What is the Newspapers in Education Program (NIE Program)?

Last year, when my son was in the sixth grade of public elementary school, he spent a few days excitedly producing a mock newspaper article. Later, he showed the work that both he and his classmates had produced – their homegrown newspaper, I was pleasantly surprised to see a delightfully “published” newspaper. The students had obviously taken painstaking care in designing their title fonts, the look of their pages, and in their research writing as well.  The exercise was part of the Newspapers in Education or NIE program. It was an excellent way to get students excited and involved in research writing and critical thinking.

Below, is posted the excerpt Kids know what headlines do: Make an impact, spark interest taken from the Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series, focusing on the Newspapers in Education (NIE) program. 

The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This part of the series, to be continued next week, focuses on the Newspapers in Education (NIE) program.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the start of a nationwide program that makes use of newspapers as teaching materials. Back in September 1989, the newspaper industry and the education sector came together to launch a pilot project by providing papers to designated schools.

Since then, an increasing number of schools–at levels from primary to high school–have been joining the NIE program. Primary school teachers say the approach is a fun way to get their kids interested in learning.

Fifth-graders at Funakoshi Primary School in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, for example, tried their hand at writing newspaper articles in June as part of their social studies work.

The kids’ homeroom teacher began by teaching them about rice growing in the Shonai region of Yamagata Prefecture. Then, Akishige Yamazaki, a 51-year-old teacher specializing in NIE, visited their class and had them write articles based on what they had learned.

On the day The Yomiuri Shimbun visited the class, Yamazaki was teaching the students how to write headlines.

The students shared with the class the headlines they created for their own articles, including “Grain elevator: The surprising facts” and “How Haenuki [a brand of rice] was developed.”

“What do you think is the most important thing when making headlines?” Yamazaki asked the fifth-graders.

“Make the words big enough to grab readers’ attention,” one student quickly responded.

“Create a simple, one-word headline so that even busy people can read it quickly,” another followed.

Yamazaki responded to their answers with another question: “So, what do you feel when you read a good headline? Discuss this in groups and choose some good ones.”

Divided into several groups, the fifth-graders talked about their favorite headlines among each other’s articles.

“We should pick one that makes readers feel like reading the main text to find out what the writer was surprised about,” said one student.

“[I like this headline because] it makes me wonder what comes next about how the machine processes rice,” another said.

Yamazaki then finally used some of the proposed headlines to explain the key to writing a good headline: Keep them simple and enticing.

“Next, let’s look at real newspapers and find some headlines that look interesting,” the teacher said toward the end of the class.

The veteran NIE instructor received inquiries from many teachers who were struggling over how to use newspapers in their classes. To help the teachers, he has been producing a series of his own worksheets, titled Hajime no Ippo (The first step).

On the front of each worksheet is an easy task using newspapers, such as “Find the loanword” or “Find pictures that feel like autumn.” On the back of the worksheet, Yamazaki offers advice for teachers and parents administering the task.

The teacher has produced more than 60 of these worksheets in the past two years. He will also e-mail the worksheets upon request.

“I hope more and more teachers will begin using my worksheets and adopt the NIE approach,” he said. “I also hope to get some feedback.”

Meanwhile at Asahigaoka Primary School in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, the fifth-graders start their day with a short session titled “Be a newscaster.”

Three days a week, the children take turns giving a three-minute talk about their favorite recent newspaper articles. The children’s “news texts”–summaries and impressions of the articles–are posted in their classrooms after their presentations.

“Through listening to their classmates’ summaries and reading their reports, the children seem to have become eager to find stories that are timely and moving,” said Principal Sakio Fujihira, 59. “It’s simple, but easy to try as the first step toward employing the NIE program.”

One advantage of using newspapers to learn, according to the principal, is that children realize they are members of society, at the same time developing critical thinking skills. 

Newspapers remain valuable teaching tools

The Newspapers in Education (NIE) program is backed by the Japan Newspaper Foundation for Education and Culture, which provides selected primary to high schools nationwide with copies of all kinds of newspapers sold in their respective communities. During the current school year, 536 schools are registered with the program.

Koichi Tanaka, chief inspector for schools at the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, shared his views on this program during a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun:

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What do you see as the role of newspapers in education?

Koichi Tanaka: The results of the Program for International Student Assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [in which Japan’s scores have been disappointing in recent years] have made us realize we should help our children develop the “power to live” [as informed citizens]. Regardless of the subject students are studying, it’s crucial to enrich language activities in the classroom so they can understand the key points of target issues and express their own opinions. I believe newspapers are an effective tool to make this happen.

Q: This view seems to be reflected in the upcoming revision of the teaching guidelines for primary and middle schools.

A: Yes. They stipulate that fifth- and sixth-grade teachers should encourage their students to “read newspapers while paying close attention to how newspapers are edited and their articles are written.”

At the middle school level, on the other hand, the upcoming revision includes the word “newspapers” for the first time in the chapter on teaching Japanese. The chapter on social studies also stipulates that students should “get used to [reading newspapers] in their daily life and take advantage of them in a proper way.”

Q: The NIE method is usually a feature of the general studies classes. However, the number of such classes will be reduced under the upcoming revision.

A: Of course, the upcoming revision will reduce the classes by about one class per week at both primary and middle school, but we’ll stress the value of general studies classes all the more.

General studies classes should play the central role in helping students develop a “power for living”–namely, acquiring information, applying the knowledge and exploring target issues.

Under the upcoming revision, it will be in general studies classes that students should explore topics, while acquiring and applying information in other subjects. Newspapers can be utilized when they do any of the three.

Q: Many teachers are complaining that they have become too busy dealing with an increasing amount of paperwork, so that it is difficult for them to allocate much time to examining materials they want to use in their classes.

A: Last year, we told ministry officials to reduce the number of surveys they conducted or inquiries they made to prefectural or local boards of education. We’ve also asked boards of education to do similar things [for the schools in their jurisdiction]. It’s important for us to allow teachers to have enough time to spend with their students.

Q: What do you expect for the future of the NIE program?

A: I believe this is an effective approach to helping children develop critical thinking skills. However, there’s still a disparity between teachers who are willing to use it and those who are not.

Therefore, the program should be better presented to let educators know how effective it is. Also, more and more schools should be required to try the approach.

As for the newspaper companies, newspapers can provide news that offers insight into things to come. I’d also like them to feature stories that reexamine and reorganize news reported in the past, or publish booklets that compile columns they have run. I believe schools will find such products useful for their classes.

(Sep. 17, 2009)

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