If you’ve lived and worked in Japan – especially as an English teacher in Japanese schools – then you might know that the high-tech image of Japan is still somewhat of an illusion. While Japanese companies are certainly at the forefront of producing modern technology for individual consumption, many offices are still using old technology like fax machines and many schools have terribly outdated classrooms. For example, some schools still don’t have air conditioning in their buildings.
But schools in Tokyo are slowly moving towards modernization, as the Shibuya public school system demonstrates. School officials from the district announced that they’re planning to give Microsoft Surface Go 2 tablets to all of the public elementary and junior high schools in the ward to help students with their studies.
Shibuya education officials said that they chose the Surface Go 2 as the ideal tablet for students because it meets the standard requirements necessary for the Ministry of Education’s new Global Innovation and Gateway for All (GIGA) School curriculum, and has the power to operate a variety of digital teaching tools. Additionally, the table allows students to write on the screen with the Surface Pen, has high-definition cameras on both sides, and is most suitable for the use of the GIGA School program package.
12,000 of the new tablets–which come with their own full-sized keyboard – will be introduced in Shibuya’s 26 public elementary and junior high schools in September, though these aren’t the first tablets the schools have used.
Since 2017 the district has been supplying teachers and students with Microsoft tablets to help with their studies, but they’ve been working hard to be able to provide every student with a tablet. The introduction of the Surface Go 2 is a step towards that goal, as the intention is that every student in their district will get their own Surface Go 2 to use in the classroom and take home.
In addition to the tablets, all classrooms will be supplied with Microsoft 365 A5 education suite, which includes Microsoft Office as well as various other programs geared for use in the classroom and each grade will also receive Microsoft Classroom Pens.
While students and educators see this as a positive development, the decision has also caused some controversy. Shibuya Ward is a relatively wealthy area of Tokyo, so many netizens wondered if having such technology only in areas that could afford it would cause children without similar tablets and digital teach tools to be left behind.
One person said online that, “Maybe wealthy areas in the big cities can do this, but for many rural areas this kind of thing would be impossible to incorporate. Kids will have an advantage by growing up in the city. The differences in education will only get worse.”
Another said, “I welcome this kind of movement, but it does look like it will increase the gap between economically strong areas and weak ones.”
Given time and budgets, the Japanese Ministry of Education hopes that tablets can be implemented in schools around the country and education officials said that Shibuya should be viewed as a “test case” that can be used to build an inclusive education for all student in Japan. Time and the availability of computers will tell.