In the last decade, Japan’s Ministry of Education has responded to market imperatives and a need for managers with specialized skills by increasing the number of graduate programs. But Japan’s new professional and graduate programs have experienced chronic under-enrollment — basically, no one is showing up to class. Now the Ministry of Education is playing catch-up to market these educational programs to a very truant bunch of students.
It is not hard to determine why Japan’s graduate classrooms sit empty. For one thing, the promise that graduate programs offer does little to remove the stigma associated with continuing education courses. Traditional definitions of success lead many professionals to fear that they will be perceived as less competent if they pursue education after they have entered a professional career. In the past, Japanese companies have also based career advancement on seniority. An extra one or two years in school has often meant falling behind less educated counterparts who move faster up the corporate ranks.
As Japan approaches the first anniversary of the crisis that transformed the nation, global attention will undoubtedly focus on the progress that the country has made in resurrecting its physical infrastructure. Restoring homes, roads, hospitals and schools, and mitigating the damage of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl certainly deserve our attention and reflection. Still, it is important to remember that solving the social and economic problems that Japan faced before the crisis are just as critical.
The unique skills that graduate programs offer will play a vital roll in managing Japan’s long-term recovery. If students and professionals continue to avoid higher education, Japan will find itself ill-equipped to maintain its revival. Considering how many people have been displaced and how much there is yet to be rebuilt, it may be worthwhile for the Ministry of Education to encourage distance learning or online graduate programs. Because online schools are more cost-efficient, offer the ability to reach a larger audience across vast distances, and provide the opportunity to study while working full-time — thereby avoiding the stigma of a late entry into the workforce — they may be the perfect tool in ensuring that once Japan’s physical recovery is complete, the nation will have an educated workforce capable of leading an economic recovery.
To learn more about Japan’s recovery and to see the photos that inspired the hand drawn illustrations in the video above, check out: