Digitally-Combined Classroom in A Local Primary Schools
April 21, 2022
In Japan, the birth rate has been decreasing and depopulation is progressing. To solve this problem, a lot of local municipalities have been integrated. However, local people are sad to lose their hometown because they feel their culture fades away. Not only adults but also children are worried about that.
Current Situation in Japan
Japan has been faced with the serious concerns of rapid aging and a very low birth rate. Moreover, local areas in Japan suffer from depopulation. In the last 30 years, a series of large-scale municipal mergers were carried out under the temporary Special Mergers Law. According to the survey of the Ministry of Public Management, the number of cities decreased 1727 out of 3232.
Municipal merger was inevitable for the local government because they could secure necessary funds and provide more public services. In addition, people began to use more public facilities such as hospitals and libraries. However, some local people were not happy about that. They were worried that their municipality’s history and tradition might have disappeared because the name of their birth place was gone.
Schools were also consolidated. Particularly, the decrease of the number of elementary schools is very serious. The Japanese government says that about 5,000 elementary schools disappeared in 30 years. When two schools are merged, children may not graduate from a school which they enrolled in. They have to switch to an integrated school during school days but it is not sure if they would like their new school.
Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. “総務省.” 市町村合併資料集, www.soumu.go.jp/gapei/gapei2.html. Accessed 30 Jan. 2022.
Approach to Problems in Saijo, Ehime
The Board of Education of Saijo City in Ehime Prefecture uses information and communication technology and started virtual classrooms by deploying the Ricoh Unified Communication System.
It is one of the Ricoh’s services such as video or web meeting. Richo is one of the biggest ICT companies in Japan. Particularly, their copy machines are very famous around the world. Not only copiers, RICOH handles communication tools, information technology, and related social infrastructure. The company provides products and services to support new work styles after COVID-19.
Saijo city faced depopulation problems, and the idea of elementary school consolidation emerged. However, the Saijo Education Board did not join this trend because they thought having an elementary school is essential in creating a vibrant community. For that reason, they decided to utilize ICT to connect each school.
Nowadays, students from far distances can join classes together. There are 2 screens in both classrooms. One shows teachers in a connected classroom and the other shows the children there. Through the speaker system and microphone, children and teachers in a remote classroom can listen and speak up to the connected class, and vice versa. Thus, there are 2 teachers who are called T1 (Teacher 1) and T2 (Teacher 2) in one virtual class. T1 is a teacher of origination side and T2 is a receiver side. Both teachers can divide the roles; while T1 teaches the subject contents, T2 looks at children to follow the class. T2 listens to children's opinions, tutors students who do not understand.
Possibilities of ICT
Information and communication technology improves the learning environment, as well. First, it develops conversation skills among children. Children are able to meet a lot of classmates and exchange opinions with them. They find the same or different views and rethink about their ideas, which would increase thinking powers. Second, children can improve their presentation ability. They try hard to speak clearly and make themselves understood by other children in a distance class. Through these experiences, compassion for others is also nurtured.
Therefore, ICT improves basic human skills. This class style can solve the “first year of junior high school gap.” When children graduate from elementary school and enroll in junior high school, they sometimes cannot keep up with the classes and even refuse to go to school because they feel uncomfortable in their new environment. In Japan, a lot of elementary schools assign one teacher to one class and a teacher teaches all subjects to the same class. On the other hand, in junior high, teachers are assigned to teach one subject regardless of the classroom. Thus, different teachers come to each classroom one after another. In addition, it is very strict about respecting and maintaining hierarchical relationships in junior high school. That is why some students fail to adjust themselves to the new environment.
However, according to the survey of Saijo city, the gap was reduced by/to 75.3%. Because children who took virtual classes have actively tried to approach teachers and chat with friends by themselves, so they can get power over obstacles. In other words, they seem to obtain resiliency in surviving the class.
Saving Future of Rural Areas
The digitalization of the classroom not only solves the problems derived from depopulation but also empower the students' human skills.
This ICT system solves not only depopulation and decreasing the number of children but also improves the educational environment.
Ricoh official website, www.ricoh.co.jp/case/1711_saijo. Accessed January 30, 2022.
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, www.soumu.go.jp/gapei/gapei2.html. Accessed January 30. 2022.
MIC, “State and Problems of School Merger in Japan,” www.soumu.go.jp/main_content/000638148.pdf. Accessed January 30, 2022.
Saijo City official website, www.city.saijo.ehime.jp/soshiki/gakkokyoiku/gk121.html. Accessed January 30, 2022. 西条市公式ホームページ. “人口減少社会におけるICTの活用による教育の質の維持向上に係る実証事業