As a student interested in Japan’s educational policies, the first thing I automatically when the government came out with its new ICT strategy was scroll down to page 88 and look at the Abe’s administration’s 10 page plan on “IT education system. My initial reaction? Taken aback and pleasantly surprised.
I was aware that Abe put emphasis on education reform, but I did notC expect the amount of ICT related projects that the government is proposing to undertake. In fact, I found at least 17 projects planned just for 2015!
However, on closer inspection of the flowcharts and getting a better grasp of the scope of what they wanted to achieve within how many years, my skepticism started to kick in.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that Japan’s ICT education is basically non-existent. I recall using the computer only once at my public elementary school in Japan. The majority of that single lesson was spent waiting for our computers to boot.
Throughout the six years at my Japanese private high school, we only got to studied computer technology for a single term each in freshman and sophomore year, learning how to make a PowerPoint presentation and basic webpage design. We actually had little need for the school’s small computer lab, because we were not assigned typed reports.
This was a sharp contrast to the experience I had at the IB international school I attended in Switzerland. Computer studies was a regular weekly subject that was as equally important as Mathematics, Science, and History. I learned how to touch type in fifth grade and by seventh grade, I was using Adobe Photoshop and Flash as well as other programs to create images and animations. Moreover, I was taught how to use the Internet safely and why it is important to avoid plagiarism. I also used the computer lab extensively in preparation for many of my subjects and I was comfortable using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
The issue that I have with Japan’s ICT education system (and in Japan’s education in general) is that it’s not fulfilling one of the most fundamental purpose of education, which is to teach students how to become more independent in today’s society. I do not expect that the Japanese government should attempt to implement the sort of standard of ICT education I experienced in Switzerland in all Japanese public schools by 2020, the target date for the government’s strategic plan. But given that the Japanese society has become more Internet-dependent than ever before, I think that something needs to be done with real urgency.
What caught me by surprise was that not only did the Abe administration seem to agree with me, but they seem to be willing to even go further. According to the ICT Plan, the government has a goal of providing one computer per student at all public schools in Japan by 2018. Also by 2018, they will be distributing digital textbooks and establish online courses for students who live too far away from their school to commute. Additionally, there are plans for more extensive computer technology and internet security courses in elementary and middle schools
The goals found in the ICT Plan sound remarkable. In fact, they sound a bit too remarkable. Currently, public expenditure on educational supplies and infrastructure is merely 2.6% of total government expenditure. This amount is actually forecast to decrease in line with the declining birthrate. I cannot help but question how the government is going to meet its investment targets for computer education, given its heavily indebted budgetary situation.
I frankly feel that in its eagerness to stake a claim to becoming the most advanced ICT country, the Abe administration seem to have neglected the practically of what is required to accomplish this. Instead of making extravagant promises of digital textbooks and computers for all students, the Abe government should focus on more achievable goals, such as a more focused ICT curriculum and internet literacy classes from elementary school, and more accessibility of better quality computers in the computer labs.