Let’s digitalize schools

  In 2009, OECD “Learning speed research” PISA was conducted.  In mathematical literacy, Japan came in 9th and 5th in scientific literacy.  In 2000, Japan ranked 1st and 2nd respectively.  Needless to say, it’s a major drop in learning speed.  Although these figures are increasing now, education in Japan hasn’t got the spark it had in the past.
 The ratio of public education funds to GDP in Japan is the lowest in OECD nations.  We are not blessed in terms of available computers and other digital equipment for education.  Number of students who refuse to go to school are increasing and from an international perspective, motivation towards education is relatively low.
 This is where computerization comes in play.  Today, it’s becoming common knowledge that computerization effectively contributes to the increase of learning power and motivation.  But Japan was too slow.  “A PC for every student” has become a standard in Europe and America.  Today, countries like Korea and Singapore are following this trend.  The Japanese government plans to reach this goal by 2020, a pretty late start.
 “$100 laptop”.  MIT MediaLab started a project that aims to provide one laptop per child and connect them to the Internet all across the world.  They have reached 1,300,000 children in 35 countries.  In Uruguay, they have already accomplished their goal in 2009, providing one laptop per child.  This idea originally came from a team formed by Dr. Kazuhiko Nishi and I in 2001 when we presented it to MIT.  Japan, who came up with the idea itself, is falling far behind.

 But we can’t expect much from the government.  So in 2010, my group established a private association, “Digital Textbook and Teaching” (DiTT).  By 2015, 5 years before the government’s goal, we want to make it so that “Every child has a digital device and is able to use a digital textbook”.  Over 100 firms are involved, and I am head of management.
 DiTT promotes development and diffusion of digital devices, establishing broadband and cloud environment in schools, and development of digital teaching materials.  We are doing case studies in many schools already and in some places we work together with local governments.  To the National Diet and the government, we are demanding funds and legislations.
 There are tons of obstacles.  Who will pay for it?  Is there enough support at the schools?  How would parents react to this change of teaching environment?  We will tackle all of these problems.
 We want to digitalize school environments and make it an exciting place.  I want to make Japan the home of the best digital environment for education in the world.


Let’s change the self-restraint trend

 An elementary school banned SNS among mothers of the students.  They said it was because it could lead to complaints toward the school.  Today, Japan is filled with this kind of “self-restraint” trend.
 After the earthquake in 2011, many places outside of the damaged areas restrained from hosting festivals and other recreational activities.  TV ads disappeared for a while.  Personally, I believe this kind of trend is our worst enemy when it comes to recovery.  When participating in government committees, I always say, “Let’s put a restraint on self-restraint”.
 This trend didn’t start because of the earthquake.  For more than 10 years, Japan has been filled with such restraint-like mood, excessively seeking stability.
 In 2009, there was an influenza spreading all around the world.  Japan was the only country where everyone, and I mean everyone, wore masks.  Other countries saw this and wondered if the condition in Japan was that critical.  
 This can be seen in foods as well.  When there was an issue with the expiration dates of some snacks, the media and consumers reacted hysterically, demanding safety.  Raw liver has also been banned.  Will sushi and raw vegetables become outlawed too in the near future?
 When a problem occurred in the construction or financial industry, safety policies became stricter, which lead to a less active construction industry and a slower movement of money.  Legal reform to ban sales of medicine over the Internet is another good example of excessive safety measure.
 In 2008, I was a part of such safety measure.  They set a restraint on use of cellphones by youths because there were harmful websites on the Internet.  Related industries paid for the damage.
 After the earthquake, many industries refrained from lighting up digital signage.  Digitalization of education environments is also under criticism.  There are no clear reasons for such trends.  I feel it’s the “social trend” to avoid any form of risk.
 Japan in the 90s, we saw many deregulations in various industries to revitalize businesses.  However, in the last 10 years, as demand for stability and safety increased, excessive rules and regulations were put in place, which ultimately slowed the economy down and lead to a more unstable society. Maybe wearing a mask is a way to feel comfortable outside.  But if the air was really that polluted, so much that people couldn’t walk around safely without a mask, that is abnormal.  Falling economy, dropping birthrates, aging population, all of these leads to a society that shrinks inwards.  During the nation’s growth period, I felt people were more outgoing, generous, and more adaptable to risks.
 The “self-restraint” period following the earthquake should be over by now.  But the dull mood surrounding the country is still present.  Why don’t we do something to change this?


Workshop Collection, festival for creative activities

 The path that leads to Keio University, a few hundred meters in length, gets packed with parents and children.  Once a year, children gather and fill this town with joyful cheers and shouts.  It’s the opening of “Workshop Collection”, a workshop gallery for children for creating creative contents.
It’s all here, orthodox analog workshops to those using the latest digital technology.  It’s also a great opportunity for researchers, firms, scholars, artists, and parents involved in the festival to get together.
  Last year, the 9th festival, we saw over 100,000 participants!  It’s the largest creative event for children in the world.  It might surprise you, but Japan is home of such activities.  Bet you didn’t know that.  CANVAS, an NPO and the Media Design Research Group of Keio University (KMD) host the festival.
Over 100 workshop teams participated.  There are analog activities that use clay and handcrafts, but there are also a number of digital workshops where you can make an animation using a computer, create a game with your own characters, create your own digital newspaper, battle using images of robots, create your own instrument with an iPad, program and control a robot on a computer, and create a character and virtually communicate with people around the world.

