What is the key to developing flexibility in thinking — a crucial ability to live and work in the era of globalization? A recent classroom visit may have revealed a possibility for the future of universities in Japan.
The “World Politics” class began with an English PowerPoint presentation by three students tackling a huge subject: the end of the Cold War. They presented to 13 of their classmates the major historical events after World War II; showing how the U.S. and the USSR saw each other as “black boxes” because of the differences in ideologies, political systems and economic structures, and explained how the conflict changed in the latter years of the Cold War.
“Before moving to discussion, let me clarify a theoretical point,” said Takeshi Yuzawa, a professor of international relations at the Faculty of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies (GIS) at Hosei University. While appreciating the logical tree that was shown in the presentation, the professor facilitated the students’ discussions on the question, asking, “Which theory is most useful for explaining the end of Cold War: realism, liberalism or constructivism?” The students actively discussed the issue in small groups of two or three for the first 10 minutes, followed by a full class session for the rest of the hour. All discussions took place in English.
GIS was established in 2008 as an independent faculty of Hosei University, offering bachelor degrees in liberal arts taught completely in English. GIS has advocated global study that focuses on analyzing the changes the contemporary world shares in common, and finding solutions to the challenges facing the entire globe by seeing the issues from an interdisciplinary point of view rather than sticking to existing frameworks. With its lineup of five areas of arts and literature; linguistics and language acquisition; society and self; international relations and governance; and business and economy, GIS offers substantial liberal arts beyond traditional disciplines of culture and social science in an all-English environment.
In the case of international relations led by Yuzawa, students are provided input in the form of knowledge and theory during the first year. In the second year, they are encouraged to show output from what they have studied in the forms of presentations and discussions.
“Without knowledge and logical thinking, discussion may fall into just chat,” Yuzawa pointed out.
At GIS, there are currently 357 students from a variety of backgrounds, half of whom are from Japanese high schools. One such Japanese student, who was a member of the presentation team that day, said that understanding the subject itself was a much bigger challenge than expressing it in English.
Another student, who actively posed questions to the presenters, spent 10 years at an international school in China.
“Compared to the presentations I used to do in high school, we are required to have a deeper knowledge and use more logical thinking here,” he said, holding up a copy of “Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation” by Joseph Nye and David Welch, the textbook used in Yuzawa’s class.
When one student was at a loss for words to deliver her opinion, everyone, including the student, burst into laughter and the professor encouraged her to “try again.”
“I wasn’t very good at thinking logically, but I feel my way of thinking is gradually changing,” she said. “Thanks to the small class size, it’s easy for us to ask questions. Also, there is an encouraging atmosphere to express our opinions.” She said that she wants to join a seminar led by Yuzawa.
The seminar is a two-year program for those who want to study further under Yuzawa. It examines major questions in international relations with the theme of 2016 being “prospects for a world order in the 21st century.”
Tatsuo Tamura, 21, lived in Mexico and studied at an international school until the end of junior high school before entering a Japanese high school on his return from Mexico. Having experienced different education styles, Tamura says that Japanese high school is focused on the input of knowledge to students.
“In the courses and seminar led by professor Yuzawa, I trained myself in logical thinking,” Tamura said. “I came to always think about what the real reasons underlying the issues were. In our discussions, too, we are required to show the reasoning behind our arguments,” he said.
Motomi Fukui, 21, who was born and raised in Thailand, graduated from an international school in Bangkok before entering Hosei University.
“While it was a kind of special to be Japanese in Thailand, as a returnee, I found myself to be a minority in Japan,” Fukui said. However, she hopes to make best use of her background as a Japanese who spent many years abroad and hopes for a job that could support Japanese companies further advance overseas.
“In Yuzawa’s seminar I learned how to express my views on political and economic issues in a persuasive way,” Fukui said. “I think it’s also important to be cooperative in order to brainstorm by listening to every opinion. We can point out what’s wrong with the argument, while also accepting the strong points.”
Zaya Tuvshinbayar from Mongolia, 22, came to Japan when she was a junior high school student. Last year she studied in the U.S.
“Since I was a high school student, I wanted to study international relations. Under professor Yuzawa, I learned logical thinking and presentation skills,” Tuvshinbayar said. “Also, through the group work at the seminar, I learned the different ways students with various backgrounds thought about things.”
Professor Yuzawa said that he takes care to ensure that all the participants join the discussions and speak up during the seminar.
“After leaving them to discuss an issue among themselves, I point out the reasons why their discussion may not have developed very well and advise them to get the necessary knowledge on the issues,” Yuzawa said.
As Yuzawa often says, there is no right answer. What is important for the students is to be able to form their own opinions and develop constructive discussions.
“There are many seminar alumni who are actively working in the global arena, in areas such as foreign consultancies, media, multinational companies, non-government organizations and international institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),” Yuzawa said.
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