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Strolling education in Japan


Strolling education in Japan
Niroh Nagahashi


Can you do 19 x 19 by heart?
According to a recent newspaper article, in India children in elementary school learn the multiplication table by heart. Quite amazingly the table consists of up to 19 by 19. From my personal experience I would say that for ten- or eleven-year-old kids, remembering the whole table of 19 by 19 is not an easy task. I learned only up to 9 by 9.


The size of the multiplication table itself does not matter, but what is really remarkable is India’s long-term strategy to improve the nation and the actions taken to accomplish those goals. Indeed, the calculation memorization training is just one part of the national strategy of education in India.


According to the article, in India they assume that ability in the fundamental sciences, especially mathematics, is the basis of the origin for a nation’s wealth. We know that Indians have had strength in logic since the era of ancient Indians, who innovated the concept of zero. They have inborn skills and they are trained to develop their ability more and more, so they can become number one in this area of science.


On the contrary, Japan’s education system does not seem to be in order, at least not strategically in order. The elementary and junior high schools in Japan have introduced a five-days-a-week system, so that the total learning hours in school are reduced. This new system has required reduced learning hours for math, our mother language, and other basic subjects. The original goal of the new schedule was to give more free time to the students so that they could develop active personalities using the spare time. With ten years’ experience we recognize the fact that most of the students are using the increased time for playing games, reading comics and watching TV programs, and as a result they show a decreased ability in math and other basic subjects. Some of the private schools have now begun to restore the six-days-a-week system.


How about the English education in Japanese schools? In recent years English curriculum in elementary schools in Japan has become one of the major topics of the children’s education. The logic of the movement is quite simple; English is the most basic communication tool in the world. Without English speaking ability, Japanese couldn’t compete in the world. Learning English at an earlier age is better. Therefore, educators argue that elementary schools should have classes for English, even if they can’t teach the mother language properly.


I agree with this logic except for the last point. I know some Japanese kids who speak English as fluently as native kids but can’t use Japanese words as correctly as average Japanese kids who do not speak English. Because the mother language is very fundamental to mental or logical ability, there are most likely effects not only on the surface but also deep impacts on the development of critical thinking skills. One day soon we will have to reconsider the priority of teaching the mother language rather than English.


Simple solution
Recently I learned about a remarkable trial to restore interest in learning in the classes in elementary schools. It is not by just teaching something with enthusiasm but by feeding breakfast to the children. During the trial the mothers are strongly encouraged to feed breakfast every day to their children. In order to do so, the parents and the children have to wake up an hour earlier than before, and then they have to go to bed earlier. Consequently the children’s daily cycle has been changed positively. They are able to concentrate better during their morning classes, which they couldn’t do before because of their hunger and sleepiness. The children’s scores in basic subjects improved quite remarkably because of this change.


I believe Japanese strolling education system should be redirected according to this kind of fundamental need of human beings.


Thank you for reading.


Aaron comments


Mr. Nagahashi took the IEW course.


Comments on the essay


1. Grabbing your interest
Notice how Mr. Nagahashi begins with an example. Newspaper articles often begin with an example. Here’s my question for you. If you had known that this article was about elementary education, would you have read it? 


Maybe yes; maybe no. Talking about the multiplication table grabbed my attention. Why? Because Mr. Nagahashi’s childhood experience is the same as mine. I memorized only up to 9 x 9. I share his thinking. I’ve never read anything about the 9 x 9 table.


Now, let’s look at you. If someone writes about your experiences, you are probably more likely to be interested in the reading.


2. Placement of self into the writing
Looking from another perspective, Mr. Nagahashi talks briefly about his memorizing the 9 x 9 table. He puts his experience into the article. He doesn’t tell us where he went to school or if he liked his teachers. He gives us only enough detail so we know he has personal attitudes from his own experience. This was very nicely done.


3. His personal concern
We see that Mr. Nagahashi is concerned about the future of Japanese education. He has skillfully explained why he is concerned and given details so that we, his readers, have new information. We know about 19 x 19 and we know about children not being able to speak Japanese. Both these items are new information for me.


4. Solution
Not only does Mr. Nagahashi have a personal concern, but he also has a solution. Plus, the solution is an attention-grabbing one.