Learning to Question - Children's University Kawagoe - 2. Opening - Papers & Essays



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Learning to Question - Children's University Kawagoe - 2. Opening


Children's Universities in Germany as a Model

    Mr. Sakai has researched children's universities in Germany, and the following is an excerpt of his report.

The first children's university in Germany was established in 2002, with the cooperation of the local newspaper in Tübingen. Professors and journalists gave free lectures for children between 7 to 12 years of age. The first lecture was attended by 400 children, and the second by 900.
The key concept of the children's university is bringing children's curiosity together with the scientists' curiosity. Caroline Ivor, project manager and advocate of the children's university, says, "Children are able to enrich their inner world by bringing new questions, ideas and problem-solving methods from children's university back home. On the other hand, professors are also able to enrich their inner world by making efforts to explain their research in an easy-to-understand way for children. Furthermore, while trying various approaches to make children understand, teachers will also learn to teach even very complicated themes in an easy way."
In Fehman Island in Germany in 2003, another children's university was established on the model of the one in Tübingen. The theme of the lectures was "Why do volcanoes erupt?" After that, more and more children's universities have been established, not only in German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) but also in the UK, Italy, etc., with the cooperation of local universities. Nearly 100 universities have now been established.
The theme of lectures tends to place more importance on "why" rather than on "how". For example, "Why do cars run? " is preferred to "How do engine run?" as a theme. The following reflect some of the lecture topics given at children's universities.
  • - Why do we need law?
  • - Why should we read books?
  • - Why does the stomach growl when we are hungry?
  • - Why does medicine work against illness?
  • - Why do animals fall in love?
  • - Why do humans get sick and die?
  • - Why do humans fight?


Setting-up of study panels

    After gathering detailed information on children's universities in Germany, Mr. Sakai visited Professor Katsuya Endo, Vice-President of Tokyo International University, a specialist in philosophy of education. Professor Endo was also interested in children's universities in Germany and suggested setting up such a children's university in Kawagoe.
    Encouraged by the suggestion, Mr. Sakai called on Fukashi Horie, President of Shobi University, and Yoshikazu Yoshida, Director of Engineering Department of Toyo University, to set up a study group for the foundation of Kawagoe Children's University.
    Led by Mr. Sakai, the study group conducted market research and interviewed about 20 people, from members of Education Committee of Kawagoe City, universities, chamber of commerce and industry, junior chamber, teachers of primary school to parents and others concerned. Based on the interview, research reports were summarized in 'Research Report/Project Plan' on November 16, 2007.
     Negotiation with universities, however, took a very long time. Feeling pessimistic about the slow progress of the discussions, Mr. Sakai abandoned the idea of allowing the universities to take the initiative in the negotiations. At that time, Mr. Sakai decided to study children's universities in Germany as a possible model. In Germany, the local mass media played the leading role in establishing an NPO. The NPO negotiated with professors individually to have them give lectures as volunteers at children's universities. As for financing, operating funds were raised from private organizations. Because university professors teach without compensation, the tuition for the children is also free.
    Enlightened by the model in Germany, Mr. Sakai decided to establish an NPO in Kawagoe, which would come to play a leading role in creating a children's university in Japan. As preparation, he set up 'The Committee to Create Kawagoe Children's University' the following year, on February 5, 2008. He called on more than 30 persons who attended the 'Training Course for Community Activity Coordinators', organized by the Lifelong Learning Department of Education Committee of Kawagoe City, and six of them actively responded to his plan.
    It was at that time that Mr. Sakai sent me the project plan on the children's university by e-mail. As an older graduate of my university, he knew I was working as education-correspondent for the Mainichi Newspapers, and asked for my advice.
    The project plan aimed 1) to provide opportunities for children (grades 4-6) to experience university level lectures, stimulate their curiosity, and evoke interest in academic knowledge, i.e., encourage them to take the first step toward exploring learning (pursuit of truth), 2) besides academic knowledge, to provide career education and education about the Kawagoe region, 3) to make use of civic initiatives and enhance the power of local education through collaboration between universities, primary schools, education committee, business community and citizens.


