Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Random thoughts: My thoughts of Japan's schools

This is a random thought series and is purely my perception.

I have already visited 4 schools. One "highly-ranked"public school, 1 private school (both junior high and senior high) and one international school.

Beside the private school, the facailties is really so-so, but the facilities at the private school is rather impressive. 


Indoor swimming pool, art gallery and etc.

But what really blow my mind away is a run-down international school. It is my vision made into a reality and shown in my face. 

The school does IB. Most international schools in Singapore has IB curriculum too. The curriculum is half the story. This is a school where the curriculum, the form, the substance, the management, the teachers are all aligned. The sums of the parts are greater  than the total. It really inspired me.

The P said "whatever we lacked in resources and facilities, we hope to make it up with quality teaching" 

And they delivered.

I know the IB programme, at least the theory of it, it focus a lot on thinking, and not just "product" of knowledge and skills. The principal valued conceptualization of knowledge and skills and assess it through the abilities of pupils to transfer its knowledge. 

Trust me, I am a cynical person. I usually take what I hear with a pitch of salt. I know Marketing gimmicks  and etc. but the introduction just took 5 minutes. He then said, "I will bring you around the school, show u where the classes are, then I will give u time to walk into any classrooms. U dun even have to knock, the teachers are expecting you. Feel free to interact with our pupils, they are not shy. You can talk to our teachers too, as long as you dun disturb their teaching"

Such confidence of the school. Look, no restriction, we can go into any classrooms and I did went into many of them. 

As a fellow educator, I am a "insider" when I see how they teach, first, pupils set their own rubrics of writing with help from teachers. I never thought of using rubric this way. It is not about the rubrics but how they really build thinking into the curriculum. 

I saw pupils doing group work and the  tasks for various groups are all different but the kids know what actually to do. I ask the teacher about it, and her eyes beam! She is very excited that I notice the arrangement and explain very enthusiastically how she does it.

When I ask if it is structured accordingly to difficulty level, she told me the differentiation is within the task expectations and not the task itself, the tasks are but "different routes to Rome". Before I left, she told me I ask very good questions and is more than willing to engage me further in the pedagogical discussion through email. Such Passion. 

It's not the teachers alone. IB seek to develop effective communicators who are confident. I want to test it, I really spoke to the pupils, ask them what they are doing, and while the command of the language is not perfect, they answer coherently. They are not shy and are able to provide details when prompted. I ask questions like, do u know why are u doing this activity, and how do u know if u are good at it (metacognitive questions , and these P2 pupils can answer me!) 

Just for fun, how would u answer when I ask if u know if your exhibitions and presentations are good? He gave me very practical answers which is what the real world works. In a real world, there is no "rubrics", so the kid replied "my audiences will give me feedbacks, and I can see if my stall is popular" Isn't this Marketing? Listen to your customer and see if you can draw crowds?

Coincidently, they have the grade 2 pupils doing a exhibition on the theme "process", and just like what I read on books, they really invite different audiences, peers from the other class, parents and the P ask us to join them to view their exhibition and listen to their presentations. 

The kids are suppose to talk about their peers' performance by writing on paper their peers' strengths and weaknesses before they leave the room. 

Of course, I wrote the positives, but deep inside me, I felt some the exhibition can do better with more details and elaboration of the processes they are talking about. But I tell myself not to be too critical on these P2/3 kids. When I put down my marker, I saw a little boy writing what I had in mind under the "weakness" column with details like what actually could be elaborated by the presenter. It is meaningful, specific and formative feedbacks given by a P2-P3 boy. wow !! This is no fluke. The pupils are benefiting from a robust curriculum, with the right leadership and accompanying pedagogy.

When I went to the next school whose facilities can put our university to shame, I have no chance to interact with the pupils. When we were brought to a class preparing for English festival, I gently ask the VP if I could ask a pupil some questions, I was quite taken aback when he told me politely "No"

I know it's not possible to simply transfer what I saw at the international school into my school. They do not have the same assessments pressure and their class size if 1/3 or -1/4 of that ours. But it gave me confidence that whatever I had in mind, could actually really be achieved. 

