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[SPORTS X] School Principal Discusses the Appeal of and Need for Paralympic Education in Schools

With the announcement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, schools all over Japan began incorporating Olympic/Paralympic education into their curriculums. But with the growing importance of “unity in diversity,” one of the Games’ concepts and a key concept in modern society, there has been an increasing focus on Paralympic education in particular.
So how exactly is Paralympic education being utilized at schools in Japan? We paid a visit to Katsura Sugie, principal of Fuki Elementary School in Taketoyo Town, Aichi Prefecture, to ask him about the efforts he has made thus far, and the meaning of Paralympic education in schools.

Paralympic Education, and Thinking About Independence and Inclusivity

――How did you become involved in Olympic/Paralympic education?

Katsura Sugie (hereafter “Sugie”): I worked in the Health, Physical Education, & Sports Division of the Aichi Prefectural Board of Education for three years, starting 2014. During that time, I worked on things like athlete training programs for the Olympic/Paralympic Games, and programs for lifelong sports. Some of the people I met back then, like Professor Motoaki Fujita from Nihon Fukushi University, and the staff at the different sports associations, were very helpful to me even when I went back to working at school.

——Your job required you to have a broader perspective on sports than just school and education. Did you maintain this involvement with sports and Olympic/Paralympic education even after you went back to working at school?

Sugie: When I went back to working at school was right around when the first version of the Japanese version of the I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit (hereafter “I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit”) was being handed out to elementary schools in Japan. That year, I went in as the vice-principal of a school that’d been designated for the promotion of Olympic/Paralympic education, so I was in a position where I had to promote it quite actively. After that, I became principal of my current elementary school, which also became designated… and before I knew it, I’d been involved in Olympic/Paralympic education for a pretty long time.

——What is your honest opinion about being involved in Olympic/Paralympic education?

Sugie: I think Olympic/Paralympic education, and especially Paralympic education, is a very, very meaningful thing to have at schools. It comes down to a broader discussion of what the purpose of schools are, really, but I personally think the key terms would be “independence” and “inclusivity.” Schools should support children’s independence, and teach them how to coexist with and be inclusive of others. Paralympic education is packed with elements that get people thinking about these very themes of independence and inclusivity. Of course, these are very deep topics, and there aren’t easy solutions to them. But that’s why it’s so important to get children thinking about them.

——You’re saying the meaning of Paralympic education is to get people thinking about independence and inclusivity.

Sugie: Yes. As we move into the future, it’ll no longer be enough for society just to be okay for you—it has to be okay for everyone. We’ll have to learn what it means to take care of ourselves, take care of others, and what we can do to live alongside one another while accepting our individualities. And I think Paralympic education presents a great opportunity to think about these things.

——Paralympic education acts as a gateway to get people thinking about what it means to be a good person.

Sugie: It’s also important to consider the questions we should ask these children. If you get them to do sports then ask them if they had fun, of course they’d say they had fun. But what if we went from talking about the rules of the sport to asking them about the rules of society? What would they do then? I think they would think about it on their own. That’s how you get deep, proactive, dialogue-based learning—by getting them to think really hard about questions with no real solutions, and by getting them to do this over and over. Paralympic education is filled with all kinds of really important themes, so it’s something we want to incorporate actively into our curriculum.

Sugie’s Recommendation: Combine Lectures and Workshops

A goalball workshop Sugie participated in in 2020FY
*Photo provided by Sugie himself

——How exactly have you incorporated Paralympic education into the school curriculum?

Sugie: In my first year back working at a school, I organized a moral education class for fourth- to sixth-graders. I invited a former cabin attendant to give a lecture on things like omotenashi-style Japanese hospitality for people who’ve come from overseas, and the differences between Japanese and foreign cultures. As you can tell, the content at first wasn’t just about the Paralympic Games. After doing this for a year, it occurred to me that exposing the children to people involved in Paralympic education would really give them an opportunity to broaden their horizons and expand their perspectives. And so we gradually shifted the focus onto the Paralympic Games. So my second year, I organized a workshop for boccia and para badminton for the fourth-graders. I invited a para badminton player and had them play against the children, and I remember them just being overwhelmed by how good this player was. I also went and borrowed a sports wheelchair from a sports center in Nagoya City so the kids could see what actual parasports equipment looked and felt like.

——I’d imagine actually experiencing these things—having the players visit (or having the kids see them play), the kids actually getting to use these wheelchairs—would really leave an impact on them.

Sugie: Yes, I do think it changes a lot for them to actually see and experience the “real thing.” But over time, I started feeling like it wasn’t enough, that it was a waste to go this far and have these kinds of events and just leave it at that, with the kids saying it was “fun” or “hard.” Paralympic sports involve all kinds of creative efforts to turn the impossible into the possible. There’s so much we can learn from it, so much that gets you thinking—everything from how the rules are structured to how much effort it takes to really get good at a parasport. So to take it one step further, I decided to organize these classes in sets, in a combination of lectures and workshops.

——What sorts of things do you do for the lecture and the workshop respectively?

