Is Japan without Humanities and Social Sciences good or bad?

By on January 16, 2016

untitledA decree issued by Japan’s Ministry of Education ordering Japan’s public universities to stop offering humanities and law, and social sciences, to align itself with the real demands of the job market, elicits mixed response among parents, schools and educators. In September last year, 26 of the 60 universities have agreed to close or gradually reduce its facilities.

Mr. Takamitsu Sawa, president of Shiga University, wrote an op-ed in Japan Times expressing his disfavor of the Ministry of Education’s proposals calling it “outrageous” and “distortion of the government’s policies related to higher education by anti-intellectuals.”

We asked Mary Nobuoka, American educator in Japan, for her take on how bad or good could this be for Japan. Mary has this to say.

spokesperson-clipart-quote-clip-artEducation is having a harder time keeping up with the fast-paced changes in the world and the job market, but it is a mistake to think that the humanities do not contribute to creating a better society. Not only is society enriched by art, literature and music, we benefit from the perspectives that comes from researching history and philosophy and the critical thinking skills that come from analyzing and synthesizing material in the human sciences. Studying the humanities helps us learn how to think rather than what to think.

Unfortunately, the so-called “war on humanities” is not new nor is it unique to Japan. The USA and UK have already cut funding and greatly reduced humanities programs in favor of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. Indeed, the USA is facing a “science crisis” and needs to promote STEM programs. However, this should not be to the detriment of the humanities, and fortunately Tokyo and Kyoto Universities have pledged to keep their humanities programs intact.

74634_170631406306866_100000800236737_309878_7349686_nThe good news for Japan is that children in the Japanese primary school system are receiving a rich education in art, music and literature while also receiving a high level of education in mathematics and science. According to the OEDC international Survey of Adult Skills, Japanese adults greatly out-scored their international peers on tests of literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Policy recommendations for lower-scoring countries are to improve primary and secondary humanities education.

Without the humanities, societies may produce more workers who can design drones or push the boundaries of science and medicine, but few will be able to consider or debate the moral consequences of these actions or the results that they bring. Both STEM and humanities programs should be supported by the government and society.



About Mary Nobuoka

Mary Nobuoka has been an educator in Japan since 1994 after leaving a job in the financial sector in the United States. Her MA is in interdisciplinary studies in the Humanities with a focus on philosophy. Since November 2011, she has served as a member of the executive board of the Japan Association of Language Teachers (JALT) and as the coordinator of the JALT Bilingualism Special Interest Group. She was the editor of the Children’s Resource column for Bilingualism Japan from 2008 to 2011. Currently, she teaches at Waseda University, Gakushuin University and Ochanomizu University. In her free time, she also teaches Sogetsu Ikebana.