Hidekazu teaches at Ritsumeikan Primary School, Kyoto, Japan
Hidekazu Shoto’s innovation in teaching has been to create methods of teaching fluency in English without needing foreign travel or study abroad.
In his youth, Hidekazu himself wanted to study abroad to become a better English speaker, but financial circumstances did not permit it. After becoming a teacher, Hidekazu taught a student who liked English and wanted to study abroad, but could not travel: a physical condition meant she was not able to leave Japan. Moreover, in Japanese classrooms, students do not have opportunities to learn English in a way that develops real fluency. These experiences set Hidekazu on the path to teaching advanced English language skills without foreign study.
A large part of Hidekazu’s approach is informed by tools such as Skype and Minecraft, which enable communication in English with students in other countries. His students make friends quickly and have collaborated with primary school students in up to 10 foreign countries to create buildings in Minecraft. Through this activity, students learn new skills such as communication, teamwork, imagination, and logical thinking. Another way that Hidekazu has innovated is by connecting different academic subjects using these technologies. Combining subjects such as English and Programming through Minecraft has also made it more manageable for other teachers to cover these subjects.
Hidekazu’s focus on teaching fluency in English has also led to insights about pedagogical styles. In Japan, education largely follows traditions of rote learning, being teacher-centred and focused on memorising to pass exams. However, when learning a language with real fluency as the aim, these teaching styles have limitations. Students have too great a fear of making mistakes to be comfortable using the language or exploring new ways of expression. Rote learning can also mean they do not engage with the material emotionally. The immersion involved in Hidekazu’s methods remedies this to a great degree, and the results have been impressive. His 11-year-olds are scoring higher than the average 14-year-olds in other schools. While about 30% of Japanese students say they like English, in Hidekazu’s class the proportion is 94% – which he puts down to the social and tech aspects of his teaching. One of his pupils has even gone on to compete for Japan in the World Robot Olympiad.
Hidekazu’s teaching has been recognised with a Minecraft Education Award from Microsoft, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert certification, and the best-practice award twice from Ritsumeikan Academy in 2011 and 2017. If he is awarded the Global Teacher Prize he will set up an organisation to help Japanese teachers and students exchange with foreign countries, as well as building a system that makes ICT equipment and support available in rural areas.
I love teaching because I love my students. Students sometimes worry about their lives. If they come to school when they are having difficulties, they can smile with their teachers and friends. I am very proud to be a teacher.
The Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.