Japan’s Galapagos Syndrome

There’s been a constant stream of news recently related to artificial intelligence. The future is likely to be one in which robots play active roles in society—perhaps even relegating humans to insignificance.

To prevent this from happening, it will be necessary for education to nurture creativity and imagination.

At present, the approach used in exams in Japan typically resembles the equation “7+3=?” from which the answer can be derived . . . . In other countries, it’s more common in examinations to see questions such as “__ x __ = 24” that make students consider several possible answers.

The difference in the second method is that students, more than being made to memorize the “what,” are encouraged to think “why?” and, thus, exercise their creativity and imagination. These are more important for thinking [than simply finding the one right answer].

Japanese are adept at exercising their memories and learning by rote, but now we’ve come to an era in which it’s simple to find information using Google.

It’s coming to the point where we can say there’s no longer any value in knowing information per se. Rather, what matters is how we can process the information we acquire and link it to knowledge or ideas.

In the future, there will be other matters of importance [such as experience of performing volunteer activities] aside from school education. Through [these] experiences, one learns about those who are physically or socially weaker than oneself.

It affords good opportunities for direct encounters with diversity, and is important in the sense that not only should we consider assisting those in need, but also that it’s all right to seek support when we ourselves need it.

By the same token, it’s extremely important to have varied interests. One of the common characteristics I’ve observed in all my successful friends is that they have several different types of interests.

Why is it so important to have interests? Because they afford a means of enjoying failure. In such cases, people consider the reasons, analyze them, and devise solutions, leading to the next challenge.

However, if they grow to adulthood without understanding this process of learning from mistakes and encountering failures, they come to fear failure and shy away from confronting challenges.

[Moreover] society can be expected to undergo major changes over the next 20 years and, according to some predictions, machines or computer software will replace two-thirds of existing occupations. In such a world, the sole weapon left for humans to wield will be creativity.

I am, nevertheless, reminded of voices that say, “Academic basics are still important.” That is right. We should also safeguard Japan’s culture and the attributes of “Japanese-ness.”

That said, I still believe it’s all right to modify the way of thinking in what constitutes “Japanese-style professionalism,” which is still regarded as a virtue in certain specific fields.

In the past, Japan achieved world leadership in monozukuri (making things) by adopting distinctive ways of thinking. Take the automobile. From its invention it took about 80 years for the vehicle to be disseminated worldwide.

During that period, various countries, including Japan, developed technological advancements and transmitted them to others, enabling us today to enjoy the benefits of this manufacturing revolution.

But it won’t be possible to sustain the rewards from these advancements for another 80 years. No matter how much mechanical precision can be boosted, such innovations can be imitated in other markets almost overnight.

And no matter how it evolves, the basic design of the automobile engine is not going to change. So, when considering what to change, the task will fall upon software that makes a car more enjoyable to drive. How components and software can be combined to create value will determine what is useful to society in the future.

But let’s get back to the subject of education. Both now and in the future, to succeed globally it will be important to adopt “open-type” human resources—people will need to have broad networks outside their companies and/or overseas.

The opposite of this is the closed-type individual, whose network solely comprises relationships inside their company or family.

To create open-type human resources that can team up with the rest of the world, the English language will be absolutely essential.

Does this mean Japanese is worthless? Well, since it’s spoken by only 1.7 percent of the world’s population, it isn’t conducive to building a broad network.

The “one correct answer” approach that I mentioned earlier is still emphasized in Japanese education. But elsewhere in the world, this system is found only among a small minority.

As soon as possible, we need to shift to a new education paradigm in which students are made to consider the “why” of a situation.

Originally posted: ACCJ Journal
Date: 8/25/15

Posted by jeffrey

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