Misinterpreting Globalization in the Context of Japanese Education Policy

Memo #43

Julian Dierkes, Justin Elavathil, and Takehiko Kariya

In a recent keynote address to the annual meeting of the Japan Studies Association of Canada hosted by UBC’s Centre for Japanese Research, Takehiko Kariya (Oxford University) argued that many changes in educational policy in Japan in the past fifteen years have been motivated by an understanding of globalization in terms of a knowledge economy. Policy makers were mistaken in this understanding. Instead, another impact of globalization has become more visible recently in Japan: the decline of full-time, long-term jobs. Rising inequality and lack of career opportunities rooted in a class-based distribution of learning competency, or the ability to learn, are being exacerbated rather than ameliorated by misguided educational policies.

With an alleged shift from a credential-based society (学歴社会) to a life-long learning society (生涯学習社会), and the streamlining of curricular content under the banner of a more liberal education (ゆとり教育), officials in the Ministry of Education began to chart an emphasis on creativity around the turn of the millennium. Yet, instead of creativity, learning competency has become a more important factor in determining not only advancement to higher education, but also future employment in Japan. Dr. Kariya argues that although Japan in the past had regarded itself as “classless”, with education and employment outcomes solely based on meritocratic selection, it now finds itself transformed into a “class” society, where the stratification of learning competency plays a more important role. Recent research by Dr. Kariya shows that differences in socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds are intensifying deficiencies in students’ learning competencies:

Even with proportionally increasing enrolment in higher education these inequalities become more evident, especially for students from non-elite universities entering a competitive job market.

Instead of requiring more highly-skilled employees, the Japanese economy has become more dependent on temporary employment. Those who lack learning competency are forced into temporary employment. To address this issue Dr. Kariya argues that by attacking the inequality of learning competency at its initial source, in schools, solutions can be found.

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  • Kariya, Takehiko, “From Credential Society to “Learning Capital’ Society” (In “Social Class in Contemporary Japan” by Hiroshi Ishida and David H. Slater, eds., London: Routledge, 87-113, 2009.)

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