On Monday 26th January, the worlds of Japanese language and cultural exchange combined to form the Japan Conference for Schools. About 120 teachers and local authority advisors from the UK and Japan gathered together at the British Council in London to share practical ideas about introducing Japan and Japanese in schools. The conference - a joint project for the fourth year running, between the British Council, the Embassy of Japan, the Japan Foundation, the Japan Society, and funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families - included workshops led by teachers on the themes of Environmental Education, Food and Fitness, Science, Japanese Language Education for All and Joint Curriculum Projects. Participants were also able to take advantage of one-on-one sessions with specialists about funding, Japanese activity days, resources, exchange between the UK and Japan and much more.
The day started in fine style with a presentation by the teachers and students of Wearhead School, County Durham. Having woken up at 2:30am to begin their journey to London, they spoke about their partnership with Amanuma School in Japan, which they visited last year. Pupils from the two schools have been very busy with exchange projects and have written a science fiction story, with each school taking it in turns to write a page. Members of the audience were thrilled by the excellent presentation, and very impressed to hear that Wearhead School has just 24 students. It goes to show that anything is possible when combined with the right drive and support!
The day ran very smoothly and there was a lot of positive feedback. Steve Fletcher, Head of Geography at Roding Valley High School said:
"The conference is a great day, with stimulating workshops that vary every year. As a geography teacher, it's the one course of the year where I can mix with and talk to teachers with varied subject backgrounds, yet all pursuing a common aim. Through the conference and the contacts I have made, I have organised language, art, music, dance and flower arranging (ikebana) workshops, games like Shogi (Japanese chess) and Go, all with Japanese workshop leaders. I always leave feeling enthusiastic about continuing developing Japanese studies in school because I feel part of a wider network where we are all trying new ideas to enrich pupils' experiences."
Tomomi Masumoto from Eton College stated that:
"As a teacher of the Japanese language, I found it particularly useful to hear about the speakers' teaching experience, as well as to exchange ideas with teachers from other schools. There was plenty of opportunity to receive advice and practical information from Japan-related organisations. I was also intrigued that the study of Japan could be applied in a wider scope, and that some British schools adopted Japanese schools' lunchtime and cleaning customs for a certain period of time, which raised the students' awareness of environmental issues such as waste."
Delegates were also lucky enough to enjoy a taiko drumming performance by the children of Heritage House School, Buckinghamshire. The performers, who in 2006 studied in Japan with a leading taiko master, wowed the audience with their exhilarating rhythms and sheer enthusiasm for the music. The audience could not help but cheer and clap along!
Thank you to all the participants, speakers and the other organisers for making the conference such a success. See you again next year!