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Society 5.0: Building smarter, living better

Sep 01, 2021

Consistently a trailblazer, Japan has led the world in imagining the future, starting with the high-speed bullet train, pocket calculators, the Sony Walkman and android robots. The country has always found solutions to do things faster with less cumbersome equipment and ideally, with fewer people involved.

Dubbed Society 5.0, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first mentioned this ambitious initiative in 2017. This vision for a “super smart” society aims to bring together technologies, like big data, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and robots, and incorporate them into every industry and across all social segments, resulting in solutions to difficult problems and in more comfortable lives.

While this vision for the future directly involves infrastructure, finance technology, healthcare, logistics and AI, it will have significant implications on the education sector, as well. After all, Japan’s schools and universities are the training grounds of the country’s future workforce, business leaders, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Already, several universities have expressed their full support for Society 5.0 and have begun to institute changes to support the initiative.

“Our goal is to equip our students with new ideas and resources that will benefit society in the long-term future. We hope they convey this message to the wider world and demonstrate, in their future endeavors, how the things they learned here, along with the techniques and technologies they mastered, can support all people and their communities,” said Tohoku Institute of Technology President Hironori Watanabe.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology continues to step up efforts to advance Society 5.0 and revise the country’s education model to adopt technological innovation and utilize them to build a more intelligent environment. Should they succeed, the government hopes it will provide the world with a model on how to teach and fully capitalize on advanced technology.

“We want to collaborate more with world-leading industries and organizations, in addition to acquiring national grants, creating new businesses and improving our education system. As diversity and inclusion are very important for our university, we will accept more international professors and students. It should be important as a university to stimulate our Japanese and international students to become more active and globalized,” said Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (Tokyo NoKo University) President Kazuhiro Chiba.

As digital technology and artificial intelligence become more developed and more present in our daily lives, the Japanese government believes Society 5.0 allows the country’s schools and universities to adopt a flexible approach in their task to strengthen communication, leadership, as well as reading and comprehension skills.

Many universities strongly agree and strive to comply with the vision the government has presented for the country’s education system. Meanwhile, Kyoto University of Advanced Science has worked actively to establish its own vision for the future and nurture the kind of graduates that society needs today and will need in the centuries to come.

“KUAS is a new university. We’ve been around for only three years. However, we built a university from the ground up, producing the kind of top tier talent and professionals that business leaders and business owners want for their companies and organizations,” said Kyoto University of Advanced Science President Masafumi Maeda.

Other universities have focused on practical training for their students ahead of their entry into the workplace.

“In Hakodate, we talk directly to local people to find out the challenges they face. That gives us an idea of where technology should be heading. That’s how we can contribute to Society 5.0. We have a lot of technology-minded faculty members and many excellent students who can use their skills and know-how into designing this new model,” said Future University Hakodate President Yasuhiro Katagiri.

Under this new education regime, schools will require a mastery of basic skills from students starting from the 5th year until the 7th year at the elementary level. Underperforming students will not be promoted to the next year until they gain a satisfactory mastery of those basic skills. Also, to prepare students for a “super smart” society, schools will focus less on subjects and more on skills proficiency.

Because of the ever-changing needs of society, there has been a significant increase in the number of smaller, more specialized schools in Japan over recent years. In line with government guidelines and societal trends, Kobe Institute of Computing Graduate School of Information Technology (KIC) has focused on developing and preparing individuals for roles in the IT industry regardless of their previous background.

“Our main mission is to improve society through the application of technology. As a professional graduate school, our purpose is to not only give lectures but to also monitor and encourage our graduates to make an impact, said KIC President Toshiki Sumitani.

As Japan leads Society 5.0, there is an opportunity for schools not only to make a local impact but also to serve as an example globally, specifically to developing countries.

“Our distinct feature is that we have more international students than Japanese students. That said, we highly encourage and invite individuals from all over the world, including those in the smaller regions of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East,” Sumitani added.

Education in Japan 2021 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

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