'Question Science' 'Living Science' 'Hometown Science'

    Reading the plan, I slapped my knee to find it very interesting. Having been collecting education materials for an article for a long time, I was always considering why Japanese education could not satisfy children's curiosity. Educators cram children with compulsory knowledge and force children to take tests to compete in scores. In fact, the "why" and "how" questions that children have in daily life are naïve but also very fundamental questions. That is why the proposal to establish a children's university where professors give easy-to-understand lectures to children attracted me very much.
    On February 12, I, resident of Higashikurume City in Tokyo, went to Kawagoe to meet Mr. Sakai.
    Regarding the three fields of study, first, I suggested that we call the first one 'Question (Hatena) Science' because the Japanese expression of the 'academic study' seemed too heavy and dry for children, In the same way, we had changed 'career education' to 'Living (Ikikata) Science' and 'Kawagoe community education' to 'Hometown (Furusato) Science'.
    Second, out of a hope that the children's university would expand from Kawagoe across Japan, both Mr. Sakai and I agreed to change the original name of Kawagoe Children's University to Children's University Kawagoe, because the latter one would make it easier for other children's universities to name themselves in the future since it would involve only adding the area name at the end.
    Third, to appeal to the public, I suggested asking a popular figure among children and parents to serve as president.


President Selection

    Mr. Sakai made requests to a famous animation director, brain scientist, and former NHK announcer, but they were too busy and declined.
    Giving up the idea of asking famous people, we visited Tokyo International University and asked Vice-President, Professor Katsuya Endo, who had been interested in the children's university from the beginning. Although very busy with both university-related and outside duties, Professor Endo finally kindly accepted our invitation.
    Next, to look for an administrative director, I accompanied Mr. Sakai to visit Mr. Kenichi Enatsu, former Vice-President of Waseda University, and he gave his ready consent. Mr. Sakai had known Mr. Enatsu since the time Mr. Sakai worked as senior researcher at The International Business Institute in Waseda.
    To secure funds for establishment, Mr. Sakai applied to several subsidy groups. One of them, KAMEI Foundation for the Promotion of Social Education in Sendai offered 500,000 Yen to sponsor us. We were able to set up an office in the Kasumigaseki-kita Community Hall of Kawagoe.
    In this way, the foundation of 'Children's University Kawagoe' was at last laid. On September 30, we held the inaugural meeting of NPO 'Children's University Kawagoe' in the conference room at Kawagoe City Museum and applied for approval as NPO to the Saitama Prefectural Government. (approved on December 16, registered on December 22)


Opening Symposium

    On November 26, a press conference was held in press club at Kawagoe City Government. Mr. Sakai distributed the handouts and gave an explanation. President Endo attended the conference and emphasized the significance of the children's university. Finally, the flag of Children's University Kawagoe, made by a staff member, Mr. Kazuo Takezawa, was presented (see photo) and photographed. This was given a great deal of press coverage the next day in the Saitama Shimbun, in the Saitama section of Mainichi Newspapers, Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun. Children's University Kawagoe soon became known to the people of Kawagoe City and the surrounding area.
    On Sunday, December 7, the opening symposium was held in the audio-visual hall of Kawagoe City Library. With the cooperation of the entire board of education in Kawagoe City and adjacent Tsurugashima City, handouts were distributed to all of the 4-6th grade students and their parents, 11,000 in total, of the two cities' elementary schools. As the hall was small, Mr. Sakai was worried about a large attendance, but about 60 people, an appropriate number, came on the day.
    Before the symposium, congratulatory speeches with expectations of the Children's University were given by the head of the educational general affairs department of Kawagoe City Educational Committee and the councilor of the educational department of Tsurugashima City Educational Committee. Mr. Sakai introduced the children's universities in Germany with slides. Then a keynote address entitled "What are true academic skills?" was given by Mr. Endo, President of the Children's University. The symposium on "Role of the children's university" was held with Chairman Enatsu, President Endo and Director-General Sakai as panelists and myself as moderator.
    The panelists expressed their thoughts on the education necessary to nurture true academic skills. I felt that the education philosophy of children's universities was well conveyed to the audience.
     When the new year comes, we will start seeking applications from students.


Homepage of Children's University Kawagoe: http://www.cuk.or.jp