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Issues of Education and Roles of Teachers in the Future: How Teachers Are Trying to Change

My keynote proposal today has a very broad theme: issues of education and roles of teachers in the future. First of all, I would like to provide some background to think about the role and place of "integrated study" today.

In 2002, the academic contents of school education will be reduced by 30%. And, in response, it has been suggested that children's academic ability may decline. Members of the Curriculum Council express a lot of concern over this, and the media even refer to the collapse, and not just the decline, of academic ability. In fact, the concern was such that the Ministry of Education gave a press release last October, announcing, "academic ability of 8th graders shows no decline".

However, there are also such issues as mathphobia and children's shunning science and mathematics. For example, according to a survey conducted in 17 developed countries, Japan ranked lowest in terms of the percentage of students who thought, "science is important to everyone's life" and the percentage of students who thought, "I would like to have a job that uses my scientific knowledge". That is, while Japanese children have high academic ability, there are not so many who wish to make use of it in their daily lives or future jobs. Unless we pay due attention to this situation, I do not think that Japan's educational reform will be realized.

And, even if the scope of school education is reduced, education in practice is, in fact, expanding, as the world is being information-oriented as well as internationalized. Therefore, there is a large gap arising between society at large and education at school today. The question is, then, how can we narrow this gap? What kinds of skills can we teach our children, given the reduction of the academic contents in school education?

Another issue is that, today, children are becoming far less capable of defining themselves. An international comparative study indicates that Japanese children have lower self-esteem or lower self-acceptance, as shown in their responses to the statement, "I have something good in myself". In the age of globalization, therefore, it becomes one of the essential conditions to raise children who can not only develop their intelligence, but also appreciate themselves and find out who they are in society, in a positive way.

The question then becomes, what do we really need? We often talk about "academic ability", but what we really need is the cultivation of "intellectuality" or "intellect". There are two types of knowledge, one of which is called "formal knowledge". For instance, explanations in textbooks are so manualized that they can readily be transmitted and understood, and what is written there will be accumulated in the form of knowledge. However, this "formal knowledge" is easily lost, and, in the end, one may be led to think that it hardly needs to be related with one's daily life or ability to live.

The other type of knowledge is called "tacit knowledge", which is something acquired through experience. For example, when you learn how to swim, you actually go to a swimming pool or a river and try moving your arms and legs. And, through this experience, you get the feeling of how you can float, move forward, and gain speed. Besides, once this knowledge is acquired, it will not be easily lost. Since there has been too much focus on the acquisition of "formal knowledge", all the more necessary will be the acquisition of "tacit knowledge". This is why, along with teaching academic subjects, providing a wide range of firsthand experiences such as experiments, observations, field trips, research, and creative activities becomes important.

Purposes of the New National Curriculum

Recently, the Ministry of Education announced the "purposes of national curriculum reform". First, it says, "to help a child cultivate rich humanity, sociality, and identity as a Japanese living in the international community". "Identity" or awareness of oneself is something very personal and individual, and it cannot be acquired until one becomes quite mature. However, it even refers to "identity as a Japanese living in the international community". That is, in the increasingly internationalized community today, we must raise children who have such awareness.

Second, it says, "to help children develop ability to learn and think independently", and, third, "to help children acquire basic abilities and skills". Previously, it only said, "to place high value on the basics". While "to place high value" represents a viewpoint of teachers and adults, "to help children acquire" suggests that we make sure each and every child does acquire these abilities and skills. In short, we need to think of education that will help each child to develop personal integrity, social concern, and international competence, and will at the same time equip them firmly with the basics and the ability to learn. Actually, it is not the Ministry of Education but only schoolteachers, standing right before them, who can help this way.

And, here, the fourth purpose pertains: "to encourage individual schools to show ingenuity in developing unique educational activities to make the school distinctive". This is the first time roles of schools were suggested. In effect, it is to encourage teachers to exercise their ingenuity as they help each individual child to acquire basic abilities and skills, and to develop ability to learn independently.

Please note that these purposes or philosophies reflect a trend in society as a whole. Society is, no doubt, moving toward valuing each individual and promoting their individuality. In business today, there is much talk about "one-to-one response", the act of valuing each customer and responding to their individual needs. It is thus important for schools, too, to work on a one-to-one basis, shifting the way they think from the one that has hitherto narrowly focused on academic subjects.

In view of this, it is very significant that integrated study has the two objectives, the first of which is "to help children develop ability to identify problems for oneself, make independent judgements, and solve problems well". In other words, children's self-realization is considered important. However, it does not mean that any activity is acceptable if it promotes self-realization or if it is fun for children. What needs to be learned is "how to learn and reason", which is the second of the two objectives. We should keep in mind that one of the ideas of integrated study is to raise children who can act independently and study and solve problems, and who, in the face of social changes, are capable of finding their own ways of life.

Until now, integrated study focused more on hands-on activities than on studying from a book, and this was about as much as we could achieve. However, we are now in the next phase, asking ourselves, "what kinds of skills do we want our children to acquire through integrated study?", "how are they similar or different from academic skills?". For example, "language activities", or "communication skills", are being highly valued lately. While basic communication skills may be learned in Japanese language classes, they are applied and developed through such activities as discussions, interviews with people in the community, and presentations. However, this is not just application or development of skills. Academic skills form the basis, of course, but this is rather a world of its own where, applying the skills, children create even newer worlds of learning. Here, they study a specific world, and, as they organize what they study, they find one thing after another that they may want to try next time or pursue more. Thus, "proliferation of knowledge" comes into play. So far, the very abstract word "individuality" has been used, but, in integrated study, children may at last find a world which they can study for themselves and where they can realize themselves.

Teachers Become Producers

I believe, therefore, that roles of teachers are like those of TV producers. They think ahead about diverse needs or interests of children and make various arrangements accordingly, asking, "how do each child want to learn?", "what kind of tasks will they jump at?". They also orchestrate local resources such as people, facilities, and environment, asking, "who do we have in our community to whom we can turn for help?".

For example, we can apply the idea of "knowledge management". It is about borrowing the diverse knowledge and skills of people outside one's organization. There must be people in each community who are very knowledgeable and skilled about certain issues. By asking these people, we can organize learning in such a way as to help children expand their worlds of learning. In integrated study, what society has to offer is brought directly into school, so schools and teachers need not be well versed in or capable of teaching everything. It is important that teachers stand on the same footing as children, and not take too much upon themselves.

Now, let us look at a survey of teachers at pilot schools who have been implementing integrated study. In response to the question, "do you think roles of teachers have changed since the introduction of the new national curriculum?", about 70% answered, "considerably changed" or "somewhat changed". What they think has changed is "how they support children's problem-inquiring activities". In other words, the idea of one-to-one management is taking root in the minds of teachers, the idea of taking care how they can assist each child in identifying and studying problems, and presenting what they have learned.

Moreover, there were many who answered, "preparation of curriculum is difficult", yet, at the same time, there were also quite a few who answered, "preparation of curriculum is worth the effort" or "management of an entire unit is worth the effort". Certainly, preparations of curriculum, one-to-one response, and one-to-one management for each child in integrated study are very difficult. Yet, a number of teachers still find it rewarding to devote themselves to the work. As may be seen from these results, it is essential that, in the future, teachers at each school manage an entire curriculum themselves, and promote the idea of "our own curriculum management".

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