Liberal Arts Education In Japan English Language Essay

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Today, there are many liberal arts colleges in America, and liberal arts education has been an identity of American education. This education has contributed to the production of many great people. In fact, nineteen percent of American presidents graduated from liberal arts colleges; then they proceeded to big universities after finishing undergraduate in liberal arts colleges ("What is a Liberal Arts College?" 24). However, this education has not taken root in the world. For an instance, in Japan, there are few liberal arts colleges. Actually, only ICU (International Christian University) can be called a true liberal arts college-which was established as the first liberal arts college in Japan, incorporating the ideal of liberal arts education from America ("What are the global standard features of ICU?" 1). Also, today Japanese students' academic motivation has been decreasing, which is concerning many educators. To improve their motivation for learning, Japanese universities should more actively adopt liberal arts education because it provides students with the opportunity and time to carefully decide their major, is based on dialogical teaching system in small classes, and develops their various curiosities.

First of all, Japan has one of the highest rates of students' entering universities among all industrialized nations, with nearly 50 percent of all 18-22 year olds enrolled as undergraduates at over 600 national, public, and private four-year universities (Amano 6). Japanese universities emphasize ranking their universities; which university students enter would affect a person for their entire life. This causes a hierarchical university entrance system and extremely competitive examinations described as "examination war".

The primary problem with Japanese universities is that university students' academic motivations are very low. "Japanese university students are famous for not taking classes seriously," said Nigel Ward, who was a faculty member at the University of Tokyo for ten years (Ward 1). There are many reasons for the low motivation to study in universities, including students' regarding university life as a reward of "examination war". One is, as simple reason, that almost all Japanese universities require entering students to decide their major, and it is not easy to change one major to another. Thus, once students realize that they lose interest of their major, they tend not to be willing to study anymore. Another reason is the predominance of formal lectures in big classes where there is little role for questions, and significant feedback from the teacher to the student (Ward 1). Overall, this problem of low motivation is significant since the university students will have to carry on the Japanese society in the future. Adopting liberal arts education to Japanese university can solve it.

The first reason why adopting liberal arts education improves Japanese students' academic motivation is because this education provides them with the opportunity and time to carefully decide their major thorough core curriculum. As explained above, in almost all Japanese universities, students have to decide their major when applying for universities. Also, it is not easy to change majors because the curriculum of each major is strictly decided and specialized, and there is not the system to add another major or minor. However, after entering universities, students would realize that the current major is not suited for them and want to change it. This is difficult, so they would lose their motivation for studying in their university. To avoid this, Japanese universities should introduce core curriculum (general education)-which is one of the essence of liberal arts education and compose broad and interdisciplinary courses. This curriculum allows students to learn various fields of study. By introducing this curriculum, Japanese students do not have to decide their major until they have studied at least for two years and can afford to explore their interests carefully and slowly while comparing with many different fields and learning the interdisciplinary.

On the other hand, some would oppose the introduction of core curriculum because they think that earlier studying a specific field is directly more beneficial for getting a job than spending time to study broad-wide fields. It is true that the earlier students study one specific field, the more they will be familiar with the field, and it is advantage to get a job. However, it is very hasty for teen students to decide their way. In undergraduate level and at least for two years, university students should spend time to concentrate general education. This is because, after all, experiencing many different fields helps them to make sure that the major is suited for them. Also, the experiences contribute to their even specific way, utilizing general knowledge that can be fostered by general education.

Second, adopting liberal arts education improves Japanese university students' motivation for learning by dialogical teaching style that is created in close interaction between faculties and students in small classes. Another reason of the low motivation for leaning is the bad teaching style. Faculties, whose primary concern is their research, often teach to students in big classes in the way of lecture with less feedback or communication with their students. Paulo Freire, an influential and inspiring educational philosopher in modern time, calls this type of education "banking education"-which treats students as objects of assistance and where students are supposed to memorize the contents narrated by the teacher (121). On the contrary, in liberal arts education, faculties, who dedicate them to teach rather than their research, hold small classes while actively interacting with students. These good educational conditions enable universities to create dialogical teaching style, that is, "problem-posing education" called by Freire-which makes students critical thinkers and where students are no longer obedient listeners but critical co-investigators in dialogues with the teacher and classmates (121). In detail, instead a teacher just presents information, then students accept it; a teacher makes students consider critically by posing a problem or material to them, exchanging ideas among the teacher and students with dialogue, and thereby students understanding the content. This method encourages them to be a learner with self-direction and results in improving their motivation for learning.