Sugie: For the lectures, we had the homeroom teachers teach a class using the I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit. The toolkit comes with slides, instructional guides, and even examples of how to assist people with disabilities, so with it, the students get a basic understanding of the Paralympic Games. It also does a good, balanced job of teaching them about what each sport involves, the rules of the sports, how much effort it takes on the athletes’ part, the sense of fairness involved when establishing rules—all that stuff. And as we moved through these lectures, we started hearing from children, you know, that they wanted to try this or that sport. Last year, we actually couldn’t hold the lectures and workshops together, and had to do them each for different grades because of an issue with the class hours. But having the workshops when the kids are actively saying they want to try these different sports, means that there’s a much higher level of engagement, and they learn things faster as well. In the workshops, we had the students try sports like boccia and goalball, and it really felt like this process of connecting their knowledge to this actual experience helped in terms of getting them to engage actively in the sports, and deepening and expanding their understanding/awareness of what they’d learned. And I do think getting to talk to and engage with Paralympic gold medalists will have been a very valuable experience for them going forward.

——Implementing the lectures and the workshops as a set really brings both things to life.

Sugie: This year, I’d really like to implement the lectures and workshops as a set within the same grade. Paralympic education is pretty easy to incorporate into different subjects, from moral education to homeroom activities, physical education, and even integrated learning. It’s something that can be related to a lot of different topics, so I think it’s possible to incorporate it pretty seamlessly into various different subjects depending on the grade.

The Toolkit as a Treasure Trove of Material for Learning About Inclusive Societies

A teacher teaching a class using the I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit
*Photo provided by Sugie himself

——You said that the homeroom teachers were in charge of the lectures. How did the teachers react to this?

Sugie: At first, there were people who said it might be better to invite outside lecturers in to do it. But I thought it’d be meaningful to have the homeroom teachers learning alongside the kids, so I did it this way on purpose. And once they actually started, it seems it didn’t take much extra research or prep work on their part, given how easy the I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit is to use, and how much content it comes with, including guidelines and videos. I really don’t think there’s any need for the teachers to be tense and to feel like they have to know everything to be able to teach the students. I think it’s good for them to think alongside the kids if there’s something they don’t know, and learn for themselves as well. All of us, kids and adults, are going to have to live through a world without clear solutions, so I think it’s important for us to lead with that kind of mindset.

——What were the advantages of the I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit?

Sugie: I think the topics that were set out were incredible. I took a look through the junior high/high school toolkit as well, and it gets you thinking about such important things, when it comes to an inclusive society—like if you had a classmate in a wheelchair during a field trip, where you would eat, or how you would decide where to eat. It’s not about you adjusting to that person, but everyone discussing the choices you’d want to make for everyone to be happy. This is a perspective that’s absolutely essential for all of us if we want to go on accepting each other’s individuality. I think it’s incredible how well it gets people thinking about everyone’s ease of life, beyond the realm of disability or Paralympic education.

——It does seem easier for the teachers to incorporate Paralympic education into their curriculums when they can learn alongside the students, and when they have a ready-to-use toolkit.

Sugie: It does, and it really serves as the foundation for incorporating Paralympic education in the school. If these teachers had to set up these classes from the bottom up, it’d take a lot of work.
With the I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit, a lot of what they’d need is already there for them—anyone anywhere could implement it, anytime. And if the school wanted to add its own tweaks, it could do that too. I mean, it’s something so valuable that’s provided to us, and it’d be such a waste not to use it. We’re very, very grateful for it. It’s such a precious resource for us, in terms of having the children learn about an inclusive society, and it’s full of things that they should learn about how to live their lives in the future. I think the things they learn through Paralympic education will continue to be useful for them, mentally and emotionally, in the future as well.

——Did you notice any changes in the teachers and children as a result of this Paralympic education?

Sugie: I think the teachers who were involved in setting up the classes were really able to recognize—again—the importance of Paralympic education. And the children have started to think about what they can do to move us towards an inclusive society. When the thunderstorms in the Kyushu area happened, or the earthquake in the Tohoku area, the children said they wanted to do what they could to help, and organized a donation drive mainly on their own. It really feels like they’re trying to do what they can, even now during COVID, with these stay-at-home orders and restrictions in place. For example, they’ve done a project to donate masks to social welfare facilities, and came up with a mascot for the school. They’ve put what they’ve learned into action, and I feel like there’s been a good response. It’s a good sign that they’ve been thinking actively about how to live with others, how they want to interact with others.

——It’s amazing when children—who are responsible for our future—learn to think about inclusivity and harmony. How would you want Paralympic education to be disseminated in the future?

Sugie: Of course it’s important for me to make these efforts at my school, but I do also think it’s important to promote these efforts to other schools, and make them more widespread. I’d like to actively promote these efforts to other schools and people in other regions—show each other the classes we’ve been doing, and interact with them more. It’s also become clear, from some of the things we’ve done at Taketoyo Town’s P.E. Association, that we could easily hold a training session through video conferencing. It’d be great if these efforts could spread from the P.E. teachers to the school, and from the school to the town. And it’d be nice if I could help with that process, if even just a little.

Sugie said he wants to help create a society where everyone feels safe and secure. He does so, motivated by his love for people and his wish for each and every person to be respected in society. And his students, for their part, have begun to think about helping others, have begun to take action to help others. These effects, these changes, seem proof of the high value of Paralympic education for children, who must learn to thrive in an increasingly diverse society.

See here for case studies of the official International Paralympic Committee (IPC) I’mPOSSIBLE toolkit, and to download the toolkit itself (for Japanese) (for global)

edited by Parasapo Lab

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