EDUCATIONAL RENAISSANCE / 1st fast-track Chiba U. class thrives
Koichi Yasuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The following is excerpted from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational series. This part of the series, to be continued next week, focuses on the nation’s early admission entrance system for universities.
In 1997, Chiba University became the first higher educational institution in Japan to decide to introduce an early admission entrance system with the aim of providing talented high school students with university-level education earlier than usual so as to help further improve their qualities.

In that year, the then Education Ministry revised an ordinance to allow particularly promising second-year high school students to skip to university. Prior to the revision, students had to have graduated from high school or to have passed a graduation equivalency exam and turned 18.

Now students chosen under the system have just began their careers in society.

One such graduate, Yoyo Hinuma, is now working at Booz & Co., a management consulting firm in Minato Ward, Tokyo. During a recent meeting, the 26-year-old senior consultant was giving a presentation to his bosses about his market research.

“When analyzing our sales growth, I can make predictions regarding different tendencies in different places,” he says.

Hinuma entered Chiba University’s engineering department in 2000 after finishing his second year at Kaisei High School, a prestigious private institution in Tokyo.

By the beginning of his senior year of university, he had been admitted to the national university’s graduate school. By that time, however, he had already been accepted by the graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Hinuma headed for the United States four months later. In June last year, he earned a doctorate in engineering there, before arriving at his current job the following month.

The PhD says he prefers his work at the consultancy because he couldn’t imagine what a future in research would have been like for him.

“Through my research, I learned how to deal with figures and now I’ve found a way to put it to use in my market analysis,” he says. “When the time arises again, I hope to be able to choose the best path then, too.”

At work, he is known among his colleagues as “Hinuma Computer,” because he takes very little time to compile documents and deals accurately with data. However, Hinuma says reputation can be a form of pressure.

“Whenever I do something that is different from the others,” he says, “I stand out, in a good way. I think entering school early benefited me a lot.”

Seiji Kajita, 28, remembers the media circus that grew up around him when he entered the university’s engineering department as one of the first three students under its early admission system. He caused a stir again in February 2007, when he earned a doctorate in science–the first student to do so under the system.

After leaving academic life, Kajita took a job at Toyota Central R&D Labs, Inc. in Nagakutecho, Aichi Prefecture, Toyota Group’s research institute, where he is currently studying particle-level friction.

“Energy efficiency in vehicles comes down to the level to which friction can be reduced when pistons are moving within an engine,” he says. “It’s really interesting. There are so many mysteries in the world of friction that I’m fortunate I can do what I want to do here.”

Spokesman Shinichi Horie, 40, says the institute needs a wide variety of human resources to carry out innovative research. “Because of this, we have high expectations for Mr. Kajita because he went through a specially designed system like early university admission.”

Looking back over his time in high school, Kajita says he “hated studying for university entrance exams. I wanted to go to university as soon as possible, so that’s why I applied for the early admission system. I believe the early entrance eventually became an opportunity for me to break out of my shell.”

One of Kajita’s juniors can be found working at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Koto Ward, Tokyo. When The Yomiuri Shimbun visited, Yoshiaki Shimada, 27, was talking to visitors in front of a device that re-creates the photosynthetic system of plants. His title at the museum is “science communicator,” a position where he acts as a bridge between science and the public by explaining difficult concepts in laymen’s terms.

Shimada entered Chiba University one year after Kajita. Four years later, he moved to Tokyo University, where he ultimately received his doctorate.

Shimada left academia in April last year as he found it more interesting to work as a science communicator.

“I don’t like to be bound by anything,” he says. “I chose early university admission just because it looked good to me.”

At Miraikan, Shimada has many jobs–from creating display items to writing papers for academic journals.

“Mr. Shimada is very flexible, rather than just working within the scope of science,” public relations officer Chika Yoneyama, 32, says. “He’s the perfect man for the job of science communicator.”

However, Shimada is contracted for only five years. “I haven’t decided yet what to do after that as I don’t know what will come my way,” he says. “I’d like to continue to do whatever I find interesting.”
Early admissions but no long-term students
Chiba University introduced an early admission system, beginning with its engineering department, in the 1998 academic year. Meijo University followed with early enrollment for its 2001 intake.

The early admission entrance system was initially limited to mathematics and physics, but later included other fields. Four other institutions also have followed suit, including three with programs for the humanities or arts–Showa Women’s University, Seijo University in Tokyo and Elisabeth University of Music in Hiroshima–and one, Aizu University in Fukushima Prefecture, that specializes in computer science and engineering.

So far, only the first two schools have produced university graduates from the early admission entrance system. Of the 41 graduates, 35 of them–85 percent–have advanced to postgraduate programs.

However, among those who have completed their postgraduate studies, so far none of them remain in academia–apparently a disappointing fact for officials and educators who devised the system. Many of them have taken jobs outside of academia, often unrelated to their degrees.

(Jun. 4, 2009) Daily Yomiuri

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