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Monday, July 22, 2002

JAPANESE PERSEPCTIVES

Education key to boosting Japan's competitiveness


The Switzerland-based Institute for Management and Development releases an annual report on the international competitiveness of major countries.

In recent years, Japan has seen its ranking drop, and in 2002 was evaluated at 30th among the 49 nations surveyed. As one of the key elements determining a nation's performance, the IMD examines how universities contribute to a country's efforts to boost its competitiveness.

The result was fairly shocking -- Japan was ranked the lowest of the 49 countries.

It appears the Japanese business community doesn't believe the nation's institutions of higher education can satisfy the needs of the sector.

Media reports on the government's Council on Economic Policy often focus on discussions to increase the nation's competitiveness by reinvigorating corporate activity through tax reforms. However, it is also a pressing task for Japan to invest in human resources development to foster people who can perform on the international stage.

What is most important is for Japanese universities to recognize this so they can change to meet the needs of the business community.

The key to our education is supposed to be schools, as defined under Article 1 of the School Education Law. But in order to respond to the changing needs of the business sector, it is necessary to provide diverse educational opportunities in a strategic way, so that students and parents are given a wider range of options.

One example would be a bigger role for international schools, where international-level education is provided in English to students of various nationalities.

First, they are better suited to prepare people to compete internationally. In addition to linguistic abilities, workers in a multinational environment must have the power to convey their own thoughts to others, understand different cultures, and argue convincingly.

In today's Japanese school system, there appear to be limits to teachers' abilities or curricula to nurture such skills in students.

In order to meet the needs of individuals, corporations and society, and consequently boost the nation's competitiveness, utilizing international schools as an option in education could be very significant.

International schools also play a key role as a foundation for promoting foreign investment in Japan. While more and more foreign businessmen arrive in Japan together with their families, an increasing number of such people are being discouraged from doing so because their children's admission to international schools here is difficult -- for financial reasons and because of the shortage of such institutions.

As the nation tries to invite more skilled workers and researchers from abroad, greater investment in international schools is important to secure educational opportunities for their children.

Currently, international schools in Japan are categorized as "miscellaneous schools," just like English conversation schools. Graduates from international schools are not qualified to take entrance exams to Japanese high schools and universities, and have to take an extra test before doing so. Their tuition fees are also higher because, unlike their Japanese counterparts, they are not entitled to tax incentives from donations, and public subsidies for such schools are limited.

It is important to correct this situation quickly, or Japan stands to lose international competitiveness in terms of human resources.

Yoshio Nakamura is a senior managing director of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren).


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The Japan Times

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