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Top>Education>Practical Education Research at the Faculty of Letters' Education Department


Rinko Manabe

Rinko Manabe [Profile]

Practical Education Research at the Faculty of Letters' Education Department

Rinko Manabe
Associate Professor of Career education and Lifelong learning, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University

Practical Education Research Course

There is a well-known (?) course called Practical Education Research (Practical Research) in the Education major of the Faculty of Letters where I am based. Going back into the past, there used to be an extra-curricular class called Educational Investigation Practice, which in 1992, became a regular course as well as being given compulsory status, making this a course with quite a long history. This course involves looking at educational activities in a selected prefecture, and writing reports based on talks with the people conducting those activities. In the 15 years since the inception of the course, we have visited a total of 13 prefectures. In the past, preparation for these visits took place in exercises in the 2nd year of the course, but since last year, a course named Educational Research Methods was established to formally prepare students for practical research. Taking a year and a half and involving a lot of class work, as well as having to cover travel and lodging expenses themselves, this is a course with a heavy burden from the students' point of view (and it is compulsory).

Apprehension in Appointment Making

2009 saw a slightly lower than average number of students with 45. Following their own interests, the students split into five groups, Regions and Society, Youth Support, Social Education, Children / Welfare, and School Education, and visited Miyagi Prefecture. In line with their interests, they chose various places to visit, and went to Miyagi at the end of June. In total, the groups visited 38 places such as education offices and actual schools, regional boards of education and universities, and various non-profit organizations.

Although preparations start in the 2nd year, these preparations suddenly took on an air of urgency in the 3rd year. After deciding upon actual places to visit, appointments must be made. The task of making these appointments is an opportunity for the students to make contact with real society for the first time. Although there are many students going out for work experience and part time jobs, making appointments for a visit is a different story. Maybe because it is the first time, as the representative of an organization, that they have to make contact with public offices, schools and groups, so everyone nervously practiced the telephone calls in advance. "When I called, my polite language was abysmal," was an often repeated recollection when looking back at their general language use. I could see flustered reactions to unexpected responses from the other end of the phone. Coming out of this experience, I could see the nervousness with "we're going on a practical field trip!" and began to see positive efforts.

This Year's Visit: Miyagi Prefecture

The group I was in charge of was Social Education, but even though I always take charge of the same social education-orientated group, every year there are many differences in the specific interests of the students. There are students interested in sports promotion, those interested in regional society and social education, and those who want to research female rights or gender equality. Every year there are various topics. The theme of this year's social education group was Academic and Social Cooperation / Academic and Social Merging.

A preliminary survey showed that a cooperative working educational plan had been made for the Miyagi visit, with the aim of realizing cooperation between schools and the local community. When it was decided that Miyagi Prefecture would be the destination, we received strong support in the form of a current school principal giving a lecture on the state of education in Miyagi. He introduced Ishimaki City, where the students would actually visit, along with other areas. Thanks to his help, the students were able to make comparable progress regarding their regional visits within the prefecture.

Maturing Students Through Various Visits

Groups other than the one I was in charge of visited places that you don't come in contact with in everyday life, including child consultation centers and juvenile reformatories. By actually going to these facilities, the students found out that their preconceived notions were way off the mark.

The schools, administrations, and even groups not only gave summaries of their activities, but there were also people who gave behind-the-scenes accounts of their work. Also, depending on the area, we were warmly welcomed by the whole community.

For the first visit, everyone was nervous and reading over their prepared questions numerous times, and practicing their greetings over and over. But after each visit the students gradually found more courage. They not only just listened to the answers to their questions, but started to respond to replies with further questioning. It may sound like a simple task, but it proved quite difficult. Teachers accompany the students on the visits, so at meetings or while travelling between facilities, can give feedback on questioning methods and advice from the point of view of an outsider. The students would study late into the night, trying to summarize the wealth of information they were receiving. It was also important to take time off, so after the study meetings had finished, students would visit famous spots and eat out, making every day of the five day trip truly busy.

Until my child turned two years old, I had been given an exemption from going on the trip, only being required to attend the joint report conference on the final day. After seeing students off and then meeting up with them a few days later, I could see how much they had matured. This time around, I participated in the full program again and was able to witness the students mature on a daily basis.

Report Produced By All Students

After returning from this experience students must write letters of thanks and produce a written report. This doesn't just involve writing, but checking the essays themselves and having the facilities they visited confirm the content. Finally, students on the editing committee conduct a thorough check and correct any mistakes, and plan the layout of the report. The reports come back from the publisher in the latter half of January. After sending finished copies to each facility, more than a year of practical research finally comes to an end.

Challenging But Stimulating Practical Research

Going on the trip and writing the report with the students, I am also forced to think about many things. What I felt through this trip to Miyagi, is that ways of cooperation differ depending on the state of the local community. Schools in areas with functioning local communities manage to cooperate with minimal effort required of the schools. However, in areas with non-functioning communities, there are difficulties in cooperation unless much effort is made by the schools, or continuing cooperation is hard to sustain. I also noticed that most of the teachers I met have had experience as superintendents of social education boards and promoting cooperative activities for schools and the community. There are many schools which center their efforts around staff that have had practical experience in social education. I could actually see staff in the schools, those with social education orientated minds, trying to build a bridge between the schools and community, and for myself, being in charge of social education studies, those efforts struck deep in my heart.

As I wrote earlier, from the point of view of a teacher, having to spend most of your waking hours with students from your group is quite stressful. When talking about this course to other teachers who don't know about the workload involved, most of them generally say in surprise, "I can't believe you're taking such a course." Realistically speaking, even with preparation and actual visits, it is difficult to get all students working in a positive manner. While there are many motivated students from the outset, there are also many students who moan about not wanting to go on the trip because it is too much work and bothersome.

To me, with a small child, I usually can't stay at the university until late at night, so these five days provided me with an excellent opportunity to conduct long talks with the students and observe their lifestyles and human relationships. On the final day, everyone got together for a briefing session, and afterwards had a good time together over a few drinks. At the parties, it isn't strange to see the students, who at first didn't want to go, talking excitedly about their visits at the end of the program. No matter how much you have talked, the night wears on with you feeling you have left much unsaid. This time is extremely stimulating for me.

(Offered by Kusa no Midori (The Greeness of Grass) No.231)

Rinko Manabe
Associate Professor of Career education and Lifelong learning, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Born in Kyoto Prefecture in 1970. Graduated from Kyoto Prefectural Otokuni High School in 1989. After graduating from Shizuoka University's Faculty of Literature Sociology Department in 1993, she continued her studies at the Education department of Kyoto University's graduate school. After a term as a full-time lecturer in the Education Department of Tokyo Gakugei University, she became an associate professor of the Faculty of Letters, Chuo University in 2006. She gives lectures on lifelong learning, career education and social education. Her lectures are about lifelong learning and how it has become essential to have an education, and how one can become involved in a career in education. Research topics include how to think about education through involving oneself with women's career and life courses, and achieving education. These topics mainly involve using quantitative research methods.