• Kyodo

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Unable to fully express themselves in words. Unresponsive. Speaks in phrases or in one-liners.

This is a typical description of many Japanese high school students who lack the skills to communicate and interact with others.

The increasing number of such students has prompted a Fukuoka high school to introduce a new compulsory subject, Japanese Communication, aimed at encouraging students to talk more.

Since its launch in April at Fukusho High School in Fukuoka’s Minami Ward, the subject has generated much interest among educators.

It was added to the municipal high school’s revamped curriculum in the current school year and will run for two straight years.

The subject was based on a proposal in October 1998 by a group of scholars who said students need to learn “formal Japanese language.”

The school’s principal, Yuji Miura, referred to the new subject as “the country’s first such scheme to work toward developing students’ practical communication skills.”

The class, held once a week for an hour, is taught by mathematics, English and social science teachers.

The first year focuses on speaking and listening skills, with students given the opportunity to deliver a two-minute speech on such topics as “Self-Introduction” and “What I Expect From My High School.”

The class aims to expose them to public speaking and also to being in the spotlight. Listeners are encouraged to offer feedback on the speeches, such as their content and delivery, while speakers can watch themselves on video afterward.

The following year will focus on a “reading and writing” syllabus, details of which have yet to be hammered out.

Yoshikatsu Watari, vice principal of the school, said, “I want them to learn the joy of self-expression, as well as grow and mature in a holistic sense through developing their communication skills.”

Kazue Amano, 17, a senior who thinks the program is unnecessary, said youths have their own way of speaking.

“Among ourselves, as long as we’re able to understand each other, that’s fine with us,” she said.

Masayuki Yokoyama, a professor of developmental psychology at Fukuoka University of Education who proposed the subject’s introduction, said the Japanese cultural notion of “silence is golden” has provided the backdrop for the reticent youth.

The situation is also attributed to the decrease in human interaction, where youth can do their shopping without uttering a word, and parents often pre-empt children in what they are about to say, he said.

Yokoyama said that in the changing society, there is now a need for a shift from teachers spoon-feeding their students to a classroom learning situation where students can freely discuss and debate various issues.