Approach to Supporting Students Careers from the viewpoint of Educational Studies: Cultivating the Ability of Thinking for a Self-Reliant Life

Koichiro Komikawa, Professor

Koichiro Komikawa, Professor
Department of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies

Posted Dec. 18, 2018

Faculty Profile
Professor Koichiro Komikawa says that to cultivate students’ ability of thinking, you need to avoid teaching them, and instead make them think for themselves.
He encourages his students to develop “living and working knowledge” that will keep them survive the dramatic changes of our era.

The Starting Point for Research: Solving a Concern in His Own Adolescence

I do research on adolescence education and careers education.

Looking back, I can trace the origins of this research to my first year as a university student. At that time I had lost all sense of purpose and was smoldering with cynicism. I had gained admission to my preferred college, but I could not find any purpose in my learning. It was in the midst of this anguish but at last I came across education studies. As I learned more, I became conscious of the problems in Japan’s education and entrance exam system, and was inspired to delve deeper. I went on to a faculty of education, and pursued research on educational principles and educational thought.

There are no correct answers in the study of education. Even established theories that have been used traditionally can be questioned on their validity and foundations; alternative approaches can be explored, and new discoveries made. I find them fascinating and never lose interest in my research.

Working on adolescence education brought me to tackle the problems of careers counselling. Taking this further, I expanded my research into the field of careers education. I believe that my strength lies in a capacity to pursue careers education from the foundation of education studies, tackling the question of what kind of support we should provide to young people taking their first steps in wider society.

Advancing Your Career through Happenstance

Within the field of career development, there is a theory known as “planned happenstance” (*). This theory asserts that most individual careers are shaped by fortuitous events. As you build up your stock of experiences with the unexpected, you can advance your career in new directions. Planned happenstance is a perfect description of my own pathway as a researcher, which opened up through chance occurrences and personal connections.

My greatest experience of happenstance was changing my faculty of affiliation three times while at Hosei. As a part-time lecturer I was affiliated with the Faculty of Social Sciences; when I became full-time I moved to the Faculty of Letters; then after a faculty restructuring I was made part of the new Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, where I continue to work today. When my affiliation changes, the environment for education and research changes greatly as well. The shift of focus in my research from educational studies to careers education was a natural progression in these circumstances. Taking on roles including head of the Faculty Development Center and the Quality Assurance Office has also presented me with many new unexpected happenings.

Today I place more emphasis on keeping my antennas up to avoid missing out on unanticipated chances than I do on setting goals and making plans for the future. I can genuinely feel this leading me in new directions and expanding my potential.

The standard approach in conventional careers education was the rational analysis of one’s own capabilities, aptitudes, and values, and the accumulation of experience in pursuit of one’s goals. In today’s rapidly-changing society, however, the chances of your goals and plans turning out as expected are increasingly slim. Instead, you are more likely to progress to the next step by keeping an open mind about your future and tackling the unfamiliar with a sense of curiosity and interest. In order to catch hold of chances that fly by unexpectedly and turn them into opportunities for growth, you need the capacity to respond flexibly. I believe that this capacity is the essence of “practical wisdom.”

Cultivating the Ability of Thinking: Practical Wisdom as “Living and Working Knowledge”

I find that students these days are very straightforward and serious, but also have a strong tendency to be passive. When introducing students to an academic paper available online, for example, if I ask them to produce a summary for submission, most of them will work on it diligently. But if I say “it’s a good reference; I recommend that you read it,” they are unlikely to do so. I find myself frustrated by their lack of initiative in learning about things that can enrich them, and taking action for themselves.

I believe that Hosei’s concept of “practical wisdom” means living and working knowledge: a new type of education that enhances students’ capacity to adapt. The assistance I can provide is to encourage students sometimes to adopt a critical perspective and cultivate their ability of thinking.

When you step out into wider society, just waiting around for instructions won’t get you anywhere. You’re expected to think for yourself about what to do, and take the initiative in finding a way to do it. If you simply do what you’re told, you’ll never learn how to come up with your own ideas. I hope my students will become aware of that for themselves, and build their capacity to function independently.

Pushing Students to Step Forward Themselves, Not Rushing in to Teach Them How

Career education today is increasingly complex, so our Faculty of  Lifelong Learning and Career Studies has been divided into three different academic fields. The first is developmental and educational career studies, which deals with individual growth and capacity building. The second is business career studies, which looks at capacity development in companies and organizations. The third is life career studies, which is about life and personal growth at home and in the community. All our students study fundamental concepts in their first year, then proceed to deeper learning in their respective majors.

Because our faculty covers such a wide range of areas, students’ interests and ambitions are diverse. We need to think how best to convey to them the study of education, a field where there are no correct answers. Pondering and coming up with ways to approach this task has broadened my own horizons as an educator.

Learning at university is the culmination of a student’s educational experience, so I approach it with an awareness of what will happen once they step out into wider society. In my seminar classes, for example, I set students a joint research task to conduct in groups, in addition to individual research for their graduation thesis. Working in a team requires them to listen to opinions that differ from their own ideas and reach a consensus and in this sense it’s harder than individual research. But it’s a process that’s essential once you enter the working world.

With the low birthrate in recent years, there’s a tendency for children to be overindulged, and they are becoming accustomed to being looked after by both parents and schoolteachers. But as educators, if we always cater for children’s needs preemptively, they will become passive and never develop independence. I am keen to avoid this possibility, so I tell my students up-front: “I won’t teach you, nor will I answer your questions right away.” This encourages them to come up with answers for themselves. I also try to treat them like adults and maintain a reasonable distance. I know from experience that my students grow more if I keep them on their toes a little.

Don’t teach and guide preemptively; leave them free to walk, and occasionally give them a push along. I see my role as to assist students in converting wisdom into their own abilities.

*A career development theory formulated by Professor John D. Krumboltz of Stanford University in the United States.

On a 2014 tour of Bhutan, whose national policies are centered on increasing “gross national happiness.” Photograph taken at an elementary school introduced by a local guide.

Koichiro Komikawa, Professor

Department of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies

Born in Tokyo in 1963.

Graduated from the University of Tokyo Faculty of Education, and withdrew with full credit from the doctoral program of same university’s Graduate School of Education. Joined Hosei University in 1993 as a part-time lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences. In 1996 became a full-time lecturer then Associate Professor in the Faculty of Letters, and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies in 2003. Has been a Professor in the same faculty since 2007. Worked as head of the Faculty Development Center in Hosei University’s Center for Higher Education Development and Support (2013-2014), and head of the Quality Assurance Office (2015-2016). Director of the Japanese Educational Research Association and Associate Director of the Career Design Institute-Japan.

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