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What I Learned About Education From The Japanese In 28 Days

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in the perspective of the First World War, “the war to end all wars”. The Sun also rises in Japan but it rises early and goes down earlier. To watch the rise and fall of the sun and how time has affected non-formal education in Japan, eleven participants from eight countries; Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Fiji, Lesotho and Samoa attended a four-week training in Japan. The sun and participants kept their momentums, visibly and invisibly but mostly under an order. Orderless life is hardly seen in Japan.

Japan is a country that legally distinguishes education into its broad themes – formal, non-formal and informal. The four-week training exposed us to Japanese society with first hand knowledge through class room lectures, field visits of the free schools, evening voluntary schools, students’ cafeterias, child delinquency center, NPO networks and the social contribution of the Kominkan (community learning centers).The programme was sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Some of the takeaways are: elementary education is free up to grade nine, schools follow only a national government approved curriculum, private schooling on commercial lines is hardly in practice, students and teachers clean schools and classrooms, lunch meals are served at schools on subsidized rates, prevalence of social volunteerism to save children from abuse, the practice of same-age same-class, studies are highly interactive and practical.

Pakistan under the current government is leaping towards the same national curriculum for all but with our usual flexible deadlines.

UNESCO defines and distinguishes formal education from non-formal education and states that formal education is institutionalized, intentional and planned by an education provider. The defining characteristic of non-formal education is that it is an addition, alternative and/or a complement to formal education within the process of the lifelong learning of individuals. It is often provided to guarantee the right of access to education for all. It caters for people of all ages, but does not necessarily apply to continuous pathway-structure; it may be short in duration and/or low-intensity, it is typically provided in the form of short courses, workshops or seminars. Non-formal education mostly leads to qualifications by the relevant national educational authorities or to no qualifications at all. Non-formal education can cover programmes contributing to adult and youth literacy and education for out-of-school children, as well as programmes on life skills, work skills and social or cultural development.

The Constitutions of both Pakistan and Japan lay emphasis on education on equal terms. Japan’s former constitution of 1888 had no provision on the right to education.

The current constitution of Japan of 1946 contains Article 26 on the right to education: “All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law. All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law”.  Such compulsory education shall be free. In accordance with the spirit of the constitution, the Basic Act on Education sets forth in more detail the aims and principles of education. Based on the constitution and the Basic Act on Education, the School Education Act provides that compulsory education is for nine years. Under the 18th Amendment to the constitution of Pakistan, Article 25-A states “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”. Article 37(b) states “The state shall remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period” and Article 38(d) states “The state shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and  medical relief,  for all  such citizens,  irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as  are permanently  or temporarily  unable  to earn their  livelihood   on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment.”

Performance of the various governments on universal primary education has been abysmal and we have no hesitation to prove Samuel Butler right when he says: “Oaths are but words, and words are but wind”.

In Japan elementary school enrollments climbed from about 30% of the school-age population in the 1870s to more than 90% by 1900 and that was one of the contributions of the Meiji Restoration. The revolution unleashed by the Meiji Restoration is adored even today among Japanese, it set the pace for rapid economic progress on the western models.

Respective liabilities in the form of out-of-school children are 1.4 million in Japan and 67 million in Pakistan.

Non-formal education in Pakistan has yet to assume systematic significance. Since inception Pakistan has more stress higher education through formal education. The number of universities has jumped from 79 in 2000 to 205 in 2020.

World-renowned philanthropist and country head of Alight Pakistan, Tariq Cheema, opines “in a country where almost 10% of the whole population is deprived of basic education, new methods and innovative approaches to learning are a must. A non-formal education pathway is one such solution that does not just address the access issue but has proven to enhance the quality of learning.”

The Pakistan Human Development Fund along with its executing agency NCHD has done a remarkable job since 2002. Currently they are spreading education to 315,000 enrolled students across the country through non-formal education arrangements. In the past it won many international accolades and a world literacy award in 2006 from UNESCO was one of them. The PHDF-NCHD duo is one of the best examples of the public-private partnership mainly in the realm of non-formal education with a country-level outreach. In the endowment fund established by the federal government, twenty-five leading philanthropists and educationists have each donated a minimum of $100,000. Mr Farrokh K Captain, Ms Nadira Panjwani and Dr Nasim Ashraf have even donated and raised much more. Mr. Captain, who died on November 16, 2019, will be remembered as a great promotor of non-formal education in Pakistan. he has left a lasting legacy for the other philanthropists to emulate. An African proverb goes “when a leader dies a library burns to the ground” but CEO i-Care Mr Wasiq Ismael is upeat and motivated. He affirms “Mr Captain’s unwavering determination to improve the lives of millions through philanthropy despite battling with his own physical challenges is truly inspirational. His legacy will continue to live through the generosity he has shown to countless communities, school hospitals and individuals. With his passing we are left with the vacuum that is impossible to fill.”

Oscar Wilde said that “it takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it”. It was truly meant for the people like Farrokh K Captain and his durable love for the deserving masses. In a similar vein, 17th-century Japanese emperor Basho wrote. “My house burnt down. Now I can better see the rising moon”. One can safely say Mr Captain was the George Soros of Pakistan in the philanthropic endeavours undertaken in education and health. Soros always admired his mentor Karl Popper. Prof Karl Popper preached “all life is problem solving”. Mr Captain performed exactly that role in Pakistan.

Pakistan enjoys a highly cordial relationship with Japan. In the last couple of months the president of Pakistan, foreign minister and minister for economic affairs have visited Japan to seek further avenues of cooperation. Pakistan’s currently Deputy Chief of Mission, the erudite, dynamic and celebrated diplomat Mr Ali Anser Zaidi, says that currently 15,560 Pakistani businessmen (excluding those who are now Japanese nationals) are settled in Japan aside from the 200 students pursuing masters and PhDs in Japanese universities under scholarships. Bilal Bhinder and his Japanese partner Mr. Tomomi Katsumata are satisfied with their immensely thriving tea business. He says: “The beauty of the system lies in its fair play and equality for everybody-local or foreigner”.

Currently the balance of trade largely favours Japan. But newly appointed Trade and Investment Counselor of Pakistan Mr Tahir Habib Cheema is actively engaged to reverse this trend. Hopefully he will. “Japan is finally opening up again for Pakistan and if we do not grab this opportunity, we will again have to wait for years to convince them of our seriousness”.

As a Japanese proverb goes “one kind word can warm three winter months”. Generally Japanese were obsessively caring, supportive and warm when we met them in lecture halls and at public places. Japan’s average life expectancy is 87.32 for women and 81.25 for men. According to the Japan Times “The number of people aged 100 or over in the country stood at only 153 in 1963, when the government began compiling the statistics. The total exceeded 1,000 in 1981, 10,000 in 1998 and 50,000 in 2012. Now the number of people aged 100 or older in Japan has exceeded 70,000. Ageing has its implications on pensions and healthcare.”

Apart from our strategies on formal and non-formal education under the traditional definition of literacy, we are required to learn from Alvin Toffler “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. In 2002, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Malik Miraj Khalid autographed on my book “I wish we could have learnt lessons from history”.

The Japanese experience can help Pakistan with all of that.



Zafar Haider Jappa is an alumnus of Potsdam Centre for Public Management Germany and of Geneva Centre for Security Policy Switzerland.

(He can be reached by [email protected])

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