe of Saitama University and Yo Kawanari of Hosei University, focus in back-to-back articles on intellectual bankruptcy. Okabe expresses astonishment and frustration at how dense, immature and ignorant students are nowadays. And professors, Kawanari maintains, are little better.
Students' academic ability is in free-fall, writes Okabe. Simple logical thinking is beyond them. Their vocabulary is childish, their grasp of mathematics feeble, their curiosity nowhere in evidence. The latter is doubly surprising, he points out, in view of the young generation's easy familiarity with the Internet -- but the Net apparently appeals to them more as a playground than as a research venue.
Kawanari saves his venom for his professorial colleagues. It is remarkable, he writes, how many authors' names appear on even brief research papers, some no more than a page long. "All those 'authors'," he says, "leave it uncertain as to whose work it really is. If a question arises, who do you address it to? Evasion of responsibility is written into the very system" -- which helps explain, he adds, why Japan's roster of currently active professors includes not a single Nobel Prize winner -- as against 48 at the U.K's Cambridge University alone.
Kawanari marvels at how sloppily written many academic papers are -- "but that's not the worst of it," he says, citing an Education Ministry survey showing that a quarter of all university teachers have not published anything at all in the past five years.
Maybe that's not the worst of it either. In June, Hagi International University in Yamaguchi Prefecture declared bankruptcy. Others will follow, predicts economic journalist Kiyoshi Shimano in his contribution to Sapio's series. "My estimate," he writes, "is that by 2010, 50 universities will have gone bankrupt -- and 50 others will have downsized."
The reason, he says, is clear. In 1991 there were 2.01 million 18-year-olds in Japan. In 2004 there were 1.38 million. In 2014 there will probably be 1.21 million.
Accompanying this demographic plunge has been a wave of university foundings which, on the face of it, seems absurd. Between 1996 and 2005, 167 new four-year universities opened, most of them private, raising the total nationwide number to 710. The apparent explanation is the rising proportion -- now some 50 percent -- of high-school students going on to college. But ultimately, the student numbers weren't there to justify the expansion. When universities must scramble for entrants -- when no paying customer is turned away -- standards go out the window.
Why, then, not appeal to foreign students as a prime source of financial relief and intellectual invigoration? The idea goes back at least to 1983, conceived as part of then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's efforts to internationalize Japan. His goal of 100,000 foreign students was reached in 2003, a year ahead of schedule.
So far so good, but Japan has yet to really warm to foreign students, writes former university administrator Tsutomu Kimura, and those who come, he says, often find their reception somewhat chilly. It's one symptom among many of Japan's intellectual decay, to which no end seems in sight.
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