However, several Japanese people would think that this dialogical teaching system is not suited for Japan due to the Japanese culture's emphasis on harmony and avoidance of conflict unlike Western culture ("Education in Europe and Japan : very different problems" 3). They regard dialogical teaching-which could cause controversy or students' objection against teachers-as not a proper education for Japan. Nevertheless, regardless of cultures, these factors of dialogical teaching are rather necessary for education because these help students to think critically with self-direction. As a suggestion, to enable Japanese universities to make dialogical atmosphere, they should introduce foreign teachers and students much more, creating diversity campus in which Japanese students would be driven to be more active to participate in classes.

Lastly, adopting liberal arts education helps to enhance academic motivation of Japanese university students by developing their curiosities from various angles. As explained before, to enter a university, Japanese high school students are required to take examinations. These are very competitive with extreme societal pressures, and almost all the examinations are paper-tests-no personal essay, no interview, and no consideration of grades in high school-in which students are like machines while taking the examinations. Ikuo Amano, one of the leading researcher on Japanese higher education, said, "… schooling socializes students to think that studying means examination prep... …learning is nothing more than rote memorization" (7). This is the main reason why Japanese university students tend not to have positive feelings and meanings for studying. To save students from this bad condition, what Japanese University should do is to incorporate liberal arts education. The core curriculum of liberal arts education stimulates students' curiosities from various angles by exposing them to broad fields of study, in which they can have many opportunities to discover new curiosities. Also, dialogical teaching style in small classes of liberal arts education can develop their curiosities by close interaction between teachers and students, encouraging students to be a leaner with self-direction. Since curiosity is "A state of mind in which you want to learn more about something (Sumrongthong 5)," developing curiosities directly enhances students' motivation for learning.

Having said this, there could be the suspicion of what effectiveness the stimulant to students' curiosities by learning various fields is. Those who have this question would think that studying various areas is merely doing so separately, which is not worthwhile. Yet, the core curriculum of liberal arts education has several interdisciplinary (also called interconnected) courses in which students learn not a particular subject but the connections of a disciplinary understanding to another discipline's perspective. Students experience how different approaches provide new and useful insights. Besides, since different fields are actually connected to each other, the curiosity about a field can provoke that about another field, doing so one after another-this is a virtuous cycle to enhance students' motivation for learning.

All in all, liberal arts education should be adopted to Japanese universities because it can improve the low academic motivation of Japanese university students, which is a severe problem today in Japanese higher education. Liberal arts education has core curriculum as an essence in which students can afford to seek their way carefully and slowly, comparing with many different areas. Also, dialogical teaching system in small classes provides students with close interaction between them and their faculty and makes them critical thinkers with self-direction. Then, due to this core curriculum and dialogical teaching, students' various curiosities are provoked, which results in enhancing their motivation for learning. In order to adopt this education, Japanese universities should follow how ICU (International Christian University) works, the only one true liberal arts college in Japan that was founded on American liberal arts colleges. This will help liberal arts education to be spread to Japan as the first step.

Work Cited

Amano, Ikuo. "Challenges to Japanese Universities." International Education Journal. 2003. Web. 6 Dec 2009. <>.

"Education in Europe and Japan : Very Different Problems ." Your Guide to Europe in English. 2009. Eupedia, Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>.

Freire, Paulo. "The Banking Concept of Education." Inquiry Studies 101: Asking Question, Making Choices. Ed. Rebecca Blair. Acton, MA: Wartburg College, 2009. 113-27. Print.

Sumrongthong, Bussakorn. "Curiosity Based Learning." Chulalongkorn University, Web. 6 Dec 2009. <>.

Ward, Nigel. "Observation4:Belonging." About Japanese Universities. Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>.

"What Are the Global Standard Features of ICU?" ICU International Christian University. 2008. International Christian University, Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>.

"What is a Liberal Arts College?" Liberal Arts College Review. 2009. Liberal Arts College Review LLC, Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>.