The future's just a clean sweep away

A ROBOTIC teacher that controls every class. A wall-sized plasma screen with "real life" sound, a bank of graphics and video clips. An electronic textbook with moving images, sounds as well as up-to-date text and case studies. This is how classsrooms of the future will be equipped, according to the "Future Education" exposition in Osaka. My favourite is the 3D classroom cinema that takes pupils on a virtual trip of deserts, savannahs and rainforests.

Geography lessons from Japan My new laptop has a built-in camera, which allows me to appear, from Tokyo, on the whiteboard in my daughter's classroom. So I can provide a small, rural school in Scotland with a geography lesson direct from the world's largest city.

Edinburgh, capital of England I'm in Tokyo to research a geography textbook. Scottish pupils are quite knowledgeable about Japan, but this interest doesn't seem to be reciprocated. A notebook I buy here bares the legend "Edinburgh, old capital of England". In a school in Nagoya, I ask a class if they can name a famous Scot. Nessie is the best they can manage - though a few are familiar with "polite English gentleman" Sean Connery.

Education with latitude I read in The TESS that one of the architects of A Curriculum of Excellence visited Australia for ideas. I hope she didn't stop in Japan which, after years of decluttering the curriculum, is having a rethink. But the strategy of giving teachers and students more time for creative tasks has not pleased everyone. "Basic reading, writing and number skills are declining,"

one Japanese newspaper recently bemoaned. Indeed many commentators are urging the Ministry of Education to revert to the centrally controlled curriculum that pushed Japan to the top. Is this the end for what the Japanese call "Education with latitude"?

Education overhaul Japan's education ministry is planning an overhaul, including the introduction of a system for renewing teachers' licences and a means of evaluating schools' performance. Sounds familiar.

Clean-up operation Headline: "Japanese pupils clean their own schools!" It's true. Once school's out, pupils spend 30 minutes tidying classrooms, sweeping corridors and tending to playgrounds. It's a strategy that seeks to prevent disdain for menial tasks and helps reduce the amount of mess pupils make in the first place. Low tech ideas are best after all.

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