High school classrooms in Japan look exactly the same no matter where you live or what kind of school you go to: square room, 6×7 grid of desks facing a teacher’s desk and a chalkboard. Windows on one side of the room. Not very much decoration. There is generally some variation but not too much. The desks are almost always the same wooden square with a cupboard. There are only chalkboards and never a whiteboard (so the front of the room has to be frequently wiped free of dust). This is the same everywhere. Don’t believe me? Watch some anime or read a manga and notice that classroom scenes always take place in the same kind of room. Because everything is pretty simple and education is pretty old-fashioned (from an American’s point of view), there isn’t much use of computers or videos.
However, time marches on and things do change. To battle the economic recession, the government in Hyogo-ken has decided to splurge on school resources. They are buying all the materials from regional manufacturers and are paying local contractors to do installations. For example, my visit school just received two truckfuls of really expensive, fine-grained, black dirt to be laid on the baseball field. It’s better than the old dirt. In the realm of tech, every high school in the prefecture has received big flat screen TV’s in every classroom! Wow! They come with nice stands (sometimes mounted on the wall!), Blu-ray players, and cables for connecting an input source like a laptop. Maybe it’s not every high school, but every ALT that I’ve spoken with has seen the same thing. This new technology is very amazing and useful…
But no one uses it. Like I said, education is generally old-fashioned here, and no one was clamoring for such a big change. High school teachers in Hyogo are already upset that the Board of Education gave everyone a furlough – telling them to work fewer hours in order to justify a smaller paycheck. So, they obviously resent the Board for spending more money on unrequested resources. The TV’s are mostly used to hold up white sheets, and the wall-mounted VCR’s are a quite nice, but very expensive, new shelf. You might think I’m being cynical of Japanese education, as though the teachers are all wasting a valuable new resource – but that’s not it. This is just not the way things are generally done and it’s kind of silly to spend all this money for something that no one asked for.
However, on the bright side, these are really nice setups and are very easy to use. I think some of them even have ethernet cables, so in addition to watching DVD’s or using programs on a computer, you can easily connect to the internet. A few teachers are using the new technology, and I think more will take advantage of it over time. But best of all, this is really perfectly suited for an ALT. We’re supposed to show the students “real English” so having a TV all the time is great. I can very easily pop in a DVD or plug in my computer any time. I don’t think that all teachers need to give these kinds of lessons, but it’s what I like to do, and this is a good time to do it.