Computers vs. swimming pools



Many people think Japan is extremely high tech. Maybe this image is induced by Japanese toilets that seem to have a higher IQ than Albert Einstein. But the reality is that Japan is not all that high-tech and Japanese people are not all that technology savvy.

The lack of technology in Japan in comparison to countries like England and Finland can be evidenced, for instance, by the fact that surprisingly few university students have their own private computers or laptops. In fact, most students at the university where I work have never owned their own computer, or even shared a computer with other family members. The reason for not owning a computer is not necessarily because they would not be able to afford one, but maybe Japanese people just think it is not necessary to own a computer, because most of them own a mobile phone.

You are probably now assuming that Japanese university students have some futuristic mobile phones that multitask as mobile phones and computers, as well as have extra teaser, blender and hair straightener functions. But no. No straightener or teaser functions. They are just standard Android phones that you can get anywhere.

The fact that my students don’t own computers means that they hand in handwritten essays when submitting their coursework! I gather this is partly because

(a) word processing essays can be tricky on a mobile phone

(b) the students don’t actually know how to use Office Word

(c) in Japan, hand written documents can be seen as indicating more commitment, concentration and attention to detail than word processed documents. For example, some employers request hand written CVs so that whenever the applicant makes a single (spelling) mistake, they need to start writing their CV from scratch all over again. I’m not sure if Western job seekers could cope with this kind of procedure. We’ve got so used to being able to word process and thus are maybe becoming less able to plan ahead and see the finished product in our minds before we embark on the writing process, let alone being able to produce a 3 page CV wihtout a single typo. Jeez!

Given that university students haven’t got the skills to use software imperative for university study, like Office Word or Power Point, I assume that IT classes are not particularly common (or effective) in many Japanese schools.

In many other countries (e.g., in Finland) IT is a central part of schooling, so much so that in Finland they are dropping joined-up writing from the curriculum in favour of typing and scripting. All children will still learn to write by hand over there, but the Finnish education will nolonger emphasise the aesthetics of joined-up writing – something that more conservative countries, like England, still hold dear. I have to say I kind of agree with the Finns on this one –  all those hours spent on practicing the perfect swirls of Bs or Ss seem silly when in 20 years time no-one (other than maybe the Japanese) will write anything by hand.

So, computers and an emphasis on technology may not be as common in Japanese schools as e.g. in Finnish schools, but then again, most Japanese primary (87%) and secondary (73%) schools have swimming pools and, during the summer months, PE lessons are predominantly swimming lessons.



My daughter’s PE lesson


As Japan is an island, maybe the Japanese education ministry see that learning to swim is more important for survival than learning to word process or write scripts.

15 thoughts on “Computers vs. swimming pools

  1. Merettömässä Sveitsissä pidetään uimataitoa myös erittäin tärkeänä. Uimakouluun mennään Zürichin rantakunnissa noin nelivuotiaana ja myös kouluopetukseen kuuluu uinti. Kaupungin lätäkkö on pieni, mutta erittäin syvä; siinä ehkä syy. – Ja muistaakseni viime syksynä sanottiin hyvästit kaunokirjoitukselle…

    • Joo, ja kyllä minusta Suomessakin uimataitoa pidetään tärkeänä juttuna – ja käsittääkseni suurin osa suomalaisista osaa uida (jo varhain), mutta itse muistan lapsuudestani sen että uimaan en oppinut niinkään Aittakorven ala-asteella (josta bussi kuljetti luokan kaksi kertaa vuodessa Kotkan maauimalaan uimakouluun). Uimaan opin kesäloman aikana mökillä. 🙂

  2. Kiitos tietopaketista! Lähdin lukemaan tätä kirjoitusta siitä varmasta olettamuksesta, että Suomessa satsataan uintiin ja Japanissa tietotekniikkaan. Olin sitten ihan väärässä näemmä! Asiassa tuotetaan tietotekniikkalaitteita ja sieltä tulee Euroopan ja Yhdysvaltojen yliopistoihin matemaattisesti valtavan lahjakkaita opiskelijoita. Tältä pohjalta sitten ajattelin, että tietokoneet ja muut state of the art -laitteet ovat Japanissakin arkipäivää lapsille jo päiväkodista alkaen.

