“Japan has to take part in worldwide interactions and learn more from other countries to see how our country can feel confident about where we should go.” – Japan
Technology is coming to Japanese classrooms, much as it is around the world. But is hasn’t necessarily been easy to overcome traditional views on education. “The outcomes harvested from the new technologies we have used are so innovative in our country,” says Takayuki Mineshima. “We believe this will contribute to the skills our children will need to live in the new age. Fortunately, internationalization has fostered the potential of ICT and attracted attention from other countries so that educators can communicate and work together to make it better.” Here, Mineshima shares his hopes for technology in transforming Japanese education.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Children start learning math using concrete objects in Japanese elementary schools. However, as their learning progresses, it is not always easy for younger children to understand abstract concepts of math, which makes them even more confused when they are taught in language (which is an abstract concept as well). Solving this kind of problem is quite important for both teachers and students. Otherwise, this could be a big obstacle to students’ learning.
Digital Block, the software we invented, doesn’t need a keyboard or mouse. With just a stylus, we have come to realize that we could improve the quality of learning activities for children, help deepen their understanding and build their knowledge as well. ICT has the potential to solve various problems in classrooms from an educational perspective. We have gradually begun to realize that digitalization supports a great variety of learning activities. At schools where successful ICT use has helped facilitate new styles and learning outcomes for children, it helps students advance in everyday life. They don’t need to suffer from a learning setback if they lack good ICT skills. Instead, ICT should release children from any lack of technological skill and help them accelerate their learning activities.
Read more in Japanese here
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
With the development of an ICT-based society, we have a greater opportunity to see PCs in each and every kind of social environment. The penetration rate of PCs has been skyrocketing and reaching out to not just business but educational settings over time. There are many people who use Microsoft Office products and we see them in our everyday life, so we don’t think it’s a special thing. However, it is possible to make innovation happen in daily situations.
With just a macro feature of Excel, you can make things happen like pressing buttons, which enhances learning for children. Younger children can immediately understand more easily and visually the concepts of carrying and borrowing in math, that is, they can understand numerical systems instinctively instead of understanding in language when they learn them for the first time. Making a new learning tool is not a hard thing to do, but what matters is to accumulate and share knowledge and ideas among educators.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Our school is called a Future School and there are only ten of them in Japan. This is a national project where tablet computers are provided to all the students in the school and various educational effects have been examined. Under this privileged setting we fortunately have been able to study the effects from a multi-lateral standpoint, and have achieved the corresponding goals. Day-to-day practices on this project have made basic use of ICT more innovative. However, it was not technology by itself but communication and collaboration among children and teachers that helped support our practices. We innovated while understanding and sharing the meaning or advantages, all while getting hands-on use of educational technologies.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
With the rapid growth of a global society, our lifestyles have begun to change and the skills required for children in the 21st century have been transformed accordingly. New learning for the 21st century has to fit into modernization in our social context. The possibilities of ICT use have begun to expand our expectations in the field of education, and more emphasis has been placed on connectivity and continuity between education and business.
Because of this social aspect, the skills and capabilities required for the children living in the new age have gradually been modernized correspondingly. In fact, the new style of education (focused on the potential of ICT) has attracted a lot of attention from all around the world. This has increased the need for ICT to address the business and socio-economic context with which the academic development of the students is associated.
Although this kind of contemporary issue is not necessarily reflected in the actual learning activities in school, we need to keep searching for a better view of social situations to see how we can better help the children who are required to understand what it means.
It may not be easy to start without working on what is recognized as a big problem. We are still struggling with the direction we should go because we haven’t found our goals yet.
What is our country doing right to support education?
Despite all the governmental requirements and expectations of ICT-based learning activities for children, the budgetary constraints usually make it difficult to see what will be driven forward on an ongoing basis. However, as discussed earlier, the educational effects of ICT-based learning activities have gradually attracted curiosity and attention from other countries. This interest persuaded the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan to initiate its national project called Future School in October 2010. Although Japan has only ten future schools, all the students are provided with one tablet PC each and an IWB (Interactive Whiteboard) for each classroom so that collaborative learning activities can be created and proven.
