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Engineering Education Tasks for the New Century: Japanese and U.S. Perspectives Executive Summary The U.S.-Japan bilateral task force was tasked with addressing the following questions: (1) How do Japan and the United States educate and train engineers, and what are the major similarities, differences, and trends? (2) What are the superior practices that have been developed by each country, especially approaches that could be adopted by the other country? (3) Are there areas in which expanded U.S.-Japan cooperation could help to improve engineering education in the two countries and around the world? The joint task force was organized by the Committee on Advanced Technology and the International Environment (Committee 149) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), and the Committee on Japan (COJ) of the National Research Council (NRC). Committee 149's work was supported by member dues, and the COJ's work was supported by the United States-Japan Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering. The joint task force was chaired by Mildred Dresselhaus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Sogo Okamura of Tokyo Denki University. Japan and the United States are two of the leading nations in the world in engineering education and practice. Their systems for training and educating engineers display marked contrasts, resulting from the very different economic and cultural environments in which they have developed. The joint task force used a “lifelong learning” approach in examining the two countries' systems, exploring differences and similarities in K-12 education of future engineers, undergraduate and graduate education, as well as continuing education of working professionals. The panel also explored two important issues that will affect engineering education in both countries in the future: the need to educate and train “global engineers” who can work effectively in international contexts, and the potential for information technology to transform engineering education in the future. The joint task force's findings and recommendations are divided into three sections, addressing issues relevant to Japan, the United States, and both countries. ISSUES, FINDINGS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR JAPAN Japan's system of educating and training engineers has contributed mightily to its economic development and current status as a global leader in manufacturing and high technology. Several elements of Japan's system were highlighted by the joint task force as important assets and sources of strength for the future. Consistent excellence in K-12 mathematics and science education provides a solid foundation for future engineers, as well as the average Japanese citizen. Most large companies invest heavily in continuing education programs for employees, including engineers, allowing the Japanese engineering workforce to maintain its technical currency. Japan's education system contributes to the ability of many Japanese engineers to work well in teams, an increasingly central element of engineering work around the world. Japanese engineers will also face significant challenges in the future, and their education and training must adapt to new realities in order to adequately prepare them. Perhaps the most important key to successful adaptation will be to reform Japan's university admissions system. This is an issue that goes beyond engineering, and is significant for Japanese society as a whole.
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Engineering Education Tasks for the New Century: Japanese and U.S. Perspectives The university admissions system, which perpetuates a strict hierarchical ranking of schools and students, has a pervasive impact on K-12 education, the university experience itself, and subsequent hiring and career growth. While the system has helped Japan maintain high educational standards, the Japanese working group members believe that greater simplicity and flexibility would enable Japanese students to receive a richer educational experience. In general, Japan needs to promote greater flexibility in its regulation of education to promote innovative approaches, while maintaining standards and stability in the society. Specific action items for Japan include: Redoubled efforts to promote computer education for Japan's K-12 students. A more simple university entrance system. Improved quality in engineering education, including a more rigorous undergraduate curriculum, introduction of new requirements for thesis doctoral students to ensure their broad mastery of the field, and more extensive competitive funding of university research. Expanded industry-university cooperation in engineering education through visiting lectureships, internships, continuing education, and global engineering training. ISSUES, FINDINGS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES The United States has also developed an outstanding system of engineering education, which has been able to adapt to changing circumstances over the years. In particular, U.S. undergraduate and graduate engineering education attracts superior students from around the world, many of whom stay in the United States and contribute to the U.S. research and innovation enterprise. The primary long-term challenge for the United States is to redouble efforts to improve the quality and consistency of K-12 education, particularly in mathematics and science. This has been a national focus for some years, and achieving significant progress will require substantial additional time and effort. In undertaking K-12 reforms, the United States should continue to learn from international models, including Japan. In particular, the United States has much to learn from Japan about the practice of teaching and teacher training. The United States also needs to make special efforts to ensure that continuing education for working engineering professionals receives adequate investment. In Japan, lifetime employment at large companies creates incentives for industry to make these investments, while individuals must take greater responsibility in the United States. Specific action items include: Expand efforts to learn and apply international educational best practices, such as Japanese approaches to the practice of K-12 teaching and teacher training. Through the National Science Foundation and other agencies and partnerships with industry, increase opportunities for U.S. engineering students and younger professionals to gain the skills and expertise needed to become effective “global engineers.” Renew public-private efforts to increase investments in continuing lifelong engineering education.
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Engineering Education Tasks for the New Century: Japanese and U.S. Perspectives ISSUES, FINDINGS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BOTH COUNTRIES The United States and Japan share several common challenges related to engineering education in the next century, such as attracting adequate numbers of young people to the field, particularly women and minority groups who are currently under represented. In a changing engineering environment characterized by intense industrial competition, rapid technological advance, and expanded international cooperation, both countries will be challenged to build on their strengths and address their weaknesses to build the right education and training systems for tomorrow's engineers. The systems must produce engineers that possess a firm grasp of fundamentals and sufficient creativity to meet unfamiliar tasks; incentives and resources to maintain and enhance their skills throughout their careers; and capabilities to operate effectively in a variety of international environments. In the discussions of global engineering and the utilization of information technology in engineering education, the task force was only able to scratch the surface and identify issues that other groups will need to address more fully in the future. Domestic and international efforts to harmonize and rationalize educational regulatory frameworks, as well as accreditation and certification processes, will be needed so that engineering education can tap the possibilities opened by information technology advances and international cooperation. The Japanese and U.S. engineering communities, working through professional societies, government, industry, and academia, can make important contributions. Japan and the United States should maintain and increase their own engineering education exchanges, and lead international initiatives to improve engineering education exchanges and to develop global engineering capabilities. The U.S. and Japanese engineering communities should work with each other and with other countries and groups to achieve harmonized regulatory, accreditation, and certification systems that allow the timely diffusion of educational approaches utilizing information technology.
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