    • Ennen kuin muutin Japaniin, minulla oli sama harhakäsitys 🙂 Japanissa on todella lahjakkaita ja fiksuja tyyppejä, täällä tuotetaan paljon tekniikkaa ja tehdään (tieto)tekniikan innovaatioita, mutta (jokapäiväisen, jokaisen ulottuvissa olevan) tietotekniikan kannalta Japani tulee esim. Suomea vuosia (tai jopa vuosikymmeniä) jäljessä.

  3. Yeah, I agree so much with this. It’s hilarious how non-tech some things are over here. Like banking! The fact that I have a cash card that can only be used in an ATM and internet banking is almost non-existant. I still have a bank book! You go in to the bank and everything is done on a paper form. And don’t even get me started on the local village office!

    • Yeah – the banks! When I had just opened a bank account in Japan (2 years ago) I tried to use my bank card in a shop only to find out that it was a cashpoint card (i.e. not a debit card). I later discovered that debit cards do not exist in Japan 🙂

      • Oh lord. I mean I grew up in Germany and I NEVER EVER even possessed a check book. Then I moved to the UK where people actually voted on keeping check books around (WTF?) and internet banking was a mystery as well as expensive. And here in the US I constantly write checks and wireless money transfers actually cost money. On the other hand, I can use my credit card anywhere in the US — which isn’t really a thing in Europe.

      • I think they got rid of chequebooks in Finland in the 1980s! So, I never used one in Finland – but of course have used them in the UK.

        For some reason the major English-speaking countries seem to be behind many other countries in banking (and in many everyday innovations) – I don’t really know why…?

    • Thank you for your comment 🙂

      I think joined-up writing and its usefulness has split parents of school age children into fierce for and against groups (both of which have good justifications for their chosen stand).

      My view is that it is important to remember that (as far as I am aware) education boards are NOT dropping writing with pen and paper altogether. Instead, they are dropping joined-up writing, which can be seen as an aesthetically pleasing form of handwriting. I agree that learning to write with a pen and paper can have benefits in terms of learning to read (and I would not like to see educators drop handwriting at schools completely!), but I can’t see how joined-up writing would facilitate reading any more than non-joined-up writing (i.e. standard handwriting) would, after all both forms of writing have capital letters, spaces between words, require good motor command to move the pen, etc. If we consider the huge amount of information and the number of skills that children need to learn during approximately 10 years of their schooling, the numerous hours across several academic years spent on practicing the ‘correct’ swirls of letters would (in my opinion) be better spent on learning skills that will be more useful for the children’s future, like typing (or learning a foreign language!)

      • I learned only cursive (joined-up) writing in school (East Germany), not really how to print. What happened is that with more practice and the faster I was able to write, I ended up with a weird mix of some cursive and mostly printed letters in my handwriting. I do have to say that particular styles of handwriting are sometimes harder to read than cursive or print per se. My wife prints, and I have the hardest time figuring out her letters or, for that matter, words, because she sometimes leaves more space between letters than words (for whatever reason). And I’m not used to the idiosyncrasies in individual American print hand writing. As aren’t the Americans with German writing styles: both my wife and my in-laws have so much trouble reading my handwriting, whereas Germans can totally figure it out, even if their own writing looks different. I also had to adapt my writing to the countries I’ve lived in to make sure certain letters get recognized as such.

      • It seems that the ‘preferred’ joined-up writing style is different in different countries, and thus, letter shapes can be quite confusing to non-natives of that country. I for instance thing that Italian hand writing is really difficult to read.

        Also, it seems to be that the joined- up writing style that they teach at schools in Finland changes every 10 or so years. Given that (a) my parents, (b) my older sister, (c) me and my twin sister and (d) my nieces and nephews in Finland have all been taught different styles. So, it doesn’t seem to be that joined-up writing is taught so that everyone would know one standard, mutually intelligible, way of writing.

  4. Do people get on the job training when they leave school/uni, or is nobody using computers at work? That seems counter-intuitive and inefficient! Do your students hand-draw graphs?

    • In Japan, most people leaving uni enter companies’ graduate schemes, i.e. they will be taught the job on the job.

      Computer skills is not a necessity for the Japanese job market, after all they still use faxes, tape recorders and other pre-historic electrical equipment in Japan 😀 😀

      My students are English-language majors so they don’t really need to draw that many graphs. But during the 1st semester of their 1st year we now teach them now to use e.g. PowerPoint and Excel (in addition to basic things like how to send an email and how to use Word)!

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