“Is it true,” asks Shukan Gendai (Feb 13) in a black banner headline, “that the Japanese have grown stupid?”
The magazine proceeds to make its case. An increasing number of students, it finds, are kanji-illiterate, ignorant of history, at sea in math, allergic to reading anything more serious than manga. As for the nation as a whole, 30 million Japanese, it says -- roughly one-quarter of the population -- don’t read a single book in the course of a year.
Study itself may be obsolescent in the Internet age. An alternative the Japanese call “kopipe” -- from “copy and paste” -- is so much easier. Suppose you have a term paper due yesterday. The professor is getting impatient, and you haven’t even started. You could drop the course, but you need the credits. What do you do? Stay up all night poring over source material, cudgeling your brains? What for, when you can simply Google the subject of your report and connect to any of numerous websites selling the efforts of past students? Naturally, being no fool, you change the wording here and there, but essentially your work is done; you’ve made it through one more hurdle on the steep path to adulthood.
“Probably half of college students nowadays do 'kopipe,'” Shukan Gendai hears from a regular practitioner of the art.
Of course, professors are not fools either. They know what’s going on, and one -- Kazunari Sugimitsu of Kanazawa Institute of Technology -- has developed software which detects that kind of thing. Released in December, it is generating an overwhelming demand among university administrators as grad theses fall due.
Much of Shukan Gendai’s evidence is anecdotal, but it comes from people who should know -- from students themselves, and from frustrated professors at a loss where to begin their courses because too many students lack the basic knowledge that university-level instruction used to presuppose.
The anecdotes concern some of Japan’s most reputable universities. A Hosei University professor speaks of students who, asked to translate a passage from English to Japanese, are reduced to writing their translations in hiragana because they don’t know kanji. A Chuo University professor recalls a student who raised a hand to ask, “Did the fall of the Soviet Union happen before World War Two?”
A survey of 1,500 private university students by the Private University Information and Education Council found that 20% of university students can’t do basic math. This may not be too surprising, given that the pollees included humanities students, but even many first- and second-year science students, says a Ritsumeikan University professor, have failed to master the elements of calculus.
How did Japan’s once vaunted education system sink to this? The culprit most often cited is “yutori” education, a progressive easing of elementary and high school curricula beginning in 1998 in response to fears students were buckling under the strains of a hyper-competitive academic workload. Has this “easing” gone too far?
In 2009, the Japan Youth Research Foundation surveyed junior and senior high school students in Japan, China, South Korea and the U.S. to gauge the amount of time students spend at school, doing homework or attending extra-curricular cram school. Chinese students were at it an average 14 hours a day; South Koreans, 10; Japanese, 8. (Shukan Gendai does not cite the American figure.)
The same survey, ironically, showed 77% of Japanese students feel their studies are too demanding -- the highest percentage among the four countries.© Japan Today