Comment on Japanese University Reform
Takahiro MIYAO (GLOCOM)
I would like to comment on Professor Shumpei Kumon's opinion (www.glocom.org/opinions/essays/200204_kumon_university/index.html) and Dr. Daniel Dolan's commentary (www.glocom.org/debates/200204_dan_com/index.html) on university reform in Japan.
While Professor Kumon emphasizes some long-term trends in higher education in the age of information and Dr. Dolan asks some fundamental questions about university education in general, they cannot provide an answer to some of the most urgent problems in Japanese education. Many education specialists have pointed out that one of the most serious problems with higher education in Japan is rapid deterioration of college students' basic skills, especially, in math and English. For example, as Kyoto University Professor Kazuo Nishimura often mentions, very few freshmen in economics departments, even at Japan's first-rate universities, are capable of digesting elementary mathematical economics using simple calculus and algebra. It is also well documented that Japanese students' English skills are now among the lowest in Asia, almost at the same level as North Korean students, in terms of TOEFL scores.
Although these phenomena are not a result of the poor performance of Japanese universities, but rather of elementary and secondary education as well as home education, we need to take account of these disturbing trends in our discussion on university reform. Otherwise, we might lose sight in searching for right answers to the problems that we are facing in the real world. It might well be a mistake to put too much emphasis on students' own interests and needs for determining directions for university education. In this regard, computing, where students are better equipped than professors, is not a good example to discuss Japan's education problems in general.
What we need is to deal with university reform in the context of overall educational reform, and to provide a coherent approach to the solution of various problems relating to education in Japan. Then we might as well conclude that more basic training should be imposed on all students even at the university level.