Keynote Speech by Dr. Ritter Diaz, Former Ambassador of Panama to Japan on the Occasion of the 70 Anniversary of Chiba University, November 2, 2019
Dr. Takeshi Tokuhisa, President of Chiba University
Distinguished Faculty and Students
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would lie to begin by expressing my sincere congratulations to Chiba University, to the faculty, administrative staff and students for the 70 Anniversary of this thriving and dynamic university.
Also, I wish to reiterate my gratitude to Chiba University for the high distinction to confer upon me the degree of Honorary Doctor for the promotion of international exchange.
My history with Chiba University started around 2012 when a Panamanian agricultural producer, Mr. David Proenza, approached the Embassy of Panama in Tokyo to seek assistance in contacting Chiba University to learn about plant factory.
Mr. Proenza had explained to me that through his own investigation he had found out that Chiba University was a pioneer in plant factory, and that this new technology could transform the way we cultivate and produce food in Panama and the world, especially, in this time of human history, when open-sky agriculture is being threatened by climate change.
This contact evolved in a very positive way thanks to the open mind of the faculty of the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences, especially the enthusiastic support of Dr. Kozai, Dr. Yamaguchi, Dr. Takagaki and other professors of the university.
Thanks to this interaction, I was able to witness the signature of international academic agreements between Chiba University and Panama University and Panama Technological University in 2016. In fact, this was the first exchange agreement between a Japanese university and the main national universities of Panama. Certainly, it is a historical landmark between Panama and Japan in the field of international education.
I understand these exchange agreements will be renewed in the coming days, and so far, 25 Panamanians has received a very good training in plant factory at this university, while over 20 Japanese students have traveled to Panama to learn about our high-quality coffee and wild orchids grown up in the country. Indeed, the renewal of these agreements shows the strong commitment of these universities to further internationalize their programs to offer new and great horizon to their students.
Furthermore, this interaction did not stop only in the establishment of the exchange agreements, it also led to idea of organizing an international conference in controlled environment agriculture in Panama, in order to disseminate this new agricultural technology in the Latin American region and the world.
I am happy to mention that Chiba University was the first to offer their support for this conference, participating in the first and second conference in 2016 and 2017, and for the third time, from November 4 to 6, we will have the active presence of Chiba University, together with important international authorities in the field of controlled environment agriculture.
I should also point out that this conference is strongly supported by the National Secretariat of Science and Technology of Panama in view of the great impact that controlled environment agriculture will have in securing food sustainability in Panama and other parts of the world.
Another byproduct of the interaction between Chiba University and Panama was the launching of the Panama Chiba coffee, which emerged out of the collaboration between Saza Coffee and Chiba University.
As you may know, Saza coffee is one of the major Japanese importers of Panama Geisha coffee, who paid US$1,029.00 per one pound of this special coffee during the Best of Panama coffee Auction last June, being the highest price paid so far in the world markets.
During my term as Ambassador of Panama to Japan, I had the opportunity to participate in the presentation of the Panama Chiba Coffee at this university, where I could observe the emergence of a cooperative relationship between Chiba University and Saza Coffee. But the most interesting thing was the excellent design of the Panama Chiba Coffee made by students of this university.
This is a clear example of a concrete contribution from the classroom with practical impact in real life. On the one hand, students can appreciate the value of the education they are receiving at Chiba University; on the other hand, the University generates income to help in the financing of its operation, while Saza Coffee finds a market niche to sell its coffee products.
Needless to say, it is a wonderful university-business model that Chiba University must extend to other academic areas, as the university is endowed with a lot of resources, human and material, to make a greater contribution to society.
In this connection, we can think of students in the Department of Informatics and Imaging System of Chiba University collaborating with IT companies to create new applications for the market or students spending one semester at an IT company to learn the real processes and methods of the IT industry, which would certainly complement the theoretical studies at the university.
