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Masashi Takagi

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Field Research of Education

Masashi Takagi
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Educational Research and Japanese History of Education

What is Field Research of Education?

Field Research of Education is a required course for third-year students majoring in education at the Faculty of Letters. The course was started forty nine years ago in 1966 as “Education Survey,” a course open to free participation from faculty members and student volunteers. It has been twenty three years since Field Research of Education was established as an official class in 1992. As a famous course in the education major, Field Research of Education was discussed by Professor Rinko Manabe on ChuoOnline in 2009. Furthermore, this course was featured in Kusa no Midori, a newsletter published by the Chuo University Parents Association, in articles by Professor Takeo Morimo (February 2002, Vol. 153) and Kenichi Ikeda (December 2006, Vol. 201). These articles are precious records of conditions which existed at that time.

The style in which Field Research of Education is conducted as remained unchanged during the past few years. In the second semester of their second year, students take a course named Education and Research Method in which they decide upon research area and conduct preparatory studies. In late June of their third year, students conduct a 5-day, 4-night survey in the research area. Afterwards, the students create the final reports. Although the basic style is the same, the aspect of actions has changed dramatically due to changes in student temperament and advances in information technology and the information environment. In this article, I would like to discuss my impressions of Field Research of Education while considering these changes.

What was learned in Akita

This year, students visited Akita Prefecture. It was the first time for students to visit Akita Prefecture since Field Research of Education became an official course. Participants included 59 third-year students, 5 professors, and 2 teaching assistants who were studying at graduate school. To conduct their survey, students were divided into the 5 groups of School Education, Traditional Education, Home Education, Youth Support and Rural Education.

I accompanied the Rural Education Group, and will use this group when explaining student surveys. Students in my group were interested in how education is implemented at small schools, such as schools with combined classes of more than one grade. Students also focused on the issue of elimination and consolidation of small schools. Their interest was spurred by how, in January of this year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology revised policy guidelines for considering the elimination and consolidation of elementary and junior high schools. It was the first such revision in that last 60 years.

On the first day of the survey, students visited Higashi Naruse Elementary School, a school which has posted outstanding results on the National Assessment of Academic Ability. Although the school was part of school elimination/consolidation about 10 years ago and there are currently no classes which combine more than one grade, it is a small school with a total of only about 120 students. A striking aspect of Higashi Naruse Elementary School is how it focuses on activities by different age groups and interaction with local residents in order to increase opportunities for experiencing diverse values and differences.

From the second day, students visited two elementary schools in Akita City, as well as the Akita City Educational Committee. Although the two schools are not designated as rural schools, they are both small schools and are targeted for elimination and consolidation. From next school year, they will be consolidated into a new elementary school which shares facilities with a junior high school. (Although the name of our group was kept the same for various reasons, the group ultimately did not visit schools in designated rural districts this year.)

Regarding the form of lessons for combined classes of more than one grade, students visited one elementary school and observed an integrated studies class in which all grades work together(Period for Integrated Studies). They also visited another elementary school and observed arithmetic lessons. When teaching a subject to more than one grade, teachers must review educational materials for two different grades and then give a lesson which combines said material into a single one-hour period. For example, when explaining material to one grade, students in the other grade are expected to perform class work. The principal and vice-principal teacher assist other teachers by acting as teaching assistants or taking responsibility for certain classes. Upon speaking with Chuo students who had watched the classes, it was obvious that their initial stereotype or image of “rustic education” had been changed. By watching lessons for combined classes of more than one grade, it seems that Chuo students had strongly discovered and confirmed the benefit of small-group education. However, students also witnessed the great effort required by teachers and realized the complexity of education conditions.

Students also learned that school elimination/consolidation was executed unsteadily amidst government policy and the opinions of local residents. The area visited was a community (a former town) that had been merged into Akita City in 2005. Initially, the two schools which we visited had aborted consolidation after taking action on the original plan. However, elimination and consolidation was eventually performed for all four schools which had existed in that community. Based on shared recognition that elimination and consolidation were unavoidable, the decision was made to consolidate together all four schools in order to preserve the identity of the community which had existed prior to the merger with Akita City. Still, closer examination of that community reveals that each school district had a distinct identity. All four schools had been established in the early Meiji period and had a history of more than 140 years. Therefore, following the elimination/consolidation, there seems to be the major issue of how to maintain and pass down monuments which had been accumulated by each of the elementary schools. For local residents, those monuments are symbols of having been born and raised in the community; they are memories of the land. For me, it was an extremely interesting discover to glimpse the multiple layers of the identity associated with inside and outside of the community. While learning about the trial-and-error approach taken by local residents, school officials, and city officials, Chuo students achieved deep recognition for the complexities surrounding schools.

