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After the Second East Asia Child Science Conference on Child Growth and Development and the Daily Life Environment

The Second East Asia Child Science Conference was held on the weekend of April 19-20, 2008 in the auditorium of Ochanomizu University on the subject of "Child Growth and Development and the Daily Life Environment." The first conference had been held in November 2007 in Changsha, China.

A total of five participants attended from China: Professor Jiaxiong Zhu of East China Normal University; Professor Jinliang Qin, Head, Hangzhou College of Preschool Teacher Education, Zhejiang Normal University; Professor Shaowen Huang, Changsha Normal College, and a university instructor and preschool teacher from Changsha.

On the first day, the three speakers from China gave presentations on education problems in China. The issues that were raised were then discussed in a joint symposium. On the second day, three presentations from the Japanese side addressed the problems of infant education in China from the Japanese perspective and the mutual influence of prewar and postwar Japan-China exchange. This was followed by a discussion-style symposium of scholars. The attendance was nearly 200 and included exchange students from China. The discussion was lively and the two-day conference ended in success.

CRN will post an in-depth report of the presentations at a later date, but for now, I'd like to communicate my personal impressions of the conference.

On the first day, Professor Zhu gave his views on the NHK documentary that aired on January 2008 entitled "The Little Emperor's Tears" and spoke on general issues of infant education in China. Professor Qin addressed these issues from the perspective of brain science, and Professor Huang, using the system in Changsha as an example, explained the system of preschool education.

"The Little Emperor's Tears" took up the subject of children in China under the One-Child Policy. These children, who are subject to intense pressure from their parents to excel scholastically, enter a prestigious university and lead good lives. They are not free to play and enjoy the things they like, which causes them to cry. This is a story that has been and still is a familiar problem in Japan. Whether this problem is more serious in China than Japan may be a question of the difference in culture and this should be studied. Unfortunately, the situation does not seem to be that different to me, but this remains unconfirmed.

Professor Zhu made the important point that the parents' academic background or household affluence has a major effect on this situation. In the discussion, I believe it was Professor Qin who said that if children enter a good university, they will be grateful for the time they were made to cry, and so the inverse is true: they will certainly resent their parents for not pushing them study to the point of tears.

Personally, however, I feel any type of studying can be turned into fun depending on the way it is taught. All education is a question of child caring design. This also means that those involved in teaching need to design play spaces, schools, educational materials and objects, and educational methods from the perspective of the child and to create an experience of the "joy of learning."

On the second day, Professor Toshiya Yamamoto, Waseda University, presented a comparative study of child care and education in Japan and China. Mikako Sutou, Fellow Researcher of Ochanomizu University, compared the prewar development of kindergarten education in China and Japan and their exchange in this field which began during the Ch'ing dynasty when Japanese kindergarten education began to take root. Mariko Ichimi, Senior Researcher of National Institute for Educational Policy Research, compared child care and preschool education during the Sino-Japanese War and the civil strife that followed. All presentations were met with great interest.

The long-term overnight child care services that are available in China have a sad origin when even mothers had take part in the Sino-Japanese War. They continue to this day. To us in Japan, their existence would seem to be quite problematic, but they are hardly an issue in China. I would be interested in learning more about the reason.

During Day 2, I gave a lot of thought to the concept "child ecology." A child's daily life environment is filled with many things that affect his or her physical and emotional growth. The list is too long to mention, beginning with bacterial causes of illness and chemical and material causes of air and water pollution to pets in the home and animals and the local and global geography and nature. Children are born as biological beings and raised as social beings, and clearly cultural factors are extremely significant. If we focus on the cultural factors involved, this would be called "child cultural ecology." In child ecology, we must keep in mind that culture works together with other factors in having a large effect on child growth and development.

Take the role of nutrition in physical growth, for example. Nutrition is not merely a question of eating habits, but is also affected by national or regional affluence and economic power. We must even consider the religious rites such as those of circumcision. Parents from African countries who work in Britain will return to Africa to have their girl child circumcised. This is none other than child abuse. Culture also affects emotional development. Culture can thus be positioned as a kind of information and this means that it has a deep and direct relation to emotional development.

Thinking about the problems of the world after the two-day conference, I realized how necessary in the emotional development of children to cultivate the intelligence to understand what culture is. Isn't the importance of child care, child raising, and education?

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