Friday, December 23, 2005

Educators share Fulbright memories

Gervase and Whittington gain look into Japanese education system

Express Staff Writer

As an administrator, Blaine County Assistant Superintendent Mary Gervase surprised Japanese educators and students who typically reserve the roles for men.

The Japanese government selected two Idaho representatives to attend the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program this fall. Coincidentally, the two educators lived within miles of each other.

The Japanese government selected Blaine County School District's Assistant Superintendent Mary Gervase and The Community School's Middle School Director Nigel Whittington to attend a short-term study program in Japan. The pair joined 200 educators and administrators from across the United States for an educational visit.

"I gained an appreciation for the hard work educators do across the world. We are united in our commitment to the next generation," Gervase said.

The opportunity invites educators to experience culture and confer on educational issues to promote cultural awareness and understanding.

"(The experience) allowed me understand who they are and where they come from," Whittington said.

The program also serves to thank the United States for its generosity. To express gratitude, the program has generously invited educators to visit to schools, colleges and cultural sites over the last nine years.

Gervase and Whittington ventured to Japan for three weeks in October. Over the course of the program both were immersed in the educational system, celebrating the cultural differences and discovering similarities.

The group spent the first half of the visit in Tokyo. During the stay, panels comprised of politicians, economists, ministry of education representatives and citizens addressed the American educators. The government presented symposiums including the memoirs of a Hiroshima bombing survivor, which left lasting impressions on both Idaho educators.

Translators accompanied the group to facilitate communication. Bridging communication prompted the government to invite educators to experience the country's national educational system.

Gervase and Whittington gained an intimate look into lower, middle and upper schools during ventures in smaller groups to Japanese towns. During the second portion of the trip, participants split into groups, venturing into schools and conversing with students, teachers and administrators. The first-hand experience highlighted the differences in the educational systems.

"There were different cultural expectations of kids' behavior," Gervase said.

Students bow at the beginning and end of classes to thank teachers. The class structure and society places teachers on a pedestal.

Other expectations require students to participate in an obligatory cleanup time. Rather than employ janitors, all students help to mop the floors, clean up messes and maintain the buildings.

Whittington noted that the society shares a loyalty to larger organizations, rather than a Western sense of individualism.

Both Idaho representatives also mentioned the absence of technology in schools.

"We think about the Japanese being cutting edge in technology, but it's not in the schools," Gervase said. She did not see a single computer in a classroom.

Whittington noted he observed technology taught in isolated labs, rather than integrated into the classroom.

In the classroom, Japanese students excel in math and science, but lack independent and creative thinking skills.

"While we don't score as well on standardized tests, we seem to have the ability to think creatively," Whittington said.

In light of the differences, both embraced the importance of global awareness and noticed universal educational experiences.

"Kids are the same everywhere ... Kids are naturally excited about life," Whittington said.

The same can be said about educators.

"Good teaching is good teaching," he said.

With new understandings, Gervase and Whittington promise to enhance educational experiences throughout Blaine County.

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