Hiromi Kanekita (Yomiuri Shimbun Jul 5)

This is a translation from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. This article–the final installment in a five-part subseries focusing on growing efforts by various sectors to produce and attract “rikejo,” women looking to specialize in science, engineering and technology–features Ibaraki Prefectural Mito Dai-ni High School as a “Super Science High School” that explores advanced research topics.

MITO–One day in late January, girls at Mito Dai-ni High School were conducting scientific experiments after school. While one student peered into a microscope, another prepared a chemical reagent in the school laboratory.

The experiments on Jan. 24 were conducted by the “super science class” at the school, which has been designated as a Super Science High School by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

The ministry launched the Super Science High School program in fiscal 2002. The schools work on developing a curriculum that goes beyond educational guidelines by cooperating with universities and research organizations.

Mito Dai-ni High School has a super science class for each grade. Although the high school is officially coed, it does not have any male students at present.

Super science students work on high-level experiments, including the Liesegang phenomenon–where regular stripe patterns or rings are seen in precipitation reactions–and killer yeast, which is able to secrete toxin proteins that are lethal to receptive cells. They often cannot complete their experiments during class and, when preparing for academic conferences or presentations, they voluntarily stay after class to continue their experiments.

Super science students are eligible to study in the United States, and every summer students travel to that country to study.

Last summer, they met Japanese researchers at Stanford University and Tufts University. They also visited a semiconductor manufacturer’s lab to watch researchers at work.

After returning from the United States, the students said they realized they have to improve their English.

One 17-year-old student who wants to become a biologist said, “[Visiting the United States] prompted me to study more.”

The high school has encouraged girls to improve their scientific knowledge not only in super science classes but also in humanities and other science courses.

To this end, the high school has introduced classes in environmental and other natural science courses.

Sixteen percent of the school’s graduates attend primary and middle school teacher-training courses at university. As many primary school teachers are not adept in teaching science, the Mito Dai-ni High School has intensified science-related programs to cultivate more capable teachers.

In fiscal 2011, the high school’s designation as a Super Science High School was extended for five years following its initial five-year term from fiscal 2006.

The school’s aim is to develop students who love science, and it has established a foundation to foster female scientists who can work abroad.

For the second five-year term as a Super Science High School, the school has added new goals, such as supporting scientific education at primary and middle schools.

The school’s teachers and students plan to visit neighboring primary and middle schools to support scientific experiments during school events.

Hironori Hirayama, 40, the teacher in charge of the program, said: “There’s only so much high schools can do to increase the number of future scientists. If you want more scientists, you have to cultivate their interest [in science] early on.”

The activities of the high school have gradually borne fruit. Enrollment of the high school’s graduates into university engineering and science faculties has doubled in the past five years.

Last November, the high school’s super science class graduates, who were also members of the mathematical science club, basked in the glory of a remarkable accomplishment. Their article “Rebirth of a Dead Belousov-Zhabotinsky Oscillator” was published in a prestigious American Chemical Society journal.

Mito Dai-ni High School’s role in the scientific world is also recognized on the local level. “I chose [the school] because I like doing experiments,” one first-year student said.

***

Read also the related: What are Super Science High Schools?