January 14, 2008
Written by C.N.
As we move forward into the 21st century, I, like many other observers, predict that there is likely to be more cross-national influence and collaboration between Asian countries, similar to what the European Union has done. Previously I’ve written about some examples of this, such as closer cooperation among ASEAN countries and Korean culture becoming trendy and fashionable in China.
But this trend sometimes produces some unexpected results. Case in point, as the New York Times reports, Japanese are increasingly turning to India as inspiration to improve their own educational system:
Despite an improved economy, many Japanese are feeling a sense of insecurity about the nation’s schools, which once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. That is no longer true, which is why many people here are looking for lessons from India, the country the Japanese see as the world’s ascendant education superpower.
Bookstores are filled with titles like “Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills” and “The Unknown Secrets of the Indians.” . . . At the Little Angels English Academy & International Kindergarten, the textbooks are from India, most of the teachers are South Asian, and classroom posters depict animals out of Indian tales. . . .
Viewing another Asian country as a model in education, or almost anything else, would have been unheard-of just a few years ago, say education experts and historians. . . . Much of Japan has long looked down on the rest of Asia, priding itself on being the region’s most advanced nation. . . .
But in the last few years, Japan has grown increasingly insecure, gripped by fear that it is being overshadowed by India and China, which are rapidly gaining in economic weight and sophistication. The government here has tried to preserve Japan’s technological lead and strengthen its military. But the Japanese have been forced to shed their traditional indifference to the region.
Grudgingly, Japan is starting to respect its neighbors.
As explained in the article, the only reason why folks like me see this as a surprising development is not because I question India’s educational excellence. Scholars already know that India has some of the best colleges in the world and as I’ve written about before, plenty of American universities are looking to tap into that educational talent.
Rather, what is surprising is that, as the NY Times article clearly notes, Japan has had a history of being rather nationalistic, chauvinistic, and perhaps even arrogant in regard to its attitudes toward its Asian neighbors. But I suppose desperate times call for drastic changes in attitude.
As another interesting item, the article notes that many Japanese are drawn to India’s rigorous educational structure because it reminds them of how Japan’s schools were structured several decades ago, which formed the foundation for Japan’s educational success up to this point.
I generally support cross-national influences and closer cultural ties between Asian countries. As an educator myself, I also generally support efforts to improve the quality of education for everyone, especially as we move forward into an increasingly competitive global economy.
At the same time, I worry when the emphasis on strict education turns into pressure to achieve material success, which in turn frequently leads to emotional stress and mental illness for young people to “become successful.” I’ve also written about how such pressures and unrealistic standards have led to fraud, suicide, and violence among those who could not meet such expectations.
The bottom line is, improving educational outcomes is good, but an obsessive drive to achieve material success at all costs is not. This is the lesson that I hope everyone — Asian, Asian American, and otherwise — will keep in mind.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Japan Uses India to Improve Its Education" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2008/01/japan-uses-india-to-improve-its-education/> ().
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