Participation from firms is becoming more intense.  Benesse, Mujirushi, Asahi Newspaper, Fuji TV, TBS, Microsoft, Yahoo, Daiichi Seimei, Olympus, NHK, NTT, and more.  Also, recent trend indicates an increase in digital workshops.  Last year, we saw many workshops utilizing tablet devices and smartphones.
But there is one thing that never changes.  It’s always crowded.  We’re sorry.  Demands for such activities far exceed the supply.  Wouldn’t it be great, if instead of an annual event, there were multiple fixed workshop centers all around the country that anyone could participate at anytime?  
How do we train amazing creators or producers that is “Hollywood” material?  This is an urgent and crucial matter for higher education sectors.  This is the core concern of the contents industry today.  But at the same time, digital technology has become available for everyone.  This means that raising the standard of creativity is more important than ever.  To do this, we must reach out to elementary schools, education policies, and regional policies.
A few years back, the Japanese government set a goal.  “Increase the number of children who participates in creative workshops to 350,000 by 2020”.  Interestingly enough, this goal was set based on the number of participants at the Workshop Collection.  We’re already at 100,000.  It doesn’t seem that far.  Let’s get it done!


First Turning Point For Media In 20 Years.

  In the past 3 years, media has gone through the biggest wave of changes in 20 years. In the early 90s, there was a “multi-media” boom, which was a turning point from the analog to the digital. Transition from TV and phones to computers and cellphones. Transitions from analog broadcasting networks and telephone networks to the digital broadcasting and the Internet. Below are the transitions since these changes. There are 3 new situations.

1) Multi-Devices
 The new types of large and small digital devices have become increasingly pervasive all at once; such as smartphones, e-readers, tablets, signage, and smart TVs. Following the TVs that was widespread for 50 years and PCs and cellphones for 20 years, they are so-called “the 4th Media.” 

2) Cloud Networks
 Broadband networking has been made available nationwide in Japan. The digitization of broadcasting networks, which started argument in 1994, ended. The digital high-speed networks, that go across communication and broadcasting, have been completed. The construction of the information networks, which the government spent 100 years on, have been completed.

3) Social Services
 Since 20 years before multi-media was advocated, the importance of the “contents” have been recognized. However, the content industry seems shrinking in Japan. Instead, social media is the focus, in terms of the amount of information and revenues. The leading role has been shifted from the contents to the communication and community.

 The three elements, 1) device, 2) network, and 3) service, which make up the media are all replaced. The multi-media in the early 90s was to create all-purpose all-in-one machines.  However, today, the new media environment is completely the opposite. Multiple devices with disparate functions appeared again, and people use them simultaneously, connecting them through the networks.
 The important thing is that devices and networks are valuable for the “social media.” Until about 5 years ago, people feared that technologies behind the Internet, such as search engines, can control the society. However, as the technology improves, and digital multimedia was completed, the relationships between people became important after all.
 The “human powers,” such as friends, acquaintances, and reliant experts, have become the source of strengths. From machines and technologies to human. This is the consequence of the 20 years - a victory of the analog.
 Not bad. Digitalization has slowed down but I think now we will see the next phase finally.


What Comes After Cool Japan.

   - At the Japan Expo that is held in early summer in the suburb of Paris. Men in their 30s dance intensely to the theme songs of Japanese anime. European girls are dressed up in Japanese high school uniforms.
 This Japanese cultural event, which started with 3,000 participants 12 years ago, received 200,000 people in 4 days in 2013. Japanese manga, anime, and games are firmly established overseas. Japanese government is also keeping its hopes up about this content industry.
 However, this content industry has not been experiencing market expansion; rather, it is shrinking. Publication, music and movies are all suffering from losses. Manga, anime, and TV games are facing declines in the national market. 
 The word “Cool Japan” was coined by an American journalist 10 years ago but it has become commonly used within Japan as well. However, the international competitiveness of the whole content industry is not very high. The revenue ratio of overseas and domestic  is 4.3% in Japan which is far behind the 17 percent in the United States.

 However, the fact that the government is treating manga and games as the nation’s legacy, which used to be mere objects of enforcements, is because that gives energy to the industry. Even though the scale of the industry is small, images and the brands which derive from such contents have the effects of boosting other industries as well. 
 There comes the need for the multilateral Cool Japan measures - namely, the collaborations among the content and other industries. This entails collaborative works of making business models, by mixing and matching entertainments, consumer electronics, fashion, and food. The cultural power of the contents and technical capabilities of manufacturing are to be put together. Both of them are the strengths of Japan.
 Cooperationsfor a product or among corporations have been seen in business development, utilizing such contents in multi-faceted aspects; however, cooperations across different industries have rarely been done. 
 After the Wars, people started watching American TV dramas and Hollywood movies, drinking coke, or wear jeans in Japan but people finally started to think about trying to apply the contents of their own.

 In America, apparently, Japanese candies have been a hit among some people. People like the tastes of candies, cute package designs and characters and nowadays you do not need to go to Japanese stores and you can just buy them on the Internet. In this, you can see the potentials of the combination of manufacturing and cultural powers to open new markets through digital technologies.
 Japan needs export strategies that bring different fields together. The coordinators to unite different industries are indeed needed. However, that should not be done by the government like it used to be. I think that universities can work well.