In Japan, a guidebook for The Economy

Japan visitors
By Tim Phillips
Fri 27th April 2018 | Blog

“In Japan, translations of famous economists’ books are common,” says Naoyuki Kuida, an assistant professor at the College of Economics, Nihon University. “Our guidebook will be totally different.”

At CORE, we have given a lot of thought to how to translate and localize our ebooks. The problems of maintaining accuracy, making sure corrections and revisions are incorporated, and translating supporting materials are large enough for well-funded commercial publishers. Because our ebooks are being translated almost entirely by volunteers, the management challenges are even bigger.

We have gone some way to meeting the challenges by using the management and workflow tools built into our innovative publishing platform by Fire and Lion, our publishing partners. These are already being used successfully for our French and Farsi translations.

But we are always excited when we find new and innovative ways to help the widest possible audience use our text to learn economics. When we hosted guests from Japan in March 2018 (above), we discovered an idea that was completely new to us, but will be provided for the CORE adopters at the University of Toyama, Meiji University, Nihon University and Matsuyama University: a guidebook to help Japanese students study CORE, in English.

Japanese universities and globalized education

“The Japanese government and companies have been asking for students to graduate who can work around the world with proficiency in English, and they have asked universities to develop students’ skills for the challenges of globalization,” Professor Kuida explains.

It is not rare for universities around the world to create english-language economics courses. The globalization of scientific research has gone hand-in-hand with a spread of English as the default language when most of that research is published. This can have both good and bad outcomes for students. Many want to engage with the full range of research and knowledge in a subject, butare frustrated because of their lack of English.

In Japan, The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is promoting two educational reforms which it hopes will help graduates take advantage of the opportunities that globalization presents, either in their study of the careers that may follow it. First, Universities are being encouraged to teach more classes in English. Second, the teachers have been encouraged to change their teaching methods to focus on “self-directed, interactive, and deep learning”.

It’s hard to overstate how radical a departure this is for Japanese higher education. Some universities have already tried teaching economics in English. They generally use traditional lectures and textbooks, but “there are some problems,” Professor Kuida admits. “One of them is that students can’t understand the content sufficiently, due to their lack of vocabulary. As instructors are expert in economics, not English, they don’t understand what kind of vocabulary students learned at high school. Lack of vocabulary leads to lack of sufficient understanding.”

Learning economics to learn English

The Japan Society for Economic Education (JSEE), whose members range from instructors at junior and senior high schools and universities, to people engaged in education, has turned to CORE’s The Economy as a potential textbook for students learning economics in English. Professor Kuida anlayzed 20 units of the text, and compared it with the vocabulary that a Japanese high school student is expected to know by the time he or she enters university. You can see the results in the table (right).

The JSEE believes that CORE’s The Economy can fulfil four educational purposes in Japanese universities that choose to adopt it. First, to teach economic theory to students majoring in the subject. Second, as an introduction to the topic that will engage liberal arts students. Third, as a way to motivate students to learn English, because students prefer texts that are directly relevant to their education. And finally, as an accessible book that students can study in dedicated foreign-language classes.

If high school students in Japan would be expected to understand about half of our ebook at the time they enter university, this creates two challenges for university teachers. First, the correct stage of their education to introduce the material so that the students are not held back by their knowledge of the language. Second, how to introduce new learning methods at the same time.

On the first point, Professor Kuida explains that the content of the textbook will be especially suitable for first-year students (“Compared to famous economics textbooks, [it] includes catchy topics around students and tries to encourage them to develop their interest in Economics”), who will be motivated to improve their English as a result. But introducing new learning methods may be difficult in a culture in which expressing strong opinions for example, may be considered impolite.

Even if debate and interaction in the university classroom seem odd at first to these students, the skills will be vital for future graduates, Professor Kuida argues. “Listening to others carefully, exchanging ideas with each other smoothly, and deepening understanding are very important social skills for bettering their lives,” he says, adding that CORE’s interactive approach means it is suitable to help develop these skills, whether a course is primarily in Japanese or English.

A new type of economics book

To help both teachers and students, the JSEE is creating a guidebook to The Economy rather than a translation. It will be made available to students on the internet, and will focus on the words and phrases that students are not familiar with, to help them to get the best from the content and novel learning methods in our text. The guidebook will contain lists of the vocabulary that students will need to master to understand the text in each unit, highlighting terms and words that are unfamiliar. It will also explain the topic and the intention of each unit, with advice on ways of teaching it.

“Instructors from ten universities are writing the guidebook now. We plan to finish it by the end of September or October. This is the first time we have made a guidebook for students who are interested in economics, and studying English,” Professor Kuida says, “We believe it is a new type of economics book.”