A Japanese female university professor from New York visited GKA. She has lived a long time in the US to such an extent that she had a foreign accent on her Japanese. We explained, “ One of the GKA’ s unique features is the education focusing on critical thinking.” Her reply, “ It is a common practice in any school, isn’ t it?” We were speechless being told that the uniqueness we claimed with confidence was something ordinary.
Critical thinking is often translated as “ Hihanteki Shiko” in Japanese, literally meaning looking for faults in others. Rather, critical thinking is logical and analytical thinking method where matters are analyzed, judged and communicated accurately without biases. In the thinking process, prerequisites and perceived notions also requires to be fully evaluated. Even authoritative and generally accepted wisdom need to be questioned. It is understandable that critical thinking could not be easily accepted in Japan where traditions place value on collectiveness, organization and hierarchical relationship.
Why does GKA focus on critical thinking?
- GKA is in a position where the purpose of education is not just to transmit knowledge but also to cultivate creativity and thinking skills of our students. This aligns with the essence of open education. It goes without saying that abilities and interests of students vary from individual to individual similar to differences in their face forms, heights and sizes. “ Learning how to learn” is crucially important in critical thinking being integrated in our curriculum.
- GKA levels with the global world. We look at the world full of problems yet having more than one right answer. There exists a wide variety of options for children in the real world where they live.
Critical thinking requires constructive efforts to open new possibilities and find solutions for the seemingly impossible, by seeking evidence and counter-evidence and other possible explanations.
A critical thinker is required expected to adopt an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way problems that come within the range of one’ s experiences in a fast changing the world.
- GKA honors unique individuals with different ideas, and aims to assist students to establish their own identity as “ Live and let live.” In GKA each students is treated as a single independent person with soul and life. The society should not mold children into ideal. It is natural that opinions differ by age, gender, social status or nationality. Critical thinking is indispensable for cultivating, in students, “ understanding differences coupled with the ability to express their individuality.”
People may think that the curriculum for nurturing critical thinking skills starts with “ show and tell,” followed by a discussion of familiar topics in school to gradually advance to speech and debate training in the secondary school. We always place emphasis on critical thinking when we conduct classes in any subject.
Critical thinking should not be simply translated as “ Hihanteki Shiko” (looking faults in others). Instead, it should be viewed as “ Sozoteki Shiko” (creative thinking).
Knowledge can be acquired even without actually being in school. On the other hand, it is very hard for grown-ups to develop skills in logical thinking and communication that may relatively be easier at a young age. In GKA, we regard “ critical thinking” as an essential pillar in our curriculum starting from our primary level.
Two homeroom teachers are assigned to each class, an English native and a Japanese native. All English native speaking teachers have a teaching certificate issued in their home countries and they have plenty of teaching experience. Our curriculum for core subjects is generally based on the Course of Study. We use authorized textbooks in Japanese (KOKUGO) and social studies. Translated versions of authorized math textbooks are used and authorized science textbooks are translated by GKA teachers.
Each class is divided into two groups. One group studies English with an English speaking teacher, while the other studies Japanese with a Japanese teacher. The class sometimes is taught by a team; two teachers cooperate in teaching one subject.
Developing students’ native language, Japanese, is important. Unless they can establish solid foundation of Japanese proficiency, it is difficult for them to attain high level of critical thinking skills in English. Our immersion education nurtures Japanese language education. Students in even lower grades learn classical Japanese literature and we also place emphasis on Japanese composition.
Computer/Technology represents a new fundamental set of skills which are indispensable in a rapidly evolving global, digital, and information-based society. GKA’ s Computer/Technology Learning Standards introduce and develop knowledge and skills encompassing basic operations and concepts, technology productivity tools, technology communications tools, technology research tools, technology problem-solving and decision-making tools, and social, ethical, and human issues pertaining to Computer/Technology. In view of the reality of constant change in technology, Computer/Technology will be taught as a process of acquiring new skills, and ideas that reflect established and emerging applications.
GKA’ s learning standards will be characterized by an emphasis on the application of knowledge and skills to activities and experiences relevant of life in and outside the classroom. Reflecting this needs for meaningful learning experience that reflects the students’ environment, GKA students will develop Computer/Technology proficiency in both Japanese and English. Moreover, GKA Computer/Technology will be part of an applied curriculum where course material is applied to other subjects such as English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Japanese Language Arts.
Central to the Computer/Technology framework is the concept of fun and enjoyment in the use of technology. Students will have the freedom to use electronic resources for their own interests. Graph and chart programs will allow students to create sophisticated documents, all of which will be available to print for students to take home to their families.
It is important that all our students do their best to learn in both English and Japanese. In order to help this become a reality students have special Morning Work sessions several times a week before morning homeroom. Morning work includes extra mathematics and science worksheets in Japanese, as well as worksheets in English. The days, times, and specific content varies by grade and student need. This additional 10 - 15 minute morning work time helps student mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for the day's learning.
Everyday, except Wednesday, throughout GKA students have a 15 minute reading time after lunch recess/cleaning. Students read or are read books and stories in English and Japanese alternately. This school wide dedication to reading encourages students to seek out and read books and stories on their own while fostering a love of reading.
From time to time even the best student needs or wants additional instruction time to more fully understand a content area. This is where Extra Help comes in. Students who need, or feel they need, more instruction are invited to stay for additional review lessons after school. These lessons are taught to small groups of students allowing for more one-on-one instruction time. While the days and times of Extra Help sessions vary by grade and student need, each grade dedicates Extra Help time to assist all who need or want it.
GUNMA KOKUSAI ACADEMY SPECIAL EDUCATION POLICY
All students at Gunma Kokusai Academy will have equitable access to support, supervision and learning opportunities to enable them to achieve excellence in all aspects of their academic programme and personal development.
Pursuant to this policy, GKA promotes an inclusive education system. It does, however, maintain the right to ascertain whether a student has, or is suspected of having, an impairment or disability causal to an inability to progress in a fully integrated education setting. As part of the application procedure, parents and guardians will be asked to complete and sign a questionnaire pertaining to such matters. If a description of factors that inhibit or assist the student in making effective progress is insufficiently comprehensive, GKA reserves the authority to request specialist assessment.
A positive assessment does not necessarily preclude enrollment or eligibility for continuing attendance. If a student is identified through an accurate diagnosis by a specialist as a 'Special Needs Student', i.e., has a developmental delay or disability, a specific learning disability, or an impairment (intellectual, sensory, emotional, physical or emotional) that prevents or limits their academic progress, GKA may decide to confer with all stakeholders and available trained experts to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for the student in question. This will describe the educational plan designed to meet the unique needs of that child.
As a private school with limited resources, though, GKA does not have the responsibility or capability to provide a suitable educational experience for all students. Only low-level interventions can be provided. For example, necessary accommodations can be made for students with mild learning differences in ESL, reading and mathematics. GKA will adjudge each student on individual merit and determine whether it can meet the needs of that student and provide the assistance that is necessary for him/her to make effective progress.
GKA is committed to protecting the privacy of all its students. It will act with utmost discretion at all times; keep parents and guardians fully informed; and treat every student with the same level of respect.