FacebookTwitterLinkedIn Google PlusCUETubeInstagramCUE on Snapchat

Login

JOIN CUE TODAY!

Join CUE and find out how you can inspire innovative learners in the classroom.

CUE Member Benefits

BECOME A CUE MEMBER

 

PARTNERS

 

See more partners 

 

PROFESSIONAL LEARNING
PROVIDER FOR:

Future Ready Coalition

CUE is a Google for Education Partner

Request CUE PD 

 

OnCUE Archive - 2002, March

Japan Brings Tech to Classrooms

by Brian McDonough

A
major push is under way to wire
500,000
classrooms, and create curriculum to match.

Everyone
thinks of Japan as a
high-tech
wonderland. The country that years ago pioneered the mass
production
of electronics and made Sony a household name must look
like
something out of a Star Trek episode, many would
believe.
Surprisingly, thatís not the case at all.

The
country that gave us the Walkman and
the
Tamagotchi has lagged behind in PC and Internet adoption ó
at
home, in the workplace, and most especially in the classroom.

ìICT
[information and
communication
technology] at schools in Japan are very much behind the
times
compared with those in other countries,î said Naoki Dohi, an
ICT
teacher at Seiken Public High School in Ihara, Okayama Prefecture.

In
the late í90s, Japanís Ministry
of
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology began a
concerted
effort to put technology in classrooms to better prepare
a
21st-century workforce. While much of the technology provided
to
these classrooms has come from Japanese firms, a Canadian
company,
SMART Technology, has had an up-close view of the
ongoing
transformation.

Getting Smart

The
School Internet Project is going to
connect
all public schools to the Internet,î said Fumiki Hariu, head
of
SMARTís Tokyo office. His company has provided a key element
in
the ongoing rollout, one thatís helping overcome the problem
many
U.S. teachers have of not being able to teach an entire class
from
one or a handful of 17-inch computer monitors.
ìWeíve
distributed 116 rear-projection SMART boards to two schools, and
in
2000 we put 478 front-projection boards into classrooms.î

The
SMART boards allow the computer screen to
be
displayed on an electronic white board large enough for an
entire
classroom to see. If youíve walked around any
education-technology
conference in the last couple years, youíve probably seen at
least
one vendor pitching products over the same display. The boards add
a
further convenience through a touch-sensitive surface that
allows
the teacher to control applications by touching the screen
itself
rather than having to use a mouse on a standard computer off to
the
side.

SMARTís
president, Nancy Knowlton, said
her
company has had a presence in Japan for a decade, and was on hand
to
watch the education-technology initiative.

ìThereís
been an increasing focus in
Japan,
as in many locations, on the appropriate use of technology in
the
classroom,î she said. ìThe Education Ministry wants to have
the
same kind of high level of Internet connectivity as North
America.
They want to put it not just in all schools, but in
all
classrooms.î

Knowlton
said her company gave
Education
Ministry officials a tour of some of Canadaís
better-wired
schools, and the officials were impressed. That helped SMART
become
part of the technology efforts that are now beginning to bear fruit.

High-school
teacher Hiroshi Aoyama said one
of
the main benefits of classroom technology is allowing students
to
reach off-campus.

ìThe
core of new teaching and
learning
technology of our school is to use the video conferencing
system
through an ISDN line,î said Aoyama, who teaches English at
Seiken
High School. ìWe are trying to connect our school with
companies
or other schools to enhance and share the contents of
learning.
Also, our school is transmitting and sharing our learning
programs
with schools 80 kilometers away.î

He
said the technology introduced to date
is
paying significant benefits already. ìBy using video
cameras,
students have become interested not only in the contents of
the
lesson, but also in multimedia equipment,î he said.
ìTeachers
can run classes more visually and more interactively. As a
result,
learning efficiency of students has been increased greatly.î

Room by Room



The Internet-access project that employs SMARTís electronic white
boards packages them with two PCs and one projector per room. Schools
also may have computer labs with enough desktop PCs to keep an
entire class computing at one time. But one lab in a school doesnít
allow the kind of full integration of technology the Education Ministry
wants.

