As former chair of the Secondary Schools Committee for the Harvard Club of Japan from 1990 until 1999, and a member of the International Admissions Committee in the Harvard Admissions Office before that, I am in a unique position to support the observations of Robert Dujarric and Yuki Allyson Honjo in their Feb. 5 article “Why can’t Japanese kids get into Harvard?” .
Over the years I interviewed many bright young Japanese candidates for Harvard, but almost all faltered over language scores that often left them varying degrees short of meeting the necessary standard for anticipated participation in classes held at a university where communications skills are generally quite high. Yet, to assume that Harvard, or U.S. institutions in general, are the only alternative for Japanese students studying abroad is rather begging the issue. There are many choices available on the undergraduate level in English-speaking universities around the globe, all with varying degrees of expectation regarding the level of English-language skill required.
Be that as it may, the environment of classrooms in Japan generally are teacher-focused rather than student-focused, which is not altogether different from what may apply in quite a few other countries around the globe. Among the factors that also need to be pointed out is that once they receive their education abroad, what do the Japanese students do? I know of many cases where the companies or bureaucracies that later employ these young men and women no longer consider them truly “Japanese enough,” and their futures may be limited.
For Japan to recover from its slow slide from the top rank of nations, it will require not just education at English-speaking universities, but also education in a wide range of language areas. Certainly it would be nice to see more Japanese students at Harvard, but they need also to be at institutions in dozens of other nations where the modern world is taking shape in new and important ways.
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