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56 schools across Japan aim to nurture ‘Super Global’ leaders

by Teru Clavel

Special To The Japan Times

The Super Global High School (SGH) program is a groundbreaking educational policy that deserves far more attention than it has garnered since it was announced a year ago by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The project, a key part of the government’s plan to reverse two decades of economic decline and growing insularity among the young, tasks 56 schools with creating a new generation of global leaders, with financial and supervisory support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

Under the program, which starts this year, high school students will be expected to hone their communication and problem-solving skills as they tackle global humanitarian issues in concert with Japan-based universities and international organizations, industry and nonprofit groups.

Hiromi Kawamura, deputy director of the International Education Division of MEXT’s Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, says the program is about developing “unique Japanese global human resources.”

“Japan’s positive attributes should remain, but the thinking should be on a global level,” she says. “You need to know what being Japanese means, what Japan has to offer, and know what your local region can offer within a global context.”

Of the 246 high schools that applied to take part in the program, 56 were selected — four national (central government-run), 34 public and 18 private — representing 32 prefectures; Tokyo boasts the largest number, with 10. For the five-year duration of the project, each of these schools will receive an annual subsidy of ¥16 million.

Of the applying schools, 54 more were designated as “associates” that will not receive funding but will still be able to benefit from access to information gleaned from the program. Many of Japan’s most reputable high schools did not make the cut, including Keio Shonan Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo Metropolitan Nishi High School, but MEXT hopes to expand the program to accommodate new and repeat applicants in the coming years.

Kawamura explains the project’s conception: “We thought, ‘How would it be to have high school students work together with university professors, industry leaders or international organizations on projects about global social issues, so that students could gain an appreciation of the significance of such issues?’ ”

The program also mandates that students go overseas to learn by doing — as Kawamura says, “Narau yori narerō.” While students are overseas, they will be able to learn about various global concerns first-hand and influence the way these issues are tackled by contributing to debate and discussion.

MEXT has taken steps to modify the national college entrance application process to encourage students to participate in study-abroad programs, as students are less likely to go overseas if they would then miss classroom learning critical to passing the national college entrance examination. Therefore, as of 2016, Tokyo University and Kyoto University will allow for some applications to resemble those submitted to U.S. colleges — with recommendations, essays and an accounting of extracurricular activities.

The applying schools were given two weeks in January to create and submit a 40-page proposal consisting of projects, goals, budgets, charts, curriculum details and agreements struck with outside parties. A select 100 schools were invited to MEXT for interviews in mid-March and the final selection was announced on March 28. Since then, individual school leaders have been working with Kawamura and her team to iron out the specifics of each school’s unique proposal.

High schools are the present focus of MEXT’s globalization program as it seeks to buoy the efforts being made at the university level. The SGH program is linked to Abe’s goal of having 10 Japanese universities in the global top 100 by 2023, and also to a proposed Super Global University program.

“While the universities are increasingly internationalizing, we won’t be able to cultivate global human resources at the university level if we do not send them stronger human resources to work with in the first place,” Kawamura says.

The schools’ SGH proposals ran the gamut of global topics, though most focused on social entrepreneurship. Gokase High School, a 110-student state school located in an area of Miyazaki Prefecture suffering from population decline, will establish an organization to protect its local environment that will carry out a comparative study of arsenic pollution with an area in Bangladesh. Ritsumeikan Uji Junior and Senior High School, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) school in Kyoto, will work to prevent typhoon damage in East Asia through reforestation. Nagano Prefecture Nagano Senior High School, another state school, will send students to Taiwan to discuss Nagano’s culture, landscape and sports with high schools, companies and government officials there in a bid to increase tourism to the prefecture.

Some of the designated schools are built on educational foundations that made them ideal candidates. Three examples of these are Shibuya Makuhari Senior and Junior High School, Tamagawa Gakuen and The Senior High School at Otsuka, which is affiliated with the University of Tsukuba.

Shibuya Makuhari High School

Shibuya Makuhari Senior and Junior High School, a private school located in Chiba, is among the top 10 schools nationally in terms of the number of students it sends to the University of Tokyo. Its mission rests on three themes: “self-thinking, self-awareness,” “high ethics” and “cosmopolitan and international thinking.”

Tetsuo Tamura, who founded the school in 1983, established relationships with heads of Japanese universities and industry leaders during his time as chairman of the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO, and has brought these figures to the school to speak. Ever since its inception, 10 percent of the student body have been returnees, who bring a multicultural and bilingual flavor to the school environment.

