On September 26, at Chuo University, where I am a specially appointed associate professor, I conducted a Local Government Project-Based Learning program. Around forty tenth-grade students took on the challenges of discovering issues and forming policies in local government in this program, a learning-through-experience program that links high schools and universities.
The mission for the students, assigned to them by Chiba City, was to come up with policy proposals for more involvement by children and youth in local government. The proposals that came out of the program ranged from the daring proposal to set up a “students’ city office,” which would be for students only, to come up with ideas for incorporating civic participation into school activities, such as forming committees in each school to make proposals to the city. This latter proposal was prompted by the perception that young people face challenges when it comes to becoming involved in city programs. The students in the program also felt that the local government was not sharing information enough with the youth of the city, and suggested the use of SNS, or having high school students send information out to other high school students. This is the kind of feedback that could only come from the actual youths who are hoping for improvement in the system.
Although the participants of the program were not accustomed to policy formation, everyone enjoyed the program.
This time the program was limited to three hours, but the local government employees from the Youth Participation Division who also took part in the program gave very positive feedback. They commented that the ideas presented by the high school students provided them with inspiring tips which they could incorporate into their actual programs, and that the students showed great potential.
If this Local Government PBL could be developed into a full-length program of 15 sessions, or even a shorter version of three to five sessions, and targeted not only for university students but also for younger students in senior and junior high school, we could offer a program of even higher quality.
I would love to see other local governments besides Chiba, which provided the occasion this time, take part in this kind of program in a variety of schools, and to see them introduce the proposals that come out of these sessions and apply them to their actual policies. If any local governments and schools are interested in this program, I would encourage them to contact me.
This Local Government PBL program was prompted by the recent granting of the right to vote to eighteen-year-olds. I hope that it will help to educate young people in their roles as sovereign right-holders, and also, from the perspective of public involvement (PI), that it will function as an intrinsic scheme to encourage students and youth to become involved in policy-making and to have their ideas reflected in policy.
With the lowering of the minimum voting age to eighteen, interest is expected to focus on the question of how to inspire young people to become more involved. On the other hand, there are still very few mechanisms in this country that allow these young people to become involved in a substantial way. It is particularly important that local governments, which will become the main arena for civic participation, to tackle the establishment of models that will link policy-making with education.
Chiba has also launched a Children and Youth Participation and Student Council Revitalization Internship Program, a long-term internship that incorporates this project-based learning model.
Chiba’s ambition is to become a leading local government in the area of civic involvement by children and youth. One of the aims of the internship program is to have its policies assessed, problems detected and solutions to those problems considered and proposed from the viewpoint of the people concerned or as close to that viewpoint as possible. At the same time, the City hopes that the young participants, by gaining direct experience of policy making at the frontline of local government, will become more interested in local government and administration, and become partners with the administration as new players on the public stage. I would encourage anyone who would still like to take part in this internship program to contact Chiba City.
I have proposed a more ambitious framework for youth participation to several other local government besides Chiba, and in the process of urging them to put them into practice.
PBL (Project-Based Learning) is a program based on learning through problem-solving. It incorporates active learning into the kind of on-the-job training (OJT) that companies use to train their employees. Chuo University offers a course called Business Project Course 1 to first-year students that adopts this PBL approach. To date, we have had specific missions set for the students from companies such as Suntory, Oriental Land, Kikkoman, JAXA and APA Hotels. Acting as mock employees of these companies, the students form groups to consider possible solutions, after which they present their proposals to actual employees and owners of these companies, who play the role of the students’ managers.
Traditionally, many university classes have been conducted in lecture style, with the professor standing in front of a large classroom, delivering a lecture while writing on the blackboard and the students taking notes. The focus of this conventional teaching and learning style has been the acquisition of knowledge, but today, as times have changed, educational institutions are being called on to change with them. There is now more talk about the need for more “active learning” in which the students play a more proactive role in education.
In Project-Based Learning (PBL) programs, the students do everything themselves, from establishing the framework for the project’s implementation and developing plans of action, to actually carrying out the project. In the process, students become proactively engaged as protagonists in solving the problems put before them. Not only does this boost their motivation to learn, it is also very effective in helping them to achieve remarkable growth, by equipping them with practical skills that they cannot acquire from conventional lectures, including logical thinking, problem-solving, presentation, and designing skills.
Concurrently with these kinds of education programs, I have also built a platform called the Chuo University Entrepreneurs Circle with a group of Chuo University students. In its first six months, four student companies have been launched.
Although the main theme of this essay is participation in civic society, from the perspectives of nurturing people who can create economic growth and new industries, it is equally important that we develop mechanisms in the economy that will allow young people to learn by engaging proactively as protagonists in actual corporate activity as well.
As with the mechanisms for civic participation proposed in this article, I believe that involving students as proactive protagonists in economic spheres, and even in the question of how to reform our universities and education systems, would create tremendous potential not just for the students but for the future of the universities themselves.
When I was a university student in 2000, I established a non-profit organization (NPO) called Rights to call for greater participation in politics for young people, centering on the platforms of the lowering of the minimum voting age and the enhancement of political education. Since then, I have campaigned strongly for this cause in all manner of ways, including appearing as an unsworn witness before the House of Representatives’ Constitution Research Council and the Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law to give the Diet my opinions on these issues. Finally, after fifteen years’ continued effort, the participation in elections by 18-year-olds will become a reality from the House of Councilors election in the summer of 2016.
Times have changed. We have gone from seemingly never-ending economic expansion to depressed growth. The matrix of complex and diverse problems facing society means that there are no longer any “simple fixes” and we are now in an age in which those problems cannot be solved without taking advantage of a vast range of knowledge and wisdom.
The solutions to these social issues, including the widening disparity between the generations, as seen in the issues of tax and social security, must be considered not only from current perspectives, but also from more long-term perspectives.
In times such as these, lowering the voting age is not just about the fact that there will be 2.4 million more voters or about the fact that more young people will be coming out to vote. Bringing the voting age down to eighteen must prompt us to view young people as central players in politics and society and to come up with ways to encourage their participation in those arenas.