Professor, Tohoku University
The Fragrance of Innovation
The quickest way to have a feel for the 'current trend' in a particular country at a particular moment is to pick up some keywords either from its major newspapers or websites. Or, one can browse around with a keen sensitivity one of the (physical or virtual) sites of that country known to be full of life. If you were to try to sniff out the 'current trend' of Japan today, which means would you chose? And what would you be sniffing out?
For example, let's look into our domestic arena by skimming through our papers from a month ago…topics such as the birth of the Abe Administration, its development, insufficient course units in high school, etc., emerge. But if we were to list up certain keywords, we can narrow them down into two: 'innovation' and 'high school education.' The regular DND readers may think that we are 'done with' innovation as all aspects of it have pretty much been discussed. But the discussions on innovation have shifted from an 'expert' to a 'social' arena, and here we can feel a new stir in the air.
DND's Mr. Deguchi with his typical (professional!) foresight has masterminded a scheme to reignite the discussions by launching a Policy Dialog site for the "Innovation 25 Strategic Council." As one that loves to mastermind things myself, I am also partaking in it. However, my stance here is not to propose policies in a quasi-public website, but rather, to cast a pebble that may stir up waves in the brewery of social phenomena.
So much for the introductory remarks, and on with the main subject. I have already roughly presented my views on how to grasp innovation in my "Innovation This and That." Here, I will delve more into depth.
The Origin of Innovation
Reflecting back on the long history of mankind, we come across a universal behavior that has differentiated us from other animals: a society formed and the world evolved because of it. From the hunting and gathering era, man has always acted upon his environment, transforming it and ensuring his survival by creating it anew. Therein lies 'intelligence,' and from it 'technique' and 'tools' were generated, and through repetitive work or by passing it down, human wisdom has been accumulated.
The act of 'instilling novelty into the existing, and giving rise to new values' has been inherent in mankind and passed on throughout its history: there is nothing new about it. It is from this build up of innovative action that society was born. However, the underlying inducing factors for innovative action have changed greatly over the years. The act of securing the daily bread, ever since storage of food became possible, changed into one that can look far ahead; the 'social' unit has also extended from family to settlement into municipality, the actions becoming more differentiated and organized with it. The inducing factors have evolved from survival and coping with danger to storing food and creating affluence.
What had incited a new direction into this process was the emergence of
modern science a few centuries back. To the former experiential method,
'scientific method' was added, and to technique and tools, 'technology,'
thus drastically changing the method with which to act upon the environment.
Furthermore, in the 21st century mankind has begun to utilize Information
& Communication Technologies (ICT) thus elevating the relative values
of information・knowledge・creative activity and enabling partial control
over temporal・spatial・physical limitations on action. ICT is both a target
of innovation as well as the accelerator of chain reactions of innovation.
What Will Japan Be Like in 2025?
Because of innovativeness mankind has established the society today, and yet, at times, has fallen back on social welfare due to destructive action. Whereby, the proposition arises: "What should we, active members of today, learn from the past and project into the future?" Let's envision Japan of 2025. As a country Japan can be described by various indices, or, by various economic models that can predict the influence of varying parameters on economic growth. But what is lost in the statistical analyses is how these models were constructed, the underlying 'person' who had actively engaged in the on-the-site practice. Of course, 'human capital' is already incorporated into the economic growth models, but what I mean is the qualitative aspects of human capital that cannot be expressed by numerical indices such as 'registered school years.' Based on inherent instincts man has undergone self-development and socialization through interaction with the environment. That is why we need to ask today what environment and social values we are to hand over to the next generation who will lead Japan in 2025.
Academic Competence Is the Ability to Learn!
Lastly, I would like to address the 'educational environment,' what, among all environments, most urgently requires a re-evaluation. We see in the world countries that are attempting desperately to integrate 'schools' into the social system. By contrast, Japan has a senior high school attendance rate of 97.5 % (AY2004), and 74.5% (AY2004) go on to higher educational institutions. However, I feel much have been lost because we did make headway with the systematization of education. Judging from my own experience, children are naturally full of personality, brimming with curiosity and have an unbelievable imagination, which, I believe has not changed over the years. The other important factor is universality. Schools are meant to be a site that implants the 'desire' and 'curiosity to learn' into children and, at the same time, a site where one can develop into a social individual. The systematization and subdivision of knowledge are irreversible processes, and school education is not immune to this process. Being required to efficiently transmit knowledge within a limited time, and with additional restrictions placed by university entrance examinations on senior high schools, it is within these dynamics that the present state of the curriculum and the educational reality of today are placed.
The quite simple notion that 'academic competence' is essentially the 'ability to learn' and that schools are the sites for nurturing it appears to have been crushed. To go off on a tangent, I would like to comment on the trend towards 'science-detachment.' The intimate association between innovation and scientific technology has been considered from different aspects, and most importantly, the development of human resources in scientific technology has been emphasized. The discussions on science-detachment sprung out of this context, but what the course-unit insufficiencies in senior high schools appear to indicate is more of an actual trend towards 'humanities-detachment.' 'History' is a window to the past, 'geography,' to the world, and 'philosophy,' to human thought. Only by having a chance to look into these windows can we envision a mature image of the Japanese society in 2025.