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Top>Education>Cultivating independence - the critical education


Nobuyuki Kishi

Nobuyuki Kishi [profile]

Cultivating independence - the critical education

Nobuyuki Kishi
Professor of Pedagogy and Ethics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University


When asking students enrolled in teacher-training courses about their image of education, I am surprised by the gloominess of their image. Why do they have such a gloomy image of education? When considering this question, I can recognize the deep relationship with Japan’s postwar history. In this article, I will propose the ideal form of future Japanese education while considering the conditions of postwar Japan.

Emphasis on business and academic performance

During the early stages of childhood, interaction with adults has an extremely large impact on the character formation of children. As such, this interaction is very important. Adults must shower children with love and attention. During such interaction, it is vital to instill children with positive feelings towards the world. Those feelings will become the driving force for independence which will enable children to boldly survive in life.

I believe that cultivating independence in children is the most important aspect of Japanese education in the future. Education for cultivating independence does not mean entrusting everything to children and leaving them free to do whatever they wish, which would be a display of a non-interference policy. Non-interference does not guarantee discipline. Conversely, education for cultivating independence does not mean constantly controlling children according to the will of educators. The excessive authority of the adults will influence the children to become passive and hesitant, lacking in independence.

Unfortunately, looking at Japanese children today, it often seems that correct independence has not been cultivated due to the inappropriate interaction by adults. The ability of Japanese teachers and parents praising children are poor. The language used by parents and teachers tend to include words with a negative connotation, such as “no” and “slowpoke.” Sometimes words that deny the integrity of others are heard from the mouths of educators. In extreme cases this language leads to anger, shouting, physical punishment and violence. The unfortunate results of such education are deeply related with the history of postwar Japan.

The prevailing view is that school education in postwar Japan has relied entirely upon test results with a bias on knowledge and evaluation by deviation value. While many schools adopted the socially-accepted idea of “winning the examination war,” much has been sacrificed in the name of the unified value of test-focused assessments.

Such educational values are in some ways related to the economic value that emphasized business performance, which supported Japan during the period of rapid economic growth. Indeed, the period of Japan’s rapid economic growth matches the period in which the Japanese youth began to show a variety of serious problems such as truancy, social withdrawal, blackmail, theft, criminal injury, and even murder.

In other words, the economic value of emphasizing business performance penetrated education. The result was education which emphasized academic performance with the greatest priority put on test results. Academic performance was measured entirely based on test scores. This was converted to deviation value which was the ultimate indicator of children’s academic performance. The increase of bullying in schools is also related to Japan’s economic growth and the associated value of emphasizing academic performance in schools. A trend developed where capable children were given preferential treatment and incapable children were disregarded. There were instances in which groups of capable children bullied incapable children who prevented the raising of average test scores. Indeed, such bullying became a social issue.

During tests, all students solved the same problem simultaneously. Students were expected to solve the provided problems quickly and correctly. Students that possessed the talent for succeeding in tests were the winners in life and won great honor. Up until the present day, Japanese society has followed America’s lead and placed a bias on academic performance. In order to raise children who would graduate from top universities and enter employment at top corporations, parents desperately educated their children and sent them to cram schools. Parents were intent on sending their children to schools with a high deviation value, believing that following such a path increased the chances for a happy life in the future. High schools and universities provided equal access to entrance examinations to all students. Test takers were given the same problems to solve. These measures were taken to achieve complete equality. This equality made all individuality and abilities reduced to measurable numbers. This was possible because everyone shared the same values.

To a certain extent, tests are necessary to numerically assess children’s abilities for a fair and objective evaluation. This means that adults must take even greater care when evaluating children based on numbers. Test scores have the power to reduce the freedom of choice that should be available to children. Test results are capable to crush the children’s free will or their future dreams. The independent and free thinking of children cannot be cultivated through a type of education that constantly emphasizes test scores as the only method of comparing children.

Future education

We must reflect upon and correct the current education system that is based on test scores developed under the unified values of postwar Japan. For a long period following World War II, Japan always looked to America to provide a model for action. Economic policy also followed an American-based model. Initially, the Japanese industry began to follow America’s lead. Corporations started using America as a model and employees were used to working in that environment. Employees did not need to think or act independently; they simply had to follow orders from their superiors. The trait of independence actually became a hindrance. In particular, during the start of Japan’s rapid economic growth in the early 1960s, Japanese people were united in their pursuit of material prosperity as symbolized by America. Although a certain role was fulfilled by Japan’s emphasis on ability as evaluated through tests, such values were a historical product of the postwar period.

