EDUCATIONAL RENAISSANCE / Teachers’ ICT training skills lag (Yomiuri Dec. 16, 2010)

Akihiko Kano / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. This installment, the second of three parts, focuses on the current level of ICT awareness among the nation’s teachers.

Back in 2007, the education ministry set a goal of having every public school teacher be capable of using information and communication technology in the classroom by the 2010 school year. Yet, a lack of funding–among other causes–has resulted in educators struggling to play catch-up as electronic blackboards and other such devices are introduced into public schools.

“It’s quite easy to use an electronic chalkboard to teach a class,” says a teacher conducting a seminar for educators on the use of ICT in class.

The instructor was speaking before a group of 76 teachers who were sent to attend last month’s session at the National Center for Teachers’ Development in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. The educators hailed from around the country and were expected to instruct their colleagues back home on how to use the devices.

The aim of the seminar was to have these instructors learn to effectively use ICT devices, such as electronic blackboards and digital cameras, and to teach their fellow educators to instruct their students on information ethics.

The center–which is under the jurisdiction of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry–began holding the seminars this school year.

On the first day of the four-day seminar, participants were divided into seven groups, where they discussed possible uses for ICT in the classroom, before using electronic blackboards to present their ideas to the other participants.

Osamu Hamaue, 43, supervisor at Wakayama Prefectural Educational Center Manabi-no-Oka, imagined using an electronic blackboard as a way to publicly display photos taken by his students on field trips.

“This seminar is a great opportunity for me to learn about the sorts of things teachers are doing around the country,” Hamaue said.

The government considers the improvement of its educators’ ICT abilities a top priority. Three years ago, the education ministry set a target of 100 percent of its teachers being able to use ICT to a certain extent in five categories by the current school year. The teachers would be required to, among other things, be able to use ICT in class.

However, the ministry is far from realizing its target: Only 20 percent of the nation’s teachers received some sort of training in ICT during the 2009 school year.

Although relevant figures illustrate some improvement, as of the end of the 2009 school year, only 74 percent of teachers surveyed said they were capable of using ICT to research teaching materials; fewer than 60 percent said they were capable of using the devices in class.

Mie Prefecture boasts the highest ranking in each of the five categories, including the requirement to be able to use ICT devices in class. The prefecture has made it mandatory for new teachers to be given training in information technology education, and has introduced e-learning, which is available to the teachers online.

But few boards of education have instituted such forward-thinking training programs.

Last year, the education ministry submitted a budget request of 700 million yen for ICT, including teacher training in each of the country’s six regions, including Kanto. The Government Revitalization Unit, however, later rejected the requests.

The Tsukuba seminar was a scaled-down version of the originally planned training session that had been canceled after its budgetary allotment was cut.