The spread of the market economy system, the revolution in information technology, and other transformations have rapidly escalated movements toward globalization, pitting the nations across the world in a fierce competition to stay afloat. In the midst of this milieu, there is a concern that Japan has fallen behind in globalization. One of the factors behind this lag is that Japan lacks a national strategy for globalization, and has instead simply emulated the international standards and the de facto standards created elsewhere. It is essential that Japan immediately establish a strategy to mold itself into a state recognized by the world as an appealing, globally oriented nation, and to develop its citizens into a pool of talented, cosmopolitan people highly acclaimed for their globally oriented sets of values.
In recent years, more and more people in Japan are expressing a desire to become active in international arena or provide their children with an education that allows them to be the same. This desire has fueled a growing need for guidance in primary and secondary education that can help individuals to attain this goal. It is reasonable to assume that enhancing Japan's educational system to fulfill this sort of need will also advance the globalization of the system and raise the standard of education.
In "Fostering of Human Resources in the Age of Globalization," a Position Paper Keidanren released in March 2000, it asserted that in order for Japan to adapt itself to the rapid advance of economic and social globalization, it is important that the nation not only build up the English language skills and the international awareness of its citizens, but also establish a variety of multi-tracked systems of education and human resource training founded on diverse perspectives.
In the following commentary, the Foundation looks at international schools in Japan as educational institution that can satisfy the above objectives, pointing out problems surrounding these schools, and proposing some possible solutions.
Schools for foreigners in Japan have been classified into the categories of: (1) ethnically oriented schools, (2) schools for homeland-related education, and (3) international schools. There are approximately 30 international schools that operate as educational institutions where students of different nationalities study together, receiving a world-class education taught in languages other than Japanese, such as English. Of those schools, nearly 20 use English as the language of instruction. The range of class levels differs by school, with some offering instruction from kindergarten up to high school. In recent years, the increase in foreign nationals assigned to work in Japan has led to a rise in the number of people seeking to enroll their children in international schools, placing a severe strain on the schools' capacity to accept new students. Moreover, some international schools also accept Japanese nationals, and the number of Japanese applicants is growing year by year.
However, Japan's government defines international schools on par with English conversation schools as "miscellaneous schools," which means that they are subject to various problems, such as: (1) tuition is high because international schools are unable to receive subsidies and no tax reductions allowed on donations to them, and (2) graduating from an international school alone does not legally qualify students to take entrance exams for high schools or universities in Japan.
One major challenge that should be taken up as part of a national strategy for globalization is the fostering of talented, globally oriented individuals who possess proficiency in several languages including English and an understanding on other cultures and a variety of sets of values.
Those who work in the environment with people of various nationalities need to have the three skills of effectively communicating one's thoughts, understanding other cultures, and constructing persuasive threads of reasoning. However, Japan's current system of education does not adequately foster these skills. Although there are efforts underway to remedy this, there is still much room for improvement, as indicated by the 49th-place ranking assigned to Japan's university education by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in the 2001 edition of its "World Competitiveness Yearbook."
Against this backdrop, there is a growing number of people in Japan who are calling for efforts to foster "international skills" (the three skills mentioned above, including foreign language proficiency and the ability to interact with people of different cultures) in primary and secondary education at international schools and schools that have implemented educational programs based on foreign models. In addition, Japan's lack of human resources capable of engaging in global competition is a major stumbling block to businesses seeking to succeed in international competition. Consequently, Japanese companies are experiencing a growing need for human resources that are globally oriented. Positioning international schools as one option in education geared towards globalization is vital not only for fulfilling the needs of private individuals and businesses, but also for maintaining the national strength.
At present, various measures related to globally oriented education are being implemented at public schools, such as the enlargement of non-Japanese teaching staff, but there are limits to what can be achieved when such efforts consist only of language and cultural studies carried out in a limited amount of time. In contrast, international schools have the potential to function as centers for globally oriented education, as they provide a place where students of various nationalities can interact and English teachers can receive periodical training in teaching methods.
Along with the enrichment of education for Japanese children living overseas, another challenge is to achieve smooth coupling of that overseas education with domestic education after the children return to Japan. By studying at an international school after the return, these children can preserve the valuable international skills they acquired while abroad. Moreover, Japanese students living overseas can fully pursue internationally oriented experiences and studies without concern about post-return schooling or advancement to higher levels, if they could enroll at an international school.
