When educators create policies to address and promote student educational goals, interests and needs (GIN), the policies are based on data, assumptions, or other evidence that was generated through consultation with students or they are based on projected GINs derived from other sources, such as the beliefs held by the educators themselves or external influences. Furthermore, the mechanics of education are contested (Barnett, 2009; Barnett, 2012; Dall’Alba & Barncacle, 2007; Thompson, 2014); there being no one-to-one correspondence between learning a discrete subject (such as intercultural communication) and the development of such abilities in the lived experiences of the student. If transferability were known to be high and that discrete skill building led inevitably to a more civilised citizen, this discussion would become trivial: a matter of what to teach and when; a matter of prioritising pedagogic content within the limited available time. To some degree, this is how these discussions often play out in the literature. But I would argue that a superficial discussion of priorities missed the importance of recognising the deeper influences and forces that inform how any educator arrives at their sense of priority.
I teach intercultural courses, and I sincerely hope that these courses will influence my students in their future careers. However, I am keenly aware that there are a number of factors that reduce the effect of my courses on the development of intercultural competence in my students. Without explicating these factors, they include a miscomprehension of the term globalisation as it impacts on the Japanese environment; the fact that I am a foreigner in Japan and that my content is highly racialized by my students (i.e. a Scottish teacher says these things, but we Japanese students don’t need to believe it); the wider environment that continually promotes insular, Japanese attitudes that work coercively against any attempt I do to inculcate other attitudes; and so on. Those rare students who do eventually work with English in intercultural contexts may embody my tuition as a lived experience, but most, alas to say, will simply relegate my course to one of the 60 or so they took at college with little effect remaining.
“Education is what remains after you have forgotten everything you learnt at school” (Various attributions).
To return to actual policy analysis, I will offer a couple of examples from my school that support student GINs. The first is an unwritten policy of passing all regular attendees in every class. Please re-read that sentence. The act of attending class results in the grade being given in virtually all cases. This kind of policy leads to writers such as McVeigh (2002) claiming that higher education in Japan is a myth. Many concur unofficially, but it is a brave act for a professor to attack one’s own organisation publicly (Mulvey, 2015). The Ministry enacted a regulation stating that students who attend over two-thirds of classes have the right to take the final test. The result is a number that defines attendance. This policy can be seen to protect the teacher who wishes to fail students for non-attendance and, simultaneously, the student who has attended but who has a poor interpersonal relationship with the professor.
A current debate within my institution is the allocation of grades. Some teachers award most students A grades while others award over the whole A—C band. It is felt that if the classes are to be fair, a policy should be enacted that encourages all teachers to use the whole grade band. This issue is vast as it invokes discussions about the definition of educational parity from both the teacher and learner side, as well as encounter difficulties over criterion and norm-referenced testing systems. A discussion for another day.
Barnett, R. (2009). Knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum. Studies in Higher Education, 34(4), 429–440. http://doi.org/10.1080/03075070902771978
Barnett, R. (2012). Learning for an unknown future. Higher Education Research & Development, 31(1), 65–77. http://doi.org/10.1080/0729436042000235382
Dall’Alba, G., & Barnacle, R. (2007). An ontological turn for higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 32(6), 679–691. http://doi.org/10.1080/03075070701685130
Evans, N., Forney, D., Guido, F., Patton, L., & Renn, K. (2010). Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate. http://doi.org/10.1353/jjs.2004.0010
Mulvey, B. (2015). Numbers Game: How Accreditation, Kaken-Hi and the “SUPER GLOBAL” Program are Changing Japan’s Universities. [Presentation given at JALT Sendai Chapter] September 2015.
Thompson, R. J. J. (2014). Beyond Reason and Tolerance: The purpose and practice of higher education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.