Too many inward-looking students

The hope for Japan to internationalize appeared less likely than ever in a survey carried out in March by the Institute for a Global Society, a Tokyo-based cram school for elementary, junior high and high school students who seek to study abroad.

Of the students surveyed, 50 percent of high school students and 55 percent of university students said they felt, “It’s too late for me to become a globally active person even if I start receiving education now for dealing with a globalizing world.”

Those results are a discouraging indication of Japanese students’ current attitudes toward their future prospects and a lack of confidence in their language ability, not to mention toward the potential of education to open students’ minds to the world.

Their reluctance to strive for a position in a globalizing world is very disappointing; however, it is no surprise. Students pick the attitude up from their environment — from parents, teachers, media, and society.

The recent turn of Japanese students toward being more inward-looking, afraid to try new things, uneasy with communication, and nervous about English is not inevitable. The survey also found that 30 percent of university students and 40 percent of high school students said they did want to become an active person in a global society. They just do not know how to do it.

If the central government, businesses and educators, as well as parents, can lead students toward a more open frame of mind, junior high and high school students, as well as university students, are still flexible enough to change.

Parents have the primary responsibility for shaping their children’s attitudes from an early age. Twenty-four percent of parents, who were also surveyed, have given up on their children engaging in work activities overseas, but that leaves 76 percent who still have hope.

To help shift attitudes, the central government needs to spend more on programs that help students to internationalize. Facilitating study abroad, funding school study trips and setting up exchange programs online require both budget and organization. Those types of programs, as well as volunteer opportunities, are greatly needed for junior high and high school students.

Moving in a global direction would not mean canceling trips to Kyoto, but adding another aspect to what students learn.

Educators must establish the importance of knowing about the larger world from an early age. English classes, often by default, help engage students with topics outside of Japan. English textbooks regularly contain material that not only improves English skills but also fosters an understanding of the larger world.

But all too often, the pressure to pass the increased number of English components on entrance exams steers classes toward testable, not communicative, English. Other classes need global components, too.

The education ministry has made tentative steps toward globalizing university campuses, but much remains to be done. Some schools have established global-oriented institutions inside their campuses or exchange programs that introduce international elements into the curriculum.

However, those programs and institutions need consistent development and expansion if Japanese universities are going to ever start appearing on the lists of top schools in the world. A few universities are already requiring all their students to study abroad at some point during their four years. From an educational point of view, Japan is only just beginning to globalize.

Unfortunately, even when the curriculum is globalized and when broadening experiences like study abroad are undertaken, the teaching methods at most universities, as well as secondary schools, remain mired in one-way, teacher-centered approaches that do not help students acquire confidence, communication skills or a broader understanding that they need for engaging in international situations.

Confidence, communication and understanding are all attitudes that can be learned, and should be.

Businesses bear a huge responsibility to help in shifting attitudes, too. More businesses of all kinds need to hire students with an international mind-set and high linguistic abilities. Some businesses may classify themselves as noninternational, and surely some are; however, retreating into strategies that fall back on inward-looking positions will not set the next stage for opening to the world.

Recently, too few companies have wanted to hire genuinely global-minded employees. That should change.

Ironically, the nation’s cram schools now have an opening to help create global-minded citizens. Already, many cram schools have built up a study curriculum to help students get into schools overseas after improving their English, developing a global mind-set and learning more about the world outside Japan.

Those cram schools, such as the one conducting the survey mentioned, are surely well-intentioned. However, cram schools cannot change a broader section of Japanese young people. They can only influence those students who can afford cram school fees.

Only by concerted effort from all the institutions and adults who have contact with young people will any change start to take place. Young people’s attitudes need to be reoriented toward the reality that Japanese society needs a broader base of global-minded people who can play an active role in international society.

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