the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

6.2 Make-Believe Higher Education

Traditionally, Japanese Ministry of Education had considered that software had little educational value, and had concluded it should be learned only at a special institute or a technical college. This decision had resulted in a serious delay of introduction for curriculums concerning information science and information engineering at many national universities. Today every university rather insists on the significance of software, and boasts a series of the information-oriented curriculums.

You may think that since there are growing number of software academies everywhere, so the level of Japanese software industries must have been considerably increased. Actually things are not going well, though. It is true there are some universities that have achieved amazing successes. However, for most universities it is not the case.

Years ago I had worked for some publishing company, helping some kind of editing tasks. One day I was urgently asked to write a reference manual about a new computer system. Since the computer was still under development, so it seemed that I had to scrutinize the computer before accomplishing the task. That's why I immediately searched for someone who was familiar with computers and was able to perform the documentation work.

Under these circumstances, I visited a laboratory of Tokyo University in order to look for some assistants, where I had a chance to meet one of the professors I knew. When I talked about my story to him, he said, "You should forget about it. Students around here can hardly write a book."

By following his "PRECIOUS" advice, I was able to choose some appropriate person from "graduate students." Through these students' perfect works, I was able to perform satisfying documentation. Thanks to them, I had not found any trouble throughout the work. All I had to do is just waiting for them.

If I had asked someone who lacks in sufficient skills, I would have suffered considerable losses by his poor works. Definitely I would have screamed, "Please leave me alone, kid. I WILL do it!"

In most cases, you should not expect a Japanese student to write a book, even if he/she is from a world-famous Tokyo university. What is higher education? "Graduates who cannot write a book?" They must be deprived of their certification, must not? Any way, current Japanese universities actually remain at this poor level.

On the other hand, our company often dealt with books written by professors. Even though written by an actual professor, very little of their manuscripts is ready for publishing without our hard proofreading. In addition, we sometimes corrected his/her mistakes even on the very subject matter when they were so serious errors that would result in disgrace not only to the author but also to our company. Where can students enjoy real higher education when such teachers are around at their universities?

I once had a chance to create a test for the publisher's entrance examination. The test I had made was designed to judge simply whether the examinees are good or bad. It was concerned about mathematics, English, and computers. One of the mathematical questions was interested in determining the volume of a regular tetrahedron. Few days ago, I happened to find the same question listed in my child's textbook, and was classified in the basic junior high school category.

When calculating the volume of a regular tetrahedron, according to the formula for a triangular pyramid, you would first compute the base dimension, multiply by the height, then divide by 3. I thought most of the applicants would solve this problem in this typical procedure.

What I had really expected from them was more elegant methodology, though. For example, you can also find the volume of a regular tetrahedron simply by cutting the four corners of a cube. This method will lead you to the desired answer without forcing you any complicated calculation. My child's textbook also used this elegant technique.

By the way, the result of the examination was so terrible that I could not believe the students were really studying at universities. Yet there was just one student who satisfied our requirement. He was a graduate student who majored in psychology, and might have forgot lots about mathematics, so that he could not perform well only in math test. But we had decided to adopt him by our common assent.

Most of the other applicants were students from science-oriented universities, they were all crashed and burnt, though. Our requirements were not satisfied by any of them including a graduate student who was majoring in theoretical physics at his national university. How can he work on theoretical physics while he could not determine the volume of a regular tetrahedron?

Very few higher education facilities are functioning in the true sense of the word. In Japan, Most boys and girls are pushed to study at the cram school in addition to the compulsory education at elementary to high school. Besides, even some university students continue their "multiple-schooling" life around a language school, technical institute, and other special educational facilities. In short, most compulsory schools have significantly lost their capability to give sufficient education, also losing their position as a major educational institute.

In the past, schools have been the place for giving yesterday's knowledge. Once the teacher obtained required knowledge, he could spend all through his teaching life within that knowledge. But the age was over! The computer world is facing drastic changes now. How can these schools keep up with the terrific pace of the computer's evolution?

Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by H.K.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese