• Auckland, New Zealand

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Regarding Dipak Basu’s Feb. 27 letter, “Failure rate climbs in final year“: I am glad to hear that Basu is trying to keep high standards in the university classes that he teaches. However, I am sad to see that he seems detached from the reality that surrounds him. His argument that only 5 percent of his second-year students fail while 60 percent fail in the final year does not change my point. Does the 60 percent failure rate also mean that 60 percent of the students fail to graduate?

When I studied engineering, I was used to failure rates of between 30 percent and 70 percent in year one and year two of compulsory mathematics and physics courses. That sort of sifted out those not of a mind for studying. Later I had a Japanese colleague at a research institute in Japan with a doctorate who was doing research in the field of engineering, but who didn’t know about “differentiation.” I thought it was a joke at first.

I have a Japanese friend here in Auckland who works as a low-paid waitress. I have asked her why she doesn’t try to get a better-paid job either here or in Japan, since she graduated with a degree in economics from a university in Japan. She tells me she cannot use that education because she didn’t learn anything. In four years, she said she read two books about Adam Smith and that was essentially it.

It is strange to hear from a scholar that “because of their social culture, Japanese students are hardworking.” The Japanese say themselves that university is four years of relaxation. I have had the pleasure of following my Japanese friends’ children growing up. I have taught English in Japan and gotten a pretty good insight into the work ethic among Japanese youngsters. I am far from impressed. They care mostly about their sports clubs.

How does Basu explain the fact that so many Japanese study English or English literature at university, but never learn to speak English at even an elementary level? Though Basu himself may keep high standards, something is obviously wrong in the Japanese university system.

joergen jensen

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