Japanese teachers learn from business experience

JAPAN - Education is taking on a new tack as an increasing number of teachers with practical business experience are being hired. However, many teachers are stepping outside the education field to gain experience in private companies.

Educators with business experience are making good use of the knowledge they have acquired and management ability, creating high expectations. What effect do people with business experience bring to schools?

Bringing out smiles

"It suits you well," said Kenichiro Kawai as a couple tried on hats at a gift shop in the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka on Jan. 20. Looking into the mirror, the couple smiled.

Kawai, 36, is not a regular salesman at the store but an art teacher at the prefectural Tondabayashi School for students with physical and mental impairments. He is undergoing one year of training at the store as part of a programme provided by the prefectural board of education. He applied for the programme as he wanted to be in an environment where people with impairments worked so he could use the experience to better help his own students find a career path.

The gift shop has 10 workers who have physical or mental impairments. After hearing staff members say that "these workers can do only what they are told," he had gained an understanding of how people with impairments are capable of doing more than that.

He also learned that an extra word can make a customer smile. He said he believed students would smile more if the teachers greeted them at the school entrance in the morning. However, many teachers appeared to stick to the idea that students were not their "customers."

"What sort of services can schools offer to students?" he wondered. He is still looking for an answer.

Managing a TV programme

"Five, four, three..."

On Jan. 22, the live broadcast of the TV show "Zubatto! Kagoshima" began with the cue coming from Yasuyo Miroku, 42, a teacher at the prefectural Izumi School for students with impairments. She has been working as an assistant director for three months at the Minaminihon TV station in Kagoshima under a training programme of the prefectural board of education. She joined the programme because she was wondering whether she could continue working as a teacher if she did not know more about the world outside the classroom.

Miroku manages the flow of the programme, telling the host of the show what the director wants and how much time is left on the clock. The work schedule often completely changes when there is breaking news.

"I was impressed at how they respond to a particular situation," Miroku said. The situation is much different from the way things are run at school, she said.

The training is also aimed at helping others deepen their understanding of the school. Last December, Miroku told TV station colleagues of the efforts students made at an athletic meet.

"We learned from her how little we knew about people with impairments," announcer Yusuke Okada said.

Fewer trainees

The Osaka and Kagoshima prefectural boards of education stress that the training programs can help revolutionize the schools from within. The number of teachers attending the programs, however, has fallen off. One reason for this is that teachers have become too busy to leave school for an extended period. To deal with this problem, the Kagoshima prefectural board of education started programs that last between 10 days and a month.

A government survey also indicates that the number of teachers who take on-the-job training at business firms is decreasing.

One complaint from many in the educational field is that schools lack the courage and vitality to institute reforms. That is why those with experience outside schools are needed.

Special training

Regarding teachers who have experience outside schools, a Central Education Council report in 1971 said schools were closed to the outside world and it hoped they would gain more vitality and broaden their perspectives.

According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, employment tests for public school teachers for next fiscal year showed that 40 prefectures and ordinance-designated cities carried out special selections for candidates with business experience. This is nearly three times more than 10 years ago.

This fiscal year, newly employed teachers with such working experience, including those employed through the general selection procedure, represent 5.9 per cent of the total, an increase of 0.4 percentage points from the previous fiscal year. In recent years, the rate has been between 5 per cent to 6 per cent. The Liberal Democratic Party's Headquarters for the Revitalization of Education hopes to double that.

"It's important not only to employ people with experience [of working outside schools], but also training teachers to be 'professional teachers,'" said Yutaka Kumagai, a member of the House of Councillors.