Mechs in every classroom
As surprising as it may seem, there is an “Incoming JETs” group that is still pretty active on the Facebook scene. While questions range from “what activities would be good for so-and-so” to general updates on people’s lives, the most common post I’ve encountered is the “why is my life like this, please console” post. The following is a recent example that particularly caught my attention.
“OK, whinge time for me. I remember being told in Tokyo Orientation that I would have access to Smart Boards in every classroom and electronic resources would abound. My reality is I have to beg for every laminating sheet and even coloured card-board is hard to find! Internet in the classroom? Not likely!! It makes it soooo difficult to be proactive and prepare things!! AND do NOT get me started about the super-slow BOE computer!! Anyone else feeling my pain???!? :P”
To my relief, the comments that followed was a communal “wat,” but there were some others (including the original poster) that insisted that they were told about the grand resources a Japanese classroom would hold.
Can I begin by saying I’m writing this on a “Mate” PC that has the first version of Microsoft XP “Professional,” which I’m not allowed to update the OS nor any of the programs (I can only use Internet Explorer. Weep with me) because I am not the administrator? I’m also using a keyboard that I swear is straight out of 1997 (which, I love. It’s got thick keys to where you can feel the emotion of every keystroke and word you write. The teachers have already commented on this.), but all of which have one thing in common: a sticker saying the appliance is owned by the local government office and board of education.
Having worked for a previous government job before, I know all too well about the bare minimums the bureaucracies take when implementing technology. Being a government employee in Japan is no exception. In 2010, Japan spend around 3.6% of their GDP on education according to the Japan Times, while the United States which spent 7.3% the same year, actually being one of the highest, according to Reuters. And, if talking to any other new ALTs is any consideration, those numbers certainly reflect other people’s situations. “At one of my schools, the computer I have to use has Windows 95,” one commenter said in response to the original post. “I laugh every time I use it. Then I cry.”
All of this is not to say there is absolutely no new tech in Japanese classrooms. At both of the schools I work at, they have invested in Smartboards and one of those schools only has 55 students! And, luckily, one of the teachers I work with is an avid tech-wiz who tries to find every opportunity he can to implement his or the school’s resources in the classroom. He is certainly out-shadowed, though, by the amount of teachers I have worked with which have said “I barely even know how to work a computer.”
The fact that I came into two schools that had such technology was a pleasant surprise to me, but that’s because I did not expect them and, by all accounts, should not have. Expectations seem to be the major “make or break” factor for this program and I have already noticed some people crumbling under their own prospects. Granted, there are some people that have some really unwarranted situations, but in the realm that does not explicitly deal with human behaviors, to come into this system with the belief of “every student with a laptop” (or, frankly anything that can be replaced with the last word) is bound for disappointment. While I had my own expectations, keeping them low, I feel, was key. I know it’s easy to sound condescending and elitist with those words, but just doing some base research about how “country side” my area really is left me with the conclusion “oh, there probably won’t be internet everywhere.” (and as a side note, this is a really common misconception with people coming to Japan. No! Internet is not everywhere!)
There will be, every year, newly hired ALTs that will come into this job with a backpack full of thoughts on the Japanese school system, but this is not a bad thing! We all want to work effectively with our students and future coworkers, but if one attempts to apply the classroom structure and resources of Osaka or Tokyo to those, for example, on my island or Okinawa, at some point the discussion is simply going to be apples to oranges. Or blackboards to Smartboards. Whichever you prefer.