It’s been just about a year since I first visited Japan (see earlier blog post here). What intrigues me about Japan is that the country has a very technology rich society, but the school systems are technology resistant, especially at the K-12 level. I would put Russia and France in the same category.
These three countries at many points of their history have had very good educational models, but also countrywide educational models that are much more consistent. As a comparison, while schools in the U.S. may physically look the same, there are a lot of things different from school to school, state to state…but Japan, Russia and France have had very consistent models. I think they're all somewhat in the same place, and for a large period of the last 20 years, they have been somewhat resistant or skeptical on technology's role in school…and frankly because of that reason they've fallen behind with regards to technology usage in most cases.
Russia was actually one of the countries that brought computers into schools, and to math and science classes earliest, but because of a lot of changes, including the Cold War, and the economy, that started to decline. I think all three countries are starting to really see the role of technology more aggressively in education, and in all three of those countries technology is a part of everyone else's daily life, and kids and families are using computers and cell phones, etc…but the education systems have been less open to change.
Even in one year since I last visited…I see much more of an open attitude in Japan. The curiosity I felt last year with regards to looking at other school models around the world is still holds true…schools and the leaders I talk to in Japan are definitely looking at best practices on a global basis, the higher ed systems are listening to and valuing the connection with groups like EDUCAUSE, they're looking at other school models and university models beyond just the elites to community college setups, and also thinking about how we can create online learning environments eventually and more.
And where technology has been most resistant to change in the K-12 system, the “School New Deal Plan” in Japan started out last year buying a laptop for every teacher, and that's had a lot of the desired output the country has been looking for. Teachers have done more exploration around technology's role, and it's provided more pressure on school officials to think about how technology can be transformational for their kids. Students are also getting excited about the way in which their classrooms are starting to change.
After visiting Kyoto University, Keio University and Ritsumeikan Primary School, I'm excited about the potential in Japan. Although technology adoption in schools and the classroom may be happening here more slowly…I think in many ways Japan will be best enabled to deliver the innovations of tomorrow, because they'll be able to fuse all the greatest ideas with some of the newer realities. They will almost have a fresher perspective and hopefully be able to use the lessons of the past to avoid making the same mistakes.
One of the other things I had a chance to do when I was in Japan was to spend some time with our partners in Japan. Of course, I was excited to see the enthusiasm of the adoption of Microsoft platform technologies, but also encouraged to see how Japan is starting to think about how the cloud can enable solutions for their students and teachers. The cloud conversations were met with significant enthusiasm but also some skepticism of practicality of security and safety…all the product requirements we've been working very closely to optimize for. I also see the potential of Microsoft CRM solutions and Microsoft SharePoint Server making an impact and becoming very much a part of the way in which the partners are thinking about building solutions for schools.
Picture from Kyoto University website:
Picture from Keio University website:
Picture of Ritsumeikan Primary School from school website: