by Yusuke Matsuda
In my role as a teacher at a Japanese High School, I have developed a great desire to instigate change and reform in the archaic Japanese education system. I have come up with two unpleasant conclusions through my teaching career. One, most of what is taught in school is increasingly irrelevant. Students see no relevance or practical applications in what they are forced to learn. This process rewards students who can perform effectively while completely bored, while other students are penalized for individualism and excessive creative thinking. The Japanese education was designed to create corporate soldiers and puts great emphasis on coping with boredom, enduring physical and psychological hardship, and respecting hierarchy. It doesn’t encourage the development of analytical or creative skills. In the past, it has not produced many great thinkers. The skills that served the corporate soldiers well in the Post World War II industrial environment are of decreasing importance today. My other conclusion is that the rote learning hierarchical approach makes the education experience oppressive and actually kills curiosity and analytical ability, at a time in human history when these skills may be most needed.
When I decided to quit teaching, my long term goal was to become a principal at a progressive educational institution which teaches students the skills they will need to function in a world of declining resources, diminishing social and political stability, an ever worsening environment, and increasing physical danger. I was researching professional schools in Japan to think where I should spend time to deepen my knowledge in Education. Unfortunately, there was no school that excited me in Japan. Once I started researching professional schools in the United States, I was astonished by the number and the quality of the graduate programs. It didn’t take me too long to decide to study abroad.
Harvard offered a unique opportunity to think about education in both the most abstract and practical terms. It was very interesting to gain a historical overview of curriculum development and organizational change (forefront leadership theories). I was very impressed of the deep learning you can get from an environment that theory and practice is together. As taking courses, I had an opportunity to do a year-long internship in a Charter school. This gave me an opportunity to not only learn theories but also implement what you learned in class into a real life situation which leads to “true” learning.
I have always inherently believed that a high quality education system is one of the main pillars for any successful society. Never more so than in these times of monumental change across all aspects of society in Japan and around the world. I was particularly attracted by Harvard’s philosophy of forward thinking education being vital for our society’s future. I had great inspiration throughout all my educational studies from many of the Harvard faculty members who have had such an effect on reshaping the American education system in a way that we need to emulate here in Japan. In the future, I envisage becoming an educational leader not only in Japan but across Asia, and understand that applying the philosophy and teachings of Harvard was fundamental for my future success.
Yusuke Matsuda celebrating graduation from Harvard Graduate School of Education; and with his ’09 classmates
Yusuke Matsuda is Founder and CEO of Teach For Japan