Another round of testing…

So this weekend is the “Center Exam” in Japan — the largest university entrance exam. This of course has me wondering about what my students are going to be like year and thinking about the state of education in Japanese universities in general.

The Japan Times published a pretty good overview of the problems facing Japanese universities this week. It is well worth the read. A couple of quotes jumped out at me.

“The decline [in academic abilities] is not because Japanese are studying less, but because universities — amid the falling birthrate and greater competition to keep enrollment up- are increasingly accepting youths whose academic levels would have been too low”

This is absolutely true. I’ve seen it firsthand in the last eight years that I’ve been teaching at universities here. My first year teaching one of my biggest concerns was making sure that I was using materials that weren’t too difficult. Now, it’s convincing the students to buy the textbook and to bring it to class.

“Keeping the door open to people who want to go to college is not a bad thing, but universities must make students hit the books harder and make it more difficult to graduate”

I totally agree. I have no problem with so-called open university enrollment — I went to an open enrollment undergraduate university — but the flip side of open enrollment is not only that students actually have to prove themselves, but also that not everyone gets to graduate. I’ve worked at five different tertiary educational institutions here and at every single one of them, I have been pressured to pass students who didn’t deserve it.

Of course changing things is easier said than done. Education is such a complex problem and it is so hard to know where to begin to fix it. If universities were to start kicking students out after their first or second year, than in order to stay financially solvent, they would have to start admitting more and more first year students. Which would mean more faculty, specifically more adjunct faculty. But not just instructors, they would need more administrators. Universities would also need more classrooms, bigger campuses, more facilities. It’s not a simple problem.

“Accepting more foreign students with strong skills and knowledge will improve the overall academic achievement statistics.”

In my experience this usually doesn’t work. Two things generally happen with the international students. First (and this is the most common) international students become just as lazy as the Japanese students. This is human nature. Why should these students study any harder than anyone else? There is no reason to; so they don’t. Second, if they are truly motivated and want to learn, they leave.

It is such a complex problem and one that is way above my pay-grade to fix. I just hope that next year my students are decent kids who approach studying English, and the university experience in general, with an open mind. I hope that they are willing to trust me and are willing to try. But they probably won’t be.

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