Information overload erodes youth's curiosity
When I was in primary school, the science room in the old wooden school building was one place I didn't want to go near. In the eerie gloom, by a shade curtain, there were rows of jars containing specimens in formaldehyde. And of all things, there was an anatomical model of the human body. I even heard rumors that the room was haunted.
I do not know how scenes of science rooms affected the scientific curiosity of people at the same age.
Nowadays, science rooms are said to be bright and well-equipped. Unfortunately, however, the dismal reality today is that Japan's 15-year-olds are the least interested in science among their peers around the world.
According to the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment conducted on 15-year-olds in 57 countries and regions by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japanese teenagers did worse than the previous survey three years ago in three tests--scientific literacy, mathematical literacy and reading ability. Japan is now far behind the world's smartest group.
The Japanese youngsters not only scored poorly in scientific literacy, but revealed an even more disturbing lack of interest and eagerness in science itself. They placed last in the world in their level of interest in reading books about science, as well as in their frequency of watching science programs on television or reading newspaper and magazine articles on science.
A high academic performance can be expected only if the student is highly interested in the subject.
Japan is said to have progressed rapidly in the study of physics since World War II. Asked why by a non-Japanese person, Nobel laureate physicist Shinichiro Tomonaga (1906-1979)朝永振一郎 reportedly answered, "It was because we Japanese tried to compensate for our intellectual starvation during the war."
It appears that intellectual curiosity is numbed by a surfeit of information that can be obtained without any effort. Inundated with information as we are today, we can readily find an answer to any question we have. And as our ability to wonder about the unknown becomes dull, we apparently become increasingly less inclined to wonder about anything.
As if Tomonaga foresaw our present age, he once said that the job of a teacher is to make sure his or her students did not become surfeited with knowledge.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 6(IHT/Asahi: December 7,2007)