Empowering the Next Generation

Tomohiro Hoshi was born in Tokyo, Japan, where his parents ran a flower shop. He graduated from the University of Tokyo with a B.A. in philosophy in 2001. The following year, he moved to the US, where he earned an M.A. in philosophy from Texas A&M University. After completing his Ph.D. in philosophy at Stanford University in 2008, he joined the Stanford Online High School start-up project as a lecturer in the philosophy department. He has been the head of school since 2016. In addition to his current position, he lectures on philosophy, logic, and leadership, and he consults on education and education-related technology (EdTech) in the US and Asia.


Iroha: What projects are you currently working on?

Dr. Hoshi: Although online schools have been in the spotlight only since the pandemic, I have been doing this since 2006. Having been in the education technology industry for a long time, I realize this is not just a passing fad. The global population continues to grow, and it is reaching areas where education has never been widespread before. In another decade or so, the number of college students will double or triple what it is today. In a dual sense—population and location—the demand for education is exploding. To cover that demand, we must build two large research universities like Stanford and Columbia every day. This can no longer be supported without the use of technology. 

Iroha: What have you most recently completed or plan to do soon?

Dr. Hoshi: I originally wanted to prove that good online education is possible. I have done that to some extent and received some recognition. What I am doing now, however, is the story of how a good teacher and a good student can combine their resources and make it work. In a sense, anyone can do it.

Online schools today are polarized. One school comprises the “best of the best” schools. Another school supports children in need who cannot attend school for various reasons. In other words, the middle ground is not represented. If we can't do that to some extent, we can't support the future demand for education. In the future, I would like to focus more seriously on education technology to withstand the explosion in global demand for education that will eventually come.

Before the pandemic, the global education market, which studies various worldwide problems and how to solve them, was about 10% of the world's GDP. Education technology was 1% of that. With the pandemic, it has increased two to three times and is now 2-3% of the GDP. In another five to six years, this will be 10%. By that time, the global education market and EdTech will be an established form of education. 

Iroha: Are there any difficulties with the online system?

Dr. Hoshi: Students can shut down unilaterally because online school is not face-to-face, and communication can be challenging. That is why we try to create a community. We have a dance party about once every two to three months, and we have a prom at the graduation ceremony in June.

However, there are some advantages to being online. For example, sometimes people hesitate to go to an in-person counseling session because they don't feel comfortable. But online counseling makes them feel more comfortable in their own room, and they can talk without seeing the counselor's face. I realized at the beginning that there is an advantage to online counseling.

We once considered using virtual reality to make classes more realistic, but recently, we’ve realized that it’s probably not necessary. The less information I get online, the more I can focus on the class.


Iroha: What are your thoughts regarding Asian hate and Asian glass ceiling issues?

Dr. Hoshi: Undoubtedly, both are real, and I have experienced them. As for Asian hate, I’ve seen it from students as well as parents. Some obviously do it intentionally, while others do it because of an implicit bias. The problem comes from the fact that they don't understand the primary meaning of it, which causes difficulties in the community. We now offer an implicit bias education program in our schools, including for our staff, to teach students and parents about it. There was a lot of backlash. People were like, "Why do I have to take a test on this subject?" or "How can I be racist?" I think that by exposing people to this issue little by little, a discussion will occur, and from there, a sense of community will grow. As an educator, I think these are the areas where we can work.

As for the glass ceiling, this is a deep-rooted problem, and I have seen it myself in the education community. Even where I am in the Bay Area, I realize that there is ceiling for Japanese and Chinese to a certain extent. We can't suddenly change society, but what we can do is change our own consciousness. Some of my students are putting up their own glass ceiling. Just like IROHA is doing, I feel that showcasing Japanese people who have succeeded overseas and connecting with them will help us broaden our awareness.


Iroha: Based on your background, do you have any advice or a message for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?

Dr. Hoshi: I'm not telling you not to have dreams, but you don't have to. Even if you have a dream, at critical points in your life, you can change your dream if an opportunity for a different path comes along. I want you to have a flexible mindset. There are three basic desires of the human mind: The first is the social brain, which is the ability to connect socially with others; the second is a sense of competence, such as having learned or achieved something; and the third is independence. These three major desires of the heart and mind must be fulfilled. I am often asked how to connect with the many children who don’t interact well with those around them. In such cases, I tell them they should help those in need. More broadly, contribute to society. If you have a flexible mindset and are willing to help others, it will lead to your own definition of happiness.

Iroha: Outside of work, what are you most interested in right now?

Dr. Hoshi: I worked part-time in restaurants when I was in school. I liked cooking and wanted to be a chef, so I got a chef's license. But one day, I met someone who had been training in a live-in, high-end, traditional Japanese restaurant called a “ryotei” since junior high school, and I knew I couldn't compete with him. When someone I look up to comes along, I draw the line for myself. I have already given up on becoming a chef, but I would like to open a small restaurant someday. I'll probably cook a bit, too, but then I'll hire a professional chef.

written by Susan Miyagi McCormac / photography: From Stanford OHS HP and Facebook pages


Tomohiro Hoshi | Linkedin

Stanford Online High School