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NI Report: Comment on Science and Technology


NI Report: Comment on Science and Technology

Education is Crucial Indeed—‘he Hurdles Shown


MAMORU HAYASHI (a chief researcher of Universal Design Intelligence; and Vice Editor in Chief of Nature Interface.)

Top-down reforms in education are promoted with such schemes as the new education guidelines by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for 2002, reduction of national universities through consolidation and reorganization, and concentration of investment on the top 30 universities. Crucial in such a current are realistic debates addressing both the concrete and the ideal, and policies based on such discussions. Well, to what extent is reality revealed? Have we forgotten our ideals through insistence on number crunching for survival or internal adjustments? Seen from this viewpoint, we realize that elementary and secondary education reforms, which should be effective as philosophies, actually bring crises especially to science education. Meanwhile, in higher education reforms, system reforms do not follow the establishment and realization of ideas. Now, realistic discussions are vital.

Have you heard the following data MEXT officers used to boost presidents of national universities, assembled in one room by the Ministry? According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook published by the International Institute for Management Development, a private institute in Switzerland, university education in Japan is evaluated as the worst by domestic enterprises. When company workers from 49 countries estimated their own countries' university education into six levels, Japan brought up the rear, while the first was Israel, 2. Finland, 3. Ireland, 4. Singapore, 5. U.S., 6. Iceland, 7. Belgium...45. Italy, 46. Thailand, 47. Korea, 48. Luxembourg, and 49. Japan. Though subjective, the data show how Japanese university education is discounted by domestic companies.

Serious Harms of the New Guidelines for 2002 by the MEXT

Some say criticism is the opposite of people's hopes. In national elections, every party carries the banner for fulfillment of education, though many such proposals are abstract. In addition, in the Basic Law on Science and Technology, which was approved unanimously in 1995, the importance of science education is emphasized to build a "Science and Technology-Oriented Nation." Well, does education in Japan from elementary school to university and graduate school undergo enough change to follow through on such expectations? Let's look at science education.

In education guidelines for 2002 of the MEXT, 30% of educational content is reduced so that all pupils can get perfect test scores. In addition, general studies classes are introduced. One of the most probable factors for this change is what Ogawa Elementary School in Higashiura Town, Aichi Prefecture, Central Japan, and other schools have done. Ogawa Elementary School conducts synthetic studies and investigates their fruits longitudinally until the pupils enter universities.

Pupils of Ogawa Elementary School accumulate their knowledge thoroughly and systematically. In addition, they consider the meanings of what they acquired and learn how to use them through general studies on related fields. Consequently, a vivid circulation occurred in which both eagerness to accumulate systematic knowledge and capabilities to apply what they learned increased. This example shows the significance of synthetic studies after deepening systematic studies. On the contrary, the worst situation happens if, without accumulate systematic knowledge, synthetic studies with little connection with basic subjects are promoted.

The education guideline for 2002 encourages schools all over Japan to do what Ogawa Elementary School did. Well, what is actually happening in the field of education? A school in Kanto, Eastern Japan, decided that afternoon classes would encompass general studies with a unified theme within one grade level, to cope with the new guidelines. The homeroom teacher of each class instructs the class regardless of the teacher's major. Science was eliminated from this class curriculum so that any teachers would be able to teach there. Meanwhile, basic themes of science such as ions and evolution were moved from the junior high school to elective classes of science in high school. Truly, science education is encountering its worst case scenario.

The draft of the new education guidelines for 2002, which was approved by the Curriculum Council, was already made out before its approval by the Central Education Council. However, Akito Arima, a Council, who worked as the director of the Central Education Council (1995-1998) and as the Education Minister (1998-Oct. 1999), and promoted systematic and synthetic studies, opposed this guideline. In the Sep. 2001 issue of Ronza, a general magazine published by the Publishing Division of Asahi Shimbun, Arima warned that if this situation continued, students' academic level in mathematics and science would inevitably decrease. He proposed that the synthetic study classes should deal with coursework, especially with mathematics and science, as much as possible. This was the first education guideline whose drawbacks were pointed out to such an extent.

Reform of University Education toward a Society which Makes Good Use of High Educational Backgrounds

Higher education attains the "universal era," as almost 50% of high school students go to universities and the number of students entering graduate schools is increasing. In such a current, can higher education meet people's expectations?

Major changes in this past decade emphasize professional education along with disorganization of liberal arts and the shift of higher education from the undergraduate to graduate school as universities have come to reinforce graduate schools. According to "The Survey on Research Activities of Private Businesses (Fiscal 2000)" of MEXT, people with a Ph.D. are most highly evaluated by companies in terms of activating research by their knowledge and experience in their fields of specialty. Whereas the most significant negative factor why companies hesitated to employ people with a Ph.D. was their inability to deal with fields of study other than their majors ("Annual Report on the Promotion of Science and Technology" published by the MEXT). The present status of Japan, which is said to lean to instruction of specialists, is evident here.

As seen above, though Japan has succeeded in improving professional abilities, it still needs to overcome lack of capabilities in fields outside of one's major and in general subjects.

However, we should reconsider this. The goal of science and technology education—śinding questions, solving them with one's own data and theory establishment, and obtaining communication capabilities to convey results in Japanese or English—„an be taught through general studies, can't it?

As seen in results of international comparison of researches, the level of Japanese researchers is certainly becoming higher. Reforms of higher education of science and technology may start from "rediscovering" the usefulness of its goals.

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