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?


Japanese Students Studying Abroad

Here is an interesting article about Japanese students and the demand for study abroad programs (thanks Glenski).

study abroad

*image stolen from the MOFA website

This seems to be a perennial topic of discussion, and there is much hand-wringing about how few students actually plan to study overseas.

To me this seems quite simple: I believe students are on the whole rational actors. Facing them are a range of issues:

  • there are significant financial costs associated with studying overseas
  • there is limited support for students to study overseas from universities and schools (generally students have to take time off from their studies)
  • companies pay lip service to internationalization, but study abroad does not seem to help with job hunting and in fact hinders it greatly if students are away in their third and fourth years
  • students don’t have the necessary language skills to study abroad after going through the normal English educational system in Japan

If these factors were flipped, particularly the third one, I am sure we would see interest rise.

What do you think? Is the system at fault or are Japanese students really the passive, docile, unadventurous generation that some media tries to make them out to be?

15 Nov 2013, 8:32am
op-ed university


The Infantilization of University Students

I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday.


I’ve been under a bit of stress at work recently (admin issues I am not going to go into), which probably contributed to my reaction to my first period class yesterday morning.

Ten students were late, drifting in during the first five minutes of the class (another three turned up later).

For my class, I ask students to collect the work I return to them before the bell and make sure they are ready to start on time (I make sure I am there ten to fifteen minutes early to set up). We then normally finish five to ten minutes early.

Yesterday, I let the late students take their papers and sit down. I didn’t say anything for a minute or so.

Then I let them know I was annoyed. In a mixture of Japanese and English (I rarely speak Japanese in class, and only do so to make a point), I explained the following in a firm way without shouting 🙂

  1. The class starts when the chime goes at 8:50
  2. I expect them to be ready to start at that time
  3. For this many people to be casually late is completely unacceptable
  4. From next week, if you are late I am just going to send you home
  5. If you can’t come on time, don’t come

After which I switched back to my usual relaxed self and conducted the rest of the class normally.

The incident got me thinking though. I always end up thinking about things I do differently, especially when they are unplanned as this was.

I think it will work, with my students, at my university. They are good students, I’m not asking anything unreasonably, and the university pretty much lets teachers lay down the law.

The thing is, I would never have done anything like that with a class of adults, in any setting. And my students are adults, at least in the UK. Most of the second-year class yesterday are also legally adults in Japan. But I treated them like a junior high school class.

I often hear colleagues refer to university students as ‘kids’, and I used to make a point of not doing so myself. Recently, though, I have noticed the word creeping into my own conversations too.

I wonder if we are infantilizing university students? After all, universities in Japan are basically an extension of high school, with the same packed schedule, the same lecture-style teaching approach, and the same focus on tests, tests, tests.

Do the students behave childishly because they are childish or because we treat them like children?

I don’t have the answer to this, but I wonder about it sometimes…

Anyone else teach at a Japanese university? Would changing institutional and teacher expectations improve things?

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