Introducing SF Associate Member Munetaka Soai, Japan

What have been the key milestones on your global education journey so far?

My first influence is my mother.  She is a very open minded person probably due to her experience of living abroad; she studied music in England and the U.S.A. in her youth.  As she was very active in supporting refugees and developing countries through local initiatives such as fund raising events with the UNHCR office and embassies of developing countries based in Japan, I became involved when I was at high school. In retrospect, such experiences triggered my interest in developing countries and in different cultures.    

Second, when I was at university, I visited kindergartens located in slum areas in Sri Lanka and Thailand through a study trip organized by my grandfather’s Buddhist kindergarten. The images of the pure eyes of children I met there stayed in my heart and I was very much motivated to teach Japanese students about developing countries. After the trip, one of my teachers introduced the field of development education to me. 

Then I began my career as a high school civic studies teacher in 1994 at Tamagawa Academy, Tokyo, and was responsible for developing one of the new optional subjects called ‘World Studies’ in 1995. Searching widely for relevant teaching and learning materials to develop the course, I encountered Professor David Selby’s name in some of the materials.  As I taught the World Studies course, I was very much motivated to further develop my professional capacity as a teacher. Coincidentally, I had a chance to participate in David’s global education workshop at the YMCA Tokyo.  At that time there was no postgraduate course in Japan where I could learn more about global and development education, so I decided to study at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto where David was then teaching.

In May 1998, I went to the U.S.A. to develop my English first and struggled to obtain a sufficient TOEFL score to be accepted in the University of Toronto. I started my post-graduate course majoring in global education in September 1999. The stimulus and exciting learning experiences I had at the global education classes at OISE are beyond my words and the experiences still strongly influencing my practice as a teacher even today.  Most invaluable for me was to have encountered and experienced so many participatory and interactive learning activities of global education and to have learnt about the philosophy behind them. I was particularly interested in media literacy and this is the first topic I always teach in my World Studies course.                                                        


How do you see the global education landscape at this point in time in Japan?


Frankly speaking, we have faced uphill struggles in last ten years. Around 2000, while I was pursuing my Master’s degree at the OISE, the Japanese Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum called ‘integrated studies’ as an antidote to exam-oriented school education. The new curriculum encouraged more flexible and interdisciplinary-oriented teaching and learning. At that time, increasing numbers of educators were becoming interested in global education and the number of educators who used global education activities in the classroom increased.

After a while, however, the curriculum emphasis from the Ministry swung back to exam-oriented education. At that time, there two important changes followed each other. First, university entrance examinations become more open to assessing diverse and unique experiences of students.  But, second, private ‘cram schools’ became very influential in university entrance examinations.  Over those years, enthusiastic teachers in Japan continued to teach topics and themes of global education, such as poverty and human rights in their classrooms.  The first wave then was flexible and interdisciplinary-oriented learning and the second wave was moving back to the exam-oriented education as explained earlier. 


What likely and desired future directions do you envisage, and what do you see as the implications for your own work?

Currently it seems that the ‘third wave’ has arrived at high schools and universities in Japan under the name of ‘globalization’ and the importance of experiential and interactive learning has been more recognized.

For instance, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) currently plans to establish 200 International Baccalaureate Schools throughout Japan and began offering the Super Global High School (SGH) project for selected schools from April 2014. SGH aims at helping Japanese high school students develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to become future global leaders who can positively contribute to a global society faced with multiple global challenges. Of the 265 high schools that applied for the program, 56 were selected this year. Each school receives research and development funding for five years (maximum 16,000,000 yen per year, approximately 147,000 USD). Each school is encouraged to develop networks and alliances with international organizations, Japanese and foreign universities for curriculum development focusing on global topics and themes. Field experience abroad is also encouraged. Tamagawa Academy, where I still teach, is one of the schools selected for SGH.

I have heard that in the process of selecting 56 high schools, a track record of interactive teaching and learning was one of the important selection criteria. I have also heard that there were many so-called ‘prestigious’ high schools that were not successful due to their lecture style teaching and learning. 

I feel – optimistically - that interactive and participatory teaching and learning which global education promotes will be further recognized, valued and developed in the Japanese education system.  Personally, I do hope to update my own professional capacities through continuous professional development opportunities in this regard.


Munetaka leading a 2013 study trip to South Africa


How do you envisage your engagement with SF developing?


I am looking forward to collaborating with Sustainability Frontiers for the SGH at Tamagawa Academy that goes under the title of ‘Awakening the Whole Person to Become Global Leaders of International Organizations’. Predicated on the longstanding commitment to ‘whole person education’ of Tamagawa Academy, the SGH program will help students develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to become ‘whole-person’ leaders and motivate them to choose a future career with the UN, and INGO or other international organization. The program covers five thematic areas, namely poverty, human rights, the environment, leadership and diplomacy and international cooperation.  Students will deepen their understanding under one of the thematic areas by taking a ‘global career lectures series’ where a number of guest speakers from international organizations share their insights and professional experiences, accompanied by various formal lessons and non-formal curricular programs (including study tours abroad).

Sustainability Frontiers’ s international expertise in global education as well as curriculum development and evaluation is very much needed for our project to be evaluated to a global standard and to receive practical suggestions for curriculum and pedagogical innovation. I am very keen to learn about curriculum evaluation techniques form a global education perspective.   


For the Tamagawa SGH website, please visit: http://sgh.tamagawa.ed.jp/en/

For a short video clip on the project, please go to: http://sgh.tamagawa.ed.jp/en/programs/gcc


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