Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cultural Perspectives and Observations on Learners. 1: Enriching students lives

On Sunday March 25th, Mari Nakamura made an hour-long presentation for Shinshu JALT at Agata-no-Mori in Matsumoto. I organised the event as Programme Chair, and these are my notes (also posted on Shinshu JALT Facebook page & the JALT website.)

Mari Nakamura defines her Eikaiwa (English Square in Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken) as ‘not a juku’.

Summarised her questionnaire results (of parents of children attending her school) to the question regarding “Attitudes to learning” as ‘quite negative as a whole through high Scholl and Center Examinations, and that students don’t know what to do with the English they have learned’.

Audience member (Japanese male with experience living overseas) said he had a ‘complex’ against learning English as a child, which other Japanese audience members agreed with. Our later  presenter Atsuko has never lived overseas but told us she needed English to get published and to present overseas. Asked if she thought people also have a complex about learning maths (and I think people generally do) she explained that maths is not tested/assessed later, and the audience realised that we are not generally required to ‘perform’ in it. It was noted that we rarely hear people exclaiming “Oh, I can’t do maths” as an admission of guilt when we do hear this viz. English all the time (in Japan). It was further suggested that maths quickly becomes abstract & concerned with how we think/do logical processing, and quickly moves away from simple calculation/arithmetic.

Mari suggested that children now know much more than she did as a school child, but that they are now also far more aware of their status in class, have more access to technology (iPads, internet) and that they are far more worried about their ‘mistakes’. Of the 25% who responded to her questionnaire, all were mums and most responded “massively” – two or three page replies (she suggested this was a ‘listen to me’ plea).

Mari quoted respondents wrt lifestyle of children as:
·         Too busy
·         Not safe to play outside
·         HS ss have too much free time
·         Children spend a lot of time alone with cell phones & PCs

The country’s “Nittori” education policy was accused of being “Slow and low” instead of the advertised “Slow & deep”, with MEXT (Ministry of Education & Science) now veering back to the opposite “cramming” extreme – schools in Ishikawa-ken adopting a sixth period in elementary schools + after school activities being accused of taking away free time, which ‘bugs’ all mums. Appropriate that children of that age being so busy they are having to learn time management skills?
Nakamura quoted respondents as having zero/near zero expectations of public school education, that school was all about going, not doing. Also, children have ‘too many choices’ of extra-curricular activities and are in a “keeping up with the Jones’s” mindset (audience comment that kids in the UK have too much free time with nothing to do).

Nakamura claimed that an holistic view of education is missing, and that education is being outsourced. Eg
·         For creative input – send kids to art class
·         For patience – send them to calligraphy class
·         For respectfulness – send them to martial arts class
·         For physical development – send them to swimming class

Nakamura closed by telling us she was being asked to teach phonics – which MEXT guidelines specifically prohibit being taught in elementary schools with the much-derided Eigo Noto textbook. (If mum knows best why don’t they vote?)
This left me wondering what the actual function of English classes was perceived as. Nakamura suggested English was now a pursuit outside of school because parents had fears about their children’s future job prospects, a pressure being felt from as young as three years old...’earlier the better’. 

Bilingualism as a goal based on fear rather than nurturing a very bad place for us to start from.