Telematics for Education and Training in Japan

by Dr. R. Grant Tate
Bridgewater Research Group, NL

Ten things that you should know about
Telematics for Education and Training in Japan

  • Japan will have the capability to wire every home to an optical fibre network by 2010.
  • Japan now ranks second among countries in the use of Internet.
  • All government agencies are determined to make Japan a multimedia society and aim to double research on telecommunications technologies by 2000.
  • Mobile communication subscriptions are growing exponentially.
  • There will be over a million PCs in Japanese schools by the year 2000; but that is only one computer for every 14 students.
  • Schools follow a standard "course of study" published by the national government, thus limiting teachers’ freedom to try new content or methods.
  • Kyoto University is installing a 254-switch ATM system to make it one of the most advanced campuses in the world.
  • Chiba Institute of Technology has a large (152 workstations), teacher controlled, multimedia classroom designed by NEC. (Notable because of its large class size and integrated environment).
  • The 100-school networking project demonstrated how schools can use Internet for teaching and collaboration.
  • You can learn more from our "Telematics for Education and Training in Japan" report.

What you must know about Telematics for Education and Training in Japan

The Telematics for Education and Training in Japan (TETJapan) project is now complete and Bridgewater Research is disseminating the results. The project examined the primary factors that determine the application of telematics to education and training in Japan. This included: the role of government, the development of the information technology infrastructure, the availability of supporting technology and software, the status and organisation of the education system, and identification of initiatives that integrate technology into education and training.

This project was sponsored by the European Commission to give European executives and professionals an overview of Japan’s major applications of telematics for education and training, help them to identify opportunities and possible contacts, and stimulate them to investigate new paths of co-operation and development.

TETJapan builds upon previous projects managed by Bridgewater Research Group, NL, BV (for the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities and the European Commission) that surveyed telematics in the United States, Canada and Australia.


Bridgewater developed a framework to study a country’s progress in telematics application. Building upon concepts developed by Prof. Michael Porter of Harvard University, Bridgewater defined the factors that interact to form the overall environment for change and grouped them into major categories of government, the demand generated by the education system, infrastructure, supply of technologies and other support activities, and integration of telematics into the educational system. The following provides more details on the categories:

The role of government

This factor considers the role of government by considering how it develops and influences the environment in which the other factors interact. This includes:

Demand conditions: cultural, pedagogical factors

These factors generate the demand for telematics. They include the propensity and preparation of students to use telematics, the degree to which teachers are trained to use new methods, and the degree to which new pedagogical approaches are being applied. Elements considered under this category include:

Infrastructure and factor conditions

This includes the nation’s position in the important infrastructures,networks, and skills that support educational telematics applications.

Some of the items in this category are:

Supply conditions: Technology, software and supporting factors

These factors include the nation’s position in the primary technologies, software and services required to support telematics in education and training. Here we consider the availability in the home market for leading technologies and services that are necessary to employ telematics in education and training successfully. This section considers the following technology supply conditions:

Integration: Key initiatives

These factors consider how telematics is being integrated into educational systems, how well institutions are prepared to apply telematics, the number and kind of institutions leading the change and the kinds of initiatives that are the leading applications. This includes:

All of the foregoing factors and categories interact to form the overall environment for telematics in education and training. The factors and interactions are shown in the adjacent figure.

Bridgewater used this model for analysis of the situation in Japan and the final project report is organised according to the model. The final report and executive summary include summaries of the major findings in each of the categories. However, some of the major observations are contained in the answers to a number of focus questions.

Focus Questions

At the beginning of this project, we defined several questions to guide our investigation. Our summary, therefore, directly answers those questions:

We explored the following issues:

What is the role of the Japanese government in telematics applications?

The government has defined multimedia and advanced telecommunication infrastructures as top priorities for the future. They back these objectives with budget and R&D initiatives, and policy statements. Every major ministry of the government’s executive branch has issued a white paper on the information initiative. Prefectural governments have also started initiatives to wire schools, and to increase telematics use among the public.

Does the culture and education of Japanese people lead to a different approach to the use of technology in education and training?

Japan is a visual society and, as one would expect, television, video games, and fax machines are extremely popular there. On the other hand, the text-based early PCs were relatively useless. The new, more powerful multimedia computers handle and display the language with ease and are therefore becoming much more popular. This among other factors, including government incentives, is boosting computer use in education.

