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Ken & Joab: A Comparison (3:09) Excerpt from film "Back to School", September 2006
This clip contains a comparison of two classrooms in state-supported free primary schools: Japan and Kenya

Country: Japan and Kenya

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Guiding Questions
  1. Describe what the two classrooms look like.

  2. How would you compare and contrast the education Ken and Joab are receiving?

  3. How should either educational system be changed to ensure equality of education for all of the world's children?
Background Essay
Ken is a middle-class Japanese child whose educated parents encourage his education and his passion for sports. His teacher fosters teamwork and independent study, and Ken could read and write by the time he finished the state-sponsored (free) nursery school. Joab lives in the largest squatters' camp in Africa on the edge of Nairobi, Kenya with his unemployed, widowed father. Ken's classroom experience contrasts sharply with Joab's in Kenya, who is in a class with 92 students, one teacher, and few materials.

Many Americans assume that free public education is a fact of life, but that is not true for over 100 million children around the world. The 20th Century saw a growing divide as more and more industrialized countries embraced state-supported education, and non-industrialized countries did not. In the non-industrialized countries, education remained bound by traditional practices or was available only to the wealthy.

To address this problem 1,100 participants from 164 countries met in Senegal in April of 2000 to adopt the Dakar Framework for Action, a re-affirmation of the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All. One of the commitments made in the Dakar Framework was to ensure that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.

While the Dakar Framework states that education is a human right, the reality for children around the world is very different. Education is often restricted by gender and/or income. In some places there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Some children around the world must cope with diseases like HIV/AIDS within their families, schools, and communities. Lastly, there can be a conflict between traditional values and the push toward education.

Securing government and community support for education has not been simple. Looked at historically, education has been a challenge that spans ages. Confined to the secular or religious elite for millennia, it was only at the beginning of the 19th Century that Napoleon introduced the concept of free public education, to foster loyalty to the central government. Enlightenment thinkers and their heirs stressed the importance of education as a foundation for representative government. Later, industrialization created the need for basic literacy for factory workers. At the dawning of the 21st century, quality free public education has now been achieved for the industrialized world. The challenge remains to bring it equally to all the world's children.

To put a human face to the global crisis in access to education, WIDE ANGLE filmed seven children around the world as they began school in 2003. This effort resulted in the documentary TIME FOR SCHOOL. The film crew returned to visit them again in 2006, making a second documentary, BACK TO SCHOOL.

Ken is now in third grade at Saho Elementary. He has not missed a single day this year, and often arrives early to play with his friends.

This project was very well done, and very detailed, Miss Nagano.

This year, Ken's class has embarked on an independent study, Sogo Gakusyu, required in all public schools in Japan.

I want my students to have fun. I'm not talking about fun in a superficial sense. I always want to help my students to learn on their own and become interested in things.

Mr. Onishi asked his students to do firsthand research on a business or public place in the community, and report their findings to the class.

The project was called Pride of Saho.

The woman who makes noodles at the noodle factory.

Japan expected so much of their students for so long that they've relaxed their requirements in recent years — self correcting for too much pressure.

It was thought that Japanese school children were forced to study too hard. Therefore there are no classes on Saturdays anymore.

* * *

Often the first to arrive in the morning, Joab has been back in school for one year, and has just started fourth grade.

Like children throughout the world, he's learning English, math, and social studies. His curriculum also covers the health crisis that has affected nearly every child in the school.

Since his return, Joab has been chosen as prefect, or class monitor.

Hey Josephine, sit down. Jones, sit down. Hey you, Ondinyo, sit down.

When I asked the other peoples to select a prefect for me, in fact they gave me his name, because they know he works.

I like being chosen to be a prefect. I can help our teacher even if our teacher is not in school.

Can somebody else tell me another province that we have in Kenya?

Central Province.

Very good.

This year there are 92 in Joab's class, and he ranks third among them.

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