Japanese Super Science High Schools as sites for gifted education – examination of educational capital

Presenter(s): Erkki Lassila
Author(s): Erkki T. Lassila & Manabu Sumida

Erkki T. Lassila & Manabu Sumida

This research examines Super Science High School (SSH) program from the perspective of gifted and talented education in STE(A)M subjects. SSH is the only government program in Japanese formal education explicitly setting the goal for fostering the development of excellence. Program specific activities center around joint research activities, high school – university cooperation and both national and international (research) visits. The notion that gifted education policy’s importance lies in how its enacted practices enable individual students to develop own individual learning pathways, guides our way of appraising the SSH program. The data used for the examination consists of qualitative interviews with teachers and observational data from two SSH schools, progress reports published by the SSH schools and publications by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). This data is read against the concepts of educational capital and normative action space found in the actiotope model developed by Ziegler (2005). In this model giftedness is understood as resulting from the interaction between the individual and their material, social and informational environments. Tentative results show the strengths of the program being in 1) the social educational capital in the form of strong network of institutions and key personnel and 2) cultural capital allowing for giving special attention to selected high-achieving students. However, didactic capital concerning teachers’ competencies on guiding research activities are underdeveloped and views on giftedness are varied. This together with the rigidity of the educational system and cultural ideas on ‘proper education’ can hinder the creation individual learning pathways needed to meet potentials and achieve excellence. Teachers negotiate their ideas of meritocracy and equal outcomes with expectations to aim for excellence; this can result in government policies seen as ‘elitist’, taking a different shape with when enacted at the schools in the context of Japanese standardization.

Ziegler, A. (2005). The actiotope model of giftedness. In R. J Sternberg & J. E. Davidson: Conceptions of Giftedness - Second Edition (pp. 411-434). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.