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New international school tries to improve education

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-05-01

Dream Planet International School opens its doors Saturday, May 24 to 150 new students, who will be educated under a radical change from Japan's present education system. Established by Masayuki Makino, founder of the Okinawa Actor's School, the learning center gives parents and children an option outside of public and private schools, which at times fail to meet the needs of some students. The philosphy behind Dream Planet is to enable children to discover their own talents by giving them more decision-making power over their education. Instructors differ from the traditional classroom teacher by playing more of a support role in guiding students through the path of study they have chosen for themselves. Students are required to study only one of two mandatory courses: English or computers. These required courses are covered during two separate 35-minute classes. Apart from 20 minutes of physical exercise and daily chores early in the morning, the rest of the day is mainly devoted to personal projects and free learning. The school's curriculum has been based on what Makino believes will not only provide children a better learning environment, but help shape them as individuals. The very outspoken mentor of pop entertainment says the current education system is much too rigid and does not offer children a chance to discover their own aspirations. He decided to use his experience with teaching children from his Okinawa Actor's school to create a place for learning that would motivate students and make education fun.

Laura Yonamine, Curriculum Coordinator for the school's English Division and the only instructor with a degree in education, commented, "We're like facilitators. We're working with the students on an equal level." Although there are many parents hailing Makino's project as a step in the right direction for the future of Japan's youth, there are also many concerns among educators and local citizens. One major concern is that Dream Planet has not been accredited by Japan's Ministry of Education, which makes it impossible for any of its graduates to enter any Japanese University or higher education institution with only a Dream Planet graduation certificate. There are also many current teachers outside of Dream Planet who feel that the school is based too much on ideology and not enough on experience. "This type of school has been tried before in America. It sounds good on paper, but it is a different story once you're in the classroom. You still need to know how to teach, and teaching is the bottom line," said one high school teacher who requested anonymity.

Dream Planet has tried to counter criticism with the voices of their own students, and many parents have showed their commitment and belief in the Dream Planet education system by moving to Okinawa from mainland Japan, just so that their children can attend the school - 100 out of the 150 students currently enrolled are from outside Okinawa Prefecture. "The students I have talked to really demonstrate self-confidence and have a really strong desire and commitment about their future," said Principal Tomoko Shirai. "It surprises me that many parents whose children are not even attending the school are against Dream Planet. We are not trying to force our curriculum on all schools, nor do we have plans to have every child in Japan enroll in this type of education system." Shirai, a graduate of Tokyo University, spent time abroad researching different educational systems before coming to Dream Planet and also draws upon her own experiences in Australia, where she lived and attended elementary school for four years. Shirai feels that the instructors and core staff will be able to meet the challenges of providing quality education to the students of Dream Planet.

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