The Nippon Foundation Social Innovation Forum 201723 workshops over two days cover range of topics

The Nippon Foundation Social Innovation Forum 2017 was held on November 17–19 at Tokyo International Forum. The three days featured keynote addresses by leading politicians, booths and presentations from seven social innovators selected from across Japan, and 23 workshops on a variety of topics and organized around four themes: Vision, Issues, Collaboration, and Resources.

One of the workshops was titled “Changing Society, Changing Education,” and discussed education in a society where adults and children can continue to learn together. In addition to four panelists who are involved in the field of education, four junior and senior high school students studying at various types of schools participated. The workshop leader was an educational researcher who has experience operating both a supplementary school for Japanese children living in the United States and an alternative elementary school in Japan.

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Junior and senior high school students, including students who have attended alternative schools, participated in the “Changing Society, Changing Education” workshop

The workshop introduced the results of a survey carried out in the United States that showed the importance of creating private-sector educational venues. Panelists called for the creation of opportunities to instill children with a sense of purpose that will lead to creativity, innovation, and independence, and for an emphasis on a spirit of inquiry that enables children to seek out things that personally interest them and to value things that transcend space and time. The importance of play, especially in open, outdoor spaces like fields and forests, was also stressed. The students shared their experiences attending non-traditional schools and regular public schools.

Another workshop examined the effect of childhood poverty on academic performance, based on data collected from approximately 25,000 children up to the age of 18 in Minoh City, Osaka Prefecture, and analyzed by The Nippon Foundation. The data indicated whether or not a child was being raised in a family receiving public welfare or educational subsidies, and calculated the deviation from an assigned standard for performance in all school subjects, as well as comprehensive deviations in noncognitive areas like motivation, self-control, and sociability, and for health and physical strength, as well as relationships of trust with family and school.

The results showed that while there was not a significant deviation in Japanese language ability between relatively poorer students and those not living in relative poverty at the ages of 7 through 9, a 5.5-point difference emerged at age 10 and the difference remained at roughly 5 points to the age of 14. In addition, as children become older, overall academic ability declines relative to the standard among children living in relative poverty, but increases relative to the average among children not living in these conditions. The data also showed that among younger children, even if the deviation falls to more than 5 points below standard, 30-40% of students are able to recover to less than 5 points below the following year. As children become older, however, the likelihood of reversing a decline decreases and low academic ability becomes entrenched.

In terms of basic noncognitive abilities, however, there is a clear gap in the deviation from younger ages. Children being raised in economic poverty are less likely to consult with their parents, finish tasks to completion, and regularly eat breakfast. Among the children living in relative poverty, those with higher academic ability had better study and lifestyle habits, and were better able to express themselves.

In areas other than education, one workshop dealt with the challenges associated with the depopulation of rural areas. One of the speakers was Shinji Hirai, governor of Tottori Prefecture, which is Japan’s least populous prefecture. Governor Hirai pointed out that there were no fatalities from the magnitude-6.6 earthquake that struck the prefecture in October 2016, and noted the strength of communities pulling together, declaring “Using this strength, we will not lose out to urban areas.” He also outlined some of the activities being carried out jointly with The Nippon Foundation under the banner “Working Together to Make Tottori ‘Japan’s Most Livable’ Prefecture.” These activities include the introduction of universal taxis that are accessible for people with physical disabilities and measures to address the declining birthrate.

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Tottori Prefecture Governor Shinji Hirai (left) explains activities being implemented in Tottori

Another panelist, Masatoshi Tamamura, a professor at Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management, explained an index he had developed to measure the strength of ties in communities. He pointed out that stronger ties make community revitalization efforts more effective, and that strong ties exist in many areas of Tottori. Other panelists described how local cable television is being used to focus residents’ attention on priority issues, and renovations being made to the area in front of Tottori Station. On the subject of developing ties, Governor Hirai stressed one of Tottori’s advantages: “In Tottori, networks are face-to-face, but it is hard to build those networks in urban areas.”

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