Teaching in Japanese Elemetary Schools - the official word

This article is taken from the 2001 Renewer's Conference in Kobe and was prepared by the ALT Advisor at Monbukagakusho.

The following is not the new curriculum itself. It is just a brief description of how the curriculum is laid out and an overview of the International Understanding (kokusai riikai) portion of the curriculum, which ALTs may be expected to help with. It mentions what may be expected of ALTs and suggests what types of activities could be used. It is possible that your schools would like to explain the International Understanding portion of the curriculum to you, but aren't sure how. So, please have a read.


Beginning in April 2000, elementary schools in Japan were allowed to introduce a new "Period of Integrated Studies" into their curriculum. Next year, in April 2002, with the introduction of the new course of study, all elementary schools in Japan will be required to do so.

The Period of Integrated Studies is a period that has been allocated for cross-curricula study. Some of the suggested areas that can be covered in this period are: international understanding (kokusai rikai), the environment, welfare, and information technologies.

Teachers at individual schools are asked to develop their own programs after considering the interests and abilities of their students as well as the situation of their school and local community. In addition to elementary school teachers, members of the local community and other human resources may be utilised in these programs.

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International understanding is one element that many schools may choose to incorporate into their Period for Integrated Studies. As an ALT, you may be required to assist elementary schools with their programs.

International understanding education has three main goals:

1) The development of attitudes that are respectful of other cultures and qualities, and the development of the abilities necessary for living together with people from different cultures.

2) Establishment of a strong Japanese identity to better contribute toward international understanding.

3) The development of basic foreign language skills, the ability for self-expression and other communication skills for expressing one's own thoughts and intentions, while respecting the position of others in an international society.

In terms of specific learning activities at elementary school, they may take the form of 'student research projects,' 'international exchange activities,' and 'foreign language conversation'. All are effective for developing international understanding and it is hoped that they will be employed in an integrated manner.

Regarding the points to consider in developing foreign language activities during the Period for Integrated Studies, the Elementary School Course of Study states:

1) Activities should incorporate experiential learning, appropriate for elementary school students, in which the children are exposed to foreign language and familiarized with the daily life in foreign countries.

2) The primary purpose is to foster interest and desire to use English-not to teach a language. It is important to assess the students' level and developmental stage in devising activities. The contents and activities are not fixed so teachers when devising activities have to consider first the emphasis on 'spoken English' and other areas such as: what the students want to say and do; items that the students can relate to in their daily lives; items that increase students' awareness of differences in other cultures,etc...

In keeping activities interesting, it is possible to use such activities as: games, chants, suitable songs, picture books, easy role-plays/skits, use of audio/visual materials, as well as events introducing culture, special events and exchange activities, etc..

The emphasis of foreign language activities at the elementary school is on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. The purpose is to spark an interest in foreign language and cultures. It does not mean an early introduction of junior high school English.

Elementary School Handbook

This is Monbukagakusho's handbook for elementary school teaching. It is written in both English and Japanese.

It contains: - Sample Lesson Plans
- English Activities
- Information about Team Teaching
- Background Information for Teaching at Elementary Schools

This book can be ordered from almost any bookstore, or by the person who comes around to your school handing out brochures and pamphlets. It only costs 100 yen. All you need to order the book is the name and catalogue #. That info is:

Shogakko Eigo Katsudo Jisen no Tebiki.
(Practical Handbook for Elementary School English Activities)
published by Kairyudo
Catalogue #: ISBN4-304-04078-2 C307
Cost: 100yen


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