East Asia, Public policy, Centre for the Study of Global Japan

Event Report: Is the Professionalism of Teaching Hurting Teachers in Japan?

On September 18th, the Centre for the Study of Global Japan hosted Professor Aki Sakuma, who delivered an insightful lecture about Japanese education and the professionalism of teachers. The event was moderated by Professor Rie Kijima, the Director of the Initiative for Educational Policy and Innovation.

Professor Sakuma initially referenced Andy Hargreaves's definition of teacher professionalism, which emphasizes maintaining a professional attitude and enjoying benefits, such as a stable salary and working conditions. Professor Sakuma then delved into Japan's approach, noting examples of the poor treatment of teachers, such as reduced employment protection.

Professor Sakuma then reflected on teaching theory from a historical perspective, discussing Mori Arinori’s (1847-1889) ideas about the roles of teachers in Japanese society. Mori’s concept divided the teacher's role into five aspects: national builders, holy priests, obedient subjects, moral models, and mothers. In essence, Japanese teachers were not only responsible for imparting knowledge to young learners but also for instilling character traits like obedience and patriotism. Furthermore, Mori argued that women should become teachers.

Professor Sakuma then compared the Japanese model with the American model. Education theorist Horace Mann stated that Protestant ideology formed the basis of teaching theory in the United States, with a focus on national integration, political democratization, and economic integration. Although the United States and Japan were built on different cultural traditions, Horace and Mori did hold similar views on some issues, such as the role of teachers as mothers and moral “guardians.”

Additionally, Professor Sakuma drew comparisons between the early historical context of each nation. The United States valued liberty and individualism to support the idea of a republican nation, while Japan sought obedient citizens to act as the backbone of an imperial nation. Her conclusion was that education in Japan primarily served the purpose of national particularism rather than promoting democracy. Therefore, education not only aimed to nurture talent but also to nurture a sense of national identity.

Following the panel discussion, there was a lively question and answer period from the audience (Q&A).

We would like to thank Professor Sakuma for her thought-provoking insights as well as the engaged audience for their participation in an active Q&A session.