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2014年8月 8日 (金)

国際科学五輪 理系人材を生かす社会作ろう

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Scientific talent must be nurtured for the sake of Japan’s future
国際科学五輪 理系人材を生かす社会作ろう

Japanese students have been performing well at the International Science Olympiads, an annual event in which international high school students and others receiving secondary-level education compete on scientific knowledge and thinking power.

Efforts should be increased to discover and nurture talented young people who will play leading roles in shaping the future of Japan as a nation that can thrive on the strength of its scientific and technological power.

The ISO is a group of annual competitions in various scientific disciplines. The rankings of participants are decided through scores based on written examinations, experiments and other tests.

A certain percentage of high achievers in each scientific area are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. About 10 percent of top contestants take home gold.

In July, Japanese students competed in five ISO areas—mathematics, informatics, biology, physics and chemistry—with four to six contenders in each field. All of the Japanese participants earned medals.

Of the six Japanese participants in the mathematics ISO, four were awarded gold medals. In the informatics area, a middle school student achieved the feat of winning a gold medal. It was reassuring to see these young Japanese people earn recognition in international competitions.

Our nation began stepping up efforts to succeed in the ISO about 10 years ago. In 2004, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry began taking action to assist with these efforts. The ministry has set aside about ¥200 million in funds for such purposes this fiscal year, including costs to send contestants to ISO competitions and giving them special training.

Domestic ISO contests in this country, through which Japanese participants for the ISO finals are selected, have been increasing in size year by year. In 2004, 3,200 students competed at home, and the figure exceeded 16,000 last year. In the past, high school students from urban districts accounted for the majority of ISO finalists from Japan. Nowadays, more students from other areas earn themselves places in the list of finalists.

Success breeds success

This seems to suggest that middle and high school students nationwide have been inspired by the splendid showing made by Japanese ISO finalists from their generation, largely as a result of the increasing degree to which the ISO is recognized. The situation can be seen as a good opportunity to discover talented young people from around the country.

Giving Japanese students opportunities to mix with talented youths from other nations in international settings will help broaden their outlook on the world. Given this, government support for prospective Japanese participants in the ISO finals is greatly significant.

The international ISO contest is a test of competitors’ knowledge and skills on scientific themes that can go beyond the contents of Japanese school textbooks. To cope with this, teaching staff from colleges and universities in the nation undertake the task of coaching candidates for the ISO at training camps, thus enabling them to better compete in the finals.

A considerable number of high school teachers have visited such training camps, hoping to learn how to teach students more effectively. It is important to ensure that efforts to compete well in the ISO also contribute to improving the level of our nation’s science and mathematics education.

More than 20 domestic universities, including Tohoku and Keio, have set quotas in their entrance exams for high achievers at domestic ISO competitions. Under a recommendation-based admission system to be introduced in autumn next year, meanwhile, the University of Tokyo will consider the achievements gained by candidates at domestic ISO preliminaries. Such efforts are likely to motivate more students to try to qualify for the finals in the annual scientific knowledge contest.

One of the important tasks facing colleges and universities is to further cultivate the talents of gifted students and produce graduates who can play a role in the advancement of society. We hope each college and university will improve its educational programs and research systems.

If no progress is made in creating an environment that utilizes at home the excellence of people gifted with scientific and mathematical knowledge and skills, it is feared a brain drain will ensue. Further efforts must be made to provide talented young people with opportunities to play an active part in society after finishing their school studies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 7, 2014)


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