Japanese education is teacher controlled and group-oriented. New telematic systems facilitate and maintain this orientation. Thus, we see many applications of satellite-based interactive television to transfer higher education "lectures" to remote locations. Also, schools and universities are using networked multimedia systems to support teacher controlled group learning.

The geographical and demographic characteristics of the country also lead to telematic solutions. Cities, in particular Tokyo, are crowded and expensive. Consequently, many students and adult learners commute for an hour or more to school or workplace. These learners readily adapt to distance learning methods, such as interactive television, that reduce their commute time.

On the other hand, many schools are in remote places. Japan is using telematics to connect these to other schools that have more resources.

Are there new applications that we have not observed on other continents?

The NEC teacher-mediated computer assisted instruction system applied to classes as large as 150 students is a good example of a system seldom found in western countries. The system is interesting because of its pedagogical as well as its technical characteristics. In addition, its ability to handle large class sizes makes the system more economical.

Japanese universities are experimenting with campus-based ATM systems on a large scale. Also, the On-line University Consortium is connecting several prestigious universities together over an ATM system.

The Japanese seem to install the technology then let teachers and researchers experiment with it. Teachers, not instructional designers, control the learning process. The word "pedagogy" is seldom found in translations of Japanese literature.

What education and training applications are attracting the Japanese multimedia and educational technology providers?

Although it is growing rapidly, the education market is less than 10 percent of total computer sales. Market researchers estimate that the Japanese company, NEC has 80 percent of the educational hardware and software market. NEC designs software that supports the Japanese standard curriculum and systems that support the normal teacher-controlled, large class environment. NEC aims its products and solutions to a local market that it understands.

As in other countries, the education market is fragmented. Although Monbusho, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, provides curriculum guidelines, the Prefectures and municipalities control school purchasing processes.

What is the direction of Japanese telecommunications infrastructure development?

The government’s Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) project aims to give every home in Japan the ability to connect to a broadband multimedia network by the year 2010. This project is setting the direction for the infrastructure as well as the supporting technology developments.

Are there Japanese applications and technologies that we should be exploring for use in Europe?

European companies are probably well aware of Japan’s efforts in telecommunications and opto-electronics, yet these areas warrant particular surveillance.

The university broadband networks will probably open up new avenues of innovation that may have applicability in Europe.

Although important to Japanese schools, the school Internet projects seem quite similar to European experiments.

The large class teacher-mediated computer aided instruction systems warrant more detailed investigation and even perhaps a pilot in Europe.

Japanese universities are quite practised in interactive television. However, such applications in Europe have been met with only moderate success.

What models are Japanese education and training applications using? Are they based on Japanese, European, or American developments?

The University of the Air and its associated National Institute for Multimedia Education (NIME) has close ties with the UK Open University and with other open universities in Europe. As such, many of their methods (except their extensive use of television) are based on the European model. Other initiatives, such as the ones at Tokyo Institute of Technology, seem to be patterned on the US National Technological University model.

The CAI systems described in the foregoing sections seems to be aimed at specific and particular Japanese needs and sets a pattern that is different from European or American models.

What are the primary forces for change in Japanese education and training applications?

After lagging behind most other industrialised countries in the application of information technology and networked computer systems, Japan is now moving rapidly in all sectors. The end of Japan’s "bubble economy" provided a great incentive for change. The Japanese grew concerned that their traditional industrial strengths were insufficient in the new world markets and they see multimedia as one of the means to regain their competitive edge in the global economy. They hope that telecommunications, hand in hand with deregulation, will free companies and people to compete using the latest information tools and technologies.

The Japanese also see educational reform as an essential component of their recovery. They are adding programs to support their ageing society, providing more flexibility in the system, investing in new facilities, training teachers, and of course, experimenting with new technologies. Consequently, educational experiments are proliferating across the system. One Japanese professor said, "People are so anxious to install technology that some experiments are stopped midway when another supposedly promising technology appears".

There is also a frenzy of activity revolving around the Internet. Companies are putting web sites on line at a furious pace and Intranets are starting to show up in large companies. Japanese people are using the Internet for interactive games, for Karaoke singing, and for personal ads. Amusement parks have booths to help people design their personal web sites.

Japanese companies are researching multimedia technology components and systems. Most major electronic, computer, media and telecommunications companies have a department devoted to multimedia development. Educational applications often accompany these developments. With their success in consumer electronics and components as a base, Japan will be a formidable competitor in the multimedia race. One could conclude that Japanese multimedia components will be found in schools, universities and businesses all over the world.

