Kenichi Ikeda [Profile]
Are thicker textbooks better?!
Professor of Education, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
In the field of education, policy is based on central concepts such as individuality and freedom. Nowadays, educational institutions and children are subjected to these concepts to an almost menacing degree. Individuality is required, and the idea that "everyone is different, everyone is great" is now often introduced together with the poem written by Misuzu Kaneko. However, in the case of academic ability, don't you find it strange that the idea of everyone being different and great is not applicable?
Everyone has different needs
In the first place, it is strange that students of the same age must all study the same contents. I admit that it seems intuitive for all students to study the same contents while they are in elementary school. However, it is also intuitively strange that all students must study the same contents until they graduate from high school. Surely, the interests and actual needs of each student will differ based on the individuality and freedom of each student.
Some time ago, I took my car to an automotive maintenance shop in order to have my engine checked. I listened to a rather long mechanical explanation and, perhaps because my response was poor, I was told that I should remember such basic mechanics from technology class in junior high school. Although I felt somewhat ashamed for remembering only basic concepts such as inhalation, compression, explosion and emission, I also wanted to ask the mechanic if he could conduct a basic debate in English, explain the position of citizens in the French Revolution and recite from memory Chinese poems written by Toho and Hakukyoi! Everyone has different interests, and the range of necessary knowledge becomes even broader once those interests are linked with a certain vocation. Therefore, it is unreasonable to assume that everyone possesses the same knowledge.
The concept of common education
Educational policy is an important item related to the existence of a nation. When formulating such policy, it is necessary to debate the minimum level of knowledge which citizens of that country must possess. However, it is not easy to make a list of such required knowledge. Indeed, it can be concluded that defining such required items is impossible. An attempt was made in America and a list of several hundred items was created. However, it is inevitable that the basis for such required common knowledge is very weak.
The reason for such a weak basis is that knowledge is not neutral. The subject of social studies is a classical example of such bias. For example, the question of how to write about WWII and the nuclear bombing has grown into an international issue. Other academic subjects are also composed from a vast amount of knowledge and skills which have been revealed by the various fields supporting that subject. The question of what information to select and of how to arrange that information is decision made by humans and, in some respects, a political agenda. The comparison of textbooks from various countries is a theme which is often raised in graduate theses. Many students are surprised at differences in the covered material and writing methods used even in the case of seemingly objective science courses.
Put simply, common knowledge is politically-influenced knowledge. The question of how decides on that knowledge is a major issue. The selection of knowledge is greatly influenced by who holds control as the majority.
System of rejection
Even so, it is difficult to escape the allure of the idea that a minimum level of required knowledge exists. For example, many people might say that shared knowledge is necessary in the case of language. It appears that no argument can be made regarding the necessity of the Japanese language as common knowledge.
However, why does this common knowledge have to be the Japanese language? Speaking strictly, Japan has no legal stipulations for its official language. Therefore, there is a very weak legal basis for asserting that the actual Japanese language is composed of the language used in Japanese classes which are taught in schools.
Since the 1990s, the issue of education for newcomer children in Japan has been widely raised. Described as the problem of young students who require Japanese language education, it is evident that this issue focuses on language. From a different perspective, it is a problem with a Japanese education system that only guarantees education in the Japanese language. Since there are no legal regulations for an official language, the idea that using Japanese is common practice infers that other languages spoken within Japan are not recognized as being equal to the Japanese language.
The following definition of official language was given in an article written by Mr. Katsuhiko Tanaka: "Official language is a system which recognizes that multiple languages exist concurrently. This system guarantees the right of speakers of such languages to use those languages in a public place. Above all, the concept of official language is deeply related to the fundamental human right known as linguistic rights." ("What is official language?" Language Vol. 29, Issue 8, Taishukan Shoten Publishing, 2000; pp. 44-45) In summary, when multicultural conditions exists, simply assuming the use of a particular language and defining that language as common knowledge is equivalent to rejecting other languages without appropriate debate. This is a violation of fundamental human rights.
Upon more careful consideration, it is apparent that a variety of cultures and languages exists in Japan. The non-subjective enforcement of a common language which ignores this pluralism has justified a system of rejection.
