An Educational Program in the Spotlight: “I’mPOSSIBLE” Heads Out into the World
Nowadays, diversity is becoming an increasingly normal part of our day-to-day lives, and in various aspects of the international world. What should we do, in this kind of society, to make sure children have the ability to accept diversity, think actively and critically about various issues, and take action?
This is a question that is vital for any parent with a child, but also for teachers, who work day in and day out to provide as good of an education as they can to the future generation.
An answer to this may lie in the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) official toolkit “I’mPOSSIBLE,” which has been distributed to elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, special education schools, etc., all over the country. A total of 36,000 toolkits have been distributed for free to schools across Japan, across three distribution cycles for elementary schools, starting in 2017, and two in junior high and high schools—last year and two years ago.
Paralympic Education, Changing “I Can’t” to “I Can”
The symposium featured a dialogue under the theme, “Effects and Challenge of the Paralympic Education Through ‘I’mPOSSIBLE.’” The speakers were Miki Matheson (left), Parasapo staff member, member of the Education Committee for the IPC and International Olympic Committee (IOC), and main developer of the Japanese version of the “I’mPOSSIBLE” toolkit, and Tomohiro Ishizuka (right), a teacher from Minamimachi Elementary School in Higashikurume City.
A common misunderstanding is that “I’mPOSSIBLE” is just about learning the history and rules of the Paralympics. Though its main principle is indeed “education that utilizes the Paralympics,” it offers much more than that. It has been designed so that children can learn about inclusive thinking by learning about the Paralympics.
“For example, they learn about the defining characteristics of the Paralympics, its sports and its history, and through that, learn the importance of not giving up, pushing yourself to the limit, and the mindset to change ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can.’ Through the toolkit, children will also learn the ways of thinking they need to create an inclusive society, using the Paralympics as the sort of gateway to this kind of thinking,” said Matheson.
This line of thought is reflected in the very name of the program, where a single apostrophe has changed the word “impossible” to the phrase, “I’m Possible.”
In other words, if you can’t do something, you shouldn’t just give up—you should think about what you should do to be able to do it. Paralympic education helps people get into this way of thinking, and aims to use this kind of thinking to change society for the better.
An Evolution of a Wildly Successful U.K. Educational Program
Associate Professor Tadashi Watari of the Faculty of Health and Sports Science, Juntendo University, served as the moderator for the symposium
When it was decided that the Paralympics would be held in London, the U.K. began a governmental program to distribute Get Set, an Olympic/Paralympic-based textbook—and the predecessor to the “I’mPOSSIBLE” toolkit—to more than 20,000 schools in the country. As a result of the program, children who’d gained an interest in the Paralympics had actively invited their parents and their friends to go watch the London Paralympics with them.
Though it had originally been established as an educational program to build momentum for the Paralympics, the British Paralympic Association reports that two-third of children who had received the Get Set Education had gained a more positive attitude regarding people with impairment. It had thus contributed greatly to the creation of an inclusive society where diverse groups of people could co-exist and accept each other as they are. The program was later recognized for its efficacy and value and has, since the end of the London Paralympics, become an educational program that continues even now in the U.K.
“I’mPOSSIBLE,” as a program that focuses solely on Paralympic education, is thus an extension and evolution of this success story.
How Do the Children React? What Do They Learn?
“The program is made up of lectures, which the children sit and listen to, and workshops, which they get to experience for themselves. In the lectures, we show them highlight reels of the Rio Paralympics, and these are incredible. We play them for every class, and the children are absolutely riveted by the Paralympians. They get really excited about it—you know, they say stuff like ‘Wow!’ and ‘How is he so strong!?’; I can really feel it, and it inspires me. What’s been striking for me is the message, ‘It’s ability, not disability, that counts.’ It’s a really impactful message, and it really stays in the minds of these children. The Paralympics also have their own rules and equipment in terms of sports, so the children get really hyped up for the quizzes where they learn the various different ideas and fun creativity in these sports. It’s interesting because there are children that look up the stuff they don’t know at home, and because you get to tease out and draw attention to the different values and mindsets that they already have inside of them. It also provides an opportunity for them to think about what exactly ‘equality’ is,” said Ishizuka.
In the workshops, children get to try their hand at actual Paralympic sports. Since these sports have their own unique rules and equipment, however, it can be hard for children to be able to play them outright. But that’s the point. One of the real thrills of this program is to think—with the children—about how they could work around these difficulties to try these sports.
Driving Long-Term, Sustainable Implementation in a Hectic Educational Environment
The value and appeal inherent in Paralympic education is immeasurable. In terms of implementing them in actual schools, however—in a way that’s sustainable and long-lasting—there are still many issues that must be ironed out. Indeed, many of the design choices in the toolkit were made to try to circumvent these issues.
“We did everything we could to make the toolkit easy to use and easy to understand for the teachers, who I know are incredibly busy in their day-to-day life. We had it reflect as much of the feedback that we got from local teachers during the testing phase as we could, and designed the package so that it would cater as much as possible to their needs. For example, we have all the information—what they should ask the children, how they should manage class time, how the class should flow, and the actual educational material, including videos—all in one place, so that even if a teacher doesn’t have the time to research the material, or they don’t know anything about the Paralympics, all they have to do to start the class is open the package. One of the most important design choices we made with this toolkit is designing it so that it can be used without any Paralympic staff present,” said Matheson.
“We’re working to host more teacher training sessions, so that instead of just handing out the toolkits, we can also tell them about the meaning behind Paralympic education. We’ve had about 8,000 teachers participate in these sessions already, and we’re gradually getting more and more requests, so we’re going to continue hosting them.” said Matheson.
In 2020, Paralympic education was officially listed on the government’s elementary school curriculum guideline. Matheson said, “2020 will be the birthyear of Paralympic education in Japan. I’d like more people to understand that this isn’t just a one-time program, a one-time event—this is something that we have to drive forward as a long-term educational program.”
The Closing Ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will also feature an awards ceremony for the “I’mPOSSIBLE Award,” which is given to schools that utilized “I’mPOSSIBLE” to make outstanding efforts towards the realization of an inclusive society. Two Japanese schools and one foreign school will be recognized and invited to attend the Closing Ceremony.
The “I’mPOSSIBLE” international version is currently in use in 31 countries in the 5 regions of Asia, Oceania, the U.S., Europe, and Africa.
text by Parasapo Lab
photo by Tomohiko Tagawa