The world is in an era of Schumpetarian competition. With its population declining, Japan’s survival hinges on innovations to increase added value. It goes without saying that the source of innovation is people. Japan’s rapid economic growth in the wake of World War II was achieved thanks to innovators such as Honda’s Soichiro Honda and Sony’s Masaru Ibuka. It is therefore essential to nurture innovators from a long-term perspective.
1. Strengthen Mathematics/Science Education in Elementary, Middle, and High Schools
Innovation is about more than just updating technology. It can occur in any field, such as business models, culture, and society. In today’s Japan, however, a particularly serious problem is a quantitative and qualitative shortage of the scientists and engineers required to deliver innovation. To increase the number of scientists and engineers, it will be important to increase the number of children who like science in order to expand the base from which scientists and engineers can emerge.
The fact is that it is not children who are abandoning science, but that schools and adults are pushing them away from it. People in today’s society need logical-thinking and problem-solving abilities, and the study of science and mathematics helps to develop those abilities. Steps such as the following should therefore be taken: (1) Science should be restored to the first- and second-grade curricula at elementary schools, (2) the number and quality of science teachers at elementary and middle schools should be increased and more lessons from outside researchers and engineers should be offered, and (3) the number of super science high schools (SSHs), which specialize in science and mathematics education, should be increased.
2. Strengthen Computer-Programming Education in Elementary and Middle Schools and Ensure that All Children have Programming Skills by the Time they Graduate from High School
In this information age, programming is a tool for expressing your thoughts and ideas through a computer. Equipping children with programming skills will give the people responsible for Japan’s future enormous potential. As a matter of fact, fee-based programming courses for elementary-school students offered by CyberAgent and Google are already proving immensely popular.
Efforts, such as increasing the knowledge of teachers, should therefore be made to offer programming education from the elementary- and middle-school level, and the goal should be to equip all children with programming skills, the language of the information age, as standard by the time they graduate high school.
3. Actively Hire Personnel from Technical Colleges
In Germany, vocational education is widespread, and students who have completed their compulsory education can take advantage of official vocational education programs under something known as the “dual system.” Around 70% of students take these programs. After completing a program, they take an examination, and if they pass it, they are awarded an official “meister” vocational qualification for that line of work. This rigorous approach to vocational education produces the high-quality human resources that underpin Germany’s engineering might.
Japan also has numerous graduates of technical colleges, which are known as kosen. However, society needs to re-evaluate these technical colleges. For example, kosen graduates are awarded diplomas rather than a bachelor’s degree, but if these diplomas were upgraded to be a type of university degree, as is the case with junior colleges, they would earn more respect. So technical colleges, which train high-caliber engineers and skilled workers, should be re-evaluated and corporations should be more proactive in hiring personnel who attended them.
4. Generate Interest in “Science Olympics”
“Science Olympics” tournaments are held the world over, and in Japan too there are numerous such contests, including a Math Olympics and physics contest for high-school students. Because such competitions enable students to aim to become number-one in the world in science and engineering fields, just as with sports, they fulfill a role in improving the science and engineering abilities of Japan’s youngsters. In addition, enthusiastic sponsorship from the world of industry makes Science Olympics and robot contests even more effective.