Schools Taking Active Approach to Learning

The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), March 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Schools Taking Active Approach to Learning


A method called "active learning," aimed at helping students learn more actively and cooperatively, will likely be introduced in the next teaching guidelines for primary, middle and high school students. What changes will this progressive method bring to conventional classes, in which teachers lead the class mainly to convey knowledge to students?

Active learning has been attracting attention since education minister Hakubun Shimomura asked the Central Council for Education to discuss its introduction when he submitted revisions of the teaching guidelines to the council for deliberation in November last year. The council's report is expected in the 2016 school year, and the ministry plans to implement the new guidelines from the 2020 school year onward.

Active learning started at universities in the United States when students' goals of learning became more diversified, requiring the universities to change their conventional lecture-type classes, according to Prof. Shinichi Mizokami at Kyoto University, an expert on higher education.

Some universities in Japan began to introduce active learning in the 1990s. In 2012, the Central Council for Education asked universities to introduce it to nurture students' ability to think and act independently.

Meanwhile, primary and middle schools in Japan have been conducting classes on their own to emphasize students' independence. This has included hands-on classes, problem-solving and a method called "learning community" in which students learn from other students and teachers learn from other teachers.

Another method has involved dividing students into groups to study different elements of one subject. Their separate findings are then combined to lead to a better understanding of the subject for every student.

"Setting the goal of improving active learning at primary, middle and high schools, as well as universities, will clarify school education's role of fostering abilities that students will need when they enter the real world," Mizokami said.

Directing a drama

In mid-February, second-grade students exchanged opinions while directing a stage play during the Japanese class at the Hakodate Primary School attached to Hokkaido University of Education.

The teaching material was "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse," the story of a real mouse who envies a toy mouse loved by everyone. The students were divided into groups, and they exchanged notebooks filled with their ideas and talked about how to direct the drama. …

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