Traffic in Tokyo is something to behold, but everything moved well. The weather was beautiful as we drove through the urban sprawl, encountering many pockets of high-rises along the way. Sixty percent of Tokyo residents live in apartments and most commute to work via the Tokyo rail system.
Once at Sanda, the teacher delegates were taken up on stage and introduced to the 570 students at an assembly. The principal, Mr Takahashi, shared some interesting and unique facts about Australian flora and fauna with the children, and in return they sang us their school song with gusto. The students seemed just as excited to see us as we were to see them, and when they were given the chance to ask the teachers questions they did so with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness, asking about Australian foods, sports and school subjects.
The subject of Science is introduced to Japanese students in Grade Three. As in Australia, the curriculum includes a wide range of science. Today's lesson was on energy – physics. Previous lessons looked at wind power, and later in the year they will look at electricity and how it drives the car.
|Watching a Grade Three class solving problems.|
We enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the way Science education is approached at Sanda with teachers, including Mr Takahashi, Chapter President of the Sony Science Teachers Association.
An important feature of Science education in Japan is the focus on problem solving. This is taught by 1) presenting a problem to the students; 2) teaching ways of thinking, and how to look at problems and seek solutions; and 3) presenting solutions. Encouraging problem solving is much more emphasized than pushing knowledge.
Sanda is strongly supported by parents and the community, with parents involved in reading, cleaning and classroom help. Students learn traditional activities alongside the academic curriculum, including folk art, traditional doll play, tako drums and martial arts. There are several different exchange programs, which expose students to diversity and new opportunities.
Japanese elementary school teachers face similar issues to those in Australia: namely, that being required to teach everything, including music, art, literacy, numeracy and social studies, means their science expertise is limited. However, there are lots of workshops available to improve teacher competence.
Additionally, the average age of teachers in Japan is lowering. Of the twenty-four teachers at Sanda, only ten have more than five years' experience. However, senior teachers are required to train or mentor junior teachers, which provides a good foundation of support. Teachers grow in experience and confidence by watching other teachers teach.