06 June 2008

Follow-up: Japan and Malaysia to establish a joint university of technology

On 4 February 2008 the Japan HEO Blog ran an article on the proposed Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology.

(See: Japan and Malaysia to establish a joint university of technology )

Here is a follow-up to that story--the latest news from Bernama, Malaysia's official news agency. PM Abdullah was on a recent visit to Japan and on 24 May announced that Japan will provide yen loans and teachers.

Although this is reported to be a new development, this would actually seem to be something more like a disappointing step back on the Japanese side. Before, the talk had been of co-administration and funding, not just loans.

It is going to take hundreds of millions of dollars and a stable endowment to establish a new international university of technology. But accpeting such a burden might have little appeal in Japan because most Japanese students would be ill-prepared and reluctant to enroll in such an institution. It must be very difficult within the Japanese government, bogged down for over a decade in troubled finances, to justify the necessary financial commitment.

This proposed university would seem to be more the vision of Malaysia's former long-serving PM, Dr. Mahathir. It most likely would take someone with his independence, vision and stature to get back on track the project to create the Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology.

Such a revival of effort is well worth thinking about. There is an enormous potential for benefits to both countries. First, Japan's higher education sector could learn how to internationalize its approach to administration and business operations by having a presence overseas. Second, it would allow the Japan's higher education sector, facing a somewhat bleak future with an aging population and stagnant enrollments, to tap into a much more youthful country for higher education. Or make that 'countries', since industries in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia, as well as Malaysia, suffer from shortages of scientists and engineers. A new international university of technology could serve all these countries. Finally, it would also help make Malaysia the true higher education hub of S. and S.E. Asia instead of the land-scare city-state of Singapore.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the current government of Japan is unpopular. It lacks a foreign policy beyond appeasement of US strategic interests in Asia. And right now the Fukuda cabinet's main concern is its own political survival.

Link to the full article and an excerpt below:


excerpt >>Japan Offers Yen Loan For New University

From Mikhail Raj Abdullah

TOKYO, May 24 (Bernama) -- Japan is to offer a yen loan to Malaysia to finance the setting up of the Malaysia-Japan International University of Technology, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said here Friday.

He said Tokyo was also prepared to loan adequate teaching manpower to Malaysia to put the university, which was planned several years ago, into operation.

Speaking to reporters after bilateral talks with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan here, Abdullah said officials of both countries would meet to discuss the details.<< end of excerpt

Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #5

Why English learning fails in Japan: Reason #5

Note: This is the fifth of a series that will run for at least ten parts. However, readers' comments are welcomed and, where relevant, will be added as reasons in the main series, with full credit given.

Reason #5: Lack of national consensus on foreign language education

This reason, once it is grasped, leads the analysis to many specific problems that are embedded in education in Japan. If you ask many Japanese, they will complain quite strongly about English language teaching and learning in the country's schools, from the junior highs/middle schools (where EFL first becomes a part of the official curriculum) right on up to its colleges and universities. So you might think that there is some sort of consensus for change. But it is not enough to agree that something is wrong with English Language Teaching (ELT) and classroom learning in Japan. There has to be some sort of consensus about what to do about the inadequacy of ELT and learning in order to improve it.

Instead of a consensus, what you will find in actual advocacy and practice breaks down along contradictory lines. Some advocate the education of more translators and interpreters. Some think that the current generations of Japanese who finish secondary and tertiary levels of education (and this is now the majority of young people now) ought to be able to read and even write within their specialties and professions. This thought is similar to the policy that drove EFL learning in Japan between the first and second wars. And to this day you will see the legacy of that period's 'Reading Method' (often misleadingly called 'Grammar Translation') in current EFL classes from the middle school level upwards. Still yet another voice of reform says that Japanese need practical English, and they often cite oral English or 'English conversation' being the best example of what they advocate.

All these priorities bring with them problems. First, you can not train most people to be translators and interpreters, so the education system here needs to be better at selecting talented students for these specialties. Also, if the nation's needs are for people to translate or interpret Japanese into English, more native speakers of English also have to be involved. Second, it can be excessively difficult and boring to be forced to read a FL you can't speak. In effect, it turns English into dead Latin, and most students simply flounder in Japanese translations and related 'grammar explanations' of the English texts rather than read in English. Third, most Japanese don't experience a pressing need for oral English skills, except when they travel overseas or if they work in a business or a branch of government that conducts its international activities at a level beyond translation and interpretation services.

Many in Japan have identified the same problem--an education system that fails at foreign languages. Now they have to take stock of why specifically their system fails and then forge some sort of working consensus for each level and type of education.

At the university level this might be centered on working language policies across the curriculum addressing FL learning's place in the wider general education curriculum. Reform could also be concentrated on better integration of FLT and FLL with majors and specialties for which foreign languages are a key skill.

As for general education, so much of EFL in Japan now falls in this area. There are actually very few programs for majoring in EFL or even majors that require it as integral to a given specialty. Instead, EFL is in effect an ill-fitting part of general education. If institutions do not take foreign language teaching and learning within general education seriously, should they be surprised that the students do not?

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