As more and more Japanese companies become involved in partnerships and mergers with international firms, the number of foreigners relocating to Japan with their families continues to grow. While it is desirable to enhance the public school system for accepting foreign children, in reality there is a strong tendency for foreign parents to enroll their children in international schools because, amongst other reasons, this allows the children to make a smooth transition to post-relocation school life. For foreigners living in Japan, the educational climate for their children is a vital element of their lives here, so by extension, enhancing international schools is important in terms of improving the environment for foreign investment in Japan. As one measure for countering the hollowing out of industry in Japan, it is necessary to immediately improve the climate for international schools so that foreign nationals can relocate to Japan without anxiety about their children's education.
Globalization is a major pillar of efforts to reform the nation's universities. Acceptance of international school graduates, people with international skills, would contribute to the advantage of universities. In addition, there is much potential for raising international understanding at the high school level through mutually enlightening interaction between international school graduates and regular Japanese students. Furthermore, in order that Japan can transform itself into a center for education of the world's youths and education for raising cross-cultural understanding, it is necessary to establish new international schools, including such method as inviting foreign educational institutions to set up international schools in Japan.
As is the case with English conversation schools and similar institutions, international schools are currently defined as "miscellaneous schools" under the School Education Law. However, given the above-mentioned roles that international schools can play, a special enactment should be made to recognize them as Article 1 Schools (educational institutions defined under Article 1 of the School Education Law).
To be eligible to apply to Japanese universities, graduates of international schools in Japan need to be certified by certain international organizations, such as the International Baccalaureate Organization, or need to pass a university enrollment qualifying exam. In contrast, graduates of international schools in countries where the schools are sanctioned as regular educational institutions are eligible to enter Japanese universities without any international certification. In order to resolve this inconsistency, the government should consider implementing measures that allow graduates of schools accredited by a certifying body to be eligible to enroll in Japanese universities without acquiring international certification or passing an enrollment qualifying exam. Similar measures should also be applied to the high school enrollment system.
The revised Three-Year Program for Promoting Regulatory Reform (adopted by the Cabinet on March 29, 2002) includes the expansion of opportunities for academic advancement for international students as one of the measures to be implemented by the end of fiscal 2002. As a reflection of the significance of international schools, this measure should be implemented without delay.
In addition, there are some universities that do not open their doors to even international school graduates who have certification from the International Baccalaureate Organization or other such bodies, another situation that deserves redress.
Although some local governments in Japan offer assistance to international schools, the scale of this aid remains small. Given that international schools serve as centers for international exchange and English education, and help to advance the Japan's globalization, more assistance should be provided to support their operation. For their part, international schools should endeavor to increase public confidence in their educational programs by actively providing disclosure of their operations.
Creation of new international schools and expansion of existing ones should be promoted by including in the definition of Designated Public-Benefit Corporations to those corporations whose primary goal is the establishment of international schools. This change would encourage donations by individuals and businesses since tax deductions can be claimed on contributions to them.
In principle, sanctioned schools need to have ownership of their facilities, but the educational facility system should be made more flexible by allowing the definition of sanctioned schools to include those that lease their facilities instead. For example, since 1999, organizations that have converted closed public school buildings for use as international schools or other such facilities have been exempted from repaying state subsidies received for those projects. As the nation's declining birthrate has resulted in a growing number of unused school facilities, use of the subsidy repayment exemption and other such systems should be promoted.
The current designation of Article 1 Schools (those defined under Article 1 of the School Education Law) as the only institutions officially recognized as purveyors of compulsory education stems from the days when the national policy was to provide all citizens with a uniform education. However, the government should consider adopting, at some time in the future, an educational system based on the innovative concept of allowing individuals to freely select from a variety of educational services under their own responsibilities.
Japan's economy is increasingly dependent on Asia, as attested by the fact that more than 40% of Japan's international trade is oriented these. As a means of developing the human resources needed to support the growth of economic exchange between Asian countries, the government should examine the possibility of creating schools where children from various parts of Asia can study together at the primary and secondary educational levels (such schools would offer both a common curriculum and a separate curriculum for teaching the native culture of each country, and would provide education in English as a tool for communicating personal ideas and opinions).