They say that the government examines whether the neo-futuristic learning settings are effective. And based on the summarization of the results, the government will decide how they can apply the project to all the elementary and junior high schools by 2020.
Looking back on the history of educational policies in our country, this is a very significant turning point when the government has just begun to consider if they can improve the quality of education in Japan.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
ICT-based learning activities play a great role in Japan. While respecting the individuality and diversity of children, we have advanced the skills and capabilities of thought, expression, and judgment, all of which are required for them to live in the 21st century. However we can easily find a variety of these kinds of activities in the world and see that they are different, depending on what it means to the countries. It is very important to know how they are different in the global background, and it is essential for the countries to be internationalized so that we can help build our common understanding. Educational policies have to be made on the basis of internationalized common understanding, where people can share ideas and information more often. Ideas must be exchanged among countries whose educational situations are different, and whose social contexts are important to learn from. Japan has to take part in worldwide interactions and learn more from other countries to see how our country can feel confident about where we should go.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Children should be given more successful opportunities to participate actively in international society where they can convey information, increase exchanges, and learn from each other. In general, the educational philosophy which has traditionally been passed down by generations from the past is deeply involved in the actual educational activities of today. In fact, teachers who have different opinions or ideas from what has been regarded as unquestionable are the minority. Because of this, they often have difficulties in making themselves understood and advocated by their colleagues.
However, the advent of technology has made us realize the need to focus on skills or capabilities to deal flexibly with the changes in modern society, and to find and solve problems in a better way. Globalization now has a more significant meaning in social connectedness through communication among people or countries despite the attention or curiosity that had little to do with the change. So it is important to provide children with as many options as possible to support their communication, which enables them to expand their possibilities in the future.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Young teachers have a strong spirit of adventure to overcome any obstacles around them. They should run on the same track they believe they should stay if they believe they are right. They have inexhaustible energy to fight what must change, to do the right things and make a difference, regardless of the difficulties. New teachers should try everything new to them. Meanwhile it is important for the new teachers to understand correctly what the children in their classroom need and want and to provide them with the best way to learn while focusing on their individuality. This is an important viewpoint that never becomes obsolete in this ever-changing society, and they should find it valuable as we move into the new age.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
In these days, modernization is making rapid progress as well as internationalization.
In fact, the trend of introducing ICT into the educational field takes place reportedly in many countries. Based on strong information infrastructure, the effective way of using ICT is being pursued and its outcomes are being examined in actual education fields. This kind of new trend widens the learning activities of children in school and helps them acquire the skills for the 21st century.
However, the corresponding pedagogical methods and technological approaches are not necessarily provided to all children. The trend of selecting children for special opportunities can produce problems like academic gaps or unequal rights to success. These problems will happen in the geographical, social, and economic contexts.
If we are to pursue a higher quality of education, these unequal conditions must be removed.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Education has to be innovation. We believe it is an equal opportunity or possibility given to every child. All we have to do is take a step toward being innovative.
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About Takayuki Mineshima
ICT Support, Fujinoki Elementary School, Hiroshima, Japan
Birthplace: Iwakuni, Yamaguchi-pref, Japan
Current residence: Hiroshima, Japan
Education: B.S. University of Nebraska at Omaha
Website I check every day: MSN JPN
Person who inspires me most: Principal Mr. Hori with my school
Favorite childhood memory: When I started fishing with my father
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Athens for the Global Forum 2012
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Every day with my colleagues because I feel like I am at home with them.
Favorite book: 教育心理学特本
Favorite music: The Beatles
Your favorite quote or motto: “If you don’t sing, little cuckoo, I’ll make you sing.” (Hideyoshi Toyotomi)