‘7 habits’ program boosts students’ growth (Feb.2)

Keiko Katayama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer (Feb. 2, 2012)

The following article is a translation from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. This piece, third in a five-part subseries detailing efforts by schoolteachers and administrators to motivate students, focuses on an educational program designed to encourage children to adhere to “seven habits” through which they can better their lives.

“Think of five activities that could give you confidence and carry out three of them. That’s your task for this week,” a teacher at a cram school in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, told his middle school students preparing to take high school entrance exams.

It was not a conventional study session, but a program on life lessons, titled “Nanatsu no Shukan J” (The 7 J habits).

The program makes students learn, through various case studies, about such issues as self-esteem, how to set goals and make plans, and how to build a positive attitude and win the trust of others.

The students–from primary school to high school at the Itto Kobetsu Shido Gakuin cram school–attend the class once a week. Although far from what a cram school typically offers, more than 60 percent of students take the class.

“Adolescents are more concerned about relationships with their parents and friends than academic achievement. If they can gain confidence in solving [relationship] problems, their academic performance will improve,” said Yuki Yabe, head of the cram school’s Fukasawa branch, who is in charge of the program.

The program is based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, written by U.S. educator Stephen Covey. The business management book, widely considered a classic of the genre, shed light on the importance of human qualities such as self-motivation, sincerity and cooperation. The principles in the book have been used by many companies in employee education seminars.

Tokyo-based FC Education Inc. launched the education program designed for children in 2004, using some aspects of overseas education practices and ideas from the book. As the program’s reputation grew, an increasing number of cram schools adopted the program–214 cram schools now use it, along with 87 private middle and high schools.

Kinrankai Girls’ Junior & Senior High School in Kita Ward, Osaka, introduced the program after one of its teachers, Yoshihiro Tanaka, 51, proposed the program to Tomio Fujibayashi, the private school’s headmaster. Despite some initial resistance, the school introduced the program in 2008 for first-year middle school students after some intense discussion.

When the students of the inaugural class reached the third grade, teachers found them to be high achievers, winning prizes, including top honors, in national competitions.

The students also astonished teachers with their psychological growth.

The school has 12 teachers, including the 57-year-old headmaster, certified as instructors of the program, who teach first- and second-year middle school students in the two-year compulsory classes. Every week, class reports are sent to the students’ parents and the school organizes parents’ meetings to discuss progress.

According to a survey conducted by the school in 2011, two-thirds of parents had positive impressions of the class, with one saying they “saw a change” in the children. The number of parents who read Covey’s book also increased.

“I learned [through the program] that my reactions and feelings depend on my choices. It helped to make a brand new me,” said Nozomi Tsumori, a second-grader at the middle school. She said that, from time to time, she used what she learned in the class when she worried about relationships or academic results.

Although it may seem like a roundabout way to get good results, the students have experienced enormous growth as the program has engineered many small changes in their ways of thinking.