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Report on 2nd Introduction to NPO Activities Seminar 2021


At the second Introduction to NPO Activities Seminar for 2021, held on June 29, we heard from Yu Tsukagoshi, a teaching staff at Oki Learning Center, as well as Hinako Mizukoshi, an Ochanomizu University student and long-term intern at the Center, about daily life at the Center and the activities in which they are engaged together with students. Oki Learning Center is a publicly operated prep/cram school in the town of Ama, located on a small island off the coast of Shimane Prefecture.

As someone born and raised in the middle of the vast Russian continent, the idea of life on a remote island where you can see the stars, the sea, and woods and fields seems ideal. The town does not have any restaurants open until late at night, but the tradeoff is a starry night sky so beautiful as to be unimaginable in Tokyo. There are also no chain stores or convenience stores. I’m such a city kid these days that such a place is difficult for me to picture. However, as Mr. Tsukagoshi and Ms. Mizukoshi explained, Ama really embodies its motto, naimono wa nai, which simultaneously means both “we have nothing” and “we have everything.” In other words, while there are many things that the town does not have, none of these is necessary, whereas when it comes to what is needed to live well, the town has everything.

Relationship between school and community

One thing that is necessary, and also directly linked to the survival of a “naimono wa nai” island, is a school. Ama’s population had dropped to a third of its peak, and Shimane Prefectural Oki-Dozen High School which is the only high school in the whole Dozen region that includes Ama, had reached the point where it had less than 30 students enrolled. With the future of its only high school at risk, the town launched the Education Miryokuka Project and succeeded in turning enrollment figures around since 2008. Given falling birth rates, a graying population, urbanization, and the various other challenges facing Japan, this seems like a rare triumph.

This initiative also brought into focus the difficulty of providing education on an island, where students from different backgrounds with different academic abilities, interests, and career plans are brought together in one school. The few teaching staff must cater for a diverse group of students with no fallback on private education. To address this problem, the town established the Oki Learning Center as a publicly operated prep/cram school.

Activity introduction from our speakers

It is quite unusual for a prep/cram school to be publicly operated, but the Oki Learning Center provides the island’s high school students with a comfortable learning space, learning opportunities, and guidance based on self-learning, aiming to foster students’ ability to learn for themselves. The concept is to connect the island’s high school students with their respective dreams, hence the motto “a place of learning and connection.”

In addition to the brainstorming sessions with students, which Ms. Mizukoshi told us about, I was particularly struck by the class on making nikujaga (Japanese meat and potato stew). Drawing on something currently popular with the students gives them a sense of self-affirmation while also encouraging them to revisit their self-image. The foundations are there for an openness to new approaches, and it is also a space for young experts like Mr. Tsukagoshi and Ms. Mizukoshi to express themselves as they rise to the challenge of the island’s issues.
It was a hugely valuable seminar, which I would like to have continued for an extra two hours.

(Vabulnik Mariia, fourth-year student, Department of Psychology,
Faculty of Human Life and Environmental Sciences)

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