An estimated one billion people in the world eke out an existence on $1 a day. Then there are those born to riches – riches beyond the imagination of the merely wealthy.
“He didn’t even know how to open a car door” – this is the architect Noritaka Tange reminiscing to Shukan Gendai (Feb 2) about a classmate at the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland. With tuition ranging between 3 million and 10 million yen a year, Le Rosey is sometimes considered the world’s most expensive school. Tange, son of world-famous architect Kenzo Tange, attended as a teenager. His classmate was the son of an Italian magnate. When the boy found fault with the school’s laundry service, the family sent a Cadillac from Rome to the school once a week to pick up the laundry and take it home. Opening car doors, of course, was grossly beneath him. What are servants for?
In Tange’s time at Le Rosey, roughly a quarter of a century ago, there were some 250 students, aged 8 to 18, from more than 50 countries. Tange rubbed shoulders with the children of Arab oil ministers and African presidents. You’d think kids this privileged would be spoiled rotten. Many are, as Shukan Gendai’s headline makes clear: “Why are so many super-rich children so out of it?” But not all. Tange himself is a respected member of his profession, and perhaps the tight discipline and high academic standards at Le Rosey had something to do with it.
Discipline? Money, first of all, was under strict control, elementary school kids given the equivalent of 500 yen a week, junior high school students 2,000 yen. So they got their taste of “poverty,” or at least fiscal discipline.
It’s too bad ordinary families can’t afford this sort of education. “Growing up abroad,” says Tange, “made me more aware that Japan is part of the wider world, that there are other ways than ours of seeing the world.”
How do the ultra-rich see education for the less privileged back in Japan? William Saito, California-born, is a second-generation Japanese, an IT entrepreneur on friendly terms with the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. In fact, Microsoft bought out his venture IT firm, making him a billionaire several times over. As a child, his parents taught him, “The international language is mathematics.” He was an elementary school third-grader when they gave him a math book with a big “3” on the cover. They told him it was for third-graders, which it was – junior high school third-graders. They didn’t mention that. Saito mastered it. Now he underwrites venture businesses, teaches at various universities and acts as an advisor to two Japanese government ministries.
He gets around, in short. Of Japanese students he laments, “All they can do is memorize information. What’s the point, when you can look up anything on Google?” Japanese schools, he says, should focus less on “what” and more on “why”.
The sort of education Japanese kid gets, he says sardonically, “is good for TV quiz shows.”