Children, Media and Education INTERVIEW


Innovation Training Becomes Important

Kawamura: Professor Ishii, you have been Honorary Director and advisor at CRN since it was founded ten years ago. First, what is your vision of the media ten years from now, and what kind of education should we provide to prepare children for this future?

Ishii: It is quite difficult to foresee the future. I can't tell you exactly what will happen in the next ten years. However, looking at the current global economy, I can say that the value of education in the next ten years is going to be very high.

A report called "Innovate America" was issued in 2004 by the Council of Competitiveness' National Innovation Initiative in the U.S., co-chaired by Samuel Palmisano, CEO of IBM, which says that human resources, or innovation training, are the most important in a global society. Mr. Palmisano emphasizes that one reason that emerging economies in Asia are catching up is not their low wages but their national strategy and strong initiative to strengthen science and technology education, in particular, information-oriented innovation.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 led to a restriction on the influx of knowledge workers, mainly from Asia, which has made it difficult to keep U.S. industries going. The report was published amid this sense of crisis. It concludes that, in order to avoid becoming too dependent on knowledge workers from Asia, the U.S. must enhance innovation training and attain an optimum balance of human resources.

Now that Japan has a world-class broadband infrastructure, in order to make use of it, we will need to give top priority to human resources development. In this respect, there has been an increasing awareness of "Innovate Japan" as a response to "Innovate America."

Taking Advantage of Lagging Behind

Kawamura: So, the business world has started to emphasize innovation training, but I am afraid that is hardly recognized in school education. I've been studying children and media for the past ten years at CRN. Up until about five years ago, children had their first experience with network communications on a mobile phone after entering junior or senior high school. Now, even elementary school children have broadband internet access on their computers and send e-mail. It's clear that these children don't expect anything from computer classes at school. They have given up on the idea. The gap between school and children is too wide to bridge.

Ishii: If this is really the case, we should acknowledge the current situation: we are definitely lagging behind and we need to start from scratch. Actually, I am not that pessimistic about public education because up until now we had teachers with almost no computer experience and superficial knowledge, but from now on, we will have teachers who have been using computers since childhood. This means they will have a higher level of experience and knowledge. This is one way that public education adjusts itself to the times without any intervention.

Learning Backwards is Better

Kawamura: I think that there are more ways to make media a part of general education. The other day I read a comic book called "History of the Three Kingdoms." I suddenly started to love Chinese history, a subject that I had hated before. Then I started looking for something on ancient to modern history, and I ended up reading a school textbook. This made me think that order of learning in school education is backwards. First, we have to let children have interesting experiences, encourage them to explore, and then last, go to a textbook for a summary of knowledge. This makes the learning experience very exciting. In the classroom today, children have to study very hard without any background knowledge; they simply have to remember everything. They don't attain a deep understanding because they lack background knowledge. As a result, they forget almost everything by the time they are supposed to use what they've learned. I find that really useless.

Ishii: Before broadband became available, we only had access to information edited by others. But this organized information wasn't very helpful without a good understanding of the background. Learning is all about giving children unorganized information, stimulating their curiosity and then letting them organize the information. But that is not the way it is done and rote learning is forced upon them.

While my secretary was on a business trip in Thailand, a military coup took place, and she sent me images from her mobile personal computer. A real-time image sent by someone you know is a powerful and unforgettable personal experience. This is not like reading a newspaper or watching TV, or reading books or textbooks. It is new type of experience generated by networks. Children in the future will take such a real-time experience for granted and they will self-edit their own experiences or their friends' experiences and use media as if they were driving a car.

Not being organized, such day-to-day experiences may not become knowledge right away, but they will certainly be stored as memory. With resources like this as a basis, history and geography will become more meaningful subjects.

Kawamura: According to Henri Rousseau in "Emile," adults always try to teach from the end result and that is why children don't understand. If we want our children to make good judgments, we have to feel and experience many things that will become the basis for knowledge. Knowledge should come at the very end.

Ishii: In that respect we may have to get back to the starting point of education.

Drawing out the Potential of Children

Kawamura: What is surprising for me when I associate with children is the speed with which they master the use of media equipment. In no time, they learn the features of the equipment and how to operate it while playing and without even reading a manual.

Ishii: Children have that natural ability, but adults misunderstand it. Grown-ups start with a manual of organized knowledge. They try to understand the whole thing as knowledge before having the experience. That is why they find media equipment cumbersome or very hard to handle.
What is really important in media education is to have the feeling that you want to pick it up and play around with it. Studying a manual is not the same as feeling. Furthermore, it is strange to be so obsessed with a tool. The desire comes first, not the tool. Focusing too much on the tool turns computer education into a matter of learning how to operate the equipment so the method becomes the objective.

Kawamura: It is said that getting too absorbed in media leads to being controlled by the endless flow of information, but it makes me appreciate the value of studying the conventional way at school.

Ishii: Adults may think that media is always something new, but human beings don't necessarily want to do or know something new. Something may have been infeasible because of technological constraints and maybe what people are doing now is what they have wanted to do for a long time. In this respect, the media age enables us to rediscover what it means to be human.

The German word for "education" is erziehen, which comes from the word "to draw out." Education will benefit if media can draw out children's potential and their latent thoughts. People change when they become curious. When you are shown something interesting, you want to try it and learn how to do it. That's why we need to make sure that children have a lot of memorable experiences.

Kawamura: Children will make use of media to find out what they want to know regardless of the curriculum or the tool. Children will need to approach things with this kind of open attitude in the world of the future. Thank you very much for today.

(November 15, 2006; edited by Makoto Kinoshita)




Takemochi Ishii
Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo. Currently, Visiting Professor, Keio University. Chairman/CEO, Tokio Marine Research Institute, and Managing Director, Mobile Society Research Institute of NTT DoCoMo, Inc. Specializes in system engineering, multimedia, and related fields. Born in 1930. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Engineering, The University of Tokyo. Served in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry before entering academia.

Tomohiro Kawamura
CRN researcher in charge of CRN Research on Children and the Media. Researcher, Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance. Born in 1971. M.A., Media and Governance, Keio University.
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