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Lifelong Learning in Japan

Section 1. Defining Lifelong Learning

Educators and the general public use many different terms related to lifelong learning, such as: adult education, continuing education, social education, recurrent education, lifelong education, community education. This paper does not try to address the fine distinctions and overlaps between these different terms. However, the terms "social education" and "lifelong learning" will be described in more detail, since these are the common terms used in Japan which include adult educational activities.

Social education (shakai kyôiku) encompasses "organized educational activities (including those for physical education and recreation) for adults and young people other than those provided in the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools or at institutions of higher education" (Monbushô 1996d). Shakai kyôiku was the term generally used from the late 1940s to the mid 1980s to describe adult education activities. Lifelong learning (shôgai gakushû) encompasses learning that takes place at all stage of life and includes both formal learning at school or other places and non-formal learning. Consequently, lifelong learning includes all types of social education activities. Lifelong learning activities may be carried out at companies, formal schools, community centers, libraries, museums, or many other different kinds of facilities. Non-formal learning includes "knowledge gained through participation in, for example, sports activities, cultural activities, recreational activities, volunteer activities and hobbies" (Monbushô 1996c). Shôgai gakushû has been the term most commonly used since the mid 1980s to describe adult education activities, although the term shakai kyôiku is still frequently used.

Comprehensive lifelong learning systems try to address the needs of different segments of the entire population. Certain groups may require specific types of educational opportunities, such as minorities, elderly, women, or illiterate and semiliterate persons. Lifelong learning opportunities should address adults with different learning motivations, including people who desire recreation, self-improvement, vocational skills, social contact, or learning for its own sake. In summary, lifelong learning programs for adults should be based on the learning needs of individuals.

Section 2. Environmental Factors

The following three fundamental structural changes in Japanese society have a significant and direct effect on lifelong learning for adults: aging population, economic and technological changes, and internationalization.

Aging Population
Japan's rapidly aging society, due to increasing life expectancy and a declining birth rate, is creating a growing elderly and retired population with more time available for educational and cultural pursuits. The proportion of elderly (age 65 and over) will increase from 9% of the total Japanese population in 1980 to 17% in 2000 and 27% in 2020. The number of elderly persons will increase from 15 million in 1990 to 33 million in 2020 (Kumagai 1996, 124-7). This rapid aging of the nation's population, unprecedented in world history, will have a major influence on future adult education needs.
Economic and Technological Changes
Significant and rapid economic and technological changes continue to create increased demand for education of adults. Lifelong employment, one of the cornerstones of the Japanese employment system, is less common than before as evidenced by the decrease in the number of full-time employees and the increase in the number of part-time and contractual employees (Makino 1997, 4). Workers in declining industries and professions must take advantage of educational opportunities to retrain for jobs in greater demand.

Businesses need a more educated and better trained work force than ever before to address scientific advances and technological improvements. Almost all workers require good computer skills to be effective in the workplace. Graduate schools, universities, and technical schools must provide training to specialized professionals to effectively deal with new and advanced technologies.

Japanese businesses participate extensively in the global economy, which means Japanese must travel and at times temporarily live overseas, and some foreigners come to Japan to temporarily live. Many Japanese companies have moved some of their production outside of the country in the 1980s and 1990s, which has brought about even more international contacts for Japanese people. English language ability is essential for effective participation in global business, so there is a great demand by workers of all ages to increase their English proficiency. European languages and other Asian languages such as Chinese have increased in importance to Japanese people as their business interests have expanded throughout Asia and Europe. Along with business-driven demand for adult education and training in foreign languages and cultures, Japanese people also generally have a strong personal interest in learning about people, places, and languages outside their own country.
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