Japan to nurture young scientists by integrating high school, university education programs: sources

Kyodo

Plans are afoot to help talented Japanese math and science students grow into leading researchers by integrating some of the nation’s high school and university programs from the next academic year, sources said Monday.

The move, sources familiar with the matter say, comes as concerns grow about a decline in Japanese scientific research amid the government’s budgetary woes.

Under a system envisioned to provide consistent specialized education, professors will be able to teach at high schools and high school students will be able to visit university laboratories, the sources said.

In the university admissions system, special slots for talented students might be created based on common standards established by high schools and colleges, they said.

The project will start as a part of the Super Science High Schools framework, which offers advanced math and science education. About 200 institutions have been designated by the education ministry as “Super Science High Schools,” which develop educational materials and are closely linked with universities and private companies.

Shinichi Mizokami, professor of education at Kyoto University, welcomed the plan, saying starting early is the key to raising top-level researchers.

He said that, under the current system, even students who go through special math and science education programs at designated high schools cannot immediately move on to full-fledged research upon entering university because they would be initially required to take liberal arts courses.

Mizokami attributed the problem to “lack of the universities’ readiness to accept” promising students. He urged the education ministry to ensure the new system also covers talented students who aren’t studying at such designated institutions as well.

The new system could possibly allow students to skip grades and enter university before graduation, and will be beneficial for universities seeking to secure talented individuals from an early stage.

The ministry aims to secure funds for the program from the fiscal 2019 budget and solicit institutions from across the country, select a model case in the first year and expand it to several locations over the following years, the sources said.

It also plans to have core universities and high schools form a council to decide on a consistent education program and require them to jointly apply for the project.

In the university admissions process, the ministry also envisions selecting students based more on interviews and recommendations rather than the conventional entrance exams.

While Japan has produced many Nobel-prize winners in recent years, they were recognized for research carried out decades ago, and the laureates themselves have repeatedly voiced concern about the future course of Japanese research.

The British science journal Nature said in 2017 that Japan’s scientific output has failed to keep pace with other leading nations, risking its position among the world’s elite.

Publications by Japanese authors in 68 high-quality natural science journals fell more than 8 percent between 2012 and 2016, in contrast with increases of 48 percent by Chinese authors and 17 percent by British authors, it said.