Peg Tyre is a best-selling writer and award winning journalist. She also helps to run the Edwin Gould Foundation Accelerator, a residential program for education-related nonprofit.
In 2019, Japan will be rolling out some of the most ambitious and controversial changes in education policy and practice in decades. For many reasons, the reforms, which champion self-expression and critical thinking through "active learning," have been slow to gain traction. But in the months leading up to 2020, the impact and public debate about these reforms will crescendo as prospective university students begin studying for a newly revised university entrance exam that purports to measure how students think, judge and express themselves. Critics charge that the new exams-- and the downstream pedagogical changes they create, will "dumb down" the education system. Others say it gives an unfair advantage to women. They say they threaten the stability of the Japanese education system which gets high marks on international benchmarks like TIMSS and PISA. Supporters say it's a big step toward modernizing a moribund education system in order to keep pace with a changing world. They reject notions that the change is "gendered" or pro-female. If the aims of the reforms are fulfilled, supporters say, Japan, despite a rapidly aging population and dropping school enrollment and a marginalized female workforce, could find itself on the forefront of a Pan-Asia effort to create both male and female workers ready to compete in an increasingly tech-driven, automated economy. But what skills will be needed to compete with faceless algorithms? Is critical thinking what is needed? How do you teach that? Will women finally get equal treatment in the education system under this reformed system? And what about teaching self-expression in a culture that prizes the welfare of the group over the individual? Can it be done in a way that is culturally appropriate? How? I am one of the most well-respected journalists writing about national and international education issues and my reporting would result in a lengthy work in a high profile publication. The aim? To provide a qualitative and quantitative look at how Japanese students learn now, what is changing and what is about to change and why. The piece will look at these changes holistically and examine the impact this is already having on women, families and educational institutions in Japan and what those changes mean now and will mean in the future for Japan and how those changes will inform education policy in the world.