Fumihuko Ito, Yomiuri Shimbun

High schools are increasingly set on fostering students capable of successfully competing on the global stage by improving their foreign language skills, emphasizing discussions and debate and providing more opportunities to interact with foreign students.

Students from Ohyu Gakuen Girls’ High School participated in an international symposium for high school students held at Hana Academy Seoul high school in August 2012, where environmental problems were the subject of discussion. About 170 students from seven countries including China and Singapore attended the event.

“What is the point of your presentation?”

This kind of question shocked Ohyu Gakuen students. “Our presentation was a mere list of facts that lacked persuasive arguments. I now understand why foreigners say Japanese people lack the power to express their views strongly,” said Shiho Ito, 17, a second-year student.

Ryoko Takagi, another 17-year-old second-year student, said she felt friustrated that her team was completely overwhelmed by foreign students during the discussion. Due to this experience, Takagi attended last year’s symposium where she presented her own solution to a food crisis caused by global climate change.

Ohyu Gakuen will hold an intensive study program for the first time in the United States, including an exchange with Yale University and Harvard University students, in summer. Interest is high with about 70 students applying for the 20 places available.

“Students are increasingly considering applying to overseas universities after graduation. Companies also are in a hurry to take measures [to foster competent human resources] globally,” said Tetsuo Sekiya, 58, who is in charge of the school’s study-abroad program. “I want the students to have fierce debates with people from different cultures.”

With many universities arranging study-abroad programs and holding lessons taught in English, high schools are under pressure to ensure their students are adequately prepared to study at foreign universities.

For the first time, St. Margaret’s High School sent 22 third-year students, who were admitted to Rikkyo and Keio universities based on recommendations from the high school, to a three-week study program in the United States in February. St. Margaret is affiliated with Rikkyo University.

“I heard that [Rikkyo University] has an increasing number of classes in which students use English in discussions, and that there’s fierce competition to participate in exchange programs. I’m not going to waste my time. I’d like to make sure I’m prepared before I enter university,” said an 18-year-old student who took part in the study program. She will enter Rikkyo University in April.

Meanwhile, Sakae Higashi Middle and High School have beefed up their debate, presentation and research abilities for their students in classes both in Japanese and English since the 2011 academic year.

Shift in parental attitudes

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s “super global high schools program” has drawn much attention. The ministry plans to start the program next fiscal year in the hopes of boosting globally competent human resources.

Under the project, the ministry plans to designate 50 high schools that emphasize group lessons and international subject discussions, deeper cooperation with overseas high schools, and universities with classes taught by native speakers in the program, plus a maximum grant of ¥16 million in subsidies to one school a year.

So far 246 national, public and private schools have applied for the program. The ministry will select the 50 schools as early as March.

“Parental attitudes have been changing as parents want their children to survive in a globalized society. An increasing number of private schools now focus on having students attend universities overseas. Public schools also have to make themselves responsive to changing times,” a public high school principal in the Tokyo metropolitan area said.

Nobuyasu Morigami, head of educational research institute Morigami Kyoiku Kenkyujo, who is well-versed in current educational circumstances at middle schools and high schools, said, “Unlike the ‘internationalization boom’ in the 1980s to 1990s, the current boom to raise globally competent students reflects the anxiety of parents worried about their children’s employment and future, not to mention the sense of urgency to get their children into middle schools and high schools in a world where many parents are opting to have fewer children.”