Education in an

Information Age

- as seen in Japan


29 September


Not much worth making a note in this journal happened today. The day was spent in finalising the summary of the country reports and preparing recommendations of the seminar. Griek offered to take me to the computer shop for finding some more details of the scanner I saw yesterday. Though he is Dutch he speak fluent Japanese. He managed to obtain a brief write-up in English on the scanner. It is one of the cheapest items in the computer shop, as it is an imported product. The Japanese products are preferred and are much more expensive. The scanner costs less than US$ 90. It is therefore a good buy for the money.

In the evening Koji Matsubara, the Japanese student interested in M.K.Gandhi, came to see me. He had funny stories about India, like that the offspring of inter-caste marriage in India are born mentally retarded, picked by him from books on India he had read. As he works part time in the computer shop he has offered to buy for me the scanner with additional discount. I have accepted his offer.

Mr Gao gave me a gift of Chinese folk paper cuts and a set of tie clips with the insignia of his institution. Although, he has not opened his mouth even once, Mr Gao's presence in the seminar has been distinctive. For one, he is the only person among us who has a constant company of a lady interpreter.

I found an Internet café close to my hotel. Here one can get coffee and access to live Internet connection for Yen 500 for thirty minutes of use. I availed it but the challenge was to use Netscape in Japanese. After seeking some clarifications from the girl attending the Internet café, literally in sign language, I managed to send my mails.


30 September


I visited today the Hiroshima Education Centre and the Chiyoda High School. Hiroshima is one of the twelve major cities of Japan. Each of the major cities has its own City Education Centre for providing inservice education to the teachers of its schools. It is located on a hill about 30 minute drive from the city centre. We were received by the Director of the Centre and his senior faculty. After the formal welcome and introductions, the Director excused himself for attending to other priorities. The Centre has a total staff of about 30, of whom the academic faculty comprise of fifteen teacher consultants, 5 educational counsellors, 3 training instructors and one librarian. In 1996 the Centre conducted 133 inservice training attended by 9500 teachers. About 900 teachers came for training in use of software. The Centre has hired computers for its use. It was pointed out that all schools and teacher training institutions obtain computers on rent to cope with the fast turnover in information technology. The Ministry of Education of Japan provides budgetary support of about 10 billion US dollars each year for obtaining computers on rent by the school system. The media library of the Centre has over 2000 software on school education. Faculty of the centre in co-operation with teachers from the city schools conduct practical research in education to meet the needs of their programmes and thus of the schools.

Incredible it may appear to us in India but the fact is that in Japan teachers are among the highest paid professionals. Average annual salary of a teacher including bonus for five months is Yen 8,000,000, which is about

US$ 70,000. Salary of elementary school teachers is the same as that of lecturers teaching in universities. Teachers are appointed in July each year on the basis of performance in written tests. School teaching enjoys high status and good pay. It is therefore highly coveted.

When we were returning from the Inservice Centre we crossed a bus carrying persons who had suffered either primary or secondary radiation damage from the atomic bomb that took place more than fifty years ago. They were being taken to a nursery for treatment and rest.

We then drove through a scenic route to the Chiyoda Secondary School to witness teaching by teleconferencing. This high school is in a rural area and is isolated. It has a total enrolment of about 300 students, who study in grades 10, 11 and 12. The school offers a programme of general education. Therefore, it was selected by the Ministry of Education for the teleconferencing experiment by tying it with the Miyajima Technical High School for providing teaching on industrial design. The hall used for teleconferencing has thirty computers, all connected in LAN and through telephone lines to the Miyajima Technical High School. There were two large video screens in the hall and video cameras strategically placed to enable the remote teacher to see his class. As soon as the teacher came on the screen, students stood up and bowed to him. First, the teacher made comments on the graphics of the students submitted by them for evaluation. In each of the computers Super Kid 95, a graphics software, has been loaded for today's class. The remote Teacher in his lesson today gave instructions on how to add text in a graphic file. I observed that the students, who were all of grade 12, were not responding to the instructions that were being given by their teacher through teleconferencing. May be they had been disturbed by our presence and became inhibited. The teleconferencing experiment, even by the Japanese standards, is high cost. Computers and the software have been obtained on hire by paying annual rent of about US$ 100,000. Teleconferencing has been arranged through 24 dedicated telephone lines. The operating charge of each line for one hour of use is about US$ 200. In this experiment teaching by teleconferencing is held for two hours each week. This project had commenced in January 1997 and is for three years.

On returning to Hiroshima I went in the evening to the biggest Department Store of the town called Sogo. I purchased from there a 2-cup kettle and a pair of mugs. I quickly retraced my steps out of the store because of the wide hiatus between my purchasing capacity and the cost of goods there.

Koji came to deliver the scanner. He opened the box and realised that he had left behind at the shop the packet containing the CD-ROM. He had tested the machine, as he thought it would be difficult for me to take care of faults in it in India. He showed me how to assemble it and gave me tips on using it. He mentioned that as he has knowledge of computers he is paid Yen 3000/- per hour for the occasional work he puts in at the computer shop. Minimum wage in Japan for unskilled work is about Yen 800 per hour. He inquired whether I have been to the Indian restaurant in Sogo, called the Tandoor. He said that the cooks there are unhappy as they are underpaid and also their passports have been kept by the owner. The plight of the low paid Indian workers whether employed in the Gulf countries or in Japan is similar. They invariably get exploited by their employers.


1 October

I visited two rural primary schools today. Looking at their buildings and physical facilities even the prestigious public schools of New Delhi would turn with envy. Each school in Japan whether elementary or secondary has to have a playground, gymnasium, swimming pool and a spacious building. The elementary education in Japan is of six years duration. Children are not detained in any grade and almost all children who enrol in grade one also go to the secondary school. All elementary school children are required to walk to school, which are provided within four kilometre of their habitation. The first of the two rural elementary schools I visited has 45 children and nine teachers. The second school has 65 children and ten teachers. The first school was selected for our visit as it provides multigrade education to the children of the 5th and 6th grades. The criteria for determining whether multigrade education is to be arranged is that the combined enrolment for grades other than the first and the second has to be less than seventeen. For the initial grades individual attention is crucial. So the multigrade instructions in schools in Japan for the first and the second grades are arranged provided the combined student strength is less than nine. The contrasting situation in India is that the majority of its rural primary schools have at best two teachers for as many as 100 children enrolled in classes 1 to 5. The elementary schools in Japan have a science lab, a computer lab, a music room, an art-and-craft room and a laboratory for home science. Each elementary school has a nursing room with a qualified nurse to attend to minor injuries.

In the rural schools in Japan enrolment is getting reduced each year. The rural areas have been depopulated as the young persons prefer to live in cities. Aged persons left to live in rural areas therefore attend to agriculture. Small mechanised machines, suitable for use by elderly farmers, for planting seeds, harvesting etc. have been developed. The State discourages agriculture because it has decided to import rice and other agricultural produce from USA, so that it may sell the Japanese automobiles there. Balance of trade has to be maintained. The cost of cultivation of rice in Japan far exceeds the rate at which it is sold in the market. Another reason for dwindling enrolment in elementary schools are fewer births. Because of the change in life style Japanese people now prefer small family. Though the present population of Japan is 125 million, in future it is estimated to stabilise around 90 million. Therefore, with time in Japan per capita resource will increase, whereas in India it will get reduced on account of multiplication of its population.

I spoke to Professor Miyazawa on phone. He told me that he will turn seventy this year and will retire from the University. I will not be able to meet him in this visit, but he has expressed hope of our meeting each other in future.

28 September


 2 October