EDUCATIONAL RENAISSANCE / Learning to become citizens
The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This part of the series focuses on citizenship education.
HIROSHIMA–In terms of citizenship education, the private middle school run by the Tsuru Gakuen educational foundation has been a pioneer since 1994, when it introduced a compulsory subject called “Ningen,” which literally means “human being.”
For one such class in late June, 17 third-year students at the foundation’s Hiroshima Nagisa Middle School played the roles of farmers and employees of an international coffee trading firm, discussing how much of the farmers’ land should be allocated to growing the product.
“I’m not so sure about this project, so I’m going to stick with my plan to start by using only two plots of land for my coffee,” said a boy playing a farmer.
“Be a man and use all of your land for your coffee!” a girl responded, playing opposite him in the negotiations.
The students were working under the following scenario: The employees would be fired if they failed to convert as much of the farmers’ crop-growing land as possible to coffee, while the farmers would like to make as much money as possible to send their children to school. Both sides wanted high profits for their crops, and both knew that fluctuating market prices meant there was risk.
Under these conditions, the students competed to see how much profit they could make over four years.
Another boy who played a farmer, for example, had a profit of about 500 dollars after the first three years. In the end, he decided to allocate all of his land to coffee planting in the final year–he ended up in debt after coffee prices took a nosedive.
“I believed the trading company when they told me I would reap profits if I did so,” the boy said at the end of the class. “I should have thought for myself.”
The girl who played the trading firm employee said, “It was difficult for me to think of my own profits and those of the other side at the same time.”
Teacher Haruki Nonaka, 56, said, “Through role-playing as traders or farmers, they were able to get a sense of how society affects them and how they should interact with others.”
Citizenship has been introduced as a subject in some Western countries, such as Britain and Ireland, as a means of helping children develop the skills necessary to serve as active and responsible members of society. Whereas civics education teaches students about social systems such as politics and economics, citizenship education provides students with hands-on activities to help them acquire practical skills on how to take part in society.
In 2002, Britain made citizenship education a compulsory subject for students at the secondary school level.
In addition to its middle school, Tsuru Gakuen runs Hiroshima Nagisa High School, where the students also take citizenship education classes about once a week, examining 16 themes over the combined six years, such as ideas about work, wealth and responsibility.
Nonaka, who has been designing the schools’ citizenship education classes since 1997, emphasized that there are three benefits that his students can get from taking such classes–they can understand themselves in a positive way; they can develop relationships with their classmates through communication; and they can understand that they are members of society.
“It’s important to give them hands-on activities and get them to think hard about the target issue and realize that it has something to do with themselves,” the teacher added.
The high school’s citizenship classes also aim to offer the students opportunities to think about issues of life and death by inviting guest speakers such as a midwife or a terminal care doctor, while also visiting palliative care units.
However, how many classes can be allocated to such activities has been one of the biggest issues for the schools’ citizenship education. Because topics covered in such classes often do not have a direct connection to anything tested on university entrance exams, citizenship education is not always welcomed, and some of the teachers instead think that classes for exam subjects should be increased.
On the public school side, too, an increasing number of institutions have become interested in citizenship education.
The board of education in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, for example, has introduced classes called Citizenship since 2006 at all of its public primary and middle schools two or three times a week. The schools allocate time slots for moral or general studies or special activities to these Citizenship classes.
Elsewhere, eight public high schools designated in 2007 as pilot institutions by the Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education have been examining how elements of citizenship education can be incorporated into the existing social studies framework.
In June, Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa unveiled his plan to promote citizenship education, under which all prefectural high schools will have their students hold simulated polling in connection with a House of Councillors election slated for the summer of 2010 before introducing judicial education the following year.
Nonetheless, teachers have been struggling to establish a pedagogy for citizenship education.
Tomiai Primary School and Middle School in Kumamoto, for example, created a new regular subject called Ikikata Sozo (literally, “creating a way to live”) in 2004 as part of moves toward an integrated primary and middle school education under the central government’s tokku deregulation scheme.
The schools offer such classes once a week, having so far tried many activities, including field studies on Minamata disease, which broke out in Kumamoto Prefecture as a result of industrial pollution.
However, “we don’t think that we’ve established our curriculums and teaching approaches to a satisfying level in citizenship education,” said one of the schools’ teachers.
Schools pick up where businesses left off
Citizenship education has been attracting attention at a time when there is material wealth thanks to the nation’s economic standing. While it has become common for people to seek out spiritual well-being by becoming volunteers, children also are expected to have skills that enable them to engage with society.
Skills for active social participation were traditionally taught as part of workplace training programs. However, today’s recession means that many companies cannot afford to spend much energy training their employees.
In February, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) announced its proposal for helping children develop skills useful for their future careers by the time they reach 18.
Nonetheless, it will surely take time to establish effective approaches for teaching citizenship. Some teacher-training colleges are currently holding pilot classes at their affiliated schools in a bid to create a curriculum, while some schools have become pilot institutions licensed by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry to experiment with such education.
(Aug. 6, 2009 Yomiuri Shimbun)