Teaching doesn’t equal learning: Global experts urge end of Japans rote learning culture

Japan has long been criticised for its poor education system, where there is an emphasis not on learning, but on passing tests. The purpose of education is to give knowledge and skills to people for their future. A British educator here in Nagoya notes that his university students lack general knowledge about the world. They might have passed tests, but still lack intellectual abilities required for academic success (McLellan, Japan Times, 2016). Education does not mean the sole ability to pass tests; it means the ability to think, learn, and adapt to a future we cannot imagine (Robinson, TED, 2006). Consequently, the Global Teacher Prize, the Nobel Prize equivalent in education, has criticised Japan for its rote learning culture (Japan Times, 2016). A quick search on the Japan Times website reveals years of criticism, but with no change in sight (Japan Times, Search).

People coffee team meeting. CC Startupstockphotos.com, 2014. https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-coffee-meeting-team-7096/

People coffee team meeting. CC Startupstockphotos.com, 2014. https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-coffee-meeting-team-7096/

I would bet that most Japanese people would wonder why this photo above was included in this post. It would seem irrelevant, but I assure you it is exactly the right photo to include.

Ultimately, students themselves are responsible for their learning, however, they still need guidance on what is appropriate and what is not. Here the responsibility of the teacher is to provide appropriate means for students to learn. In a sense, the job title, “teacher”, is antiquated. Perhaps titles like “learning facilitator” or “mentor”, or anything similar is more appropriate. The term “teacher” implies that one person stands at the front of the room talking, and students do nothing but listen; however, this does mean that students learn. This manner of instruction is called lecturing, and it is one of the worst or most ineffective forms of learning for students. Instead, students should be active, involved, and collaborating, hence the term “learning facilitator”. The concept of facilitating student learning is not new, and I did not invent it. The idea traces its origins to Lev Vygotsky, probably the father of education psychology, who realised that near-peer and collaborative learning is the most effective form of learning.

People meeting, by Eric Bailey 2014, CC https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-meeting-workspace-team-7097/

People meeting, by Eric Bailey 2014, CC https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-meeting-workspace-team-7097/

What do I do in my classes? I give students reading materials that act as knowledge input. Students are given thinking and communication skills, and then they discuss the articles they read. That is to say, students do the reading, thinking, discussing, and learning. I provide the input and impetus. If students want to learn, they will. If students do not want to, they wont. However, the social environment in my classes makes it impossible for students to avoid participating and learning. It is a system that seems to work well, especially as students learn more about the world, and their communicative abilities improve a lot.