By Isshin Inada
A student arrives at his international school and classes begin. During class, he is bombarded with difficult questions and so, like his classmates, he would simply ask the teacher for help. Later, the bell would ring, radiating happiness to students who’ve realized that their tiring day has finally come to an end. The student breaks through the cheerful crowd, and makes his way to his second school – the Japanese cram school. At the cram school, he would restrain his curiosity and questions and keep his head down. He would then, only endeavor to absorb everything that is told to him.
The protagonist of this little story is me. Having experienced these distinct educational styles in this way, I have developed a greater understanding of what differentiates the two. This is congruent with the stereotypical impression of Asian and Western education; the former places emphasis on conformity, while the latter more on individualism. Now as a PEAK student of the University of Tokyo, I am presented with a similar situation of both Asian and Western educational systems incorporated into our learning.
PEAK is a relatively new program that was introduced with the aim to promote the globalization of the university. It is targeted primarily for those who have studied at a foreign school and its lectures are taught entirely in English. Yet we are also given the liberty to join domestic classes, and vice versa. As a result, it has become a commonplace to see students with utterly different educational backgrounds study alongside one another. In this sense, there is now a co-existence of the two prevailing educational systems.
I observed stark differences in the approach in which domestic and PEAK students learn. The small number of students in PEAK classes allows for interaction between teachers and students. Students sit around a circular table which prompts active discussion and participation among students. The teachers encourages them to interrupt them anytime to ask questions or to share their own perspective on a particular matter. Conversely, the desks in domestic classes are arranged in such a way that limits communication among the students. They have no option but to face the front of the class and absorb information solely from the teacher. In some domestic classes, however, there may be as many as 300 students. The professor would merely hold up his microphone and deliver his purely one-sided lecture. Questions are not asked. Opinions are not shared. Responses are not elicited. “The only voice I hear in almost all my lectures is that of the professor. But this, for me, is nothing extraordinary.” says Kugishima, a first-year domestic student.
Personally speaking, the above-mentioned aspects of western education is beneficial to our future. The articulation of our opinions is an important skill and plays a large role in how we interact with the people around us. And like all skills, we can acquire it through constant practice. Consequently, it is wise to begin to polish this skill by thinking and speaking as we see fit, even in the context of a classroom. To listen and absorb information solely from the professor, who is bounded by his own perspective, can be limiting. I believe that by voicing our individual thoughts and exchanging our unique opinions, we open more doors for learning. We can then acquire multiple insights into a certain issue. But to do this requires courage to speak up in public as well as fluency in the way we do so. As a result, it is important that we make an effort to overcome the tendency of suppressing our voices in class.
This is all to say that, one day I hope most of the classes, including the domestic ones, is replete with constructive and meaningful conversations. On the surface, speaking in class may seem trivial and less economical, but it provides an excellent opportunity to exchange our thoughts. Through this, we become exposed to numerous perspectives, and hence grow into open-minded learners. Therefore, I am an advocate of the university’s movement towards a globalizing community that incorporates both Asian and Western educational systems.
Isshin Inada is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.