As you may have seen from my tweets I recently participated in a Education Leaders Study Tour to Japan. Twenty colleagues were asked to participate with a focus on Japanese culture, education and language learning. Gael Ross, headteacher at Stoneywood School was the other Aberdeen City attendee.
There were representatives from our friends in the Northern Alliance – Aberdeenshire and Orkney as well as a number of central belt Local authorities. We flew to Toyko and traveled around Japan quite significantly – covering Kyoto, Osaka, Kamaishi City and back to Toyko!
We were privileged to meet with Japanese education professors, school leaders, education ministers and the British Ambassador – alongside Fiona Hyslop who was in Japan at the same time.
The tour took us into a number of Elementary (primary) and Secondary schools and allowed us to see learning first hand and to interact with the children and staff at the schools. We also experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony with Kindergarten children (nursery) to celebrate the arrival of plum blossom. It was quite an experience!
it was very interesting to see the education system and to challenge some of the expectations we had about the school system in Japan. There were many similarities – children are children – but also some significant differences. There was not the very formal atmosphere we had expected and although the children were often in rows – one word from the teacher and instantly tables were moved and groups formed for a practical task – and all done speedily and quietly! Children were very invested in their learning and their enthusiasm will stay with me as a lasting memory – eager to learn and a thirst for knowledge. Another significant observation was the children’s aspiration for themselves – the profession they most wanted to join was teaching! They often chose traditional careers but saw public service and paying back to their society as significant. This was particularly heart felt and emotional in Kamaishi Secondary where the worst of the Japanese Tsunami hit and where the regeneration and commitment to rebuild the city was so strong. We had the opportunity to visit the almost completed new all through school for the city being rebuild alongside the new stadium for the Rugby World Cup Japan are hosting in 2019. A most impressive site!
We were able to see a lot of the country and talked ( through translators) to teachers who are teaching English and planning a national role out of English teaching in the primary sector in 2020 – but without many teachers who speak English – so we shared some common issues and our approach to 1+2 in Scotland.
The japan Foundation, who sponsored the trip, were keen that we experienced Japanese culture to understand the country and we had some amazing visits to temples and shrine. We also had a Buddhist meditation session with a priest – which was truly special and which some schools in japan are now adding to their day to help children and staff to relax and refocus.
We closed the week with a reception by the Japan Foundation for all who had participated in the tour and host schools, educators and officials – a great way to end a learning experience that was a unique opportunity to learn first hand about language learning in another country.