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In this month’s issue, we look at mandatory subjects in different countries, and discuss the importance of integrating technology in the classroom. One teacher shares his experience applying for a position overseas, and why he knows that going to Japan is the ideal move for him.

Whether you are in the middle of or wrapping up the current school year, already well into your much-deserved summer break, or starting a new position soon, we hope you are doing well – and that you are ready to dive in to the latest Teach Away Telegram.

Happy reading! – The Teach Away Team

In this issue:

Mandatory School Subjects Around the World

Technology in the Classroom

Starting a New Adventure: A Teacher Story

Mandatory School Subjects Around the World

ChalkboardThe debate over which school subjects should be compulsory for students is nothing new. Curriculum and school programs are often caught in the middle of opposing sides – whether to update the courses offered to reflect new requirements and the demands of our modern world, or to return to a ‘back to basics’ approach with the core subjects of Math, Science, and English taking precedence.

Math and Science are almost always an essential component of any curriculum. Indeed, our modern world places more and more emphasis on skills typically associated with these subjects, stressing the importance of numeracy, analytical and problem-solving skills. But while some subjects seem to be a given part of the curriculum for all grade levels, and in nearly every country worldwide, some subjects are struggling to maintain ‘required’ status.

The arts, physical education, and social studies classes are not always compulsory subjects, depending on where it is one is studying. As well, while English education is on the rise in developing countries, and most countries in Europe mandate that students learn a second or third language throughout their formative years, language education in North America is not as advanced. Though French education is mandatory in Canada and Spanish education is required in the US, the number of modern language courses available outside of French and Spanish in public schools is often dismal.

Curriculum design is conducted by school boards and governing bodies. With strains on funding and budget cuts the reality in some countries, and widespread educational reform and a stronger emphasis on improving education in others, it is easy to see how curriculum can be affected by policy and current events.

Ultimately, curriculum will continue to change, both due to and regardless of budget concerns and the challenges of our modern world. The challenge is to ensure that despite the constant modifications, the curriculum is meeting students’ needs, both now and for the future.

Technology in the Classroom

Computers in ClassroomAs computer labs and internet access become more commonplace in schools, educators are seeking out more interactive and assistive technologies in order to advance student learning. One of the most significant components of any school improvement or educational reform program is an emphasis on integrating technology into the classroom.

Large-scale education reform programs like the ones currently underway in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia are not the only examples of how the integration of technology is becoming a large part of the curriculum. Teachers worldwide are making use of technology in order to provide a more dynamic approach.

In addition to basic word processors and digital information (such as online encyclopaedias), technology can help teachers maximize the effectiveness of teaching strategies through providing more ways to present a lesson. It also widens the variety of learning activities students can choose, enabling them to express themselves in more current modes of communication.

In addition to using technology as a teaching tool, integrating it into the classroom allows students to gain more exposure to new ideas, other cultures, and perhaps most importantly, resources available from all over the world. Students have unprecedented access to educational games, visual and auditory learning tools, and interactive learning software. Teachers are also able to implement assistive technologies that can make adapting or modifying a lesson or assessment method that much easier, and thus, that much more accessible to students with different needs.

The creation and expansion of these technologies is not only changing how teachers teach, how students learn, and how students are assessed, but it is also affecting where students learn. Interactive programming enables students to learn from home in an effective and immersive way that does not involve poring over a textbook with no additional information or resources for support. As well, more schools are offering distance and e-learning courses.

Not surprisingly, instruction on technology integration is becoming a requirement for many teacher training programs. In addition to better training for teachers, the availability of more grants and funding for technology programs, and with more teaching and learning tools being developed regularly, it is a very exciting time for teachers integrating technology into their classroom.

Starting A New Adventure: A Teacher Story

Japan CastleThis month, we spoke with Ryan Patterson, a California native who recently accepted a job offer to teach in Japan. We asked Ryan about why he wants to teach overseas, why he is heading to Japan, and what anyone considering a position abroad should know when applying.

When asked about why he is interested in teaching overseas and why he wants to work in Japan in particular, it is evident that for Ryan Patterson, the choice was obvious. “I have been to Japan three times,” he explains. “And I absolutely love it.” Ryan visited Japan twice prior to university; he took part in a program during high school where he had the opportunity to stay with a host family and attend a local high school with the family’s children. During these two visits, he learned a lot about Japanese culture, explaining that he really began to appreciate the way of life in Japan. While at university, Ryan decided to return to Japan to spend a year living and studying in Tokyo.

“I wanted to gain even more understanding. I was exposed to more culture and more language in a more in-depth and comprehensive way. I took classes alongside other Japanese students, and I loved it. I was learning a lot,” he says, sounding cheerful at the thought of his year abroad.

“While studying in Tokyo, I got the chance to teach English to friends and the family I was staying with, and I realized that I really enjoyed it. I decided that teaching English was something I wanted to pursue. Before I even returned home, I knew I wanted to return to Japan to teach English.”

Although he has already spent time in Japan, Ryan knows that he will gain a lot from the experience. “I’m hoping to see Japan in a new way,” he explains. “I’ve seen it from a tourist’s perspective, I’ve seen it from a student’s perspective, and now I will see it in a new way. I want to be exposed to more of the culture, to have the chance to improve my language skills – and I’m excited to see how that turns out.”

Ryan is looking forward to being able to speak Japanese 24 hours a day, which will give him a chance to practice his skills. He is hoping to gain enough Japanese language fluency to allow him to go to graduate school in Japan.

Despite the challenge of moving one’s life to a new country, and despite knowing he will miss certain things about home (“Mexican food!”), Ryan’s words of advice for anyone thinking about applying are encouraging: “Definitely do it! It’s worth it. Don’t panic.” He says the being flexible is the key to having a positive experience. “You can’t expect things to be the way you want them to be. You need to know that things will be completely different from what you might expect, and that it’s going to be alright. It’s supposed to be foreign to you. If you have an open mind, you’ll love the experience.”

Ryan departs for Japan this August.

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