BELOW THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG IN JAPAN
Today I will begin a new writing project. I hope to be able to write everyday in the form of a diary entry showing what the education scene in Japanese universities is like at this moment. There are huge changes around as Japan fully enters the global community and attempts to transform its legacy of national isolation for 200 years during the Edo Era. There need to be changes on many fronts to enable students to fully integrate: spiritual, psychological, physical, in terms of communication and confidence, and many more. It is an exciting time to be a teacher here, and a crowning challenge for my own experience. I have been teaching now for a large part of the last 40 years, 10 of them here in Japan.
My work here has unearthed some unique differences and potential flaws in the system of education in general, as well as fascinating fears, phobias and complexes which emerge in each successive generation. I have never been more aware that the art of teaching consists mainly of empowering people to teach themselves, to create systems and generate motivation to acquire skills and knowledge for themselves, making student autonomy is a must.
The history of education here is based in the Chinese system adopted between 6th and 9th centuries in which Confucianism dictated that learning was passive, flowing magically from the revered teacher if conditions were good. Later the samurai established schools and eventually the whole system was influenced by western methods culminating in World War 2 when Japan was occupied and subjugated by the American forces.
Women’s education in Japan was a relative late-developer, the first female university student graduating in 1913. I have had the great pleasure to work at one of the foremost women’s colleges of higher education, Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, Kyoto, for all of my time in Japan. There are huge shifts afoot in gender discrimination here, but they are slow and long overdue. It is a challenge to help women students develop confidence and dreams, both newfound qualities to them, and to be witness to the breaking down of their heavy legacy of oppression here. Today, domestic violence and bullying are an insidious problem, while on the surface women seem calm, outwardly passive but inwardly angry and helpless.
It is as if education has until now been a closely guarded secret known only to an elite. It has traditionally been used exclusively to pass entrance tests and rarely as a means to self-discovery and betterment, so I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to promote learning as a joyful and positive pursuit, something which one takes responsibility for, for life.
During my days in classrooms here I will try to capture these challenges and share my perceptions and strategies. One day soon I hope my collection of observations and experiences can be made into a book and reach a wider audience.