Japanese and Singapore Education Models, Education Transfer and Comparative Policy Learning Roundtable

How does Japan’s holistic approach to education, with concepts such as the “whole child education” and Lesson Study, serve as useful lessons for developing countries? What can Japan and Singapore, widely recognised for their education models, learn from each other? How can this Comparative Policy Learning, in turn, allow the generation of policy recommendations for educational development in developing countries?

These were the focal points of the discussions during the workshop entitled “Japanese and Singapore Education Models, Education Transfer and Comparative Policy Learning” held on 26 August 2016. The event was hosted by The HEAD Foundation (THF), and jointly supported by the Centre for Excellence in School Education, Graduate School of Education, at the University of Tokyo.

The event began with a presentation on Japanese Education Models, in the context of global dominance of western models of education, by Professor Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, from the Graduate School of Education and Principal of Secondary School, attached to the University of Tokyo. Many countries in Asia, having been colonised by Western powers, have been forced to adopt a western model of education. However, Japan was not subject to such pressures to do so and has developed educational models that can be considered as alternatives to western models. Such alternative models are seen as essential to diversify hardware for educational reform.

Professor Ryoko explained two concepts from the Japanese model which have become international: Tokkatsu and Lesson Study. As the Japanese model is formed from the concept of the “whole child education” (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of students guided by democratic principles), its overall curriculum is infused with Tokkatsu, or non-cognitive aspects in education. With its aims rooted to developing emotional intelligence, key principles behind Tokkatsu includes encouraging child-initiated activities, self- motivation, collaborative learning, and learning by doing. The second concept, Lesson Study, which focuses on teacher learning, refers to teachers collaborating and learning from each other.

However, while these concepts and the Japanese model is becoming recognised globally, Professor Ryoko acknowledged that there is room for improvement especially when Japan is part of an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. For instance, she has expressed that the Japanese model can evolve in a way that is more open to multi-culturalism, which is something it can learn from the Singapore education model.

The second segment of the event was a talk by Professor S. Gopinathan, Academic Director at THF. He expounded on the Singapore education model, how it is centrally managed, and is given much importance and legitimacy by the government. He also pointed out that the aspects of the Singapore model that has been lauded internationally, such as the successful bilingual policy, resulted from decades of consistent government policies. Being a relatively smaller system compared to other countries, Singapore has also been easier to manage centrally. Transferability of models must then be thoroughly considered as not all high-performing systems can work for all countries at different stages of development. He also expressed his hopes to bringing this Comparative Policy Learning to a higher level by advancing education models in developing Asian countries.

Professor Ryoko and Professor Gopinathan then engaged our guests in a lively discussions on issues including the current lack of literature on Asian education models that can open up discussion on and promote alternative models, and the measurability of success of tokkatsu.

Professor Ryoko Tsuneyoshi

Ryoko Tsuneyoshi is a professor at the Graduate School of Education, The University of Tokyo, the present head of the Secondary School Affiliated to the University of Tokyo (2016-2017), and the former Director for the Center of Excellence in School Education (2013-2015). She is an executive board member of the Science Council of Japan, and is on the executive committee of the Intercultural Education Society of Japan and the Japan Educational Research Association. She earned her Ph.D. at the Department of Sociology, Princeton University. She conducts cross-cultural comparisons of schooling through fieldwork, and she has also written extensively on multicultural issues. Her books include: Ningenkeisei no Nichibei hikaku (1992), The Japanese Model of Schooling: Comparisons with the United States (Routledge Falmer, 2001), and Minorities and Education in Multicultural Japan (coedited with K. Okano and S. Boocock, Routledge, 2010).