Importance of pluralism
In addition to guaranteeing compulsory education, the International Covenant on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child outline a guarantee for children's rights to their indigenous language and culture. Guaranteeing native language is an extremely important policy issue in countries which accepts large numbers of immigrants. My research specialty is the education of immigrants in France. I believe that France is quite advanced in the guarantee of native language. Through bilateral agreements with the country sending immigrants, instructors of the immigrant language are deployed to France, thus ensuring the native language of children in France. Furthermore, France possesses an organization known as the High Council for Immigration. This council discusses the active participation of immigrants in French society and features direct affiliation from France's Prime Minister. In 1995, the council released a report which stated that immigrants have a natural love for their native country. The report actively praised efforts to maintain the cultural characteristics of immigrants. Put succinctly, the Republic of France strongly realizes that it is built upon a pluralism of culture.
Lifestyle is the true basis
Now, let's return to the main subject of this article and examine the relationship between academic ability and recognition for the diversity described above. It is apparent that no room exists in current Japanese schools for students to carefully consider their own personal needs.
Important material (necessary material) for each child at this moment in time will differ. That is precisely why it is better for textbooks to be thicker. There are many children who have many different interest and many different requirements. Therefore, lots of different information should be written in textbooks. However, not all of the written material is necessary for all of the children. Although, schools must be places which enable children to study many different things, it is not necessary for children to study all things.
The curriculum guidelines used as a basis for creating textbooks have been revised and the contents of textbooks have increased. However, education professionals have the mistaken view that children must remember all the new material. Therefore, schools are forced to eliminate all leeway and to have students remember vast amounts of information in a limited time. However, if we seek individuality in children and call for freedom in education, then the education system must respect individuality and freedom when deciding the contents and order of studied material. In other words, there must be a guarantee for diversity of study based on the diversity which exists within the lifestyle of each child.
Learning at university
Learning at university possesses these very properties. At university, students are guaranteed time to carefully consider the meaning of learning to themselves, an opportunity which was not guaranteed during their education until high school. Indeed, studying at university does not fulfill its true meaning unless students consider what types of learning they personally require. In complete contrast to high school, students at university are required to arrange their learning by themselves.
For this very reason, academic ability at university is varied. It is not something that can be measured by one set of criteria.
Conclusion (a perspective which is not swayed by scores)
The type of learning described of above is not limited to university. It is the true essence of learning. However, in the case of academic ability we attempt to apply uniform standards. In that case, priority is given to assessing academic ability through scores. A score of 80 in English, a score of 60 in mathematics.we even attempt to judge academic ability by the total or average of such scores. But, what is the meaning of adding the scores for English and mathematics? Is it even possible to add these scores? Is there any meaning in having an average score of 70? During debate in Japan, once some sort of number has been received, analysis is performed through various scientific manipulation of that number. However, is the scientific nature of the original number assured in the first place? A score of 80 can be obtained through a variety of combinations. Furthermore, the significance of those 80 points changes greatly depending on which child attained the score. We must examine the substance of academic ability more carefully. If we don't, then the concepts of individuality and freedom fail to have meaning.
I have 10 cats at my house. There is also a household raising 4 dogs. If someone told me that there was an average of 7 animals, I wouldn't understand the meaning of their statement. I would be even more confused if someone told me that the 14 animals were more than 3 worms and 10 snakes. Truly, the act of adding scores for English and mathematics is similar to such confusing statements.
- Kenichi Ikeda
Professor of Education, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
- Born in the Adachi Ward of Tokyo in 1962. Participated in the University of Tsukuba Graduate School Doctoral Program in Education. Holds a PhD in Education. After holding positions at the University of Morioka and Chuogakuin University, began working at Chuo University in 2005. At Chuo University, he is in charge of international comparative education, educational systems and educational governance. His specialty is education policy for immigrant children in France. From 1993 to 1994, he worked at France's National Institute for Educational Research (INRP, Paris), surveying and researching the form of educational support for immigrant children while visiting local schools. Now that France has recently changed its policy to one of inclusion, he is reviewing reforms in the French educational system for disabled children.
- His major written works include "Immigrants & School Education in France" (Akashi Shoten Publishing), "Public Education and Religion in the World" (co-written, Toshindo Publishing), "Educational Disparities" (co-edited/co-written, Gendai-Shokan Publishing), and "What are the Goals of Legal Education?"(written/edited, Advantage Server Publishing).
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