Table Speech

“Revitalizing Regional Education by NPO”

March 10, 2010

Mr. Hirohiko Yoshida
General Manager, Supporting Union for Practical-use of Educational Resources (Non profit Organization)

 Ten years have passed since the first law concerning NPOs became enacted in Japan. There are nearly 40,000 NPOs today, of which less than 1% has the operational size exceeding 100 million yen.

 NPOs are growing steadily in number and scope of activities, occupying now one sector in society.

 I represent the nationwide network of “Supporting Union for Practical-use of Educational Resources.” We endeavor to “revitalize education at local level.” We establish secretariats in various regions, which will eventually grow into independent NPOs in each prefecture. We currently have active secretariats in 7 districts (Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Gunma, Niigata, Shizuoka and Okinawa), and independent NPOs in 5 districts (Hokkaido, Nagano, Toukai, Kansai, and Kyusyu). Our activities include ◆nature experiences ◆local educational operation ◆supporting for school truants ◆training and dispatching private educational leaders ◆lifelong learning courses, and ◆cultural education.

 “Nature experiences” is one of our main activities. We send children from major cities to NPOs in rural districts for various activities, also contributing to local job creation. We also work on after-school learning assistance supported by citizens to provide a basis for children’s learning.

 Extensive activities targeted to all school children based on “playing” are developed at schools in collaboration with local volunteers, which include scientific experiments, English conversation and Japanese recitations. We also have volunteer activities for children, to which 60,000 children participate and enjoy. In Yokohama, for example, children undertook cleanup activity and earned eco-money to be used at the self-run annual candy store.

 Each child has nearly 8,800 hours a year, of which 1,800 hours are spent at school. The remaining hours are spent either at home (including sleeping) or activities at each locality. We calculated that about 3,000 hours are spent for local activities. We must endeavor to provide these 3,000 hours a favorable environment in order to foster sound development of a child.

 We, the grown-ups, must realize “adaptation to schools does not guarantee smooth social adaptation.” School is an excellent institution of modern society to foster human resources required for successful nation building. Yet, schools are not perfect and NPOs try to supplement what school education cannot provide.

 The concept of “local community” is shifting in the course of time. Schools, local communities and families were recognized to collaborate with each other up to the 1990s. As we entered the 21st century, schools and families were recognized to exist within the local community. Decline in a local community is very detrimental to schools and families.

 The most serious issue concerning students today is that they “feel unmotivated to study,” which started from the 1980s. Results of international surveys to assess academic competence (IEA and PISSA) indicate that Japanese students scored poorly for essay-type questions, as many students left the answers blank. The basic defect in Japanese educational system became evident that “students lack the ability to think.”

 Having said that, what are the possible solutions? Simplistic measures of putting more contents into textbooks or allocating more school hours will not guarantee favorable learning environment for children. To foster children with discipline, local communities and grown-ups of various backgrounds as a whole must get committed to provide holistic and continuous measures.

 Let me share with you our 2-week nature experience activity called the “Life Dignity Program.” Children live with horses on a ranch in Tokachi, Hokkaido. Children from various parts of Japan get together. They get to know each other by playing together in mountain villages, living with horses, learning horseback riding, going out on a horse-ride journey and camping. The program is concluded with a 4-hour wrap-up session.

 What we observed from the program is that during the first couple of days, children talk mainly about their own interests and hobbies. Usually from the third day, they start caring for other children and sharing the same topics for conversation. Children start to live with horses from the third day.

 Camping out with horses teaches children many things. They realize horses need to be fed, just as they eat dinner. In the beginning, children think a horse is just a means of transport like a bicycle. Yet, they gradually get to learn horses are living creatures and their companions. They learn the responsibility of taking care of animals or life as a whole. The journey with horses makes them real friends.

 We make children write essays on what they felt and learnt from their own experiences. I am convinced that these experiences form the basis of “academic ability,” which you can never get from just sitting in front of a blackboard at school. School education provides standardized set of lessons to children. On the other hand, children learn unique lesson from nature experiences. Continuous activities will make a child realize many things at different stage of life.

 It is our sincere wish to collaborate with Rotarians across Japan to continue our activities. Let me conclude my speech by asking for your further cooperation and understanding. Thank you.