Passionate learning 青い目の熱血授業

Vol.1

We have all heard or read of the difficulties and the desperate state of Japan's high schools. Some bemoan the system, the regional administration, the individual high school administration, the teachers, and the students. There is always room for improvement in any organization or approach, and yet we have not seen anything close to the dire situations described.

Over the last 10 years, we have had the great good fortune of working with high schools all over Japan, from Gunma to Okayama, from Shimane to Hokkaido and many points in between. We have been working with the Super Science High School Project (SSH) for the Ministry of Education, Culture,Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). I also have the honor of working at Keio Girls' High School located in Tokyo.

In addition, I have been in business in Japan for over 20 years in communication, leadership, management, team building skills, and executive coaching. I have worked with the graduates of the Japanese educational system who have gone into business, as well as educational professionals, and I have found both offer much more hope and deliver much more innovative production than has been described. I also work with the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) as a Science Communication Specialist providing advice in all areas of English communication that includes, speech writing, presentation skills, all correspondence, diplomatic communiques, negotiations, and exhibit explanations. I work with the Executive Staff, Science Communicators, scientists, and the Miraikan staff, most of which are also graduates of the Japanese educational system.

We would like to share with you what we have experienced in working with Japan's education system, what we have found works, and the short and long term effects of what we do. I say we because I (Gary Vierheller) and my co-instructor (Sachiyo Takiguchi Vierheller), work together.

In 2001, we were requested to be a part of the SSH program through Miraikan and over the last 10 years we have been involved with national, and regional MEXT administrators. We were anxious about dealing with them, and our worries were quickly eliminated. We encountered people dedicated to discovering productive, innovative approaches designed to improve the student's understanding and application of what they learn. Plus, those regional administrators shared their discoveries with other prefectures, and they worked with us in crafting a program that is flexible and continues to evolve to meet the needs of the student and the objectives of the school.

Let us give you an example. Our mission was (and is) to teach high school students how to give a presentation, on science, in English, and the class is conducted in close to 80% English, but it is more than that. We also include within each class teach teamwork and team building skills, time management skills, and stress handling skills. There were a few naysayers, but a number of national and regional administrators/bureaucrats immediately recognized the advantages to the course and worked (and continue to) with us to develop our seminars. When we started we had one class for first year high school students to be conducted over a year. Now, with their support, we have much more productive intensive seminars for first year and second year students, a teaching assistant program for third year students, a seminar for all students, seminars for teachers, and even a seminar for parents. We have also expanded to junior high school students as well.

We have been fortunate to work with administrators that were open to new ideas, willing to implement those ideas and build on them through true teamwork, and all the while always keeping in sight the goal of providing each student with a quality education complete with applicable skills. There ARE many such people working in MEXT, and thus, there are many reasons for hope for the Japanese educational system.

Next time: Principals and teachers