Education beyond the classroom

Kip Cates, JALT Global Issues SIG Chair, Tottori University


The JALT2009 theme, “The Teaching-Learning Dialog: An Active Mirror,” generates some stimulating questions for foreign language educators. How much should the language classroom function as a “mirror” to help students look at themselves, their societies,and cultures in new ways? How much should it function as a “window” aimed at opening students’ eyes to foreign countries, cultures,and issues? And, if the classroom is a “window,” should learners just gaze outside passively? Or should teachers open the window and take them out into the real world?

For teachers who see themselves as educators in the broader sense, learning doesn’t stop when the bell rings. Education beyond the classroom means giving students opportunities to use their language skills, increase motivation,and raise awareness through real-world experiences. One way to move students from the classroom into the real world is to involve them in international events. Let me give three examples: one local, one national,and one global.

TIME Festival<>

Most communities have international events that EFL students can join. I belong to a local group called TIME (Tottori International Multicultural Exchange). Each fall, we put on a 1-day TIME Festival featuring country displays by foreign residents from around our prefecture. As part of this, we invite English teachers from local high schools to send their EFL students along to help. For these student volunteers, this is a unique chance to experience a multicultural event in their own hometown. During the day, they may find themselves using English to help a Jamaican set up her country display, to assist Egyptians preparing Arab food, to play with children from India,or to talk with students from Mexico, Kenya,or France. Judging from their comments, it’s clear this experience opens their eyes to the world, stimulates their curiosity about other cultures,and deepens their motivation to learn English and other languages.

Global Festa<>

At the national level, there are many events students can join. Each October, for example, I take 10–15 university students from Tottori up to Tokyo to attend the Global Festa in Hibiya Park. This annual 2-day event is Japan’s largest gathering of volunteer groups, government agencies,and non-profit organizations involved with global issues, Third World development,and international cooperation.

During the festival, students explore theme zones dedicated to human rights, peace,and the environment, visit information booths run bythe 250 organizations taking part,learn about NGOs working to eliminate land mines, support refugees,and end hunger, meet staff from organizations such as UNICEF, Amnesty International, and Médecins Sans Frontières, and talk to Japanese Peace Corps volunteers fluent in English, Spanish,and Arabic who have just returned from countries such as Bangladesh, Guatemala,and Algeria.

What do students gain from this experience? (1) They learn that there is a big world out there full of people, countries,and problems, including war, poverty,and pollution. (2) They encounter Japanese volunteers with international experience who care about world issues and who are working for a better future. (3) They learn that to cooperate with others on solving global issues they need to speak English and other foreign languages.

Asian Youth Forum<>

For teachers eager to get their EFL students involved at a global level, there are dozens of opportunities available, ranging from overseas school trips, Model UN events,and Peace Boat to volunteer programs in Asia, Africa,and Latin America. Part of my work taking students into the world revolves around the Asian Youth Forum (AYF). This annual event, organized by EFL teachers, brings together college students from across Asia for an exciting week of seminars, workshops,and social events aimed at promoting international understanding, cross-cultural communication,and leadership skills, all through the medium of English. AYF 2008 in Tokyo was hosted by JALT and brought together 110 students from 16 Asian countries, including Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia,and the Philippines. The students who take part in each AYF event not only learn new languages and improve their English communication skills but also broaden their horizons, deepen their understanding of other cultures,and begin to see themselves as young Asian citizens with an important role to play in working for a better future.

Giving students a chance to use language skills in real-world situations outside school is an invaluable experience that can promote personal growth, global awareness,and language learning motivation. Educating beyond the classroom, whether at the local, national or international level, can be an exciting challenge and a valuable part of our work as foreign language teachers.

Website developed by