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[SPORTS X] Special Classes at One of Japan’s Top Prep Schools: Diversity, Broadening Perspectives

It goes without saying that parents want their children to be able to do well in school, or in sports. In order to thrive in an increasingly diverse society, however, children will also need a broader perspective on life, a more open/empathetic heart. One institution that has made it its goal to cultivate such well-rounded individuals is NADA Junior and Senior High School (hereafter NADA), one of Japan’s top prep schools. In addition to their regular classes, students at NADA have the option of attending Saturday lectures as part of the school’s “periods for integrated learning by exploration activities.” What are these lectures like, and how do they help broaden children’s perspectives? We attended one such lecture to get the answers.

Saturday Lectures (and an Array of Unique Lecturers) to Expand Students’ Possibilities

The Saturday lectures at NADA are given by a unique array of professionals from various areas. On the academic side, for example, this could be a theoretical researcher devoted to suppressing the spread of infectious diseases, or an expert of regenerative medicine. On the business end, it could be the owner of a coffee bean shop in Kobe engaged in various community service efforts through coffee, or perhaps the owner of a canteen who became a social entrepreneur in order to solve social issues like poverty and environmental destruction. These lectures are meant to expose children to people of various backgrounds, the kind of people they may not be able to meet in everyday life, in order to help broaden their perspectives on life.

Learning from Dialogue with a Current Para-Athlete

Students at NADA actively engaged in the lecture
(Photo provided by the City of Kobe)

On May 22 of this year, the Saturday lecture for the students at NADA was the Asuchalle! Junior Academy (hosted by The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center). This program, established in 2018, consists of workshop-style classes given primarily by para-athletes, that are meant to get children thinking about what they can do to contribute to the realization of an inclusive society, through lectures and dialogue. This particular class was held online due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lecturer was Eri Yamamoto of para powerlifting (Women’s 55kg Class), and the lecture was attended by 11 students, from second-years in junior high to second-years in high school.

The lecture started with self-introductions. Yamamoto started them off, after which each of the students gave a short introduction, presenting things like their nicknames and special skills. Yamamoto discussed her disability, her discovery of para powerlifting, and the process by which she began to aim for the Paralympic Games, to the students beyond the screen.
The students, who at first seemed a tad bewildered by Yamamoto’s statement that she’d been born unable to walk, gradually began to warm up to the lecture as she called them by their nicknames, and asked them about their feelings and opinions. Over time, they even began to raise their hands and ask their own questions. One student asked, “What was something you were happy a stranger did for you?” In response, Yamamoto talked about something she had experienced while shopping at a supermarket. It had been when she’d been out to buy shiso leaves (a type of Japanese herb), one of her favorite foods. The shiso had been placed high up on the shelves, and she hadn’t been able to reach it. A store employee, noticing her struggling, came over and asked if they could help. When she asked the employee to get her the shiso from the shelf, the employee had grabbed multiple bunches and asked her which one she’d wanted, letting her choose the exact one she’d wanted to buy. This level of choice would be completely normal for an able-bodied person at the supermarket. In that moment, the students learned for the first time that what was normal for them might not be normal for a wheelchair user.

What the Students Gained from Asuchalle! Junior Academy

Eri Yamamoto, who served as the lecturer for the Asuchalle! Junior Academy at NADA

It can be difficult even for adults to imagine what exactly an inclusive society would look like, even if they know the definition of an inclusive society. Asuchalle! Junior Academy seemed to have led the students to the realization that it was their individual behaviors that would help add up to and create an inclusive society, by letting them engage in a dialogue with Yamamoto, who has a disability, and hear in detail about her experiences in life. This change in mindset can be seen even in the students’ comments about the lecture.

One student said the lecture had given him an awareness of social issues, and alerted him to the need to create an environment where anyone, regardless of disability, could enjoy the same sort of choices in life. Another student said the lecture had given them a new perspective. “It was really fun and interesting to think of society from this new perspective—that it isn’t that people with disabilities can’t do certain things, but that society is built in a way that excludes certain people from doing certain things.” Yet another student said, “It made me realize that what’s important is not whether you can or can’t do something, but figuring out how to do it.”

Takeshi Ueyama of the Citizen Participation Promotion Bureau’s International Sports Promotion Office at the City of Kobe, who organized this lecture, said the following about his experience attending the lecture.
“The students seemed rather tense in the beginning, but Yamamoto’s light-hearted tone, her friendliness, helped them warm up, and the 90 minutes went by in a flash. The students heard about so many things they hadn’t known before, about parasports and disabilities, and there was a lot of straightforward surprise and learning there. They’d really thought through what they’d learned, and you could tell in the comments they wrote down at the end of the lecture that they reflected these realizations in their goals for the future.
I once observed a remote Asuchalle! Junior Academy class for some junior high schoolers in the city, but it really did feel like with NADA, the students had this greater level of understanding, and were quicker to respond and engage with what was happening.”

NADA, in implementing these Saturday lectures, has asked students to engage actively in them, so that they learn the skills to discern their own questions and establish their own tasks, as opposed to just listening passively to the lecture. The lectures are meant to help students explore future life/career paths and broaden their perspective on the world. This installment of Asuchalle! Junior Academy seems to have done just that.

When you hear that NADA Junior and Senior High School is one of Japan’s top prep schools, you may assume that they prioritize studies over all else. In reality, however, the school does much more than simply push students to study for entrance examinations, offering various learning opportunities to broaden students’ perspectives and drive their growth as human beings. To educate is to cultivate the future generation of personnel in a society—in other words, to create the future. In order to broaden children’s perspectives and expand their possibilities, it is important, even at home, to try to expose children to as many people with different backgrounds as possible.

↓ Click here to apply for an Asuchalle! Junior Academy class at your institution

text by Kaori Hamanaka(Parasapo Lab)

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