Japan Educational Research Association conducted a webinar series on “Pandemic and Education”

Japan Educational Research Association (JERA) conducted a webinar series on “Pandemic and Education: What should be done to support learning?” in June and July 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is having an immeasurable impact on children and their education in Japan and around the world. Through a series of webinars, JERA members and invited speakers within Japan and internationally discussed what is needed to support learning under these difficult and uncertain circumstances we are facing today. After three webinars focusing on the national challenges, including assurance of learning and equality and use of distance education with ICT in schools under the emergency), on July 31, 2020 (Friday), JERA held an international webinar composed of the messages from the world’s leading education researchers.

Akiyoshi Yonezawa, Professor of Higher Education Research at Tohoku University, Japan, who planned and coordinated this webinar, posed the following three main questions to the speakers:
1. What do you think is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education system in your country, region, and the world?
2. What discussions are being carried out regarding education and education research in a time post/with COVID-19 in your country, region, and the world?
3. Could you give any message or suggestion to the education research community in Japan for envisioning education and education research?

Ingrid Gogolin, Professor of International Comparative and Intercultural Education Research at Universitat Hamburg in Germany and former president of the World Education Research Association (WERA), expressed her concern that the COVID-19 pandemic will have its greatest negative effects by increasing inequalities not only between individual students within different systems but also between education systems and education research worldwide. She pointed out the significance of international comparative and collaborative research as well as of the creation of shared knowledge and the common good. Prof. Gogolin stressed the role of WERA as an association of education researchers in raising our collective voice to draw attention to the globally significant challenges in education and education research. She also pointed out the role of Japan’s education research community, together with the international education research community, in pursuing active engagement to initiate a longitudinal study on the consequences of the pandemic for education in a global perspective.

Will Brehm, Lecturer of Education and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London in the UK, also mentioned the challenges of the learning gap, though his questioning goes further on our collective belief in meritocracy, which has more or less reinforced the privileging of inherited wealth since the end of feudalism. He also pointed out that COVID-19 has laid bare the fact that for many families education is simply a form of state-sponsored day care parents need so they can work today, a purpose that is completely different from the usually stated one of schooling as fostering future citizens, members of society, or workers. Dr. Brehm then suggested the likely re-birth of the idea of resilience in education and the possible leadership role of Japan’s education research communities with years of expertise in risk reduction from disasters such as earthquakes. He finally conveyed his expectation that Japan will continue to pursue the internationalization of higher education beyond income-generating purposes.

Jenny J. Lee, Professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona in the US and a visiting scholar at University of Cape Town, South Africa, first explained that the greatest damages to international higher education in the US are similar with those in Japan. She then introduced her recent argument of a “post-mobility world” with Brent White as a trend that has been taking shape long before COVID-19. International education no longer requires extensive physical travel as before. Concerns on environmental sustainability, rising nationalist and protectionist agendas, and the surge in communications technology have been occurring for years but COVID-19 accelerated the shift. Prof. Lee stressed the rise of transnational education, which is the international delivery of programs across borders, as the future of international education. She then suggested the role of education research in Japan and the East Asian region in leading the world in how to best utilize technology in education. Finally, she pointed out the growing global interest in educational processes combined with the latest technology outside the West, where Japan is in a position to teach the rest of the world how Japanese culture and education are infused and how to internationalize while maintaining cultural values and native language.

Wu-Hsun Yang, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Education at National Chi Nan University in Taiwan, explained his observation about the impact and reaction of Taiwanese society and its education against COVID-19, a strategy that is recognized as one of the most successful in the world. He clarified that their highly systematic and effective policy measures in education and the whole society are based on a somewhat top down, centralized policy approach. At the same time, Prof. Yang introduced a wide range of good practices in the active and advance usage of ICT for learning as well as inclusive community building with migrants and international students. Finally, he stressed the importance of international dialogue including global south, and collaboration across disciplines in tackling common global challenges, such as providing prompt support to international students.

Byung-ho Kong, Professor of Education Policy at Osan University, South Korea, examined the impact of and reaction against the COVID-19 pandemic in South Korea, which is also recognized as a highly successful case. Given South Korea’s mostly common experiences with Japan (e.g., postponement of the start of the school year, securing the number of class days, changes in the college admissions scheduling methods, demands for college tuition refunds), his argument focused on the wide and active usage of online teaching and its implication toward fundamental challenges in the value of education. On the basis of the Korean experience, Prof. Kong argued that changes in the educational environment accelerated the transformation to a new education paradigm with Edu Tech (education and technology combined), which may realize more universal, equal, and inclusive educational opportunities for vulnerable groups. He concluded that the experience of implementing online education as a countermeasure against the COVID-19 pandemic has given us a valuable and clear direction for future education and that a renewed awareness of the nature of education, learning, and growth will provide us a fundamental challenge in pedagogy.

