Sustainability ideas from Japan

Issue: Volume 93, Number 5

Posted: 24 March 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctb

Principal Simon Green of North Loburn School recently visited Japan with the intention of surveying the state of sustainability learning as it compares to that in New Zealand. He had his eyes well and truly opened by schools that go beyond teaching sustainability as a laudable concept and are living the ideals in their daily lives.

The New Zealand Japan Exchange Programme (NZJEP) was jointly established in 1974 by the New Zealand and Japanese Governments. Its aim is to deepen understanding between New Zealand and Japan with a broad educational and cultural basis, but with a special emphasis on the development of Japanese language teaching and learning in New Zealand.

The team of International Languages Exchanges and Pathways (ILEP) is employed by Auckland UniServices on contract to the Ministry of Education to deliver the International Languages Exchanges and Pathways (ILEP) programme. ILEP supports schools and teachers to implement the Learning Languages curriculum area through the promotion of a five-stage professional learning pathway for schools and teachers in Years 7–13.

Simon Green is the principal of North Loburn School, a U3 school in the foothills of rural North Canterbury. He has a passion for environmental education and was interested to learn more about how other schools around the world are tackling the teaching of ecological sustainability.

After receiving a grant from the NZJEP programme, administered by ILEP, Simon travelled to Osaka, Japan, to visit North Loburn’s ‘friendship school’, Sakuraidani Elementary School in Toyonaka. His aim was to tour some environmentally-conscious schools and speak at the inaugural Three Country Kids Conference.

Friendship schools

In 2011, the Toyonaka Board of Education in Osaka sought to create links with schools in Canterbury through the University of Canterbury. The population of Toyonaka City is similar to that of Christchurch – a little under 400,000. Several schools established and maintained successful relationships – one of which was North Loburn School, which developed a friendship agreement with Sakuraidani Elementary School. Year 7–8 students learn Japanese in alternate years and through emails, phone calls, and video conferencing are able to communicate along the common theme of ESD (education for sustainable development). Students share the projects they are working on and question each other as to the nature of school in each other’s country. Through video conferencing, both schools are able to give virtual tours and answer questions.

Environmental education in the Toyonaka District

Simon admits to a degree of skepticism before he got on the plane.

“After all, I was coming from a rural school that is held up as one of the most successful Enviroschools in the Canterbury region. We are a school that has numerous environmental projects on the go, and we are going for Green Gold status this year. What could I learn from an urban school with a roll over 600, set amongst a densely populated concrete jungle?”

Simon discovered in short order that Toyonaka City Board of Education has a strong focus on ensuring children develop as globally responsible citizens. The term “mottainai” (“waste not, want not”) is regularly used and refers not just to physical waste but to thought patterns that give rise to wasteful action. Mottainai is a tradition that has been long embedded in Japanese culture.

Simon realised that a densely populated country like Japan has an immediate and pressing reason to instill sustainable attitudes in its young people; in contrast to New Zealand, where it could be said that there is not the population to visibly impact on the environment in the same way that can be seen in populous countries. Japan cannot afford to let its huge population live without regard for sustainability.

It was Simon’s visit to Sakuraidani Elementary where he saw the strongest similarities. At face value, this Japanese school does not appear to fit the mold of an Enviroschool. The school comprises a huge, multi-storied classroom block, and there are few trees, by New Zealand standards, at least. There is no grass (the sports field is large, but the play surface is a fine, gritty dirt). There is a limited variety of play and sports equipment.

The classrooms themselves are of a standard size, with wooden floorboards, blackboards, limited ICT equipment, and individual desks spaced in organised rows. Each class has 40 students, and text books and worksheets are the cornerstone of the curriculum.

It wasn’t long, though, before Simon saw beyond these extrinsic features of the school and discovered the close links that the children have with their environment. Sustainability is at the heart of the curriculum. In one day at Sakuraidani, Simon witnessed:

  • Over a dozen student-managed vegetable gardens around the school that contained a variety of plants such as spring onions and daikon (radishes).
  • Wall displays of beautiful haiku created by students, taking the natural environment as a source of inspiration.
  • Written explanations and observational drawings of some of the foods in their school garden, which also make up an important part of their daily diet.
  • Well-manicured herb gardens, replete with the common herbs used in Japanese food.
  • Science lessons that were focused on the natural environment. The junior classes had planted their own bulbs, each in their own container, and were learning about the changes and growth of spring flowers.
  • A small paddy field on the school grounds, used by the students to learn the process of growing and harvesting rice. This is an important event each year and brings the whole school community together.
  • Ponds containing fish, and classrooms containing living creatures for the children to study and care for.
  • Students creating artwork using recycled materials.
  • Public transport, bicycles, and walking used extensively to get children to and from school. Private cars are virtually unseen. There was no chaos at the school gate at Sakuraidani!
  • No waste in school lunches. All food was prepared and served on site daily, with the exception of the bottle of milk each student received.

Simon also visited a school where lunches were brought from home. Every student ate lunch from reusable containers, and he did not see a single wrapper amongst the hundreds of lunches. This unfortunately stands in contrast to the typical New Zealand school. Simon noted also that the nutritional value of the Japanese student lunch seemed far superior to the high-sugar, high-fat content that so many New Zealand children consume.

At North Loburn, Simon is proud that students help with the gardening, attend working bees, and occasionally sweep and tidy the school grounds. Japanese children are responsible for cleaning their entire school. School finishes 15 minutes early to give the children time to clean the toilets, wipe surfaces, sweep floors and pathways, and complete a variety of other jobs. Cleaners are not employed by the school. This has to be seen as ideal in terms of taking responsibility for our surrounding environs.

At the Japanese schools that Simon visited, he saw no evidence of graffiti or vandalism and no rubbish. In fact, as at North Loburn School, there were no rubbish bins on school grounds and Simon cannot recall seeing any in classrooms. There was simply no waste.

Three Country Kids’ Conference

Held at Osaka University, the Three Country Kids’ conference formed part of the Toyonaka City Global Education Forum’s collaborative learning programme. The theme of the conference was ‘developing a sustainable society and fostering leaders of the next generation.’ Children from New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan shared their environmental projects and questioned each other via a live video link about the work they were doing.

Students from Andersons Bay School in Dunedin talked about sustainability and shared their learning journey around the introduction of the school hens project. One hen even appeared on the webcam feed and was beamed across the world. Andersons Bay is a successful Enviroschool, and they also shared some of the other impressive projects they have underway.

Students from Howon Elementary School in South Korea talked about how they had explored ways to compost food waste more quickly.

Matsuiwa Junior High School in Japan discussed how the post-earthquake rubble was recycled in their district of Kesennuma.

Dai-ni Junior High School in Japan presented a 50:50 system of energy reduction they had developed for their school.

Simon says that it was a refreshing experience to get a global perspective on environmental education, and he reports leaving with a totally revised idea as to what is happening beyond New Zealand in sustainable education.

“Our country may be ‘green’ to the eye, and by reputation, but I think we have much to learn to ensure ecological sustainability as our population grows. In hearing the children speak at the Three Country Kids’ Conference, I felt really fortunate to have a glimpse of our future generation of global leaders in action.”

BY Simon Green
North Loburn School ,

Posted: 9:11 am, 24 March 2014

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