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Thinking about Early Childhood Education: Is Going Global Just about Speaking English?

Tadashi Asada
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Efforts for the development of global human resources are now in high demand for school education. In university education too, there is a clamor for the introduction of September (fall) enrollment, and for the quarter system, as well as for the enhancement of English education, and even recommendations for study abroad. Moreover, English activities have been introduced into elementary schools, and it is almost as if we are being told that the development of global human resources and the provision of English education are one and the same. This trend is emerging quite often, even in kindergarten education.

It seems that this orientation toward the United States and Europe in the name of Globalization, is a classic example of us failing to escape from the slogans of Catch up and overtake, the sort of Catch up with the West thinking that has continued as the energy behind Japan’s growth and development since the Meiji period. Hidden behind this is the idea that If we can communicate in English, then we will have achieved globalization. But language is fundamentally not just a tool, a means to communicate with other people, but also a tool with which to create one’s own ideas. Because of this, for Japanese people, reading, writing and thinking in Japanese should be the primary foundation for the development of global human resources. Also, enjoying a wide-range of experiences during early childhood education should form the base of this. In other words, early childhood education for globalization may be about how to guarantee as many diverse experiences as possible for each child. If one thinks about it in this way, the 5 areas of health, human relationships, environment, language, and expression, which are currently in the kindergarten instruction procedure, are in fact precisely the sort of content needed as foundations for the skills being demanded of children living in a global society. Rather, we should be thinking now of how to further enhance the current kindergarten education as the path toward the development of global human resources. In order to foster language and communication skills in their original sense, we need to remind ourselves of the crucial significance of the kindergarten education being conducted in Japan.

Moreover, looking at the inadequate Japanese language education being provided to foreign children known as Newcomers living in Tokyo, which is fast-becoming a global city, when compared with the ESOL programs in Britain, etc., one cannot help but think that until now we have not been giving proper consideration to providing Japanese language education in Japan. This is due to a lack of recognition that, in globalizing Tokyo, the issue is whether or not we can create an environment for people to live in a Tokyo that has been globalized, and not about the study of language itself.

On the other hand, regarding the policy of unifying kindergartens and nurseries as well as the issue of insufficient day-care and kindergarten places, etc., there is also a need to examine early childhood education from a welfare perspective of the situation of women’s work, etc. The main factor here is that the environment around women to enable them to work is insufficient. But this certainly does not mean that kindergartens or nurseries should take on any of a mother’s roles in raising her children. It is necessary to construct a social system and educational system that enable mothers and fathers to properly conduct parenting and raise their children, partly for the reason that the home environment and home education are significant elements to enable the 5 areas in the kindergarten instruction procedure to be properly able to foster the development of each young child. For example, it has been shown in research that the home environment, that is, their relationship with their mother and father has a significant impact on the development of a child’s self-esteem. In considering the development of young children, there is no hope of developing global human resources without first reexamining the social system, to enable each child’s mother and father to work in their respective capacities, or without first considering the home environment, which supports the child’s development.

Furthermore, even if a social system which supports raising children is constructed, we still need to think about the relationship between it and early childhood education and elementary school education, and beyond. Various sorts of measures have already been conducted regarding this, such as collaborations between kindergartens and elementary schools. However, we need to sketch out a grand design by thinking about whether these collaborations are based on the premise of school education as it has been conducted until now, or whether we should aim to deconstruct the school education that we have had until now. If we were to shift to an American- or European-style pre-school type kindergarten education, this would probably mean conducting kindergarten education based on a subject-based curriculum, which would connect to the foundations of elementary school education. Regarding English education, we would need to examine conducting immersion programs in English and Japanese.

On the other hand, if we consider linking up to elementary school based on the current 5 areas used in kindergarten education, we would need to think about it from the viewpoints of child development and learning processes. Children are learning and developing within the current school system and within the restrictions of schools (as a physical environment) as places. Moreover, just as in the past there have been times when Japanese society was referred to as a fatherless society (with children who never see their hard-working fathers), we also need to review the relationship of early childhood and elementary school education with both the home environment and social environment (social assets such as museums, art galleries and parks, as well as the natural environment). It is necessary to think about the link between early childhood and elementary school education in the context of their relationships with all aspects of the environment that surrounds children. This even includes considering a reform of the entire educational system. More concretely, just as we are seeing the establishment of integrated junior high and high schools (secondary education) and integrated elementary and junior high schools, we need to examine integrated education based on education at a single school from kindergarten through to high school, or even through to university level, based on the perspective of child development.

The issues surrounding globalization and early childhood education are certainly not simple. They not only force us to question the position of Japan, or us as Japanese people (in terms of our unique attributes), in global society, but also demand that we come up with an answer (or the best solution we can find) to the issues of what sort of early childhood education we should have in Japan, by constantly thinking about the situation of Japanese society, the situation of schools including kindergartens in the society, and how children grow and develop within this environment.

Tadashi Asada
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Born in 1958. Graduated from the School of Human Sciences, Osaka University and completed the program at the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University. After serving as Assistant at Osaka University, Researcher at the National Institute for Educational Policy Research, and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Human Development, Kobe University, he was appointed to his current position as Professor at the Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University. His areas of specialty are educational engineering and educational research based on educational psychology. His main publications include: Teachers who Grow ‐ An Invitation to the Study of Teaching [Seicho Suru Kyoshi – Kyoshi-gaku he no Sasoi] (Kanekoshobo); Looking at Education through the Keyholes of London [Rondon no Kagiana kara Kyoiku wo Mireba] (Japan Educational Press); and Renaissance in Secondary Education [Choto Kyoiku Runessansu] (Gakuji Shobo), among others.