Monday, July 27, 2009

Totto Chan, The Little Girl at The Window

Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s self written biography covering her early school years, ‘Totto Chan, The Little Girl at The Window’ is a very interesting, inspiring, and educational read. It tells us her experience as a student in a unique school with a very innovative, practical way of teaching, in Japan during the time of Second World War.

Little Totto Chan doesn’t last for long in her very first school. Her teacher gets frustrated with her behavior. She seems to have some kind of an obsessive compulsion and is distracted from the lesions easily. When the teacher can no longer tolerate it, Totto Chan’s mother is called in, explained how her daughter is ‘not fitting in’. The mother has no option but to withdraw her child from the school. She is worried, not knowing that this is a chance for her daughter to attend an even better school. So, Totto Chan is taken ‘Tomo School’, where she is destined to have such a nice time. She gets her first surprise when the school’s principal, whose idea has given birth to the school, request her in introduce herself to him, telling all she had to tell. Totto Chan is thrilled, for there is a person who is eager to listen to her. She goes on talking, telling about her, about her family, about her pet dog, until she becomes unable to think of anything more to say.

But the surprise doesn’t end there. In Tomo, they don’t have a fixed time table for classes. The students are free to choose the order of the lessons. It is indeed a student centered teaching approach.

Most of the lessons are very practical in Tomo. For example, when the students are learn about farming, they are taken to an actual farm, and introduced to the farmer. Then they learn from the farmer observing him, listening to him, and taking part in the farm work.

The method used to teach them about nutrition is very creative; perhaps ingenious is the proper word. Every student is expected to bring ‘some thing from the sea’, and ‘some thing from the mountain’, for their interval snacks, which means that there has to be some thing that originates in the water and some that originates on land in every student’s snack box.

The students are allowed some time in a swimming pool. They are allowed to splash in the pool, naked, both boys and girls together. The principle behind that is that the children don’t develop any unnecessary curiosity over their genitals and any kind of physical defect is perceived ordinary.

There are play activities developed to improve the students’ self esteem. For example, there is a crawling activity which a student with a certain physical deformity can do better than others. Very nice, isn’t it?

The way Tetsuko Kuroyanagi written this book shows how deeply she feels about her old school. I hear Japan still uses similar teaching techniques in her schools and probably many other countries too. As for my country, Sri Lanka, the teachers can learn a lot from this school. This is a ‘must read’ for any body who is a teacher or wishes to be.

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