Satellite brings students closer to Tokyo

AOGASHIMA ISLAND, Tokyo — A 7-year-old stands up in a classroom full of electronic media devices. She begins reading her short essay about her experience during winter break. Two microphones installed near the ceiling pick up her voice.

Hiromi Hiroe then holds up a sketch of herself flying a kite. A second later, children appearing on a 50-inch screen praise her drawing. “Wow, that’s great!” they exclaim in unison.

Hiroe is standing beside her two classmates at Aogashima Elementary School on this tiny island 360 km south of Tokyo proper. The big screen shows a 17-pupil classroom at Joto Elementary School, located near Tokyo Station. “It looks like they (other children) were really here, not on TV,” Hiroe says after the late January class.

What connects the far-apart classrooms is JCSAT3, a satellite that enables two-way communication with images and sounds. The experimental project, initiated and financed by the Education Ministry, began in December. Although preparation for each joint lesson consumes a big chunk of the teachers’ busy schedules, the satellite communication pays off by adding diversity to lessons and bringing fun into both schools.

The pilot project began in an effort to find effective ways to use satellites in precollege education. Some universities have already adopted similar systems.