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One evening in late July, a group of adults met at the municipal Gosho-Minami Elementary School in Kyoto to ponder a question.

“How can we link the stone walls of (Kyoto’s) Nijo Castle to the pupils’ lessons (on the castle’s history)?” asked Kenji Miyazaki, 72.

Miyazaki is not a teacher, but chairman of a federation of local self-governing associations. He also heads the school’s management council.

Gosho-Minami is a new type of school that teaches students based on curricula mapped out by community representatives.

Using Britain’s school system as a model, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry first named Gosho-Minami and eight other model “community schools” in 2002 amid criticism that public schools run by prefectural and municipal governments lacked flexibility and were too narrow in scope. Their number had risen to 25 as of July.

Local residents actively participate in running community schools via management councils — 75-member panels made up of community and parent representatives.

The councils plan and manage curricula and organize hands-on learning experiences for children, making full use of local human resources.

Gosho-Minami’s council includes officials of local self-governing associations, traditional craftsmen and teachers of Japanese flower arrangement and dance. They form 12 groups covering topics ranging from culture, sports and the environment to computers and health, each meeting once a month.

It was through such meetings that it was decided to have the children get hands-on experience drawing patterns in Yuzen dyeing. Fourteen children in the fourth to the sixth grades visited the studio of craftsman Shuji Takahashi in late June.

“Yuzen is someone’s name,” Takahashi, 48, explained to the youngsters. “It is the technique devised by Miyazaki Yuzen-sai and passed on to the present.”

The students used liquid extracted from spiderwort to paint inside the outlines of a windmill and mandarin oranges hand-drawn on white cloth.

“Once I actually tried painting, it was pretty difficult, and the colors ran,” said 11-year-old Ryoko Takemura. “I guess this is what’s called technique, something that has continued for decades.”

The adults, for their part, hope the children will grow up and become the driving force behind the preservation of local tradition in the ancient capital.

“This experience will stay in their hearts,” Takahashi said. “It would be best if they draw upon these experiences when they grow up and develop them.”

This year’s study plan is expansive, including a lesson on composition taught by a winner of the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize, a discussion on global warming taken up by a civic environmental group and hands-on experience in “makie,” the gold-lacquer craft closely associated with Kyoto.

Principal Michiko Murakami, 57, initially had to approach leaders of organizations in the school district, including self-governing associations and social welfare councils, in an effort to recruit members for the school management council.

She persuaded them by urging them to work together based on the notion that “the community shoulders the responsibility of bringing up its children.” As a result, 20 current council members were publicly recruited.

The effort has also led to closer bonds between schoolteachers and the community through monthly dialogue with council members. At the outset, some council members were unsure of what to do, but their understanding of the school and its affairs deepened as they realized the difficulties involved in teaching and the problems confronting the school.

Its 12 directors approve basic school policies, including the budget, and can express views on educational activities and personnel matters. They also attend interviews held for teachers who responded to public recruitment efforts.

“I think the questions they asked delved into how passionate (the candidates) were toward teaching,” Murakami said.

Kyoto fell into rapid decline after the central government was moved to Tokyo after the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867. However, its citizens set up 64 elementary schools in 1869, before any such nationwide education system was established, in the hope that educating their kids would lead to a brighter future for the city.

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