The Kakehashi program – Japanese for “building bridges” – will see the government fund 1,000 high school scholarships over five years for students from 20 Asian countries, including China, India, Singapore, the Philippines and Korea.
“It is this dynamism that will surely form the cornerstone for peace and prosperity around the globe”
The program, first announced in June 2017 during prime minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Asia Dream’ speech, forms part of an ongoing series of initiatives to strengthen Japan’s economic and political ties and boost immigration as the population begins to decrease.
Other initiatives include a permanent residency program that was touted as “among the fastest speeds in the world”.
“When people engage in commerce and travel freely across national borders, a wide range of knowledge and experience is exchanged and new ideas spring up,” Abe said at the time.
“It is this dynamism that will surely form the cornerstone for peace and prosperity around the globe.”
AFS chief executive Daniel Obst said his organisation was honoured to have been selected to implement the Kakehashi program and was keen to start helping Japan build towards its goals.
“We commend prime minister Abe’s vision for investing in youth and educational exchanges as a way to build bridges among diverse populations across Asia,” AFS chief executive Daniel Obst said.
“This program provides an important opportunity to foster global competence and intercultural understanding in young people and a sign that national governments see a need in investing in preparing their youth for living and working in an increasingly diverse world.”
“When people engage in commerce and travel freely across national borders, a wide range of knowledge and experience is exchanged”
According to Junko Kawano, AFS Japan partner director, the decision to fund incoming high school students is a significant shift in thinking for the country.
Japan, which set a target in 2008 to have 300,000 international students by 2020, currently hosts 267,042 foreign students within its universities and language schools.
However, the number of secondary level students remains substantially lower, at around 3,000.
Kawano said the lack of incoming students into the system, coupled with an increasing push to send students abroad in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, has led to an internal perception that Japanese secondary schooling has declined in quality.
“Many people started saying the young people should go out… they don’t see much future in Japanese education,” she said.
“Changing the high school education through inviting people from outside… is important. And Asia, that’s the key.”
“This program provides an opportunity to foster…intercultural understanding in young people”
Kawano told The PIE News the Kakehashi program was the culmination of lobbying by both AFS and other organisations within Japan to stress the importance of promoting high school level studies to international students.
The organisations have been calling on the Japanese government for many years to consider the benefits of hosting international students, Kawano said.
“Our government is highly focussed on global education; they started to focus on global education because the Japanese society is monoculture and we tend to be excluding others.
“The government started to feel a sense of crisis towards our education, which is becoming more and more exclusive.”
A declining population, Kawano said, also meant the government was keen to find new sources of labour.
The first 100 students in the Kakehashi program will arrive in Japan in August 2018 and participate in a six-month program.