Although concerns are mounting about children’s lack of interest in the physical sciences, classes in which companies send employees to conduct experiments at elementary and junior high schools are proving popular.
Petrochemical firms and drug makers are actively dispatching employees to such classes, hoping they will arouse curiosity in the physical sciences.
In one such class at a Tokyo elementary school, Makoto Shimazaki, an official of Bayer Yakuhin Ltd., demonstrated the mechanism of digestion.
Shimazaki melted starch with hot water, making it sticky. He then added a diet aid that blocks digestion.
In this way, Shimazaki, who has a doctorate in pharmacology, demonstrated how different substances can affect the speed of digestion.
Employees of Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co., a fermented chemical manufacturer, conducted science classes using the “Bio Adventure,” a company car equipped with experimental kits, including high-powered microscopes. The vehicle is sent to schools to let students carry out experiments.
The program is so popular that a private junior high in the western Tokyo suburb of Chofu has adopted it as part of a regular integrated course.
Sumitomo Chemical Co. has set up “Ichihara Sodegaura Boys’ and Girls’ Invention Club,” in which children learn about flying and motion by making such things as bamboo flying spinners and kaleidoscopes.
The club, which began last year, has been well-received by residents of the Chiba Prefecture cities of Ichihara and Sodegaura. The club is so popular that participating students this year had to be picked in a drawing.
Kuraray Co. and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. also sponsor children’s classes near their plants.
These activities are considered part of a global movement for corporations to fulfill their social responsibility.
“The (activities) are here to stay,” said Mariko Kawaguchi, a chief researcher at the Daiwa Research Institute, “as it is not difficult for a corporation to make a social contribution by using its special skills.”
The activities cost a corporation little, as equipment and materials used for classes is already available in its laboratories and its employees are the instructors. For corporations, it is a “social action program at a time of recession,” Kawaguchi said.
From a corporate perspective, company-sponsored science classes reflect growing concerns by corporations about the decline in Japanese technical capability.
According to academic ability surveys conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology, student disinterest in the physical sciences shows no signs of decreasing.
“Since students seek only techniques to pass university entrance examinations, they fail to understand basic principles,” Bayer Yakuhin’s Shimazaki said. “If the trend continues, they will be unable to come up with new ideas.”