Development of students

When accompanying the survey, I can sense the moment when students have a sudden realization which leads to deeper understanding. It is almost like students first see a line of understanding which resembles a ray of light piercing the darkness in which they struggle to perceive. At that moment, there is a change in the expressions and attitudes of students.

Students grow by deepening their understanding while repeating the processing of struggling to find that ray of light, moving forward, encountering a new problem and starting a new struggle. In the majority of cases, even if I refrain from providing excessive suggestions, students succeed in finding the path to understanding and solve their problems through repeated mutual discussion. While observing this process of growth, I felt great happiness in accompanying students on their journey to growth. Regardless of how various conditions change in the future, the thrill of witnessing the growth of students will undoubtedly remain virtually unchanged.

Changes and issues in recent years

After dividing to complete surveys in various regions, all Chuo students gathered together in the afternoon of the fourth day to hold an onsite reporting session. For the past few years, all groups have given their reports using PowerPoint. In the past, most groups used handwritten material. I also heard that some groups even incorporated short skits into their presentations. The use of PowerPoint has increased the amount of information in reports and photographs can also be used effectively. Overall, there has been an increase in well-presented and easy-to-understand reports.

Conversely, I felt that students oversimplified the issues into categories such as merits/demerits and for/against. Perhaps this oversimplification is unavoidable when students try to make policy recommendations within the short time allotted to these provisional reports. However, I hope that students will create the final reports which reflect the complexity of conditions that they are attempting to clarify, the confusion felt when trying to succinctly describe such complexities, and the ideas involved in their original hypothesis.

Even when traveling to different regions to conduct surveys, students using LINE and Facebook constantly exchange information with members of other groups. By doing so, they try to assess the progress of other groups. In this respect, we are losing the “novel sensation” of gathering together on the fourth day to exchange information and learn about the survey experiences of other groups. Of course, it is only natural for today’s students to use SNS, so it can be said that my notion of “novel sensation” is antiquated. Technologically speaking, it would be easy to digitally transmit survey reports to all members. When combined with changes in student temperament, these advancements in information technology and the information environment will most likely change the form of onsite reports and the current book form of the final reports.

In order to reduce travel expense, many students opted for time-consuming overnight buses instead of the Akita Shinkansen. Just a short while ago, the management of money and time during the survey was considered a fun memory for students. When considering the increasingly severe economic situation of students, it’s no longer possible to such easygoing statements. Although it is a difficult issue to solve, we must make any effort to reform conditions which place constraints on the learning of students.

From Field Research of Education to graduation thesis

After completing the survey report, students begin a full-sale preparation for writing their graduation theses. I hope that students will fully utilize the experience of overcoming difficulties during the Field Research of Education. By building upon these experiences, I expect that students will be able to write meaningful graduate theses.
The ordinary, frank opinions and hopes which I have discussed in this article reflect what I feel every year upon just having returned from the survey area.

Masashi Takagi
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Educational Research and Japanese Education History
Masashi Takagi was born in Aichi Prefecture in 1964. In 1983, he graduated from Aichi Prefectural Inazawa Higashi Senior High School. In 1987, he graduated from the Faculty of Education at the Aichi University of Education. Afterwards, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Education at Nagoya University. He served as Research Assistant at Nagoya University and as Professor at the Faculty of Humanities, Fukuoka University before assuming his current position in 2013. He conducts research to clarify how Japanese education has been impacted by concepts and techniques related to fields such as eugenics, birth control and psychology. His main papers include “Transformation of Birth Control Instruction as Part of the Family Planning Movement in Japan after World WarⅡ” ( “Studies In The History Of Education” Vol. 56, The Japan Society for Historical Studies of Education, published in 2013), “Eugenic Marriage Under the National Eugenic Law” (“Development of Eugenic Thought in Education” written/edited by Nobuo Fujikawa, published in 2008 by Bensei Publishing), and “Teachers and Psychological Technology” (edited by Shunzo Matsuzuka and Yoshihito Yasuhara, “The Strategy by Nation / Community / Teacher : The Comparative Socio-Cultural History of Teacher” published in 2006 by Showado Publishing).