Arab educators eye Japanese system

Egyptian government officials observe classroom cleaning at Nibukata Primary School in Hachioji, Tokyo.
PHOTO: The Yomiuri Shimbun

On Oct. 13, a delegation from the Egyptian government visited Nibukata Primary School in Hachioji, Tokyo. "The children are well-disciplined and work in teams," a member of the delegation said, expressing surprise at children sweeping and wiping the classroom floors.

According to the delegates, it's common in Egypt for janitors to clean schools. "We'd like to introduce Japan's special activities, which foster human capabilities, in our school education," said former Higher Education Minister Hany Helal.

Efforts are increasing to introduce Japanese-style education, with its emphasis on special activities like cleaning and school events in addition to children's academic development, in countries across the Arab world and elsewhere.

These moves are prompted by the expectation that fostering discipline and cooperativeness will help to develop the human resources responsible for future nation building. The government has decided to "export" its knowledge of this kind of education, with the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry accelerating efforts to build a framework to respond smoothly to the needs of each country.

As Principal Hiromi Shimizu of Nibukata Primary School said to the Egyptian delegation, "Special activities help reduce bullying and also lead to improved academic performance."

According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the number of officials in charge of educational administration around the world who visit Japan to learn about the educational methods of its primary and middle schools has been increasing. A total of 617 officials from 79 countries visited in fiscal 2014, up about 70 per cent from fiscal 2004.

Some children overseas have already experienced Japanese-style education.

The Japanese school in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates has been accepting local children since 2006 at the request of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. About 20 local children take classes with about 50 Japanese children and participate in special activities. "They're pleased the children can learn Japanese-style manners and achieve high academic performance," said Principal Masahiro Ogawa, 57.

According to the education ministry, primary schools in Saudi Arabia introduced classroom cleaning after a special programme on Japan was aired in 2009 on MBC, a Middle East satellite TV station. The programme spotlighted classroom cleaning and school lunches in Japan.

Expectations are also high for Japanese-style career education.

There are moves to introduce Japanese educational methods in countries other than those in the Arab world. The education ministry plans to establish a council in fiscal 2016 that will comprise JICA, incorporated educational institutions and other organisations. The ministry aims to help schools expand their operations overseas.

"The awareness that holistic education, which teaches cooperativeness with others, is important has been spreading globally, and Japanese-style education is drawing attention," said University of Tokyo Prof. Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, who specializes in comparative education. "However, Japanese-style education also has drawbacks in that it lacks a diverse perspective in terms of things like ethnic groups and religions. By learning from each other, I hope Japan will take this opportunity to improve its own style of education.

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