“The teachers there don’t count the hours”

A very special environment

Japan’s first primary boarding school opens next year


Text by Toby Waters

When you think of a boarding school, what comes to mind might be ancient dining halls, subdued uniforms and old-fashioned educational methods. But these are just the Hogwarts-influenced stereotypes. A boarding school and its staff provide the structure and fulltime support that can be the making of a profoundly successful child.

Although some schools in Japan have dormitories, educators Rob Gray and John Baugh believe that there is a significant difference between the existing system here and a transformative boarding school experience. As advisors to Next Educational Environment Development Japan (NEED Japan), they are currently preparing to open the Jinseki International School (JINIS), Japan’s first boarding school for primary students.

“Boarding schools have a very special sort of environment,” Gray says. “You get a wonderful education. The classes are small and the teachers are committed. It’s also a 24/7 environment: it’s not as though you go to school and then go somewhere else — the education continues.”

Baugh adds: “The children and teachers live together in a close-knit, supportive society.”

It is this ethos of exceptional education combined with individual care that Baugh and Gray are seeking to establish with JINIS, located in the picturesque Jinsekikogen, Hiroshima Prefecture.

Gray, who is the headmaster of Institut Le Rosey, Switzerland, and Baugh, the executive director of St. Andrew’s in Turi, Kenya, have more than 70 years of experience educating children between them. They believe deeply in the ability of boarding schools to bring out a child’s true potential.

“I boarded from the age of seven,” Baugh says. “First in Uganda and then in the UK. And I am currently Director of Kenya’s largest international boarding school. I guess boarding is in my blood.”

Gray, though not educated at a boarding school, is convinced of the system’s efficacy.

“When I went to Cambridge, I had friends who had been to Eton,” he says. “I had the chance to visit with them, and it struck me that a boarding school would be a great place to work. The teachers there don’t count the hours.”

Gray was persuaded by Minako Suematsu, the managing director of NEED Japan, to take a look at the area where they were considering opening a school. Instantly, he saw that it would be an ideal location.

“Apparently, Jinsekikogen was a holy place in ancient times,” he says. “We could see a school taking shape there — and it’s also a very good place for a summer camp.”

The JINIS boarding school is still under construction and is scheduled to open next April. However, since 2017, children and parents have been able to get a preview of the school, its grounds, and what it will offer through the JINIS Summer School. Held over a period of two weeks, children spend time learning and working together under the supervision of expert educators, including many brought in from overseas.

At the summer school, the children also engage in activities that take advantage of the area’s natural beauty, including hiking and stargazing. Each year, the programme has attracted more than a dozen boys and girls, looked after by teachers around the clock.

This year, NEED Japan has enlisted the United Sports Foundation to teach the children as part of its summer school. Under the slogan ‘One World. One Team.’, the organisation promotes unity, enjoyment and the challenge of sports through the guidance of a top athlete.

The experiences gained through the JINIS Summer School have boosted Gray and Baugh’s confidence in the success of their fulltime boarding school.

“I suppose it was testing the water,” says Gray. “A summer camp is a bit like a boarding school in miniature; kids come and live with other kids, monitors and teachers. They both have the same atmosphere.”

The summer school has grown in its scope and in the number of children taking part each year, and the two educators plan to see JINIS itself expanding in a similarly consistent way.

Last month, the school held an on-site briefing, which allowed parents who are considering enrolling their children at JINIS to get a feel for the location and surrounding environment. They were also given a detailed explanation of the school’s philosophy as a truly Japanese boarding school with European characteristics.

“JINIS doesn’t want to be a UK or a US boarding school in Japan,” Baugh says. “JINIS wants to be Japanese, but a Japanese school looking to the outside world.”

While acknowledging that it can be difficult for a parent to decide to be separated for a period of months at a time from their child, Gray explains that the experience can help the child mature and come into their own. He believes that the relationship children have with their parents can also change for the better.

“The children appreciate the love and care that their parents give them even more, and parents learn to appreciate children as young people,” he says. “When you’re a parent, you often see your child as they were two or three years ago, and you don’t see that they’ve moved on. In a way, the time apart makes the relationship more natural.”

The boarding school experience may be new in Japan, but Gray and Baugh, together with NEED Japan, are certain that JINIS’s pupils will work hard, thrive in this new environment, and reach great levels of

“JINIS wants to be Japanese, but a Japanese school looking to the outside world”