Wei Bao, Associate Professor of Higher Education at Peking University, China, introduced the experience of Chinese higher education based on the rich evidence obtained through the survey results of her research team. She argued that researchers need to maintain an imperturbable eye on the issues behind the successful rapid diffusion of distance education in China, East Asia, and many countries in the world. She pointed out the deterioration of learning environments, hampered interpersonal interaction, disappearance of out-of-classroom activities, significant delay coordination of a flexible educational management system, and, finally, widening learning gap as the challenges of higher education under the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Bao’s discussion demonstrated the high capacity of the education research community in China to conduct evidence-based systemic research in timely topics. She concluded her message by stressing that education researchers in the world must collaborate to tackle the common challenges instead of obsessing over discriminatory prejudices on a regional or national basis.

Hideki Maruyama, Professor of Comparative and International Education at Sophia University in Japan, summarized the points of the above presentations and identified issues for discussion as the commentator. He pointed out that all the speakers mentioned visualized problems, the role and expectations of schools, the quality of education, and the education system. We shared the visualized problems that had already existed but were behind the public spotlight prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, such as the disparity of family resources for education. Schools have an important role in children’s security because parents and communities depend on the safe space schools offer to concentrate on their own business. This was apparent when some part of “normal” life stopped as the children stayed at home. Maintaining the good quality of education was also a challenge in all places as the children, their family, and the school teachers all faced increased stress and pressure from the situation. According to a presentation, the centralized system could control the situation more efficiently, though it did not always work out in this emergency case. With regard to the role of education research, Prof. Maruyama argued that we need to accept that few studies could be conducted for possible combinations of remote and face-to-face classes. As teachers all over the world strive to develop their skills and manage their classes at the same time, researchers should focus on how effective learning and teaching occur. Using the technologies must be one of the solutions both for transmitting information and sharing practical experiences. How then can we achieve the goals with low mobility? Will the competency still be the same as before? As for the future of education research from the Japanese perspective, he emphasized the importance of intensified international cooperation in research in addition to comparative studies around the world. Japan could share its experience with other countries in the shape of dialogue to create a better education system and bring more advantages to learners by developing new methods, approaches, and pedagogy. Once we can identify our goals and the purpose of each structure in the improved education system, newer and older mechanisms and technologies could also be used for the system. At the same time, when we learn from one other, we need to take more careful research steps because there is no panacea for all educational contexts.

Naoko Saito, Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University in Japan, who served as a chair, made the following concluding remarks.
1. The webinar has given us an occasion to rethink the meaning of conducting “comparative” research internationally. As Professors Gogolin and Maruyama indicated, when speaking of the significance of shared knowledge and public resource in comparative and collaborative research, we might say that the contemporary crisis has triggered our endeavor to find common ground through dialogue. This also indicates the role and possibility of a new way of conducting comparative research, one that is facilitated by pandemic crisis. In order to create this common resource, especially in digital space, and in facing the crisis together, the endeavor of comparison needs to shift from one-way comparison to bidirectional dialogue.
2. Prof. Lee indicated that trans-national education that crosses borders is a key to the future of international education. This raises the question of how a mentality of border-crossing can be generated and cosmopolitan citizens cultivated. As Prof. Yonezawa’s comments show on the issue of language and education in language, the cultivation of a high command of language is necessary and so is the capacity to translate. This extends into the transformative importance of translating oneself in interaction with the other.
3. In order to live with the pandemic crisis, it is incumbent upon educational studies to be interdisciplinary by bringing together knowledge of diverse kinds and by producing knowledge in common.
4. Finally, with regard to the question raised by the speakers of the role of technology in distance education, there is a need to cultivate human who have an active command of technology and who can exercise this in a meaningful way (for the happiness and co-existence of human beings and for the construction of shared knowledge and the common good) rather than being at the mercy of technology. The philosophy of technology and the philosophy of technological education are necessary if this is to be realized.

Yuto Kitamura, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Tokyo in Japan, who also chaired the session with Prof. Saito, made a concluding remark that emphasized the importance of continuing further discussions regarding the roles of education in a world with/post COVID-19. He encouraged the audience to continue further discussions on how education researchers can contribute to overcome this serious situation with COVID-19 as well as promote further collaboration across both geographical and disciplinary borders. To accomplish these, we must explore new modes of teaching and learning in various educational settings. Finally, he thanked all the participants for taking part in this webinar.

*This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 19H01621.
(August 18, 2020)