01 SES 03 B, Professional Status and Professional Identity
The expansion of information and communication technology (ICT) has raised significant challenges to the professions and semi-professions(Susskind & Susskind, 2016). Using ethnographic techniques integrated with policy analysis, I explored how Japanese teachers, education professors and policy makers have responded to these rapid changes. Taking the theoretical perspective of professionalism as a fluid continuum in advanced capitalist democracies (Faulconbridge & Muzio, 2011), I analyzed how existing professionals (teachers and university professors) interacted with industry-supported non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governmental agencies in debates about the introduction of ICT. I argue that Japan is seeing the rise of a new mass profession – the education technology specialist. The rise of this new mass profession has been actively supported by Industry-funded advocacy groups (NGOs) that have played a major role in driving government policies and pressuring schools to adopt various forms of ICT.
In 2015 and 2016, the Ministry of Education (MEXT) announced detailed plans for its major educational reforms for the year 2020 in several waves of announcements. The bulk of the data for this study was gathered in the fall of 2016 – a period of intense debate about ICT and educational reform. This study confirmed that teacher claims to specialized knowledge (a classic formulation of how professions justify their special status, see (Abbott, 1988) were being eroded by the rapid introduction of ICT (e.g. tablets, interactive white boards, digital textbooks and even social robots) in public schools. Industry-based advocacy groups have successfully promoted the wide-spread adoption of tablets in many Japanese schools, and have also advocated for using private models of teacher professional development to supplant what the traditional models of PD in Japan which had tended to be teacher organized and delivered.
However, the relationship between ICT and teacher professional status is dynamic and complex. In some instances, ICT offers teachers ways to maintain control over their own professional development, and regional school boards the ability make claims to leadership in developing specialized teacher knowledge. Although there was some indication that private providers of ICT professional development are expanding, many individual teachers exhibit considerable resistance to the use of ICT, web-support, online education and even email with parents. Additionally, ICT has gained little acceptance among university faculty members in colleges of education. More evidence of this resistance to pro-ICT policies can be found in the failures of several high profile government programs to significantly increase the use of ICT in classrooms relative to other nations (OECD, 2014), p. 375. .
The formalization of educational technology positions at the school board level appears more significant for the long-term, as it is interwoven with the requirements for teacher license renewal (Akiba, 2013a). The creation of new professional development schools has meant that universities and school boards are struggling with how to staff the new positions created by the ministry. Since both of these organizations are now deeply involved in teacher professional development training, competition for professionals who had strong ICT skills is likely to become intense and further institutionalize the role of the educational technology specialist.
This study offers insights into issues that can arise when industry advocacy groups manipulate the policy process, and can serve as a cautionary tale for European and international considerations of expanding ICT. The failure of many ministerial reforms, along with the variable effects of private ICT professional development in Japan offers theoretical insights into how technology and professionalism is “packaged” in late capitalist societies, and how new status groups may arise and attempt to lay claim to professional status based on their claims to specialized technical knowledge.
I employed an ethnographic case study that included document analysis (primarily ministerial white papers or announcements, advocacy papers from industry groups, and publications by scholars or educators), primary observation and interviews. I analyzed the data using an iterative method adapted from field research I conducted for the TIMSS and IEA Civics Education (Gerald LeTendre, 2002). I began by reviewing Japanese language sources in CiNi for material related to ICT reforms from 2010 on. I read major research articles and copied MEXT white papers (using English when available) to outline how MEXT officially presented its reforms, and how educational scholars reacted to or criticized these proposals. I paid particular attention to special ICT related programs and traced them, where appropriate, to their initiation date. This provided me with a basic working knowledge of the major reforms that was useful in conducting interviews. Prior to arriving in Japan, I made contact with researchers at Benesse Corporation and the Child Research Network to set up interviews with scholars who had been studying teacher adoption of technology. I used my connections at Sophia University and the University of Tokyo to identify schools to visit and to identify faculty who studies the use of ICT and teacher professional development. I conducted 35 individual interviews with teachers, university professors, district administrators as well as ministry officials and the advocacy/cram school leaders noted above. I participated in 4 major day-long professional development sessions centered on technology in Tokyo. These included traditional school-sponsored sessions and ones organized by private providers. I also conducted day-long observations at 10 schools in Tokyo, Gifu and Hiroshima city. These observations were focused on the use of technology in elementary and middle schools including a night schools with high levels of immigrant students and an elite private that participated in government sponsored technology promotion programs. Finally, I employed a Japanese research assistant to review and code all publically-listed professional development programs in Japan for October, November and December of 2016. All data are entered into Nvivo and I have used a form of the constant comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), to generate and aggregate codes from the transcripts and textual documents. Using theoretical and coding memos, I identified major themes and have consolidated material that speak to specific issues such as the effectiveness of ministerial reforms, teachers’ perceptions of ICT, claims to special knowledge of ICT connected to professional status, etc.
Japanese teachers have reacted in varying ways to the demands and challenges they face. For some, ICT offers a way to assert their identity as professionals and to provide leadership to other teachers in this area. Individual schools -- as well as certain regions -- have devoted considerable resources to improving ICT, and to establish themselves as leaders within the education community. In the professional development sphere, attempts by private providers to open up a market for ICT-related professional development has also been mixed. There does appear to be some movement to monetization of professional development within the teacher-initiated professional development as a whole, but private providers have, as yet, not been able to make major inroads into what has traditionally been a form of knowledge transmission created by, and controlled by, teachers (Akita & Sakamoto, 2015). International and national organizations that represent teachers and their professional interests will find the case of Japan an instructive one, it demonstrates the complex political struggles that resulted from changes in fundamental laws about how NGOs could organize and lobby for educational policies and practices. Over the last decade we have seen increased activity around the globe in the area of teacher licensing and certification (Akiba, 2013b). The role of ICT expertise has, to date, been muted, but the Japanese case suggests that other nations may soon see government polices promoting the use of ICT in schools, and essentially requiring teachers to either demonstrate mastery of these forms, or to cede professional autonomy to educational technology specialists. Pro-active reforms that re-enforce teachers’ use of ICT for their own professional development, as is the case in Europe with eTwinning (Blazic & Verswijvel, 2017), suggest that governments can find ways to sustain and develop their teacher workforces without resorting to privatization of teacher professional development
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