Naoko Richters gives a talk on the differences between the Dutch and Japanese education systems.

From the Ship

The Global University and Naoko Richters

Jun 15, 2018

Education has been at the core of Peace Boat's mission since inception. Peace Boat began in 1983, in the midst of a controversy about how Japanese textbooks should cover Japan's WWII-era actions. When a newly developed national curriculum deeply upset many of Japan's neighbors, a group of Japanese university students decided to travel by sea to learn from people there about how they understood the war and Japan's military activities of the time. One of those students was Yoshioka Tatsuya, one of the founders and current director of Peace Boat.

Peace Boat has evolved a lot since then, but has retained its commitment to education, fair and inclusive historical narratives, and peace-building. One newer extension of those goals is the onboard Global University programme. This programme is founded on the idea that students should not only intently study political, social, and environmental issues from a global perspective, but learn how to become active in them as well. The Global University students are mostly in their 20s and 30s, and attend regular classes throughout the duration of the voyage. They are instructed by a variety of guest educators and teachers from around the world, and participate in both group lectures and independent study projects. There are 30 students in the Global University programme on the 98th voyage.

Much of the work the Global University students are doing now is focused on education methodologies , as this is one theme of the present voyage. About a third of the Global University students already study or work in education, or intend to in the future. The 98th voyage stops in a number of locations in Scandinavia, a region that has gained attention in recent decades for its high quality schools and students' consistently high performance. Many schools across Scandinavia have dispensed with traditional educational tools long-assumed to be fundamental to the way children should learn, such as standardized tests and homework, altogether. Though these institutions still go unquestioned in most of the world, many Scandinavian students have proven to do very well without them. Schools in Scandinavia have instead shifted towards placing a higher value on activities not historically thought to have much of a place in schools, such as play, travel, or gardening. The Global University students are reexamining many traditional education styles that may not be as useful as we thought, with a mind to developing something more effective.

Global educational styles have played a major role in the of the career of 98th voyage guest educators Naoko Richters. Ms Richters was raised in Fukuoka, Japan, but has spent most of her life abroad, in Africa, Latin America and Europe. She studied education and sociology at Kyushu University, where she learned about Japanese and South Asian education styles, before going on to learn more about Dutch, European, and American styles. Ms Richters gave several talks on education onboard, in particular focusing on the differences between the Dutch and Japanese education systems. In the Netherlands, there is a greater emphasis on educating students for the purpose of fostering their commitment to contributing to civil society. Students are not seen merely as citizens of the Netherlands, but of the EU, and also the world at large. What exactly are schools supposed to prepare their students for? Are schools only about academics? How should schools teach and manage the diversity of the students? These are some of the questions Ms Richters addressed onboard.

Though all education styles have their pros and cons, Ms Richters is particularly interested in the Dutch education system's greater stress on developing critical and philosophical thinking. She believes the Japanese education system could benefit from further incorporating these ideals, as there is less emphasize on guiding students into formulating and expressing abstract thought in Japan. The Dutch education system also highly values and teaches the importance of diversity, on which the Japanese system places little emphasis. Japan is a multicultural society, but the national curriculum tends to promote a monolithic version of the predominant culture, which can be harmful to those in Japan who don't fit into it.

Ms Richters guided a demonstration of how philosophy-based exercises can benefit students with a group discussion based on a set of cards called "Tickle Talks". Each card in a 'Tickle Talks' deck contains an open-ended, philosophical question for students to reflect on and discuss. In her workshop, she divided attendees into groups of four and had the groups discuss questions one by one at length, with one group member designated as the discussion leader. The discussion leader was tasked with keeping the talk going, by challenging the other members' ideas, and guiding the flow of the conversation. "Tickle Talks" cards are produced in the Netherlands, but Ms Richters has translated the set into Japanese, so the pack is now available in Dutch, Japanese, and English.

This voyage is the second time Ms Richters has travelled onboard the Ocean Dream, after her first journey a few years ago. She remarked that the 98th voyage has a noticeably wider range in participant ages and nationalities. Though this is an improvement to her previous voyage, she believes Peace Boat should continue to work towards building a culture on the ship that reflects the diversity of life on land. In the future, she hopes to see more integration between Japanese, Chinese, and Korean participants. Peace Boat has come a long way in its 35 years of existence and education, and will continue to strive towards inclusion and fairness as it works for a more peaceful world.