Forestry curriculum for kids by Kochi U. agricultural department

Forestry students learn by teaching kids on Kochi University’s mountain


KAMI, Kochi–Kochi University’s agricultural department owns a forest in a mountainous area of Kochi Prefecture, some distance from the department’s campus, which is closer to the sea. The 127-hectare plot on 1,089-meter Mt. Kunimi is a place where the national university conducts academic research and provides training programs for its forestry majors, but it was opened to local children on a fine day in May.

“Look, these are fallen leaves of evergreen trees,” said Hirotaka Nagai, 33, who is responsible for maintaining the university’s forest, to the 25 children. “They’re thick and hard, unlike those of deciduous trees.”

The nature tour for children was organized by an extracurricular program called Ringyo-juku–literally, “forestry cram school”–which was launched in 2006. Nagai and his colleague, Kiyomitsu Imayasu, 46, started the program with the aim of providing more opportunities for forestry majors to study nature in the field.

Now about 40 students who have registered with the program come to the forest once or twice a month to learn from the two specialists about how to thin the forest, repair trails and grow shiitake mushrooms, while also organizing events for the local community. On that day, four master’s degree students served as guides for the children.

The program is also open to nonregistered students, with the extracurricular option attracting about 450 participants so far.

Kochi University’s forestry curriculum includes field studies that involve staying in the forest to study its biology and forestry development. However, forestry majors are not given much time for these on-the-spot studies. At the undergraduate level, they devote just a few weeks to the program in total during their first three years.

Instead, the students spend much longer attending lectures on campus because of the wide range of specialized knowledge they must learn.

As a result, when they conduct field studies in the forest, the students are taught as many techniques and working practices as possible over a limited period. For example, each student has one experience at cutting down a tree.

However, it is not easy to reform the entire forestry curriculum. The faculty is too busy with day-to-day teaching and management duties to cater to the students’ requests for more field studies. The students, on the other hand, do not have the necessary tools and knowledge to work in the forest on their own.

“So we thought that specialized staff members like us should respond to the students’ passion for learning,” Nagai recalled.

Accompanying the four, Nagai was pleased at how the forestry majors enjoyed discussing the forest with the children. “Many students in the agricultural department want to spend as much time outside as possible,” he said. “We’re sure we can satisfy their interests.”

Kotaro Kaneshige, 23, one of the four student guides, said he found it satisfying to discuss what they have studied with the children.

“We can do this kind of thing only at Ringyo-juku,” he said. “I wanted to have many more opportunities to study nature, so I can gain a lot of valuable experience on this program.”

Since its start, the program’s participating students have come up with many other activities, including dyeing clothes using plants in the forest and holding trail running races.

The university has began to acknowledge the educational value that Ringyo-juku can contribute and is now considering whether it should grant credits for the extracurricular program’s activities.

Yomiuri Shimbun (Jul. 16, 2009)

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