Or, we can think of students from third or four year at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, with a reasonable knowledge of Spanish language, to spend six months at an Spanish-speaking embassy learning how to write diplomatic and formal communications, and understanding the general work carried out by a diplomatic mission.
Actually, I had the opportunity to hire two students at third and four year at Utsunomiya University, who had a reasonable level of spoken Spanish, but no-so-well-developed level of written Spanish. At the beginning, they were assigned to reply simple letters, whose formats already existed, and gradually they came to write more complex letters in Spanish.
After six months, they were ready to start a professional work at any Spanish-speaking Embassy or institution, and therefore, I issued a certification of recognition for the excellent work they carried out in the office.
I have to point out that the Embassy had no internship agreement with Utsunomiya University. The students just interrupted their studies for one semester to gain practical experience and upgrade their Spanish skills. This experience showed me that universities must be flexible enough to offer internship or international exchange programs that goes from 3 to 6 to 1 year of practical experience in the field.
There is no doubt that this interaction with the university world in Japan, have taught me that the role of the higher education has to go beyond maintaining, disseminating and advancing knowledge in society.
In my view a university must play a proactive role in the process of transforming human lives. It should lead the process of socio-economic and technological change and not stay behind it.
As indicated in the guiding principles of Chiba University, academic and research staff should exercise their traditional rights to examine social values and criticize and challenge the belief structures of society in a responsible and honest manner so that knowledge can nurture a healthier human life.
Now, we approach what the Japanese government calls Society 5.0, which seems to be the result of technological progress in areas such as Information and Communication Technologies, Internet of Things, Big Data, Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Self-driving Vehicles, among others.
As explained by the government, Society 1.0 to 4.0 refer to the stages of human evolution from hunting-gathering to agricultural, industrial and to current information societies respectively.
There is no doubt that in Society 5.0, we will observe a greater interaction between people and a variety of machines and devices. Today, we can easily observe this interaction in the use of personal computers, smartphones with its applications, tablets, which we use constantly at home, school, work and any other social setting.
My daughter is 1 year and 7 months old, and she is already capable of identify the application of music, photos/videos, WhatsApp, phone calls and YouTube in the cellphone, using her little fingers to press or choose her favorite application. I believe when she is 20 years old, she will be speaking to machines for different purposes.
Therefore, I envision her not only learning Japanese, Spanish and English as well as mathematics, which are basic languages to communicate in the respective cultural environment, but also, she will be learning the language of computer programing as a mandatory subject for every student all over the world so that they can communicate with machine and devices.
In today’s world, computer programming will no longer be the language of a group of people in the field of computing engineering. It will be the language of every human being to be able to communicate with machines and devices. Otherwise, many people would run the risk of being excluded from the technological progress.
So, how universities will manage this new human scenario?
In my opinion, universities must teach computer language as a mandatory course in the first year to make sure that students have the abilities to go through the general or specialized subjects of study during their university life.
It is similar to what US universities do with English language. As a great number of American students enter the university with a weak mastery of formal English language, many universities teach a course called English 101 during the first year to make sure that students can write and communicate properly in the rest of the courses they will take during the university period.
Likewise, the study of social sciences should also be kept as mandatory throughout the university life. The language of computer programing requires critical and logical thinking which is nurtured by history, geography, philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and others subject related to human life.
Especially, social science helps students to develop a normative sense, a capacity to value and judge their environment. This is the critical point which separates human beings from everything else, including machines and devices.
We should constantly remind students that machines and devises are the creation of the human mind. We are the creators. I say this because human beings tend to become in love with their inventions. They become so fascinated with the wonders of machines and devices that they end up worshipping their creations as if they were gods.
We should be proud of our inventions, but we should avoid becoming enchanted with them because the day we start worshipping our creation, then we will surrender our human nature and some new being, entity or thing will emerge on this planet.
I hope this reflection triggers a lot of thinking within the academic and research staff of Chiba University as it marks the 70 Anniversary of its foundation.
Congratulations to Chiba University. Thank you very much.