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Origami? Let's get hands on

Pupils can experience Japanese culture first hand via an assistants scheme. Sarah Farley reports

Teppei Hishiki holds up a delicately folded box. "This is for the money," he says in much quieter tones than is usual for an adult in a busy classroom. He is surrounded by children asking him to help them make a money box too. He begins calmly folding coloured squares in half and half again in order to create creases. On the table behind are rows of gaily-coloured containers made by Year 6 children at Coates community primary school, Cambridgeshire, in readiness for their healthy snacks sale.

"I was trying to think of a way round using expensive paper plates for the children collecting their snacks," says teacher Ros Wilson. "It suddenly came to me that Teppei could help us make boxes, which would be much cheaper and fun to do."

Being able to bring the practical aspects of Japanese culture into the classroom is one of the benefits of having Teppei at the school full time.

Aged 25, he arrived last February as part of the Japanese school teaching assistant programme, a limb of the Japanese-based international internship programme. Coates school has used the scheme, for which there is no cost incurred by the host school, twice before.

"We have found it a very successful programme," says Marion Seaton, who organises the scheme at Coates school, which is accredited with a British Council International School Award.

"Our school is on the edge of the Cambridge fens and some children have limited experience of the world beyond Peterborough, so we try hard to bring other countries to them. Japan is such a foreign culture for most people round here, not somewhere you are likely to have been on holiday, that we thought it would be interesting to invite some Japanese people into our community."

Teppei either works as a classroom assistant or takes small groups of pupils from all years for different activities, such as introducing them to calligraphy by helping them write their names, explaining the ritual of Sumo wrestling by using cut-out models, and teaching them some useful words of Japanese. The children greatly enjoy these sessions, impressing Teppei with their interest and ability. "The best time for me is when children come in playtime and ask me to teach them more origami or calligraphy," he says. "They have to learn to be very careful and neat."

Cultural exchange rather than teaching experience is the motive behind the scheme, so a student may not necessarily be pursuing a career in education.

A willingness to fit in with the school has made Teppei popular with the whole community. He lives with a school family and joins in whenever he can, even to the extent of appearing dressed in Tudor costume for a day at Peterborough Cathedral. "It really does help us all to break down barriers when you get to know someone from another culture," says Marion Seaton. "We will miss Teppei very much when he leaves." At least they will all be able to say Sayonara.

International Internship Programmes ukeire@internship.or.jp; www.internpro.com

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