This article summarises what has been done so far in Japanese higher education to develop advanced human resources (HR), which highlights the lack of programmes and teaching materials, and argues for the need to develop advanced learning support personnel (LSP)
One of Japan’s most precious resources is its human resources (HR), but what kind of HR does Japan need? The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) defines practical HR as those who can respond to the demands of a diverse society and create new industries. (1) However, is such high-level HR sufficient for Japan’s future?
Previous policies for developing advanced HR
MEXT integrated several advanced HR development projects in FY 2008 to foster HR. Its new project aims to ‘fundamentally strengthen the practical human resource development functions of universities, junior colleges, and colleges of technology through the development and implementation of educational programs in a practical environment through industry-academia collaboration.’ (1) With this objective in mind, it developed programs to foster manufacturing engineers, long-term internship programs, and HR development programs for the service industry with business and IT knowledge.
Recently, a grand design for higher education in 2040 was presented that considered the role of higher education institutions facing unpredictable socio-economic changes. (2) It states that for learners to thrive in the society of 2040, ‘higher education needs to become a place where new values are created through the gathering of diverse human resources with diverse values.’ To support such diverse and flexible educational programs, the development and utilisation of advanced learning support HR at universities is essential. However, MEXT’s policy for academic management, (3) which includes the necessity of development of such HR, has no specific measures have been proposed.
For the future of Japanese higher education, especially graduate school education programs, it is necessary to develop and evaluate programs for fostering advanced LSP, who will enhance the quality and sophistication of university education. Advanced LSP can assist faculty members and guide university students. It is essential to develop academics who can guide students by utilising their problem-finding and -solving skills cultivated through research, based on their diverse values and understanding of the learning process, to make graduates into high-quality leaders. Producing such HR for academia and industry will also help improve the overall quality of universities.
MEXT’s policy on the use of LSP
MEXT has not yet indicated any specific programs or materials for the development and utilisation of LSP. An academic assistant is ‘a worker appointed to assist with the implementation of academic programs.’ (4) In 2005, MEXT proposed that ‘education should be provided to cultivate awareness and consciousness as a person in charge of education, which has been weak up to now, and to learn how to educate students.’
MEXT mentioned the necessity for universities to provide teacher assistant education for advanced HR who will be responsible for university education along with faculties. (5) As of 2021, are there any systematic guidelines, educational programs, or course packs provided by MEXT for developing advanced LSP? It seems not. Currently, there are only scattered educational programs that were developed independently by higher education institutions.
Proposals for training programs for learning assistants
The following is a list of key points regarding the specific content, methods of training programs and the development of teaching materials for those in charge of training learning supporters.
- Learning theory and educational practice are important for better learning. Therefore, the training content should be well balanced.
- Design to allow for thinking and practice from both the learner’s and teacher’s perspectives.
- Use easy-to-understand expressions and basic attitudes and behaviours for learning supporters that are common to a variety of class formats. A rubric or checklist format is desirable.
- Visualise and share examples of failures. A format that is easy to remember, such as specific episodes, is desirable.
- Provide opportunities for learning supporters to share the results of their own attitudes and actions, as well as examples of successes and failures, with others, so that they can take their knowledge to a higher level.
- Combine explanations and exercises, rather than just having students listen to teachers’ explanations.
- Active learning methods will be introduced to allow the training participants to think and exchange their opinions independently and to promote the retention of learning content.
Development of teaching/learning materials
- If online, use an on-demand format so that students can study and review independently, regardless of location or time.
- To check whether students are learning, develop rubrics that correspond to the learning content and objectives and share them with the learners. Evaluation tools are also effective teaching materials.
- ICT includes various cloud services that can be used for discussions, presentations, and evaluations.
Prospects for the development of HR for advanced learning support
The education system for advanced LSP should be revised and established as a systematic graduate education program.
For this programme to be actively implemented, the course design, class design, teaching materials, and evaluation tools should be distributed on the MEXT website as a teaching and learning course pack. The pack should be developed and distributed in multiple languages for easy use by international students and foreign faculty members. In addition, these teaching and learning materials should be freely available for modification and use by those in charge of HR development at each university. This is because the specific content of learning support may vary according to the size and characteristics of each institution. Even in a systematic educational programme, it is necessary to leave room for changes.
There are many more points regarding the development of advanced LSP. In the future, it will be necessary to establish a system that enables institutional personnel involved in the development of LSP to connect and exchange information effectively and efficiently.
- MEXT. “Fostering advanced human resources through industry-academia collaboration, etc.” Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology – Japan. https://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/koutou/sangaku2/index.html (accessed May. 15, 2021). [In Japanese]
- MEXT. “Special Feature 1: Grand Design for Higher Education toward 2040,” Tokyo, Japan, 2018 White Paper. Accessed: May. 17, 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/hakusho/html/hpab201801/detail/1420041_00004.html (accessed May. 15, 2021).
- MEXT. “Guidelines for Academic Management.” Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology – Japan. https://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chukyo/chukyo0/toushin/1411360_00001.html (accessed May. 28, 2021). [In Japanese]
- National Institution for Academic Degrees and Quality Enhancement of Higher Education. “Glossary of Quality Assurance in Japanese Higher Education, 4th ed. (2016). Accessed: Apr. 19, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.niad.ac.jp/n_kokusai/publish/no17_glossary_4th_edition.pdf
- MEXT. “Major Recommendations on Teaching Assistants (TAs) in Previous University Council Reports, etc.” Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology – Japan. https://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chukyo/chukyo4/003/gijiroku/07011713/001/002.html (accessed May. 15, 2021). [In Japanese]
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