Can Japanese ‘model’ of education withstand the diversity challenges? 


For the past two years, Global Education Office at the Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University organized two webinar series focusing on Japanese ‘model’ of education. Our 2020 webinar series, Towards critical, historical and transnational dialogues on Japanese ‘model’ of education, examined the various instances of international export of Japanese pedagogy over the last 100 years. It aimed to place within the broader historical context the Ministry of Education’s 2016 EDU-Port Japan (‘All Japan’ planform to export Japan’s ‘model’ of education). Likewise, the 2021 webinar series, Understanding the Japanese ‘model’ of education through East Asian dialogues, situated the ongoing discussion about Japanese ‘model’ within the shared regional experience of East Asia. The regional focus was to release us from the sedimented understanding of Japanese ‘model’ of pedagogy constituted through the usual West-Japan binary. Drawing either on the past or East Asia, our aim over the past two years has been to establish a point of reference by which to gain new insights into what is taken for granted about Japanese ‘model’ of education.  

Our 2022 webinar series will continue with the same analytical approach to the discussion of Japanese ‘model.’ This time, our point of reference is located within Japan, the internal diversity of Japan defined in terms of sexual, gender, ethnic, linguistic and physical ‘differences.’ These students are ‘othered’ in that they all experience tensions and contradictions with Japan’s ‘model’ of education. The attention to the educational challenges faced by ‘diverse’ children is much needed, when Japanese education attracts considerable international attention, and its ‘model’ of education is being promoted internationally by the Ministry in an unreserved way. Indeed, Japanese ‘model’ of education has been touted for its comprehensive range of activities, or ‘whole person’ education. It is also known for the effective mobilization of groups, collective identity and relationship building towards pedagogical ends. These strengths of Japanese ‘model’ can be a source of oppressions, however; they can constitute and perpetuate a normative view of how children ought to be and look, hence excluding and marginalizing those who refuse (or are unable to) conform. The experiences of children who are ‘othered’ through Japanese schooling should help us understand the problematic aspects of Japanese ‘model’ that is often glossed over in the current push to export Japanese ‘model’ overseas.  

This webinar series is organized around the following set of questions: What features and challenges of Japanese ‘model’ can be foregrounded when viewed through the experiences of the ‘othered’? Would it be possible to affirm the diversity of such children while preserving or even extending the strengths of Japanese ‘model’? What would Japan’s model of education towards diversity look like? How would it differ from a similar educational approach advanced in Anglo-America (e.g., culturally relevant pedagogy)? The webinar series invites researchers and practitioners both in Japan and from abroad to deepen our reflections on these questions. I will look forward to having you join in the dialogue on this important topic.   

Keita Takayama
Director for Global Education Office, Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University