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Top>Education>Project-based learning for international understanding


Atsushi Yamada

Atsushi Yamada

Kei Otsuka

Kei Otsuka

Project-based learning for international understanding

Kei Otsuka
Foreign Language Instructor at Chuo University Suginami High School

Atsushi Yamada
Geography and History Instructor at Chuo University Suginami High School

Project-Based Learning and Education for International Understanding

Generally, education for international understanding is not always fully practiced in schools, due to lack of time, being focused on other topics to improve academic performance, or being limited to learning the English language and other cultures. In order to promote education for international understanding, it is important to clarify its relation to the existing curriculum, and promote understanding among teachers. Figure 1 shows the relations between education for international understanding and curriculum guidelines. As Figure 1 shows, the "PBL Introduction to International Cooperation for High School Students" course (referred to as 'this Course' below) implemented at Chuo University Suginami High School ('this School') practices education for international understanding incorporating "international cooperation" and "project-based learning". Taking examples from implementation of this Course, below we will clarify the meaning of education for international understanding for each student, and the problems that exist in implementing it.

Figure 1. Relation between education for international understanding and curriculum guidelines (Created by authors based on JICA development education teacher training)

PBL Introduction to International Cooperation for High School Students

At this School, the third and fourth periods on Saturdays are called "Saturday courses" and have a variety of elective courses available that are different from the standard high school curriculum, so students can take courses that match their interests. The courses are not separated by grade, and students of all grades are combined in one class. This Course started in the 2014 school year as one of these Saturday courses, based on the theme of "international cooperation," in collaboration with JICA, global Japanese companies, and Chuo University. After studying the basic knowledge at the preparation class, students visit a developing country during the summer to see and experience international cooperation firsthand, in order to have them think about current global issues such as poverty, education, health care, and the environment. Afterwards, the students propose a solution strategy. Through project-based learning, as the name explains itself, the students are expected to acquire skills to identify problems, what is causing those problems, and how they can be solved.

For the 2014 school year, Thailand was chosen as the training site for this course, as Chuo University was also preparing to open its Thai Office (established in March 2015), and we expected to see further collaboration. In the course there were a total of 30 students including 8 first-year students, 12 second-year students, and 10 third-year students.

Preparation Class

During the preparation class, students visited the JICA Global Plaza and received an explanation about international cooperation from workers, participated in workshops, and listened to an explanation of an ODA project underway in Thailand by teleconference, connecting with the JICA Thailand Office in Bangkok (Photo 1). Mr. Singtong Lapisatepun, Minister and Deputy Chief of the Royal Thai Embassy in Japan gave a lecture on the current situation in Thailand, history of relations with Japan, and the conditions surrounding the potential coup d'etat (Photo 2). A representative of Zensho Holdings, who manage the restaurant chain Sukiya in Thailand as well, came and gave a lesson on global business expansion of companies (Photo 3). This preparation class included learning basic knowledge about international cooperation, and collecting and analyzing information about Thailand. The class focused on learning about international cooperation from multiple perspectives, such as through JICA, global companies, and the Royal Thai Embassy.

Photo 1. Teleconference with the JICA Thai office

Photo 2. Thai Embassy lecture

Photo 3. Extracurricular lesson by Zensho

Onsite Training in Thailand

Students visited Thailand for 10 days during their summer vacation, from July 23 to August 1. In Thailand, they visited the capital Bangkok and Chiang Mai, a major city in the north, seeing the sites of JICA's ODA projects (Pakkred Home for Disabled Babies , Nonthaburi Social Welfare Center, Thammapakorn Social Elderly Citizens’ Welfare Center (Photo 4), etc.) and Zensho’s Sukiya restaurant and the office of Denso International Asia as representatives of Japanese companies. To meet with locals of the same generation, the students visited Lampang Kanlayanee School (Photo 5) (Japanese teachers of JICA Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers are also at this school) and the Klong Toey Slum supported by the Duang Prateep Foundation (Photo 6). Students saw and learned about the status and issues in the current support and cooperation efforts at the various facilities. They also engaged with the Thai locals through volunteer activities such as cleaning and providing food, and presentations by singing, dancing, and making posters. Students collected their own thoughts based on their experiences, and on the final day visited the JICA Thailand Office in Bangkok and reported on the results of the trip before returning to Japan.

