Building bridges

A good school environment brings people of all cultures together


SEPTEMBER 2021 Industry Perspectives / Text by Toby Waters 

In today’s globalised world, it is essential that people of different nationalities, backgrounds, and perspectives cooperate and communicate effectively. Schools in Japan are committed to promoting diversity and providing multicultural classrooms to help prepare their students for a future that is certain to be even more global.

Promoting cooperation

At Poppins Active Learning International School, working together is essential to the curriculum.

“We teach children who have varying levels of language ability and different ways of learning. And we believe that no one should be left behind just because they learn differently,” says Betty Shimozaki, school director. “Our efforts to empower students by helping them develop mature cooperational skills, have helped to show them that they are capable of empathetic teamwork and intuitive leadership.”

Gymboree Play & Music Japan promotes broad cultural awareness to benefit the children’s future.

“Due to globalisation, when our students enter the workforce, they will be expected to be able to communicate and discuss global issues with people from all around the world,” says Nicole Yamada, vice president. “Therefore, in addition to English skills, they will need to understand and respect people from different cultures and backgrounds to succeed in their careers.”

One school that encourages even its youngest students to depend on one another is St. Alban’s Nursery.

“Our nursery promotes cooperation between students in a mixed-aged setting by encouraging children to be positive role models. They support their peers in achieving their goals and completing day-to-day tasks,” says Gilma Yamamoto Copeland, director. “This builds a sense of responsibility, achievement, and teamwork. Learning from other children is an extremely effective way to create empathetic citizens of the future.”

The classroom is not the only place to encourage empathy, according to the Christian Academy in Japan’s head of school, Anda Foxwell.

“Christian Academy in Japan promotes cooperation between students by providing opportunities for collaboration both in and out of the classroom,” she says. “Through our daily academics — as well as special programmes such as School Without Walls for high schoolers and cross-grade groupings for elementary children — students work together to develop creativity, flexibility, and mutual respect.”

Aoba-Japan International School puts its faith in its students’ curiosity.

“Our curriculum is based on student teams that conduct authentic inquiry,” says Paul Fradale, head of the Hikarigaoka campus. “Each team member has a clearly defined role, their interaction is guided by explicit agreements, and their inquiries are managed by processes and protocols that help students with project management and the design cycle.”

The Lycée Français International de Tokyo (LFI Tokyo), a school with the backing of the French government, is adept at bridging cultures.

“LFI Tokyo was founded on the idea that cooperation and mutual support can help students to achieve excellence. That is why we encourage tutoring and work between students, where older students help younger ones,” explains Anne-Laure Campels, headmistress. “We also increase international exchange through a platform of advice and help between school alumni and high school students.”

Boarding schools also work to cultivate cross-cultural understanding, according to Harrow International School Appi’s founding headmaster and project leader, Mick Farley.

“In our full-boarding school, set in the mountains, cooperation is critical,” he says. “Whether it is helping a friend with their homework, picking them up and encouraging them on the ski slopes if they fall, working together in a dramatic production, or simply adapting to living with each other, all of our students learn to cooperate.”

Jinseki International School (JINIS) is also a boarding school, and it is founded on the belief that children living and learning together improves mutual understanding.

“Because we are a boarding school, our students live and learn together — so they get to know each other very well,” says Matthew Baker, headmaster. “Our unique location lets us involve our students in activities such as our farm programme, where students take responsibility for their environment and cooperate in growing their own food.”

The New International School of Japan (NewIS) believes in treating all children equally.

“Principally, we do not compare the students. There is no concept of their being ahead or behind, as our curriculum is developmental rather than age–grade specific,” says Steven Parr, founding director and head of school. “This motivates our students to learn from and with one another, as well as from and with the teachers.”

At St. Michael’s International School respect for one another is fundamental to day-to-day life in the classroom.

“A key aspect of cooperation is to nurture and develop active listening skills,” says Gill Tyrer, head of school. “Our young learners are given opportunities to develop leadership, decision-making, responsibility, and communication skills. They learn what the expectations are for working together and for understanding and respecting the views of others.”

Elite Open School has created an interactive environment to promote greater cooperation among students.

“At Elite Open School, our individualised and independent curriculum allows us to create an inherently collaborative and social learning environment,” says Adam Bowen, academic instructor. “Students and teachers work together in mixed classrooms not separated by age, aptitude, or language skill — and older children take responsibility for tutoring and mentoring younger students.”

Discovering other cultures

As the world seems to get smaller day by day, Musashi International School Tokyo (MIST) embraces closer connections between its students and their cultures.

“MIST believes that learning about other cultures prepares students for a world that is increasingly interconnected. An understanding of other cultures increases a child’s ability to successfully work with diverse groups of people,” says Edward Gilbreath, head of school. “MIST has an annual week-long International Festival to learn about and celebrate other cultures.”

Expanding students’ horizons is a priority for Nishimachi International School.

“We believe in developing learners who value the perspectives of others, and we focus on increasing intercultural awareness and understanding among staff, students, and our community,” says Kacie Leviton, marketing and communications manager. “When our students learn a second language, they gain an international perspective and have the opportunity to grow beyond a single culture.”

Poppins understands that its students, who are certain to find themselves in unfamiliar environments at some point, benefit from learning about others.

“Many of our multilingual students will live abroad during their childhood, and many more will form their worldview through interaction with the diverse cultures and backgrounds of their teachers and fellow students,” Shimozaki says. “Our students learn to grow through, and truly enjoy, the sheer variety of customs, languages, backgrounds, and personalities that they encounter.”

