The OECD Tohoku School: Moving forward together

Interview with Kohei Oyama and Yoko Tsurimaki, Students of the OECD Tohoku School Project

During a break from the OECD Forum, two students (11th grade and 12th grade) from the OECD Tohoku School Project shared their learning experiences with Cassandra Davis and Meredith Lunsford of educationtoday. They began by explaining the student-designed OECD Tohoku School logo. Like many things in Japan, every element of the logo has a significant meaning. The 15 multi-coloured arrows piercing through the bull’s-eye represent the 15 regions of Japan touched by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. Each arrow carries a unique colour to represent the individually diverse personalities that the respective regions hold. The tri-coloured rings surrounding the arrows represent the past, present and future of Japan. The most significant facet of the logo is the individual arrows pointing upwards from right to left, following Japanese calligraphy. This is meant to represent each region’s path reaching toward a common goal: to move forward together.

educationtoday: The OECD places a high value on student motivation, curiosity and creativity. In collaboration with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and Fukushima University, there has been an importance placed on the idea of “creative recovery”. What does “creative recovery” mean to you? Why is “creative recovery” important (versus traditional forms of recovery and reconstruction)?

Kohei Oyama: There have been several types of recovery, with infrastructure being the basic component. But in Tohoku we have focused on creative recovery. We creatively think about the people affected by the tsunami and the futures that they seek. Then, we creatively think about how to draw people back into the impacted areas.

educationtoday: The OECD Tohoku School Project works through a series of project-based workshops which include lecturers, hands-on experiences and discussion. Has this project-based learning changed the way you learn? How?

Yoko Tsurimaki: What we do at the Tohoku School is different from a “regular” school in that we don’t follow a curriculum that is given to us by our teachers. Instead, we design the curriculum ourselves, we decide the best course of action to facilitate recovery and, then, we implement it.

educationtoday: What other Tohoku School derived methods can we use to foster creativity in order to facilitate recovery and reconstruction?

Kohei: The student-driven learning method used in the Tohoku School project is the best strategy for other schools to implement. The students have the freedom to decide what they want to learn and how they want to implement these ideas.

educationtoday: The students carrying out this project were anticipated to gain real-life skills such as initiative taking, leadership, critical thinking, co-operation and creativity. What are some of the skills that you learned through the Tohoku School project? What skills did you learn that you think will transfer into your real life? What skills do you imagine will be useful in your future career?

Kohei: The most important skill that I learned through this process is how to communicate effectively. Both inside the classroom and outside the classroom, communication is a necessity. If you have a great idea, you must still be able to communicate that idea to others in order to make it a reality. Otherwise, the idea will be lost through miscommunication.

Yoko: The most important skill I have learned is critical thinking. But, I have also learned so much about the differences in value systems inside and outside of Japan. Within Japan, there is increasing internationalisation and it is becoming more and more necessary for future generations to be able to communicate effectively with other people and other cultures.

educationtoday: Since the launch of the Tohoku School Project two and half years ago, the mission has been for the students to organise an international event here in Paris to show to the world the attractiveness and creative recovery of your country. What is the major achievement or the take away message from the Tohoku School?

Yoko: To be able to demonstrate how hard the junior high and high school students have worked. Through all of the ups and downs, we have persevered and accomplished what we set out to do.

Kohei: This journey has been like sailing on a ship. It wasn’t always easy and there have been many waves. However, if the ride had always been stable (like in school), we wouldn’t have really learned the skills needed in real life situations, full of unexpected surprises! Instead, we have so much to take away from this experience.

As we concluded the interview, we were presented with t-shirts and bags that had been designed by the students of the Tohoku School. The appreciation of the OECD’s support on education and skills development in Japan is evidenced in the students’ answers to our questions as well as this meaningful gesture of gratitude.

OECD Tohoku School
OECD Forum
Japanese version of the OECD-Tohoku School website
Image: ©OECD Tohoku School

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