The government, supported by NTT and other businesses, is moving to wire the entire country with optic fibre networks by the year 2010. Other companies are introducing wireless computing and new information-based cable television systems. The current Japanese cable TV system is not at present an alternative to the NTT system because so few homes are connected.

Japan is moving towards networked solutions for education and training. Monbusho cited satellite communications and the Internet as the two leading directions for education and backed it up with funding for experiments. Thus, we can expect to see more multimedia software aimed at network applications rather than at stand-alone computer-assisted instruction. The findings from the 100-school project are an important start in this direction.

The 100-school project featured content designed by the secretariat as well as by student groups from the schools. We can view this approach as an extension of existing Japanese school pedagogy rather than as a new direction. In this case, the technology supports the teacher-directed, group-oriented style of learning.

Japanese children are quite prone to using technology. The game industry is now the biggest single "multimedia" component in terms of revenues. Presently, there are few educational applications for game machines, but the industry has built an impressive array of hardware, software, graphics and virtual reality. An American observer from the National Science Foundation said that Japan was 10 years ahead of the US in game technology. Strangely however, there seems to be little crossover between the computer industry and the game industry.

By western standards, Japan is a relatively closed society. Open communications via Internet or any other means seem to be anathema to the hierarchical businesses, universities, and institutions. Japanese leaders see networks as a means to compete, but do not want to lose their traditional control systems. Nor do teachers want to lose control of their class groups. Networks are a threat to tradition in any society, but the challenge to Japan’s institutions is particularly significant.

Overall assessment

Considering now the preceding analysis, how must we judge Japan’s current position in the application of telematics to education and training? To answer this question, we again employ the National Telematics Framework (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 National Telematics Framework

The Japanese government is taking a strong role in pointing the way toward a multimedia society and convincing industries and educational institutions to support that vision. They are also supporting their vision with increased budget allocations toward multimedia experiments and initiatives.

We have seen that Japan is particularly strong in technology and supporting factors for education and training. It’s multimedia hardware industry is thriving and is designing and manufacturing essential components and systems necessary to good educational multimedia systems.

Japan, through its fibre-to-the-home goal, is laying the groundwork for a country-wide broadband multimedia network. The government, industry, and education are co-operating to develop the technologies and components to support the system.

On the demand side, the picture is less optimistic. While teachers are being trained in telematics use, there are still insufficient numbers of well-trained teachers to have a major impact. Teachers also have limited time to spend on computer usage.

In addition, the Course of Study does not include the study of computers, nor does it allow sufficient flexibility for teachers to experiment with new methods. Many Japanese are calling for educational reform, but tradition and bureaucracy retard the change. Although the government and localities are pumping new hardware into schools, it is not clear how it will be used.

On the other hand, there are many initiatives in telecommunications and telematics taking place all over Japan. These are notable because of the sophisticated hardware systems that experimenters are employing. However, experiments with new software and pedagogical approaches are difficult to find. The approach seems to be: Let’s install the system and see how people use it.

Table 1 summarises these observations:

Table 1 Summary of National Telematic Framework
Government influence

Strong central government guidance and oversight of telematics industry.

Government is influential in determining direction for industry and education.

All agencies working toward goals of a multimedia society.

Demand conditions: Education systems & pedagogy

Relatively low teacher training level in telematics. Government controlled Course of Study (standard curriculum) limits innovation.

Unclear how telematics will be integrated into education.

Fragmented market and decision points.

Infrastructure & factor conditions

Strong national effort to achieve fibre-to-the-home by 2010.

Many broadband experiments under way.

Technology & supporting factors

Strong growth in computers, Internet, and cellular phones.

Strong R&D effort to develop new telecommunications and multimedia components.

Strong multimedia hardware industrial base.

Software design and distribution capability lags North America.

Integration, players, initiatives

Many experiments occurring at all levels of education.

Leading universities are installing broadband ATM systems.

Significant efforts at integrating components into a working multimedia system.

The results of the project are available in the following ways:

Printed reports:



For further information contact:

Dr. R. Grant Tate,
Bridgewater Research Group, NL, bv, Wehryweg 31, 6301 GA Valkenburg a/d Geul, The Netherlands.

Tel: +31 43 609 0106
Fax: +31 43 609 0107
Email or
or look at the website:

Issue 16&17 "Learning in a Global Information Society" 25 March 1998