However, we must consider what truly makes children happy. Values are diversifying in today’s society. In such a society, it is meaningless to have children attain happiness through competition and victory. In the first place, a society with diverse values contains multifaceted goals which make unified competition meaningless.

There was an era in Japan when it was fine to simply seek material wealth, constantly seek to raise efficiency and live passively. However, this era has already ended. The period of rapid economic growth drew to a close, symbolized by the oil shock in 1973. Upon entering the 21st century, the world is in the midst of dramatic changes spurred by technological innovation. In this new era, it is anachronistic for education to remain old-fashioned. In modern Japan, values are diversifying. People can choose both work and hobbies according to their personal tastes. Each person is assured of living a unique life. This society is difficult to live in for someone who does not know what to choose.

Independence can be defined as the ability to clearly depict one’s desires and goals, and to work passionately to achieve those ambitions. When defined as such, independence is the greatest need of education in modern Japan. Indeed, independent people will lead society in the future.

Passive people who have devoted themselves to achieving excellent test results (test geniuses) have difficulty finding their own path in life. Independent people cannot be cultivated through conventional education. Furthermore, independent abilities cannot be measured through conventional written tests. Test geniuses display their ability only when asked to correctly solve a problem which has an answer in a short period of time. In the future, there will be more problems without a predetermined answer, and test geniuses will have fewer opportunities to display their ability. It is most likely that the ratio of importance given to conventional written tests will decrease for entrance examinations.

Children must find their own path in life. However, it is difficult for young and immature children to set up their own future goals. Therefore, it is essential for adults to provide empathetic support for children’s desires and hope. It is extremely important for adults to empathize (show empathy for the reception of values) with specific elements of children’s goals; in other words, what children want to do and become in the future. The question of how adults should relate their own desires and hope to those of their children is a very delicate, yet truly important aspect of education. If parents do not have clear hope and desires for their children, children themselves will have a vague concept of their own life.

Therefore, an extremely important form of education for children is to observe how their parents and teachers live. When considering this education, the desires and hope of parents and teachers for children must not be a passive stance such as “children can do anything they want as long as they do not cause trouble for others.” Instead, adults should take a stance of actively including others in their perspective.

Recently, biographies have fallen out of fashion. However, biographies contain the stories of great men and women who worked tirelessly for the good of mankind. The biographies of such people are a great reference when contemplating one’s own path in life. It would be a shame to think that reading biographies is a waste of time because it is not possible to live like the person portrayed in the book. Instead, it is vital to focus on the possibility of leading a similar kind of life. The world will not change unless people want to change it. It is important to believe that we can change the world through our actions. Such belief invigorates the cerebrum.

True independence can be defined as the awareness to take such action. The big question is how our future style of education can cultivate such independence. The ability of independence cannot be cultivated through a hands-off attitude towards children. Adults must take a personal interest in the desires and hope of children. Also, adults must think together with children and search for the best method of achieving those hope and desires. Only in such an environment is it possible to strengthen and cultivate independence.


Today’s world is filled with passion towards education. There is a strong calling for entrusting the future to today’s youth. The society stresses the importance to cultivate global professionals and aims to nurture innovative human resources.

Future education must focus on cultivating independent and active people with the power to change the world. We must raise strong children who can clearly define their own interests, who can think about how to benefit mankind on a global scale, and who will take the initiative to thoroughly consider the necessary action to achieve their goals.

Nobuyuki Kishi
Professor of Pedagogy and Ethics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo in 1944. In 1969, graduated from the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Letters, Gakushuin University. In 1971, completed the Master’s Program in philosophy in the Gakushuin University Graduate School. In the same year, traveled to West Germany (at that time) and spent three years and a half studying at Tubingen University. Under the instruction of Otto F. Bollnow, studied pedagogy and humanities positioned within the broad subjects of history and culture.
Began working at Chuo University from 1976. Held the positions of part-time instructor in the Faculty of Letters and full-time instructor/Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. In 1991, assumed the position of Professor in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.
Since 2003, has served as Director at the Japanese Society for the Study of Pestalozzi and Froebel (Vice-Chairperson from 2009 to 2012).
Teaches courses in pedagogy, ethics, bioethics, instructor theory, human relations theory (philosophy) and educational history at universities, medical junior colleges for nurses, colleges for nurses, and training courses for nursing instructors.
His major written works include Developmental Phases and Educational Issues—One form of human relations theory (Meikei Publishing, 1997), Emotional Classroom (Meikei Publishing, 1999), and Research in Moral Education (Hon-no-Izumi Publishing, 2009), etc. Has also written numerous theses on Froebel.