Kumamoto Education Week on the last week of January 2022

Student members of the Kyoso Sankaku Tanken Net (KSTN) participated in the "Our Dreams Create the Future - KSTN x Kumamoto EduAction" at the Kumamoto Education Week organised by the Kumamoto City Board of Education on January 31, 2022. They participated in a session to discuss education with high school students from Kumamoto City.

KSTN student members were Haruna Takeuchi (a university student from Hiroshima Prefecture), Shiori Yamamoto (university student from Tokyo), Momoka Kojima (high school student from Fukui Prefecture), Mahiro Umehara (high school student from Tokyo), Miki Nanashima (junior high school student from Fukushima Prefecture), and Nathan Wang, who is also a member of the Kumamoto regional ecosystem unit.Kumamoto City high school students included Kokoro Ogawa, Natsuki Nakagawa, Miharu Matsumura, Tomoya Takemoto, Toshiki Li, and Takato Hamaguchi.

Following the students’ self-introductions and an introduction of KSTN, the students asked "Why?” about aspects of school that didn’t make sense to them. Students often ask"Why?” but they may not be listened to, or they may believe it is "wrong" to ask critical questions. The aim of this session was to convey that it is not only okay to question anything, but it was their right to do so under the Convention on the Rights of a Child.

The first question students asked "why?” was regarding high school regulations and expectations of students' clothing and uniforms: "Uniforms are expensive (several thousand yen overseas, but tens of thousands of yen in Japan!”; “What kind of clothes are they (teachers/schools/adults) expecting us to wear as typical high school students?”; “I was told that I am more likely to be molested on the train if I wear cute clothes (even though I can go to school with any clothes), so I have to wear flashy clothes. Why should we be the ones to prevent molestation?"; and “Why are we only allowed to wear the prescribed uniform sweaters even though it's so cold (although Covid-19 gives us more freedom due to ventilation!)?".

The second question was about school rules. "Why can't I use my phone at school?" “One of my friends had his phone confiscated as punishment and didn't get it back for a week. Why?" In response to the question, "Why can't students decide their school rules?", the students discussed the history and experiences of schools in Tokyo where students were able to change their school rules by discussing with their teachers and free uniforms. This led to a new question, "Why is it possible to change school rules in a school in Tokyo but not in other schools?" Students speculated that the reason may be due to feelings of resignation and fear, saying, "Maybe the students think that if they complain in school, it will affect their grades.”

The third question was regarding "recess time." A student asked why lunch breaks in Japan are so short. "In China, students have a two-hour lunch break, during which they can go home to eat and sleep, but why is the lunch break in Japan so short? In addition, there is not enough time to rest due to a lot of homework and assignments." "Why is summer vacation so short in Japan compared to other countries and universities?”

In a study-related talk, some students commented: "The morning study (from 7:45 to 8:10) is too hard. Teachers don't want to do it either”; “There are more than 12 periodic examinations a year whereas in Singapore, there are only two big tests a year. Why do we have to take so many tests every month? What is the purpose of these tests?”; “Why is it that in the third year of high school, the focus is all on entrance exams? Is it really a good process to enter a university if you have to stop club activities, student council, and these kinds of activities and focus on entrance exams for a year?”

Next, three videos from the OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 project were introduced: OECD Senior Policy Analyst Miho Taguma from the OECD, Ms. Risa Minamihonoki (university student in Tokyo & KSTN student member), and Mr. Maxime Zwartjes (college student from Lyon, France).

First, Ms. Taguma introduced the OECD Learning Compass, which emphasises the importance of each student and each member of society to pursue the well-being of themselves, others, and the planet, and that individual well-being includes various elements such as work, housing, quality of life, and work-life balance, which are interrelated with the well-being of society as a whole (economic, human, social, and natural capital). She also talked about the importance of acknowledging each individual’s unique characteristics which can realise the well-being of society as a whole, and therefore, the importance of agency, which allows each person to achieve goals at a different pace and route. As a core foundation of the Learning Compass, she also emphasised how cognitive and socio-emotional development, such as reading and writing, and physical, mental, and invisible health (health foundation) are closely interrelated, as an introduction to students' experiences.

Next, Risa shared her experience of not being able to talk about being a victim of bullying for about 10 years, believing that her situation could not be called bullying and that she did not deserve to be called a bullied victim because she was young and her teachers did not fully respond to her cry for help. In addition, she shared her chronic illness of suffering from migraine headaches since junior high school, which is difficult for others to understand because it is an invisible health issue. Risa said, "Not only my experience, but also transgender children and young caregivers may not be able to spend their time freely. If they cannot talk to someone at home, they may not have anyone to confide in about their suffering. Children, especially young children, who have only the home or school to escape to, may choose suicide. It is impossible to tell if they have any of the health problems I have described from what is visible to the eye.e. While the students’ home environments are different for each student, they share the same teachers. Therefore, I would like school teachers to be equal in terms of how they interact with and support their students, not equal in quantity and quality, but equal in terms of helping each student with his or her problems.” She cautioned the harm that invisible physical and mental illness can have upon children.

Maxime, a French university student, shared his story of having to drop out because the system did not allow him to stay in school as long as he suffered from dyspraxia.. Maxime believes that we can foster empathy in the system by helping teachers understand that some people have trouble learning math and reading, and that everyone has a different way of learning., He also stated that empathy can improve the whole system, foster greater flexibility, and enhance creativity by allowing it to take root as a a core value for all.

Kumamoto City students and KSTN students shared their thoughts from watching this video as follows: "I felt that it is important to discuss with friends and teachers about things that are difficult to talk about." “I am empathetic towards the need to feel empathy. I hope that the activities of Kumamoto Education Week and KSTN will spread and the concept of well-being will also spread." “It’s important to realise everybody’s mental well-being. The well-being of individuals will lead to the well-being of the nation. We need to increase individual involvement and raise awareness." “Through Risa's talk, I learned that there are invisible health issues. There are more young carers now, and we need to create a place for them and be able to talk to people around them. I think it is important for students, teachers, and community members to join hand-in-hand to make things better in the future".

Thus, the Kumamoto City high school students and KSTN students who participated in the Kumamoto Education week shared how schools from different areas implement different rules, and that having empathy for those suffering from invisible health issues may help transform society. We would like to thank the KSTN students, students from Kumamoto City, students from other parts of Japan and France, for sharing their thoughts with each other online. The students' deep thoughts and their discussions brought many new insights and awareness for the audience.