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Osaka University Students Visit UNCW; WCE Hosts Dinner in Their Honor

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Osaka University Students Visit UNCW

Eight students enrolled in the elementary education program at Osaka University in Japan spent four weeks at UNCW this fall, participating in an English language program and visiting local classrooms. On Sept. 17, the Watson College hosted a dinner to honor the students and celebrate the long history of collaboration between the universities.

Since 1999, associate professor Brad Walker of the Watson College has partnered with Osaka University to offer exchange programs designed to help pre-service and in-service teachers in the United States and Japan understand a different culture, reflect about teaching and learning, and collaborate on ways to prepare children to live in a global society. Walker leads a study abroad experience to Japan for Watson College students each June, and coordinates local school visits for students enrolled in teacher education programs at Osaka University each fall.

The students’ primary focus at UNCW is on learning English. For three weeks, they joined other international students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program coordinated by UNCW’s International Programs ESL director Maike Walbrecht. The ESL program has been offered at UNCW since 1994. Participants attend intensive English language classes and are paired with UNCW students who serve as conversation partners, helping to build English language skills.

During the final week of the program, the Japanese students spent three days at Pine Valley Elementary School. Jennifer Booher ’04, ‘11M, Pine Valley kindergarten teacher and site coordinator, arranged for them to visit classrooms at every grade level. Booher said the students were professional and enthusiastic and shared Japanese handwriting, origami, songs and dances with the elementary school children during the visit.

Osaka University Students Visit UNCW

Brad Walker (far left) with students from Osaka University. Back (on right): Ma Xiaohua, associate professor, Osaka University of Education and Dean Kenneth Teitelbaum. Front (on right): Provost Denise Battles and Maike Walbrecht, ESL Director, UNCW International Programs 

“The students’ excitement was contagious,” Booher said. “We loved having them here.”

The curriculum used in Japanese and American schools is similar, but there are many cultural differences, Walker said. He never tires of hearing students reflect on the topic.

In the U.S., there’s a focus on student discipline and accountability measured by high-stakes testing. Art and music are electives and use of technology is prevalent, even in elementary schools. In Japan, teachers encourage students to take ownership of their learning and behavior, the arts are part of the core curriculum and “teachers are masters at giving powerful lessons using colored chalk,” he said.

Walker said Japanese teachers are highly respected professionals in a nation where the education philosophy is very different than in the U.S.

“We worry about reading readiness and begin testing children in pre-K,” he said. “In Japan, every child reads before the first grade but they don’t ‘teach’ reading. Instead, they encourage an interest in reading and let it happen naturally.”

“The primary responsibility of teachers in Japan is to nurture children and encourage their natural curiosity about learning,” he said.

At the dinner reception, the Osaka students thanked their UNCW teachers and hosts and said they valued the strong friendships and connections made during their time in Wilmington. Several expressed the hope of returning for a semester as an exchange student, something Walbrecht said is a frequent outcome of UNCW’s International ESL program.