Monday, February 11, 2008

Indian Education: The New New Thing

I just happen to be in India when I caught this headline over breakfast: Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy Indian Schools. The article describes the emerging Japanese opinion of India as an educational superpower to the point where Indian practices are favored over the current Japanese system.

Given that the story came out a month ago I'm surprised that I can't find any feedback about the move. There's another article from an Indian internet portal and a commentary from college newspaper site but that's about as much as Google gives me. The basic situation is something like this:

Japan, an Asian powerhouse, is losing its international engineering and math prestige to the likes of China and India. The Japanese can write off China as being that wacky idea communist military country across the sea, but India is a unknown maverick and harder to excuse. A former colony turned democratic power that has surpassed Japan in crucial (i.e. lucrative) knowledge industries is in sharp contrast with Japan's image of India being stuck on the short bus and it's only now that Japanese are recognizing the discrepancy. The solution is to use the ancient India teaching ways to help Japan regain it's edge in the Asian world.

There are some finer details in the article though that are worth examining. The education in questions is only engineering and math and the magical education systems seems to differ only slightly from previous systems that focused on memorization. In fact the ancient Indian secret is to just start the kids younger, faster, and harder--and Japan is doing it, albeit at a specific school in some suburb:

Most annoying for many Japanese is that the aspects of Indian education they now praise are similar to those that once made Japan famous for its work ethic and discipline: learning more at an earlier age, an emphasis on memorization and cramming, and a focus on the basics, particularly in math and science.

India’s more demanding education standards are apparent at the Little Angels Kindergarten, and are its main selling point. Its 2-year-old pupils are taught to count to 20, 3-year-olds are introduced to computers, and 5-year-olds learn to multiply, solve math word problems and write one-page essays in English, tasks most Japanese schools do not teach until at least second grade.
Anther point is the erosion of Japan's nationalism, almost as if the international pressures are forcing it to acknowledge systems outside of the itself:
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.

“Until now, Japanese saw China and India as backwards and poor,” said Yoshinori Murai, a professor of Asian cultures at Sophia University in Tokyo. “As Japan loses confidence in itself, its attitudes toward Asia are changing. It has started seeing India and China as nations with something to offer.”
Notebook has an interesting take on the matter:
The up shot to this scare is the realization that maybe Japan was too arrogant, too full of national pride, to recognize that their close-mindedness shut out new ideas from other cultures. This could push Japan into opening its immigration program to include incentives for other ethnics to come in and contribute.
Now where have I heard of external pressures challenging a nation's (maybe) racist and xenophobic policies? But really, after re-examining this article it seems that Japan is just 'Riding the Indian Wave' or more precisely, some Japanese people who do like to ride waves are now riding an Indian one. I suspect that a Japanese take on Indian education will not find solid ground in mainstream Japanese education and won't be the magical cure-all for Japan's lagging test results.

My up shot to this article is that, like the circumstance behind Korean's influx of foreign brides, this article does describe another facet of a monocultural society dealing with an economically forced multiculturalism. So while importing Indian education techniques may be written off as a fad, the fad's simple existence creates an interesting footnote in some larger study on emerging multiculturalism in monocultural societies. Maybe I'll get around to writing that someday.

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