Earlier this month, The Yomiuri Shimbun ran the 1,000th installment of its Educational Renaissance series. The following is excerpted from a related series that revisits some of the many people interviewed since the project began in January 2005.
GAMAGORI, Aichi–Every day at 8 p.m., students at a private secondary school called Kaiyo Academy start studying on their own for two hours. They are studying not in their classrooms, but in a dormitory–the institution is an all-boys boarding school created with the aim of becoming “a Japan version of Britain’s Eton College.”
Opened in April 2006 on a plot of reclaimed land on Mikawa Bay, the school currently has 338 students up to the third year of middle school. After finishing dinner and laundry, the boys have to study until 30 minutes before bedtime–some working in their rooms and others tutoring each other in the lounge.
For the nighttime study session, the teachers take turns standing by so that the students can ask them questions. Even teachers who are not on night duty come to the dormitory when necessary to visit students who need extra help.
“I’ve found that they’re becoming more mature through studying for themselves,” said Yuko Suzuki, a teacher of English who was on duty on the night of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s visit. “They show different faces at night from those in the day, making it easier for us to find out what problems they are facing and thus give them better instruction.”
Modeled after the British public school that has produced generations of business and political leaders in that country, Kaiyo Academy was established with the help of donations from more than 80 companies and organizations based mainly in Nagoya and the surrounding region, such as Toyota Motor Corp., Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) and Chubu Electric Power Co.
Under a philosophy of helping the students learn freedom and discipline and develop independence and cooperativeness, the school has set detailed rules regarding daily life on campus.
After getting up at 6:30 a.m., the students start their classes at 8:10 a.m. After school, they are required to study on their own or take remedial classes as scheduled.
There is a convenience store at the school, where the boys buy things using electronic money. They have to submit their cashbooks and diaries every day to “floor masters”–employees dispatched by the major companies that contributed to the creation of the school. The boys are prohibited from bringing video games to school, or eating and drinking in their own rooms.
Takamasa Shinozaki, 49, one of the boarding masters to whom the floor masters report, said that the students have shown improvements in their own lives.
“The students have began to manage the dormitory on their own by deciding, for example, who will do the laundry and when they will do it–that’s something we didn’t see at first,” said Shinozaki, who was covered in the Educational Renaissance series just before the school’s opening.
Vice Principal Makoto Watanabe, 59, said, “We’ve found that they are developing leadership in such a way that older students can settle trouble between the younger students.”
Kaiyo Academy aims at completely teaching what is usually learned over six years of middle and high school within the first four years. Since April last year, its first class of students have been studying what is supposed to be studied by first-year high school students.
It has become uncertain, however, if the school will be able to meet the target exactly as planned because some of the students seem to find it difficult to keep up with such a rapid pace of study. At any rate, the final two years will be allocated to reviewing their studies of the first four years and preparing for university entrance exams. They will also try out university-level materials.
The school’s teachers are learning, too. To help the teachers get ready to provide the boys with career counseling, the school has been offering them training programs since April 2008. Outside speakers have been invited to discuss recent trends in university entrance exams and how to design classes to help students better prepare for such exams.
Watanabe emphasized that the school’s career counseling would not merely focus on the side of improving the students’ grades for the sake of university entrance exams.
“Through career counseling, we aim at helping them become able to develop a clear idea of how to become leaders in society,” he added.
In furtherance of this aim, the school has been offering lectures by some of the nation’s top leaders, such as Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former vice president of the Science Council of Japan, and Makoto Asashima, executive vice president at Tokyo University.
Shinozaki believes the students have been “too fortunate” in their enjoyment of the rich environment the school has given them.
“So far, it’s been OK for them just to follow the track the school has set for them,” he said. “I’d like to help them consider what they want to study and what they’ll want to do [in the future], and present their ideas to the school on their own initiative.”