IT education in Japan

I was talking to teachers at a school this week and went on a bit of a rant about how Japanese junior and senior high school students don’t do enough to acquire useful computer skills in school.

boys with computer

During a conversation afterwards, there seems to be an impression among teachers that IT skills involve using tablets, e-textbooks, and other new-fangled resources that they don’t understand.

That was not in the slightest what I was referring to.

I believe all students should acquire the following skills and competencies at school:

  1. Familiarity with computers, keyboards, mice
  2. Ability to do basic operations (turn on and off, launch programs, find things on the computer)
  3. Basic touch typing
  4. Use of word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software
  5. Ability to do basic research on the internet
  6. Ability to share data and collaborate online (via email or the cloud)
  7. Basic use of email (including spam awareness)
  8. Basic web design (elementary HTML) and blog creation
  9. Awareness of online safety issues (including identity theft)

Students should not only do this in their IT classes, but also practice and reinforce these skills in their other subject classes so that they come to see them as tools rather than content for a specific class.

This may seem basic and obvious to some readers, but as far as I can tell is not happening consistently across the board in Japan.

What do you think? Is anything missing from the list?


That’s my impression of IT here. Baffling when they seem to bring out a new robot every year! School computers are often about 10 years old and using XP still. Kids rarely use computers for writing essays etc.

I have a theory that if Apple or Microsoft were Japanese, schools would be replacing their computers every 3-4 years and the government would be promoting IT education a lot more!

Hi Martin

I think it really impacts on Japan’s competitiveness. I was at a lecture by representatives of Keidanren earlier in the year, and they were talking about how Japanese students learn coding too late and it was making it difficult to compete. Their solution was to start at the beginning of university as opposed to in MA programs as is currently happening 🙂

Of course kids in the US or Europe who are into coding start in middle school… they seemed a bit at a loss when I said that in the Q&A.

29 Jul 2014, 8:53pm
by Trevor Lawless


Japan’s computer literacy is horrendous. It was the thing that shocked me most when I arrived, and continues to shock me. While I agree with you that the kids should be learning more in school, most computer skills can be self taught these days, either through experimentation, using help, or accessing online resources. I think there is a bit of an attitude here that you have to “be taught” everything. I’m 40, so I learned most of the things I do on a computer these days by myself. People over the age of about 25 here tend to think that if they didn’t learn it at at school, they can’t do it.

Hi Trevor

The reason I think schools should at least cover the basics is that a lot of families don’t have computers at home (or if they do, don’t let the kids use them). This is a big problem we have at the eikaiwa school, as we can’t consistently assign PC-based online homework to all students.

I agree they are probably quite far behind but on the bright side, first year kids seem infinitely more computer savvy than they did 10 years ago. in one class I had back then, I did a survey and only 3 students out of 27 had a computer at home, none had ever used PowerPoint before, and none had heard of a blog. Nowadays they all have a home computer, nearly all have used PowerPoint and they all know blogs. While far from coding, it is a significant improvement.

Hi Terry

Definitely better, still not enough I would say. And it needs to be done more consistently so that students don’t fall through the cracks.

I definitely agree that there isn’t enough being done pre-university to prepare Japanese students for modern (i.e. 21st learning). Of your list, Ben, I would emphasize touch-typing first and foremost. When I first entered university to do a bachelor’s degree 20 odd years ago, I remember the struggle I had with producing papers. That process of first writing it out by hand and then transferring it to a word processing document on computer was a real hassle not to mention and inefficient usage of time. I’m so glad I taught myself the basics of touch-typing (thanks to an old 70s typing text I found in a second hand shop). Being able to think and touch type on the fly without losing my train of thought made all the difference. Even though my students are quick to learn new skills using the computer and software, it’s the touch typing that I so dearly wished they would teach in schools. So if I had to make any suggestions to your list I would push touch typing up to number 1.

Hi Dan

That’s a great point. It’s quite a simple skill to teach too -just have them do 3 minutes at the start of each computer class on a decent (free) typing program and they’ll be competent in six months.

The next step is to identify what can be dropped from the already crowded high school curriculum to make room for computer related skills.

That’s my point! They don’t have to drop anything, just use computers for some aspects of the existing classes… Computer skills practice in a vacuum is much less useful than deliberate use of them as a tool to help you with your existing subjects.

I remember when I was an ALT in JHS the computer room was locked all the time and never used. Just take a class in there a couple of times a month for their social studies or science and it would make all the difference 🙂

I’m guessing that the curriculum is so tight, most teachers don’t want to do anything that may slow things down. I’m not saying their right, just guessing on what teachers may be thinking based upon my own earlier career as a teacher.

Here’s my solution (pie in the sky but…). Class sizes are too big and I would shudder at the thought of introducing 36-40 kids to computer and computer skills. There are always computer problems and as the teacher you would spend so much time working those problems out that there would be little time for teaching.

So, reduce class sizes to 22-25 students so the teachers work load decreases. Then they will have more time to do what you suggest.

This is the wish of the education ministry but sadly the finance ministry would like to cut costs and ensure classes go up to the 40 student mark. Of course, that’s fine for them because their kids all go to private schools.

4 Aug 2014, 10:34am
by Laura Macfarlane


IT education in Japan is akin to how it was in the 70s when I was at high school. Special classes for it with no crossover to other subjects.

As an employer of Japanese people, I find that most lack computer skills, English skills and critical thinking skills. Proficiency in all three is not perhaps necessary, but a basic level of ability is highly desirable.

Hi Laura
I’d even settle for exposure for now 🙂
Might start doing typing practice with our students.

My students gave presentations. The final powerpoint slide was supposed to be a link to a YouTube video. Most students didn’t have “live” links, just text, so they couldn’t click them. The first kid did this workaround:
1) Exit the presentation, copy the URL.
2) Open a web browser. Paste the URL into the search field. Yes, the search field.
3) Look at the results page on Bing.
4) Paste the URL into the browser address bar. Finally.
The thing is, EVERY kid that followed him did the EXACT SAME 4 STEPS! What?!? What did they dream the middle steps were all about???

Monkey see, monkey do?


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