Digging around for some down-to-earth help

17th March 1995 at 00:00
The name the Japan Festival Education Trust must put some teachers off. It sounds awfully worthy, "arty" and academic. In fact, although inspired by the lofty ideals of the Festival, it exists to provide teachers who have vague aspirations to do something about Japan with the down-to-earth help and resources they need.

Heidi Potter, who runs the organisation, doesn't have a prescribed syllabus and will try to dovetail what she has to offer with what teachers want to do. For instance, she recently visited Earls Colne Primary and other schools in Colchester to provide staff with a crash course on Japan and to whet pupils' appetites in readiness for a week devoted to all things Japanese.

As well as doing their sums on the soroban, and designing traditional kites, classes participated in workshops with a visiting storyteller and a troupe of Japanese drummers. They picked the brains of local experts in karate, ikebana, pottery and bonsai growing.

"It all fits nicely into the national curriculum," says headteacher, David Yates, "and it's something that gets the children really excited and motivated." It's difficult to say how many other schools around the country tackle Japan with as much gusto, but Heidi Potter is convinced that it's one topic that never fails in primary school.

Children in Peterborough are having an opportunity to explore this paradox of how two cultures can be "the same and different", thanks to a travelling exhibition sponsored by the JFET. Visitors to the museum can, among other things, try on kimonos, design a stone garden, visit a Shinto shrine, and grind, grate and rehydrate food. The exhibition will be in Peterborough until April 8. It then moves to Edinburgh as part of the Scottish International Children's Festival (May 22-28). Other venues are being arranged in Merseyside and Somerset.

But undoubtedly the best way of helping pupils to get to know Japan is to introduce them to a Japanese person. The JFET has already arranged for fearless volunteers to visit over 600 schools where they chat, demonstrate crafts, tell stories and answer the inevitable barrage of questions.

This service is only available in the London area, but JFET also has 250 Activity Chests which it loans free to schools throughout the UK. The chests contain over 30 Japanese artefacts, including yukat (kimono), gata (sandals) and daruma ( the traditional good luck doll). There is also a video of a typical Japanese school child's day.

For primary teachers, there is a 60-page guide on organising a Japan project. This is supplemented by a pack of full-colour photographs and a dozen double-sided A3 workcards which contain a wealth of information and interesting assignments on everything from the rudiments of the language to the country's history.

The secondary geography pack aimed at key stages 3 and 4 is equally impressive. There are 17 information booklets, assignments, outline maps, graph grids and guidelines for the teacher. Remarkably, all it costs is the price of post and package.

The JFET also runs a regular programme of training days on various topics. On March 25, for instance, a meeting at Clifton College, Bristol, will include free seminars on geography, the Shogun, teaching in the primary school and establishing a language course. A day devoted to secondary school geography teachers will take place in the Japanese Embassy on March 31.

Japan Festival Education Trust: 071-580 8151

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