RK: ISN offers world standard inquiry-based education in English and Japanese. They are the major difference when you compare ISN with other Japanese schools. Is there anything that makes the ISN programme unique compared to other schools?
JH: First of all, we are not positioned in Tokyo. We are surrounded by nature. Secondly, compared to other international schools, the vast majority of which just cater to foreigners or native English speakers, we cater mostly to native Japanese speakers and Japanese families. Because they start at the age of two, their English becomes very strong and in that way, we are giving them an opportunity to study English as a native speaker. This is an opportunity they wouldn`t normally get unless they were a foreigner living in Tokyo, for example.
RK: That is a very clear difference between ISN and other schools, right?
JH: They`re all great schools though, there are some amazing schools, but we don`t have an admission policy that puts a preferential treatment on native speakers, which is a minimum requirement for most schools.
RK: I am so proud of how close the relationship between ISN`s parents and teachers is, which is not common in most international schools.
JH: Because of our small community, it`s also easy for teachers to become much more familiar with their students, much quicker and more deeply. The same goes for teachers as well. For example, if a teacher has a problem, they can directly ask the head teacher or the neighboring teacher and address any problems straight away.
RK: What is, in your opinion, a major difference between the traditional Japanese curriculum and ISN`s hands-on approach to inquiry?
JH: I think the major difference, and it`s not just the Japanese curriculum, it`s also different from any standard curriculum, is that there`s a big focus on producing data and simply producing results and through that aiming for a standard set of answers, essentially aiming to prepare students for examinations, which means they then learn concrete facts, memorise and are made to reach a certain level by a certain time. After a certain number of hours, the student is expected to know certain prescribed facts. If they don`t, they are seen as a failure.
RK: I think those teachers are very busy with the things they are expected to teach. On the other hand, in ISN the students decide on what they want to learn.
JH: The positive thing about IB is that the students not learning only facts, they are learning concepts. As long as the students understand the key concepts, it doesn`t matter whether they learn it by studying one subject over another subject. There`s much more freedom to let me explore what they are interested in. People can only remember a handful of actual facts that we learned in primary or secondary school. It`s the concepts learned that go much deeper into your psychology as a learner.
RK: In my opinion, there are two major differences: the fact that all the subjects are integrated, which is how the world works anyway, and the fact that the curriculum is student-led. They never learn something they are told, they always learn something they want to learn, which influences their motivation a great deal. The atmosphere in the classroom is completely different.
JH: I agree. The students are much more highly motivated, and that is the fuel that keeps them going. By having that motivation, they are able to have a much wider perspective of the world around them, they are free to go from one subject to the other and see the connection between them.
At University, this type of learning is expected. If you`re studying Science, you have to know Maths because you`ve got to do your calculations. You also have to know how to write well, because you have to be able to publish your findings. It is like that at the level of adults, so why can`t we have that as early as possible in our education, because then the children would have a massive advantage as they get older. They would know how to motivate themselves and they would know how to focus on things that they are interested in.
RK: I feel that kind of leading and creative thinking is important in every industry today, especially in terms of enabling society to move forward.
JH: They need to have that broad way of thinking as well, to be able to see connections that some people might not notice. That`s what makes businesses successful.
RK: Life always comes down to interpersonal relationships, the way you listen to someone and the way you communicate with them. ISN`s teaching is traditionally focused on emotional intelligence, rather than on an IQ-based approach.
JH: Psychological studies have proven over and over again that people who are internally motivated are always more successful than externally motivated people. You might be working a job where you are very well paid, but if you don`t love what you`re doing, the longevity of it and your productivity and your creativity is going to be limited. It can only go so far. For me, that`s the major positive to IB: the fact that it`s promoting that it`s not about listening to the teacher, doing what the teacher says, it`s about the teacher being more of a facilitator, trying to draw out the ideas and allowing the students to express themselves.
Because students are aware of their learning, they know what motivates them. Once they have been in the IB programme for some time, they start to become familiar with themselves and they know that they might not like a certain subject so much, but they know that they want to try and want to succeed, so they find ways to make it interesting for themselves as well. They will know their own learning styles, they will be aware of the ways of presenting and memorizing that have worked for them in the past and they can draw on that experience.
RK: One of ISN`s main purposes is to give children choices when they finish ISN and when they finish junior high school. If they realize they want to be something, I don`t want to see them have limited choices.
JH: It doesn`t necessarily mean that they have to be a president or a scientist or an entrepreneur when they grow up, it just means that whatever they end up doing, they chose it and they have motivation and love for it. They`re not doing it because someone told them that was the best thing for them, they went about it with an open mind and realized that the love it, that they know themselves well enough and that they have the confidence and the skills to succeed in everything they do.
RK: We strongly believe that it is going to be children who decide what they want to do and how they want to make their life happy by themselves. By the time they graduate ISN and junior high school, we will make sure that all of them are ready in their hearts and spirits, with their skills, with their attitude, as well as with the knowledge that might be required in certain examinations.
TO: END OF PART 1