Japan's main EdTech meeting gives us a peek into what the future looks like in the Far East.
Visitors flock into Tokyo Big Sight, the largest exhibition hall in Japan, on the high-tech artificial island that will host the press center during the Olympics next year. We were there for the 10th edition of EDIX (Educational IT Solutions Expo), held June 19 to 21, 2019.
As a unique chance for a close look at the main trends in this part of the world, EDIX is the most important education event in Japan, attracting more than 37,000 local participants related to several fields. It showcases the latest outcomes of local and international firms and features seminars by Japanese specialists on the hottest topics in this sector.
A changing country
Schools moving to the cloud, “next-generation infrastructure”, the emergence of a “super-smart society”; everything around us seems to announce a certain evolution towards the “classroom of the future”. However, this year above all, we can feel the pressure of the new national curriculum coming into force in 2020, which makes Programming - that is, contents of logical and computational thinking - compulsory in every subject in elementary schools in Japan.
The extensive reforms now underway in this country prove its concern over its economic and scientific leadership, but they are also strategies against other threats - population ageing, alarmingly low birth rates, a declining workforce and economic stagnation. Although these may seem disguised by Japan's stability and high performance, the need to foster innovation for growth is making this nation revise some of its rigid rules. How should education be updated for the hi-tech, sustainable future that the young Japanese are expected to materialize? EDIX 2019 shows us some examples of the shifts that are being attempted.
In their race to adapt, the numerous companies offering technological services for English learning reveal that many Japanese people are now aware that communicating effectively in this language is crucial for global interaction in a country that is still impenetrable for many.
The land of video games is adopting many gamification tools, as well as VR and AR devices. But the most outstanding topics seem to be problem-solving and “creative” activities, with buzzwords like STEAM and makerspaces spreading quickly, especially among private schools. This also includes robotics, a field in which Japan shines on the world stage, which has been absent from most schools until recently.
As boundaries between subjects become more flexible, elementary school students discuss self-driving cars in Social Studies and use sensors to identify issues based on experience and hard-science data. In music education, there are group composition activities with programming concepts through Yamaha’s Vocaloid, but also with robots such as Makeblock’s Codey Rocky.
Building-block kits for infants and programming courses for parents are also in big demand, and special training on tech topics is now being offered at some cram schools or juku, the typically East-Asian academies where millions of children prepare to enter high schools or universities.
With so many resources available, it is increasingly necessary to integrate them in a meaningful way. In this regard, some teachers realize that, despite huge investments in hardware and software, new tech tools are still dampened by pedagogies that do not always foster autonomy and critical thinking - an issue that needs to be addressed more effectively by curriculum design in Japan and abroad.
Will these policies contribute to sustaining Japan's development? How will 21st-century trends affect a culture whose elegant traditional arts are learnt by repeating forms and revering the sensei?
Once the results of these new policies start to appear, they may serve as a reference for other developed nations facing similar problems. For now, inside and outside this exhibition hall, Tokyo gets ready for the arrival of more foreign workers and students, and outlines a future that many Japanese see as both threatening and promising.