Problem solving capacity, curiosity, and open-mindedness are essential factors that allow for innovation. Moreover, multidisciplinarity is crucial for successful innovators since knowledge across a broad range of fields gives the imaginative skills the breadth of learning necessary for a development of a novel solution. Although it is a challenge for schools to incorporate interdisciplinary activities and experiential learning in their programs, Japan’s network of Kosen schools is an outstanding example of a success story.
The Kosen schools are characterized by a unique blend of classroom-based and hands-on, project-based learning, while their curriculum is mainly focused on technical and scientific studies. While project-based learning has only recently gained prominence and popularity, the Kosen schools were established in the early 1960s, because industry, particularly automakers, demanded it. As the economy began its miraculous post-war boom, there was a serious shortage of engineers. Corporations had the political strength to push the national government to create a network of colleges that would tackle this issue and train the necessary work force.
Kosen teachers are mainly coaches, mentors, facilitators and evaluators. The projects are not short, like in many schools around the world, but, on the contrary, Kosen students work for several years on developing and implementing their cutting-edge ideas. Eventually, these ideas most likely end up in an incubator and find their way to market.
Some of the project ideas are: a virtual reality experience of wild water rafting, a low-cost solution to purify soil from heavy metal pollution, a low-cost, non-toxic solution— made with persimmon juice—that replaces a highly toxic chemical used in the manufacture of chrome for automobiles. Moreover, students work to solve real-world problems for the nearly 1,000 companies that are located in the Hachioji area. Graduates of the standard five-year course at Kosen can each expect about 20 job offers, while students who stay on for an extra two years of advanced study receive 30 offers.