Future of learning on display at Tokyo's Educational IT Solutions Expo

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

From robotics to virtual reality technologies to 3-D printers, advanced, cutting-edge technology was on display at this year’s Educational IT Solutions Expo, which kicked off Wednesday in Tokyo’s Koto Ward.

The seventh such expo, this year’s event featured a special section to showcase “the learning of the future” for the first time. Some 50 companies are using the opportunity to display what they believe the future of education will look like with advancements in new information technologies.

The highlight of the expo is programming education, as the education ministry is working to incorporate computer programming into the curriculum of all public elementary schools by 2020.

Lego Japan Ltd., which has been involved in programming education for 15 years, showcased the WeDo 2.0 robotics kit for elementary school students. With a tablet-based interface, the kit teaches kids how programming works by using basic robotics apps. Children can assemble their own robots using Lego blocks and small motors. Through the learning software, they can program how their robots move simply by placing colored panels on the screen.

“When we say programming, the first thing that comes to people’s minds is a complicated coding technique. But this tool allows children to do programming just by placing graphical icons in order,” said Kayo Kitagawa, the Key Account Manager for Lego Education Japan.

“We believe the meaning of programming education is gradually changing” from training students to become good coders to teaching them how things around them work using programming, she said.

Elsewhere in the expo, Tokyo-based computer trading company Ask Corp. demonstrated a VR headset developed by HTC Corp. and drawing software that allows users to draw in a 3-D virtual space.

The company believes the VR technology is suited for job training, said Toshiyuki Kawabata, a manager of Ask Corp.’s Osaka office.

“Unlike conventional textbooks, through which students learn mere knowledge, the VR technology can offer a more realistic learning experience by actually letting them simulate various situations” such as learning how automobiles work. They will be able to actually disassemble them in a virtual space, he said.

Another Yamanashi-based venture, Smartdiys Inc., demonstrated a compact laser cutter that users can put together themselves.

“Assembling the laser cutter, making design plans via computers, and producing their own products … I believe the whole processes using the laser cutter could be a good way to teach students about manufacturing,” said the company’s chief operating officer, Makoto Arii.

The expo, held at Tokyo Fashion Town Building near Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward, will run through Friday.