Focus Topic: Efforts are being made by Japanese middle and high schools to integrate more global elements into their curriculums with the International Baccalaureat (IB) program

EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Cross-fertilization of art, English
Takayuki Yasui / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The following is a translation from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. It is the second installment in a four-part subseries focusing on efforts by middle and high schools to integrate their curriculums with the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Examining a woodblock print produced by a student in art class, a foreign teacher asked, in English, what the work was supposed to depict. “I thought placing garden lanterns in front of fireworks would express Japanese culture and history,” the student explained to the class.

The student went on to say how he had incorporated the structural outline used by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), a prominent ukiyo-e artist from the late Edo period (1603-1867). The teacher gave a satisfied nod.

This art class in mid-September was for 11th grade students in an International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Tamagawa Academy K-12 & University in Machida, Tokyo. Students busily worked to complete their projects by coloring the woodblock prints with paint and crayons.

Tamagawa Academy introduced IB classes in 2007 to better correspond with courses at higher educational institutions in Japan and abroad. The school has been authorized to offer the IB Middle Years Program since 2009 and the IB Diploma Program (DP) since 2010.

Art, which is taught in English, is one of the six DP subjects. Under the program, students have to create 20 works during grade 11 and 12–equivalent to the second and third years at ordinary Japanese high schools.

IB art teachers pay attention to the process by which students create their pieces, in addition to their quality. To accomplish this, students must describe the process of creation in “learning progress workbooks.”

Although they seem like ordinary sketchbooks at first glance, inside students describe their sketches in detail, the history of block printing, famous artists and their plans to complete their pieces. This process is usually somewhat intangible, but the notebooks leave students with something concrete.

The class’ teacher, Jarrod Rayner, 39, said students are required to explain how and why they created their works based on the notebooks during examinations. They must explain the work’s theme, the materials used, colors, and even artists whose techniques they referenced.

Takahiro Inoue, 17, used fireworks and garden lanterns to depict Japanese culture in summer.

“We have to think of everything by ourselves, and explain what we do. It was really tough to get used to in the beginning.”

Moe Yasui, 16, also used fireworks, but included a couple viewing them.

“The teacher said my print might be more interesting if I colored it, so I diluted paint with water and mixed some colors together. I like art class more now,” she said.

Rayner said the techniques are meant to help students develop their ability to think for themselves. When asked a question during class, he does not answer right away, but sees if the students can come up with a solution on their own.

Rayner said he believes the creativity and independent problem-solving abilities fostered by the IB program will help the students in their future paths.

By recording the process of creation, students naturally develop their ability to explain themselves.

(Nov. 27, 2012)


EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / IB program aims at giving kids a global education
Yuko Ohiro / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The following is a translation from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. It is the first installment in a four-part subseries focusing on efforts by middle and high schools to integrate their curriculums with the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program.

SHIZUOKA–A Japanese-language class held in July at Katoh Gakuen Gyoshu Middle and High School in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, was typical of the school’s emphasis on encouraging students to think and act globally, by incorporating elements of the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program into its own curriculum.

The second-year high school students were all taking a bilingual course tied to the IB program, which is designed to make students eligible for admission to about 2,500 colleges and universities across the world.

The subject of the discussion that day was the protagonist of Albert Camus’ novel “L’Etranger,” published as “The Stranger” in English, or “Ihojin” in Japanese. The students expressed their views on his values and the way he lived.

“If you lock yourself up in a shell, you can’t develop your own personality,” one student said. His opinion triggered a string of responses from other students, such as “Even so, is it OK to commit yourself to the mainstream sense of values in society?” and “Is it right to have an opposing view against what society values?”

The students were not simply contradicting each other for fun; rather, it was a typical scene in a class of students learning through the IB program.

The IB is an education program aimed at giving high school students a diploma to enter universities that recognize the certification. To obtain the IB full diploma, students need to complete a required course and achieve a minimum score on the program’s standard exam. The IB now offers primary and middle years programs as well.

Schools officially recognized as offering the IB program are on the rise in India and China. Currently, about 3,460 schools in 143 countries offer the program, including 24 schools in Japan, many of them international schools.

In 2000, the Gyoshu school became the first Japanese school to formally introduce the IB’s middle years program. Since then, the school has been offering students both regular and bilingual courses. One homeroom class per year is offered exclusively for those who take the bilingual course, where they are given the kind of education needed for obtaining the qualification recognized worldwide.


A deeper understanding

The level of students’ abstract discussion of Camus’ novel was remarkably high, but they were not a selected few. Still, for the students to be able to join the discussion, they were expected not only to read the novel but also to deepen their understanding of other aspects of the story, such as the role of religion and the history of Algeria where the story takes place.

“The important thing is how you tell the other person what you think and how much you understand the views that are different from yours and make the most of those views for yourself,” said 17-year-old student Ryoji Shimabukuro.

Both the IB-based teaching and the teaching guidelines made by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry seek to “nurture practical communication skills” through Japanese education. However, the lessons in the IB and regular courses are quite different. According to Taketoshi Ishikawa, 54, who teaches both courses, each course encourages different types of thinking.

For instance, in studying the novel “Takasebune” by Ogai Mori (1862-1922) in the regular class that follows the government guidelines, more emphasis is put on reading and understanding the characters’ emotions and other traits.

An example of a question about the novel on the exam would be something like, “Why does the banished offender wear a bright expression?”

By contrast, students in the IB course class read the novel with the aim of finding talking points in the story that are likely to draw out differences in opinion between themselves and others.

They also think about how they can effectively convey their opinions to others. They discuss such topics as “Is the guilty man’s confession true?” or “What does it mean to have enough?” and give presentations, such as interviews or theatrical performance.


Learning to form opinions

In the class on the Camus novel, the students were told to write what they thought about the novel when looking at it in relation to themselves.

“To reflect on what kind of opinions you have on the novel after reading it puts you in the position of someone who is writing a dissertation or commentary on the work,” Ishikawa said. “There’s no one right answer, so every student can be a hero.”

A student who worries about exam scores apparently changes as soon as he or she starts the IB course by proactively giving his or her opinion in class, for example.

“It’s great to see each student become capable of forming his or her own opinion,” said Nobuko Wendfeldt, 54, who is in charge of IB education at the school.


Expanding IB in high schools

In June, the ministry compiled a policy to introduce IB into high schools in Japan, which has brought more attention to the program.

The IB’s diploma program, which in principle had to be conducted in English, French or Spanish, may even be offered partly in Japanese. The ministry plans over the next five years to have up to 200 high schools designated to offer the IB program or provide education in accordance with the IB program.

The purpose of the IB is to nurture the capacity to pose questions and to analyze and express them from many perspectives, with the understanding of different cultures, voluntary learning and creativity as its basic principles. The IB also shares many tenets with the “power to live” philosophy promoted in the ministry’s guidelines.

“The direction [of the IB] is not that different from what education in Japan is already trying to achieve,” a ministry official said. “I hope it can serve as a starting point for students who are labeled as introverted, to help them develop a global mind-set.”

(Nov. 20, 2012)

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