Photo 4. Thammapakorn Social Elderly Citizens’ Welfare Center

Photo 5. Lampang Kanlayanee School

Photo 6. Klong Toey Slum

Project Work

From the second semester, students worked on their projects during Saturday courses to find solutions to the social issues in Thailand based on what they actual saw and experienced. Students got together in groups according to similar interests regardless of their grade, and decided what social issue to handle, gathered information, and thought of ways to solve the issue. Some of the issues students chose this year were "supporting independence for people with disabilities," "decreasing poverty in the hill tribes," "Thailand's aging population," "improving hygiene in the slums," and "encouraging washing hands in elementary school to improve hygiene." The group that covered “supporting independence for people with disabilities” researched the causes of disabilities in Thailand and Japan, and seeing that the number of people who became disabled from traffic accidents in Thailand was a higher ratio than in Japan and other developed countries, proposed a public awareness campaign on traffic safety. In order to improve traffic safety awareness in a way that Thai children would be able to understand easily and be interested in, the group made a pamphlet on traffic safety using manga-style illustrations (Figure 2). The group that chose “improving hygiene in the slums” proposed holding garbage-collection contests in the slums and using compost for kitchen waste, in order to have the residents of the slums improve hygiene themselves. The group that selected “Thailand's aging population” proposed a unique set of exercises seniors in Thailand could perform on a daily basis, based on Japan's radio gymnastic exercises and Chusugi exercises, in order to maintain health without significant expense. The students filmed themselves doing these exercises, and gave directions on key points with subtitles. The students presented the results of this project work at the final presentation in January, attended by JICA representatives and others who helped with the program.

Figure 2. Manga pamphlet to improve traffic safety awareness among Thai children

Results and Issues

At the 18th UNESCO General Conference in 1974, the Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974 International Education Recommendation) was adopted, showing the basic concept of education for international understanding. By using "international cooperation" and "project-based learning" as themes, this Course can provide opportunities for not only education for international understanding, but also education for international cooperation and peace as indicated in the 1974 International Education Recommendation. Additionally, by clarifying the relation with curriculum guidelines, we believe it can act as an example for more practical education for international understanding.

However, since PBL education includes time-consuming project work by its very nature, there is a limit to what can be done with Saturday courses. Although there are benefits to students from different grades with different interests and backgrounds working together, it is also necessary to determine clear educational targets for first- through third-year students to carry out development in stages. In order to implement meaningful education in international understanding for a variety of students, programs and courses should be implemented throughout schools to develop globally competitive students.


This Article is based on a presentation made at the Japan Association for International Education 25th Research Conference.

Kei Otsuka
Foreign Language Instructor at Chuo University Suginami High School
Kei Otsuka, born 1980, from Saitama Prefecture, graduated from Chuo University Faculty of Letters, Department of English Studies in 2002. In 2004, he completed Oklahoma City University MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). In 2005 Otsuka began working as a full-time teacher at Chuo University Suginami High School. He participated in JICA teacher's overseas training program (Bhutan) in 2012, and worked on encouraging education on international understanding in the school. The following year he received an honorable mention in the JICA Global Education Contest (Photo Section). In 2014 Otsuka received JICA Global Plaza Director's Award in the JICA Global Education Contest (Initiatives Section). He entered the Doctoral Program at Waseda University Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies in 2015.
Atsushi Yamada
Geography and History Instructor at Chuo University Suginami High School
Atsushi Yamada, born 1976, from Aichi Prefecture, graduated from Hitotsubashi University Faculty of Social Sciences in 1999. In 2002, he completed the Master Program at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences. Yamada left the Doctoral Program at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences in 2004 and was appointed his current position.
His published works include Sakhalin/Karafuto as Seen by High School Students (coauthored, published by Chuo University Press).