Japanese teachers visit Big Rapids to learn about special education

EDUCATION INFORMATION: Yoshifumi Komasa takes notes during a presentation by BRMS Principal Lenore Weaver. Komasa said he feels special education in Japan has fallen behind the U.S. because the education system does not do enough to acknowledge students' needs. (Pioneer photos/Adam Gac)

EDUCATION INFORMATION: Yoshifumi Komasa takes notes during a presentation by BRMS Principal Lenore Weaver. Komasa said he feels special education in Japan has fallen behind the U.S. because the education system does not do enough to acknowledge students’ needs. (Pioneer photos/Adam Gac)

BIG RAPIDS — A group of educators from Japan journeyed across the globe this week to learn about special education in the U.S.

The group is led by Manabu Wakuta, who first visited this country in 1996 as part of a government-sponsored teacher-exchange program. Wakuta and nine other educators spent several days this week traveling to schools across the state learning about the U.S. systems for special education.

“In 1996, when Manabu came with a group of Japanese teachers to Michigan State University, he was there for three weeks learning about university culture and then he did two weeks in Big Rapids learning about family life, and he’s been coming back ever since,” said Jeanette Fleury, who organized housing for the visitors during their trip. “He’s been trying with these teachers to change the way they do special education in Japan. This is the first time he’s brought this many teachers with him.”

One of the visitors is Yuki Wakuta, Manabu’s daughter. The trip has been very informative, she said.

“We’ve learned about special education for people with learning disabilities in public and private schools.  I think it is very great, I don’t know as much about the Japanese education system because I am just a student so I can’t compare them exactly, but the U.S has many good systems, programs and teachers, and they have good teacher training,” she said. “I think it’s very good and awesome.”

On Tuesday, the educators visited the Big Rapids Public School district, touring Big Rapids Middle School and taking in a presentation by Principal Lenore Weaver.

“The thing that strikes me the most is the teachers from Japan came here to learn from us and I feel like I’m learning just as much from them,” she said. “They’ve shown me the differences between how we do things and how they do them, but there is a lot that’s the same.”

Special education is done a whole different way in Japan, Weaver stressed that the visitors can learn from their trip, but they do not need to hold the U.S. system to too high a standard.

“I’ve told them several times, ‘It’s not perfect here. I don’t want you to walk away from here thinking the U.S. is all that,’” she said. “I think we are, but it’s not like we don’t have our problems, because we do.”

Yoshifumi Komasa said he was very impressed with the certification system in the U.S. for teachers specializing in helping students with specific issues, like autism or emotional impairments.

“I think people in need, kids in need, are increasing all over the world. Japan is maybe 20 years behind in special education because we were trying not to see them,” he said. “Fitting in is very important in Japan in order to get a job. You don’t stand out in Japan, you can’t. About 95 percent of people are employed by big companies, where you can’t stand out.”

Yuuki Kojimi said he came to the U.S. to learn about the difference between Japanese and American special-needs children and education.

“The system for elementary school special education in the U.S. is awesome, I want to take it to Japan and share everything we learned,” he said.

The U.S. education system offers a lot of resources to students, said Kazuki Tani

“There is a total difference in the education system between here and Japan,” he said. “There are a lot of teaching materials and education equipment here. You have tons of materials in each classroom, we don’t have so much. The online educational system is very good, too. We don’t have any similar system in Japan; I would like to make that system.”

Tani said he enjoyed his stay and would love to visit the U.S. again.

“I’m very impressed with your kindness and friendly behavior,” he said. “Before we came to the U.S., I didn’t know what to expect. I had a lot of anxiety and was wondering what I would do when I got here, but it was no problem at all – people were all kind and good to me.”

It’s good for other cultures to see how the U.S. education system works, especially in a place like Big Rapids, Fleury said.

“It’s pretty impressive to me that Manubu keeps coming all the way up to northern Michigan to see what we’re doing,” she said. “They spent one day visiting private schools in the metro Detroit area that cost as much as $30,000 a year, but this is the real world. They came away impressed with the academies, but they knew it wasn’t the real world.”

The Japanese teachers were wonderful guests, Weaver said.

“They are so appreciative. Everything is amazing to them both professionally and culturally,” she said. “The teachers loved having them in their classrooms and I think they got a lot of ideas.”

 

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Posted by Adam Gac

Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at agac@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8347.

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