[Snuggling Up to Our Differences] Episode3: Making Use of Technology Rather than Relying on Teacher's Strength and Stamina - Projects



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[Snuggling Up to Our Differences] Episode3: Making Use of Technology Rather than Relying on Teacher's Strength and Stamina


Triggered by the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) started nationwide the GIGA (Global and Innovation Gateway for All) School Plan, which was originally intended to be implemented over a five-year period to 2023.(Note) This decision resulted in a technological environment in which each student got to be provided with a computer in elementary and junior high school.

Starting in 2013, I worked as a teacher at a special needs school for four years. I had no prior training in special education for children with disabilities, so the experience of suddenly being assigned to work in a special needs school was one ordeal after another. It involved considering individual differences in comprehension and enthusiasm as well as assignments that were carefully adapted to "that particular child." Such carefully written assignments were printed and either left on a desk or thrown away, in any case, never to be read. The students would not read the material or show interest at all regardless of how carefully the topic had been chosen to suit their interests.

On the other hand, raising your voice to scold or pressure a child to pay attention to a subject seems quite different from what education is supposed to be. After a trial-and-error period to find a good way, it turned out that the most effective solution involved using a device or terminal supplied by technology.

Children love TV and digital games, and when they are shown on a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, most children will become quiet and silently focus on the display. Children who are unfocused in daily life or those who find it hard to sit still are not exceptions. As someone who had been doubtful about the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in education, what I witnessed was enough to make me change my mind.

I later learned that human beings tend to be attracted to material that shines or glows. You can easily imagine that this is even more so when various colors and pleasant sounds are added. This can be seen in newborn infants who stare at liquid crystal displays with intense, almost fearful, concentration.

Perhaps this situation was also helpful, and from that time, the use of ICT in education has become more common in special needs education than in regular schools. Perhaps this high necessity of dealing closely with the problems and difficulties of each individual, the limitations of analogue educational materials and the small number of students in each class might be pointed out as reasons for the low hurdle in small classes. Learning from the work and research of others before me, I had a change of heart and decided to work with ICT.

Among the most groundbreaking occurrences was the appearance of the tablet terminal. Before then, the distance between the keyboard, the mouse, the screen and the controller had been a rather high hurdle for children. However, tablet devices can be operated by directly touching the LCD screen, allowing for quick, intuitive movements much like what takes place every day. Families are now giving warm reports on children who almost never took the initiative to play in the past, but now can be seen constantly swiping a finger across the family TV.

I was assigned to a special needs school that was primarily for students with intellectual disabilities, and there were many who found it difficult to read. However, guided by icons and images to facilitate understanding, many children were well able to search on their own. This also enabled the replaying of sound or images and clearly served as important support for understanding.

For example, the day begins with the daily schedule shown on the terminal. Some children take a look to get a view of the day's activities while others check to see what has been finished and what needs to be done next. This was particularly true in the case of a sudden event or a change in the regular time schedule which would involve showing photographs and moving images and rearranging the schedule so that children who had trouble understanding the change could also understand and accept it.

Even for information that cannot be specifically provided visually on the spot, the digital device is still effective. For example, if mowing the lawn is part of the work to be learned, first, take a photograph of the yard before the lawn is mowed and then show it afterwards. The comparison of photographs that will show the extent of the collaboration and effort. As a result, it becomes possible to confirm the status of the grass over time and this leads to a feeling of accomplishment and confidence.

Digital devices are also effective for individual learning. Children who have trouble or issues with coordinated movement of the eyes and hands will enjoy moving their fingers and hands to cheerful sounds and changing visuals. One child who had trouble remembering the multiplication table, repeatedly listened to a multiplication song over and over to remember it as a musical tune. Even children were not so proficient in reading Chinese characters became able to read them without any trouble as they input the pronunciation and confirmed them on the terminal.

It has now been two years since the GIGA (Global and Innovation Gateway for All) school was established and began fully operating. When its activities are compared with regular schools, there are also differences due to the region and particular schools, but overall, are the digital devices being well utilized after they are introduced? I hear that some adults claim that "digital devices are problematic" and "unnecessary for learning," and some schools are not in favor of their use. Nevertheless, there are probably always students who need these devices and those whose study will make better progress with the help of devices. If such students are ignored in the course of daily educational activities, inclusive education will then be only another unrealistic dream.

I often hear people at school say "Wanting to take action is certainly a powerful feeling, but it is difficult and hard to be active in an effective way." In actuality, there is no reason to think of it as so difficult. Considering the capacity and functionality of the devices today, most children learn to flexibly use the equipment through trial and error and without much difficulty. I say this with confidence from my four years' experience from working at a special needs school and then at a regular school for four years, and furthermore, after seeing first-grade students typing without any difficulty at an alternative school.

It is not necessary to do anything noble. Let the children decide whether to take photos of the blackboard and share them or whether to write it down on paper or type it out. Create an environment that will allow them to look up information on the internet. Even something seemingly trivial like that can greatly add to the potential and possibilities of the class. Lower the hurdles involved in daily schoolwork and create an environment that will allow all students, regardless of type, to focus on fundamental questions and topics. To accomplish this, do not depend on the stamina and strength of the teacher, but rather proceed case by case with the help of technology, and this will create a place where all children can be happy and learn.

Note: Definition by MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology - Japan) "Realizing an educational environment where children can maximize their individual qualities and abilities and enable them to develop further and freely by providing one device for each student and a high-speed, large volume communications network for all, including children who need special support and without leaving a single child behind."

Shogo Minote

Principal, HILLOCK Bilingual Kinder School Elementary school teacher at public schools for 14 years. Attended graduate school while teaching and received a Master's degree in Human Development. In charge of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and research at Maebara Elementary School, nationally known for its Programming Education. In April 2022, opened the primary school department of HILLOCK Bilingual Kinder School. Publications include Children Will Learn on Their Own and How to Use ICT to Realize the Best Education for Each Individual, both published by Gakuyo Shobo, and Understanding Before & After! Research Update, published by Meiji Shuppan Corporation.