JINIS holds to a similar philosophy.

“While we are firmly rooted in Japanese culture and traditions, many of our students will study outside of Japan in the future,” Baker says. “We set a high value on learning the customs and priorities of other cultures, so that our students can be respectful and successful all over the world.”

Tyrer of St. Michael’s International School sees a familiarity with diverse environments as central to the future success of students.

“Learning about other cultures helps children feel comfortable and safe with differences later in life,” she says. “As they encounter new perspectives, children develop empathy, as well as confidence in themselves and their interactions with others. Through open-mindedness, they are less likely to develop prejudices and are consequently better prepared for a diverse environment.”

LFI Tokyo leverages its network to help provide students with a comprehensive educational experience.

“We belong to the Agency for French Education Abroad, an international network of 500 French schools all over the world, which provides a multilingual and multicultural environment that promotes le vivre-ensemble,” says Campels. “Our international students come from many different backgrounds. And we offer a global linguistic and cultural approach, providing excellent courses in many languages, including French, English, Spanish, German, and Japanese.”

Faith can be a powerful motivator to learn, and to help people, according to Foxwell of the Christian Academy in Japan.

“Our mission statement is ‘Equipping students to serve Japan and the world for Christ’. Learning about other cultures is vital for deepening our students’ understanding of the world,” she says. “Through service and study, we strive to provide an environment in which our students can engage with diverse cultures and languages while seeking God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.”

Celebrating diversity

The American School in Japan (ASIJ) has made inclusivity a key part of its school programme.

“ASIJ’s board established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy, which encourages us to celebrate diversity,” explains Pip Curtis, middle school principal. “For example, our grade seven students participated in the Empower Project, where they explored ways to reduce inequity and formed groups to learn more about inequalities with regard to gender, income, race, and the LGBTQ+ community. An educated student body supports the celebration of diversity.”

The best part of an education that values inclusivity is the chance to experience and enjoy our differences.

“At St. Alban’s, we strongly encourage children to celebrate diversity through discussion and by taking part in global festivals and holidays,” explains Yamamoto Copeland. “We especially enjoy celebrating Japanese festivals and doing cultural activities. These create special memories that stay with children for a lifetime, no matter where they may find themselves in the world.”

At Gymboree, play is a fundamental way to experience the world in the classroom.

“Our unique Global Kids programme introduces children to world culture and diversity through games, music, dance, and art activities,” says Dre Gumbs, lead teacher. “In this class, children ‘travel around the world’ and explore what children their age look like, what games they play, and what music they enjoy in different countries and regions.”

NewIS uses multi-age classes to promote diversity.

“Our multi-age education system — with a three-year age range of students per class — is, in itself, a celebration of diversity, as it benefits from and supports a wide range of academic and linguistic proficiencies, as well as cultural and racial diversity in every class from age three to Grade 12,” Parr says.

Preparing children for tomorrow

With the world becoming ever more interconnected, properly equipping children for the future is more important than ever.

“MIST teaches a global perspectives class in elementary and middle school. The course is designed to make students consider issues that affect the world,” Gilbreath says. “They learn about issues in teams and develop solutions together. MIST’s ultimate goal is to give students the tools to be able to resolve serious issues.”

Elite Open School’s Bowen agrees that helping children get used to the differences they will encounter abroad is key to their education.

“By offering an accessible American curriculum in Japan, Elite Open School is able to provide students with the opportunity to become familiar with the wider international world before they enter university,” he says. “We also prioritise the active sharing of culture, priming our students to consider global perspectives every day.”

Aoba has worked with foreign institutions to develop the best possible courses for its students.

“Aoba spent three years in partnership with Southern Cross University, researching best practices that enable ‘blended learning’. In this approach, information and communications technology is leveraged to help students control of the path, pace, and place of learning,” Fradale says. “In practice, this means using industry-standard platforms and student-centred pedagogies to maximise both face-to-face and online learning.”

ASIJ encourages its students to get involved in their local area to promote good communication.

“ASIJ’s middle school students engage with the community, making connections with local businesses and government agencies as they seek to find solutions to real world problems,” Curtis says. “Students leverage digital technology and practice our Portrait of a Learner competencies such as global citizenship, critical thinking, communication, and creativity in interdisciplinary projects, which prepare them for the world they will enter when they leave ASIJ.”

Matt Marson, director of digital learning at Nishimachi International School, thinks of the school as a place to embrace Japan while learning about other cultures.

“Nishimachi celebrates its Japanese environment while understanding that our community is a microcosm of the world. We nurture learners who are globally and interculturally minded, and we believe that using technology in the classroom inspires creativity,” he says. “Our Nishimachi Learner Expectations equips our learners with the skills, characteristics, and mindset to succeed in an uncertain future.”

At Harrow Appi, using technology to teach students good morals is considered the best way to prepare them for life, no matter where it takes them.

“On Harrow Appi’s digital campus — and through our core and super curriculum programmes — students develop cultural literacy, multilingual fluency, and technological expertise. They learn to live, work, and communicate across different cultures,” Farley says. “Our values-based education helps them to make appropriate, respectful, and future-focussed choices so that they demonstrate excellence in life and leadership.”

Everything is changing so rapidly. It’s good to know that many schools in Japan are effectively preparing children for tomorrow’s world.