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A return to Japan

By Chad Evans, Executive Vice President, Council on Competitiveness

I had the honor to return to Japan this Fall, representing the Council in a wide-ranging set of meetings with partners, members, and other stakeholders focused on the future of innovation-driven competitiveness.

In the decade prior to COVID-19, this was an annual October ritual: a trip to Kyoto to represent the Council and support many of our members at the STS forum. The STS forum – brainchild of Japan’s former Finance Minister and Minister of Science, Koji Omi – is a distinctive gathering of 1,000 science, technology, innovation, and policy experts from around the world.

The magnetism of Kyoto is not just its history and splendor as Japan’s former capital. For many in our community, the draw has been Omi-san’s grand vision for the STS forum: a unique gathering of a global corps concerned with the “lights and shadows” that scientific and technological advances can cast around the world.

Little did we know in October 2019 that COVID-19 would prove to be a pervasive shadow over the STS forum for two years – pushing the event online. And this past year, Omi-san also passed away, and the forum’s political patron, Prime Minister Abe, was assassinated. More shadows.

However, somewhat ironically, the 19th edition of the STS forum in 2022 trumped COVID-19. With a rigorous and carefully planned safety protocol, STS forum was able to convene in person this year: to recognize the legacies of Omi-san and Abe-san, to welcome Japan’s new Prime Minister Kishida, and to bring together nearly 1,000 leaders from around the world to convene again and discuss solutions to pressing global grand challenges.

I was grateful to lead a fascinating conversation on one of those challenges, focusing on how to lever technologies to open and expand “New Pathways to Learning” for learners across their lifetimes. My distinguished panel included: Dr. Igor Papic, Slovenia’s Minister of Education, Science, and Sport; Dr. Umran Inan, President Koç University; Dr. Silvia Elena Giorguli Saucedo, President of El Colegio de México; and, Nobel Laureate, Dr. Brian P. Schmidt, Vice Chancellor and President of Australian National University.

My top take-aways?

From Minister Papic: new learning pathways are likely to evolve over generations, not appear through radical revolution. Therefore, stakeholders need a long-term, people-centric perspective – and not expect technological silver bullets.

From President Saucedo: diversity, equity, and inclusivity remain issues around the world – and while technologies can provide incredible advances to the delivery of education and training, the full potential will be unmet if equity and access issues are not also solved.

From Vice Chancellor Schmidt (who won the Nobel Prize for demonstrating that the universe’s expansion is accelerating): echoing the points around social equity, educators at all levels need to keep the social aspect of learning in mind – and use partnerships of all types to make education and training affordable and scalable.

And from President Inan: learning is an “appointment between generations.” And, as such, both sides have to “show up” for there to be progress.

The shocking revelation for me? Coming out of COVID-19, all of these leaders from across the world noted we are seeing  an unprecedented level of student disengagement: a lot of students are simply not returning to traditional classrooms. They are, in effect, missing their “appointment.” In these cases of disengagement, disinterest – the phenomenon of “quiet quitting” expanding beyond the existing workforce to the future workforce – no single technology will be a solution.

So the $100,000 question is: how do we re-attract, retain, and re-skill learners for the coming socioeconomic and technological changes that will transform our world?

And, two final notes:

  • I had the chance in Tokyo to meet with the science and innovation team in Prime Minister Kishida’s Cabinet Office – paving a path toward bringing the Council’s U.S.-Japan Commission on Innovation to fruition in 2023 in conjunction with the G-7 science ministerial and G-7 meetings that will take place in Japan.
  • And I was happy to represent the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils in Tokyo at the British Council for the RENKEI consortium’s 10th Anniversary. (RENKEI is a partnership between 12 universities in Japan and the UK, aiming to further knowledge exchange and research collaboration – including GFCC member Southampton University.) I had fun and learned a lot alongside my co-keynoter, Dr. Paul Monks, the United Kingdom’s Chief Scientific Advisor who brilliantly laid out the UK’s innovation priorities, with a particular focus on climate change and investments in academia.
Council Executive Vice President Chad Evans at RENKEI EVENT - credit: Matthew Knowles, Director, British Council in Japan
United Kingdom’s Chief Scientific Advisor Dr. Paul Monks at RENKEI event - credit Matthew Knowles, Director, British Council in Japan
Council Executive Vice President Chad Evans at STS forum - credit: STS Forum
Council Executive Vice President Chad Evans at STS forum - credit: STS Forum
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