The Millennium Project, the five-year technology plan that aims to get
Japanese schools caught up to ó and ahead of ó North American
campuses is not only putting the technology into classrooms, but is
making sure itís used. When the 2002 school year begins in April, new
curriculum will be in place to increase the use of technology and the
Internet in lessons across the board.ìItís setting up new curriculum,î
Hariu said. ìEach subject must be taught using a computer.îNot at all
times, of course, but the Education Ministry isnít going to let these
expensive devices go idle. That means a commitment to installing
hardware has to be matched with a commitment to instilling skills in
teachers. Training is a big challenge: The ministry reported in 1999
that 75 percent of public school teachers in Japan were incapable of
incorporating computers in their classes ó and 40 percent didnít even
know how to use one. Since then, teachers have been provided training
to get them into the new
century.

ìOur school holds in-school teacher training once
every two months,î said Dohi. ìAlso teachers attend scheduled training
in ICT, held at the Education Center of Okayama Board of Education.î

As on this continent, however, training hasnít
quite caught up with the technology. ìIt is true that skills and
knowledge on ICT are not the same among teachers,î Dohi said. ìSome
teachers have not been trained well in ICT skills. We would like to ask
the Okayama Board of Education to deliver more well-planned teacher
trainer-training sessions, and training opportunities to teachers, more
often.î

In North America, when a teacher canít figure out
how to make the technology work, thereís often a half-dozen students in
the classroom ready to troubleshoot. Aoyama said thatís less often the
case in Japan.

ìSome students are very familiar with technologies,
but they are not the majority,î Aoyama said. That will change, he
added, as kids are given more access, especially outside of classroom
lessons.

Aoyama said videoconferencing and other tools allow
students to study such complex issues as caring for the elderly. Japan
has a rapidly aging population and a dwindling youth demographic,
making issues pertaining to senior welfare one of the biggest
challenges the nation will face in coming years. Aoyama said the
technology tools allow students to communicate with corporations that
have volunteered to participate, and with the Ministry of Health
and Welfare.

Dohi added that students in computer courses learn
to use the tools through assignments that also help them develop other
skills. ìStudents are delivering presentations on themselves and their
areas of special interests using PowerPoint tools,î he said. ìJapanese
students are not well-trained in expressing themselves and delivering
presentations, but the SMART Board which can advance slides with a
single touch of the finger is the best hardware in practicing
presentations.î

The Big Push

Japan, which has about half the
population of the United States in a nation comparable in size to
California, has about half a million classrooms, so dropping Internet
connectivity and high-tech tools into each room is a project thatís
going to take time and money. However, even as Japan struggles to get
its economy back in full flight after several years of recession, the
Education Ministry presses forward with its ambitious plan. ìCurrently,
most classrooms do not have computers and are not connected to a LAN,î
Dohi notes. ìTherefore, we want to install computers as soon as
possible in every classroom, not only the computer labs. The five-year
plan, which ends in fiscal year 2005, will introduce computers in all
normal classrooms.î Of course, that wonít be the end of the problem.
Ongoing training and tech upgrades will be required. But even more
prosaic facilities issues remain persistent problems, as well.

Other than [tech issues], we need to improve
learning environments,î Aoyama said. ìFor example, students are forced
to learn in very hot and humid classrooms in summer and in very cold
classrooms in winter. We do want to have air conditioners in
classrooms. These are as important as computers.

Brian McDonough is a freelance writer based in Oakland, Calif.

Technology and Training

Japanís
push to computerize the
classroom
debuted with 1999ís School Net program, which wired more
than
1,000 schools for Internet connectivity. Subsequent efforts
continue
to push to hook up all 40,000-plus schools and 500,000
classrooms.
Currently there is an average of 27 PCs installed at each
school
nationwide, the Japan Times reported in October.

In
terms of training, about 80 percent
of
teachers from primary through high school knew how to use
personal
computers by March 2001, according to the ministry. That was up
from
60 percent in 1999. Just over 40 percent were tech-literate
enough
to teach on computers or show students how to use them, up almost
10
percent from the year before. The ministry aimed to have
all
teachers trained on PCs by late March 2002, at the end of
the
Japanese school year, so that when the new academic year starts
on
April 1, teachers will be able to incorporate new
tech-focused
curricula.