Education in an Information Age
- as seen in Japan
After two days of rains weather cleared today. From the top of the building of the faculty of education of the Hiroshima University I saw a panoramic view of a valley enclosed by hills from all sides. The University has 15,000 students, 12,000 of whom are undergraduates and 600 are foreign students. The majority of the foreign students are from China. As it was a Saturday and the University was closed, the students who had come to campus were either doing group physical exercises or were playing tennis. We were taken to the University Bookstore as time had to be whiled away, because the only activity of the day was local sightseeing in the Hiroshima city, where the only place of tourist interest is the Peace Memorial Museum.
As I was leaving the Bookstore for getting on to the bus for going to Hiroshima, Mr Griek, who is from Netherlands and is a Research Associate in the University, rushed with an envelope in hand and greeted me, "Professor! e-mail messages." I had one mail from Gargi and two from Asha. The e-mails of Asha have reinforced my thesis that necessity is the best incentive for acquiring skills. I was amazed when I saw rickshaw-pullers in the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary doubling as guides to French, Italian and Japanese tourists and the fruit sellers in the Sarojini Nagar Market in New Delhi transacting business in Russian. Therefore, teachers and students in India will also pick up the use of the Intenet once they are convinced of the quality of the electronic educational resources and ease with which it allows communication.
During the drive to Hiroshima from Higashi-Hiroshima at least three long tunnels were used. That was not surprising because we crossed to the other side of the hills without going over them. As we approached the Hiroshima City the mere thought that I will soon enter the place which had suffered the catastrophe of a nuclear holocaust produced a feeling of uneasiness. The city founded in 1594 on six river islands in the Ota River delta lives with the stigma of being the first city in the world to have been destroyed on August 6, 1945 by an atomic bomb.
The blast destroyed more than 10 sq. km of the city, completely destroying 68% of Hiroshima's buildings. However, listening the story of the reconstruction of the city changed my perspective. Hiroshima is a living example of the indomitable human spirit. It resurrected itself like the legendary phoenix that rose from its ashes.
On reaching Hiroshima we alighted from the bus by the side of the A-bomb Dome. This structure is a ruin that did not crumble to dust like all other buildings in the city, though it was at the epicentre of the atomic bomb. The dome is one of the most recognised structures of the world. What has been preserved by providing iron scaffolding are its exposed bare walls and the frame of the dome spanned by iron beams.
We went to see the Hiroshima Castle. As it was within one kilometre of the epicentre the castle was also razed to the ground by the atomic bomb. The general misgivings after the unprecedented destruction caused by the intense heat and radioactive radiation released by the nuclear energy equivalent to 15000 ton of TNT were that nothing would grow in the soil in the next sixty years. Flourishing gardens full of trees that were planted as part of restoration of the destroyed city are testimony of the strong resilience in the people of Japan in general and the residents of the Hiroshima City in particular. The castle was rebuilt after the war and externally might not look different from the one built by Terumoto in 1589. The concrete staircases and floors
inside reveal that it is a recent construction. A complex of apartment buildings in the heart of the city not far from the castle were pointed out to me. These apartments were put up to house the survivors of the A-bomb destruction, who had become roofless and were living in make shift barracks after the destruction of the Hiroshima City.
We next moved to the Peace Memorial Museum. I had my apprehensions in visiting this place because its purpose was to warn visitors of what can happen to the humanity in a nuclear holocaust unless the nuclear arsenal of the world is fully destroyed. Wars begin in minds of men so peace must be achieved through minds of men. I was surprised to find that in the Museum the historical treatment of the circumstances that preceded the destruction of the Hiroshima City on August 6, 1945 was objective and balanced. People of Hiroshima had militaristic bent of mind and many of them had emigrated to China as far back as the closing years of the 19th century. It housed army garrisons and was important to the Japanese military even in 1945. Every house in the city had a bomb shelter. It was one of the cities of Japan which had escaped extensive aerial bombing during the second world war and was largely undamaged till it was destroyed by the atomic bomb. What is shocking is when one learns facts of the diabolic preparations made by the American war machine to try out their most destructive weapon on men, plants, animals and other organic and inorganic substances. Pictures of women and children with flesh oozing out of their bodies on destruction of their skin cover by the radiation brings sadness in all human beings, even in those who might have personally suffered on account of Japan's military adventure and hold grudge against this nation. The news of the annihilation of the people of Hiroshima and the destruction of the city was blacked out for 2-3 days. People in Tokyo could not make out what had hit Hiroshima because nobody was familiar with an atomic bomb or its consequences. Some unexposed x-ray plates showed as though a heavy shower of radioactive rays had passed through them. This provided scientific evidence that Hiroshima had suffered unnatural radioactive damage.
I was deeply touched to hear the background story to a monument where a large number of colourful wreaths were placed. This monument is in the memory of a l2 year old girl, who was given hope of life by her mother, though she had suffered extensive radioactive damage. To divert her mind from the agony of extreme pain, her mother gave her a hope of life by placing the challenge to prepare one thousand paper cranes. The girl died before she could fully carry out the task given to her by her mother.
Now, children from all over Japan make one thousand cranes with coloured papers, weave them in a garland and place it as a wreath at this monument. Children through this symbolic gesture keep alive the spirit of the girl who lost her life for no cause known to her.
In the evening I visited with Nakayama the computer shops in the vicinity of my hotel. Stores were overflowing with books on computers, but all in Japanese. So is the situation with software and hardware peripherals. I saw the Sony digital camera. I ruled it out mainly because it would not be of much use and moreover its battery pack costs as much as 25% of the price. I found state-of-art colour scanners to be reasonably priced but they were compatible only with the Japanese version of the Windows-95. Also, these scanners are driven by software coded in Japanese. Scanners driven by software coded in English have no demand in Hiroshima.
I had dinner with Nakayama in an Indian restaurant. He reminisced to me of the time he had spent in Mysore in 1978-80. He did fieldwork in villages in Karnataka travelling in a Jeep he had brought from Japan. I had a long chat with him on recent political situation in India and about some common friends. He wanted to know how a theoretical physicist who had worked in the High Energy Physics Group of the Tokyo University could shift his professional interests to school education. I did share with him a brief account of my changing professional interests. But, writing about that will take me away from the theme of this journal. After the dinner Nakayama pointed out that the 3rd floor of the Departmental Store called Sogo is the main bus terminal of the Hiroshima City. It sounded incredible, so we decided to visit it. If I had not reached the Bus Stand by going up an escalator I would not have been able to make out that the buses ready to leave for different destinations in Japan were parked on the third floor of a multi-storey building. Buses come up a long ramp, turn around and with new passengers proceed on their onward journey.
While writing this journal I saw on the TV wedding of a sumo wrestler to a beautiful woman. The ceremony was conducted in a grand style. The bride and the bridegroom looked a made-for-each other pair.
The guests seemed high-profile persons and perhaps were the admirer of the sumo wrestler. They enjoyed themselves in the merry making in an otherwise dignified ceremony.
The name of the sumo wrestler is Mainoumi. He is the current hero. He is short in stature and could attain the qualifying height for sumo by sticking some material to his scalp.