Given the current scale and speed of change in the world, Aoba-Japan International School (A-JIS) knows that preparing young people to take their first steps into adulthood as global citizens is no easy task. Yet, it is one that the school is embracing—and passionate about getting right.
“This is a very exciting time for us”, said Ken Sell, head of school. “I think the kids enjoy the facilities that we have been building here and the learning that they are doing.
“The staff are very much on board, too, for what this will create for them: opportunities to learn and participate in something really important”, he added.
Sell refers to the dramatic changes underway at A-JIS. Initially formed in 1976 to provide children—primarily Japanese—with a foundation in English before enrolling in elementary school, the popularity of the programme resulted in demand for a similar kind of primary and secondary education.
Now, A-JIS provides an international education for students from a wide range of backgrounds, from K2 to grade 12 in Hikarigaoka, Nerima Ward.
“We provide an opportunity for both international students to understand the Japanese culture and context, and for the Japanese to be able to look outwards: to give them all a good grounding in understanding different cultures”, Sell said.
“We are aiming to develop students who truly have an international disposition: that sense that they understand and have experienced other cultures; that they can see beyond the differences of cultures and actually understand the similarities”, he added. “That will enable them to either make changes in the world or to lead change”.
Sell believes that A-JIS’s choice of the International Baccalaureate will enable students to use knowledge meaningfully.
“The IB curriculum expects kids to take action with what they have learned. We have to provide kids with opportunities to do that, from the time they start school to the time they finish it”, he said.
One such opportunity will come from the school’s focus on teaching entrepreneurial skills. It is hoped that, through this approach, students can challenge themselves, make mistakes and learn from them, thus increasing their capacity for lifetime empowerment: learning as a means of emancipation and the building of social cohesion.
“Entrepreneurism is a very social activity”, he said. “It is steeped in the idea of learning from others, being confident in yourself to test new ideas, to innovate and to look for opportunities, so it is a very outward-looking approach.
While teaching content is clearly important, Sell pointed out that the school also aims to instil in students the ability to tackle the unknown, as opposed to a sole focus on competency to do what they know well.
“Kids can create new concepts for different contexts, so that gives them a critical set of skills which enables them to go into unfamiliar contexts with self-belief”, he said. “On graduation, they will be able to participate in virtually any area in which they feel confident doing so”.
Recognising that effective learning also takes place outside the classroom, A-JIS is building partnerships and relationships with other schools around the world for student exchanges.
In the hope of demonstrating internationalisation through experience rather than theory alone, the school aims, in the future, to provide all middle school students with an opportunity to spend a total of one year on four different continents.
As an institution encompassing a wide age range, A-JIS is also conscious of responding to children’s needs according to their stage of development.
This work is important, explained Sell, not only to engage them and inspire them to be life-long learners, but also to create stability and a strong community within the school.
In recent years, the school has improved perimeter security, renovated paths, rebuilt science labs and installed a campus-wide wireless Internet system. There have been a number of recent additions including new artificial turf on the soccer pitch, outdoor basketball courts, a gymnasium and a playground.
There are also plans to create a blended learning plaza featuring interactive screens for shared learning with students in locations around the world.