I really feel the words "teachers shape the future of a nation". I was talking to Rolf the other time, and he mentioned he was worried about the mentality of the young graduates working under him. 

I also really saw how a school system really produce different pupils. Confident fluent speakers or otherwise, all the kids are universally still innocent and have that sparkles in their eyes, but under different systems, they all "turned out" differently.

I wish I can do well to kick start some good practices when I am back. I shall give myself 2 years. I know I will lose it all when I am so busy that I can't do anything or dun feel like doing anything different.

I had wish I had something to "die for", something I will not feel apologetic about pushing teachers to work doubly hard. I think I have some concept now. Hope I learn more and not get so caught up be grades. Grades and percentage is still a very emotive topic within myself.


  1. the closest thing I know of in Spore should be Hwa Chong Instituition

  2. Hi Victor,

    Actually I am more interested in seeing teaching and pupils.

    Form, throw money can already. It's the software that sustain

  3. Hi SI,

    I've seen enough of our own IB schools. It would have been an eye opener to see the ideal type brought out in fruition :) I can only imagine your sense of curiosity in seeing all these haha!

    1. Hi LP,

      Just like not all schools are equal, not all international schools have the same robustness of IB curriculum. My colleague have been to 4 international schools, she said the only one comparable to the one we visited is the Amercians one.

      I am not really curious, I have in mind these "qualities" which I hope to pass to my pupils and hopefully able to roll it out in department level. I am just thinking hard on the how, and sometimes have the nagging feeling of if it is really possible.

      Now, I know it is POSSIBLE. WHile we might not be able to do as much due to different contexts, there is NO excuses not to at least take baby steps.


  4. Sillyinvestor,

    If you had to do a trip report and "ranked" the schools you visited by "grading" them in different KPIs, how would you feel?

    But you already knew instinctively which school you would like to work in ;)

    However, do be conscious of our biases. An educator who likes hardware over software would now be sharing in his blog how wonderful that school with excellent facilities is ;)

    During the evenings, do ask and listen to what your other Singaporean course mates' reflections.

    See if you can spot who are the "software" and who are the "hardware" educators :)

    Its the same with us traders. Some need to get the fanciest charts, fastest computers, multi-monitor setups, etc.

    While some like me used to trade with a 11" HP netbook until last year when I upgraded to an "atas" 13" Dell XPS 13 :)

    1. Bingo! SMOL, you are smart

      I already heard someone from the other team raving about how good the other school is. I am more interested in the invisible, because the less detectable is where the gold is.

      Just like what you said, where is the edge if all the information in available in the internet? I still do not believe the edge has to come from an insider. Yes, information is all available, but how we make sense of it, and the comprehensiveness and depth of analysis make a difference. But I do agree that my analysis as a retail investor cannot beat that of an institution researcher, anyway I digress. The gold in investment is being also discovering what others have not discovered, the gold in observation is seeing patterns, culture, management leader's chrisma than hardware ... Put it bluntly, hardware got money can already

      I am very glad that most of us are similar in thinkings!! HAHAH

      i give myself 2 years to do what I can... for the betterment of my pupils.. I know the system will catch up with me, I will just be a operating manager... Hope I can contribute to the education scene in my capacity, one last chance

    2. True to that. Hardware vs heartware :) I'm always for the heartware :)

    3. I hardware software also nevermind, as long as for I have enough money for underwear LOL

  5. SI

    Did you ask your course coordinator (or whatever the title is) why these schools were chosen? Looks like he/she is also very impressive leh... got do homework...

    1. No la, we choose the schools ourselves.
      They joke when they say what type of people chose what type of school. Atas people chose atas schools.

      For me, I did blanket sending of emails, to association and manage only to hitch the Kyoto international school. Luck has its part to play

    2. You deserve a 2 thumbs up then !!!


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