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English language and technology keys to success

By: Charles McDermott

Date Posted: 2003-10-11

After years of lobbying by western organizations, including the American Chamber of Commerce, the Japanese Government seems to have accepted two basic precepts:

English is the worldwide language of business, and
English, or any second language, is best learned at a young age
Japanese elementary schools are now given some measure of scheduling autonomy, and are being encouraged to offer English to 3rd, 2nd or even 1st graders.

In response to this positive development, the American Chamber of Commerce in Okinawa has formed an ad hoc committee, the English in Education Committee. The committee’s first success was to find a school principal who was willing to allow western volunteers access to the students.

Tenpi Elementary School Principal Katsumi Yamauchi in Naha City was not afraid of technology. She was willing to participate in an experiment to hold English language video teleconference sessions employing native-speaker volunteers and Tenpi School 3rd grade students.

The key enablers of this exercise have been Eriya Unten and Gordon Bolton of Karis Enterprises Corp. who have provided pro bono access to their video server and VTC software, and Osamu Chinen, the president of C-Shop, who has donated 10 web cameras and headsets.

The project organizers at AACO have signed up a few native speakers but are looking for more. The plan is for these volunteers to “adopt” three or four kids at Tenpi. Each volunteer would then “meet” his or her adopted students 15 minutes a week over the video link. This relationship would hopefully last one or two years and the adopted kids and the volunteer could grow together on Okinawa in English. ACCO would supplement the video sessions with quarterly “real-time” BBQ’s.

If the project is successful, ACCO plans to expand it to include Senior Citizen Homes in the United States and perhaps firemen on the mid-shift in New York City. The requirements to become a volunteer are simple: native English ability and a broadband Internet connection. Thanks to C-Shop’s Chinen, organizers have web camera setups and technical expertise available for those volunteers who need them. For details, contact Committee Chairman Charles McDermott at ctm@ona.att.ne.jp.

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