Though the SGH program is for high schools, starting in year one of junior high, Shibuya Makuhari’s English program is geared toward enabling its students to make the most of a two-week home-stay trip to New Zealand for the entire third grade, who stay with families of students of 20 local schools.

Also during the final years of junior high, students can pursue a third language — Chinese, Spanish, French, German or Korean — twice a week after school. At the high school level, students can participate in up to four school-run overseas programs per year. And each year, around 10 students spend their first year of high school, from September to June, in English-speaking countries such as the U.S., Canada or Australia. Over the summer, a number of students who attend programs at Harvard and Stanford are given approved leaves of absence from Shibuya Makuhari because the academic calendars overlap.

“Globalization starts with taking students overseas and having the students feel something — going overseas for a home stay and seeing with their own eyes the reality and asking what others feel,” explains head teacher Fumio Ogawa.

While overseas, they meet global leaders. In China, for instance, students get a chance to speak with the heads of operations of Shiseido and Toyota and ask questions about the challenges of working in China.

Shibuya Makuhari’s SGH project hinges on issues related to food — for example, sustainability, global interdependence and poverty. Ultimately, the school aims to host a global conference in 2017 on this topic, capitalizing on the numerous relationships they have built with overseas schools through programs in countries such as China, Vietnam, New Zealand, the U.S., Britain and France.

The purpose of the conference, says Toshiaki Tamura, the vice principal, will be “to understand different global viewpoints, have discussions with people from all over the world and to resolve these issues.”

Tamagawa Gakuen

Tamagawa Gakuen is a kindergarten-through-university private school located in the city of Machida, western Tokyo.

“For the last 85 years, our purpose has been to create a population that would be useful to Japan and serve the world,” explains Keiichi Watase, dean of K-12 (kindergarten to 12th grade) academic affairs and director of the Center for International Programs. “We are all brothers and sisters. Our founder toured the world, visited schools, studied education policies and met with scholars, and this school was born. And ever since then, global thinking has been strongly encouraged here.”

While 40 percent of its high school students go on to study at Tamagawa at the university level, in the most recent graduating class of 221 students, 22 were accepted to overseas universities. English-language instruction at the school begins in kindergarten.

Tamagawa Gakuen is the only Japanese member of the Round Square organization, an association of over 100 schools in 24 countries committed to promoting six “ideals” of learning: Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service. Member schools incorporate these themes into their curricula and engage in student and teacher exchange programs. Separately, Tamagawa coordinates exchange programs with 14 overseas schools based in countries including the U.S., Canada, Botswana, Germany, Brazil and Taiwan.

Munetaka A. Soai, a teacher in the Department of Social Studies for grades 9-12 and chair of the SGH program, leads the school’s annual trip to South Africa. More than 100 students have been through the Africa program since it began in 2009. Students take an African studies course and learn about apartheid, poverty and racism.

Students are expected to understand that these are persistent problems throughout the world “that do not end when the students return to Japan,” Soai says. “They observe and experience these issues and think from within themselves, ‘What do I have to do?’ not just while overseas but within Japan, and have those discussions with their classmates.”

Similarly to Shibuya Makuhari, Tamagawa hopes to host a conference with its network of overseas schools to discuss such issues.

Since 2007, Tamagawa has offered the International Baccalaureate program in English. The IB has had a pervasive influence on the way classes are taught at Tamagawa, making them more learner-centered and active.

Tamagawa’s SGH proposal to MEXT was to create leaders who could one day work at international organizations such as the United Nations.

“This generation is increasingly selecting international careers — working at foreign companies within Japan or going outside of Japan,” says Daijiroh Fujikashi, headmaster of the Upper Secondary Division. “There are global issues to resolve, and we want to raise and send out global citizens.”

Specifically, the program will focus on four larger themes: human rights, poverty, the environment and leadership and diplomacy.

Tsukuba High School

The 120-year-old Senior High School at Otsuka, aka Tsukuba High School, is a lab school affiliated with the University of Tsukuba where the university’s educational research is conducted and put into practice. Tsukuba High School is a top-rated national school with 250 students per grade — 29 of this year’s graduating class are now attending the University of Tokyo.

Because of its academic credentials and ties to the university, Tsukuba was selected as the organizing school of all 56 Super Global High Schools. Kawamura of MEXT says Tsukuba High School will “oversee issues and needs and propose and help implement problem-solving methods.” The affiliated university is also responsible for creating and maintaining the online information-sharing and networking platform linking all the SGH schools.

