George Street Normal and Gifu Shotoku Gakuen (Gifu, Japan)
Gifu city lies in central Japan on a hilly site not far from Kyoto. GSNS made links with Shotoku Gakuen Primary School a number of years ago when initial discussions centred on their common goals to engender a stronger bilateral relationship focused on friendship and intercultural understanding. From there the initiatives have built on each other and more are planned. The private Gifu school has primary, secondary and university education all on one campus. Their tertiary links and student profile showed much in common with George Street Normal School.
For a number of years Gifu student teachers came from Shotoku’s University to the College of Education at the University of Otago for short-term, contracted New Zealand visits. Then in 2008 a group of teachers, parents and children visited George Street Normal School, attending classes. Subsequently Gillian McFarlane, lecturer from the College of Education, and GSNS Principal Rod Galloway, were invited to Shotoku where they observed classes, shared meals, became friends and planned further activity. Gillian and Rod were able to observe and understand just how different teaching practice was across the two cultures.
Both schools had the support and encouragement of their adjacent universities to allow children to establish regular live video-conferencing to build understanding and excitement as ‘screen buddies.’ This has now developed as the most important part of the relationship while visits are the ‘icing on the cake.’
Every fortnight a GSNS group talks online with Shotoku students of their own age. All 127 students at Years 5 and 6 have the opportunity. Both groups prepare a topic and questions then, using clear communication protocols and English language, they engage with each other. Students really enjoy this and develop skills in talking to an audience, communicating to a second language group, learning some Japanese words and phrases, and discovering aspects of each other’s culture that differ or are similar. An example might be, ‘what NZ kids do after school.’
In the first term of each year Shokoku students and teachers now visit GSNS and take part in New Zealand classes and learn a little English. Although rather young for a full homestay, part of the Gifu experiment is for the students to join their GSNS buddy’s family to see what children do after school (sport, ballet, library etc.), have an evening meal (they wanted lamb) and generally get a kiwi lifestyle snapshot.
During these visits the senior teacher from Shotoku attends many GSNS classes and takes some demonstration lessons, introducing children to Japanese words and phrases and even teaches the whole school lessons such as the traditional ‘Bon’ dance.
Groups of George Street Normal School children, parents and teachers visited Gifu in 2009, 2015 and 2016 however this has not occured in recent years due to Covid.
Benefits and outcomes from sister school relationships
The school links internationalisation with its strong reputation for leadership in character education. The benefits of inter-cultural understanding, attitudes and skills developed in the GSNS children are all part of the package focusing on what the 21st Century person will need to succeed in an interconnected world.