“Cooperation with Tsukuba University comes easily,” says Vice-Principal Kosho Kusakabe. “The university has a strong commitment to creating global human resources and they have promised their support.”

Tsukuba University was a member of MEXT’s Global 30 project, which ended in March. Kusakabe also says he felt his school was selected because of its proximity to Tsukuba University’s central Tokyo campus, which has the facilities to host gatherings of all the SGH member schools.

Their motto is “Independence, autonomy, freedom,” and students at the school gain training to become leaders. All inter-school events, such as cultural festivals, sports meetings, annual inter-high school sports matches and excursions are organized and managed by student-led committees under the guidance of the faculty.

“Students have the opportunity to organize committees, designate venues, assign schedules, make connections and have discussions,” Kusakabe says. “This is the central culture of our school and how we prepare our leaders.”

The schools’ SGH proposal described how its high school students will work with the university’s professors and graduate-school students to research global issues such as how the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics can help transform society and promote peace, and how students from the university’s lab schools, from elementary through high school, can get involved.

Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • kyushuphil

    Teru Clavel’s reporting is again exhaustive, detailed, thorough.

    So much seems to be going on — it’s breath-taking.

    But is it, really?

    The students seem to be doing so much, having activity — so much activity, over so much international ground, with so many ponderously intimidating issues. They must be talking a lot. Must be hearing earnest speakers a lot. Certain buzz words from environmentalism, peace studies, and economic development must be orbiting profusely around the heads of so many teenagers.

    But are they writing?

    I see no evidence that these kids are doing any writing that other kids and their teachers can see. I see no evidence that there may be any way for other kids to respond — as humans, as fellow teens, fellow Japanese — who may write essays enlarging upon those of the peers they’ve read.

    I suspect no one is really learning to write anything. No one’s writing is being shared. No responses are being invited. No connections made to anything in anyone’s personal experience or in anyone’s view of larger Japanese culture.

    It’s all just so many lovely, mega-trendy talking points paid for by those bureaucrats who love to talk the talk. And reported by Teru Clavel, again, in detail. And the writing from teens which could emerge – and circulate, and energize — doesn’t.

  • LinkHK

    It will be fun to see Japanese students out of their shells to where they won’t have power to laugh at others. People from perfect world going out?
    Good job Abe san

  • Ron NJ

    Super Global? They should work on just regular global first. Despite having 7+ years of mandatory foreign language education, most Japanese can’t even hold the most basic of conversations with someone who doesn’t share the same nationality/background/native language as them, doubly so if you require that the conversation be remotely fluid and not rely on the statement X = reply Y rote memorization regurgitation that is so common.

    Theoretically it’s a commendable plan but I can’t help but feel that this is the shining definition of putting the cart before the horse. Rather than trying to furiously polish out a few shining examples they can hold up and self-aggrandize over, they should be working to raise the minimum standard up a bit from the (to be absolutely frank) gutter. The people that will really shine will do so without outside help because they are ambitious and driven enough to do so – it’s those who need that extra help to succeed who should be receiving extra assistance.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    Leaders in a system of extortion? The ‘chosen people’. Pity that they will be required to sell their souls before they enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s what the system demands if you want to be practical.

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    A great idea!

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Expensive gimmick that will achieve nothing. What Japan does best!

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    Leadership? To lead us toward what?

    “Under the program, which starts this year, high school students will be expected to hone their communication and problem-solving skills as they tackle global humanitarian issues in concert with Japan-based universities and international organizations, industry and nonprofit groups.”

    So basically they will be trained to have ideas about how to spend other people’s money. And where are the minds going to come from that will produce the future wealth that their “Super Leadership” will re-distribute?

    Where’s the school that teaches kids to think, and thus they neither need to lead nor be led?

  • Dave Jones

    Pretty interesting, all of these attempts around global this and global that. I don’t think Japanese society is particularly adaptable to the rest of the globe (why? lack of English is the easy answer but there are many others too) — however, starting to put real efforts and funds towards initiatives like this are very valuable. Maybe as a result the kid who’s very international will be seen as super-cool instead of a nail-sticking-out-who-needs-to-be-nailed-back-down

  • Kent

    “unique Japanese global human resources.”

    “You need to know what being Japanese means, what Japan has to offer, and know what your local region can offer within a global context.”

    It’s parochial nonsense like this that stops Japan playing a part in globalization!