Overcoming the Challenges of 2020 Through Teamwork

The Japan Foundation, Sao Paulo

The year 2020 brought major changes to the lives and jobs of people throughout the world. This report will focus on the Webinar (Web seminar) series, one of the programs run by the Japan Foundation, Sao Paulo during the pandemic.

The Japanese Team of the Japan Foundation, Sao Paulo

In addition to Brazil, the Japan Foundation, Sao Paulo (hereinafter “FJSP”) also supports Japanese-language education in the other Spanish speaking countries throughout South America. The Japanese-language education support program consists of a team comprised of one Japanese-Language Senior Specialist, three Japanese-Language Specialists (hereinafter “Specialist”), three local full-time lecturers, and one administrative staff member. We plan our Japanese-language programs for the countries of South America every year through discussions between these members and the Executive Director and Managing Director of FJSP. The Specialists dispatched from Japan each operate according to their missions, while the local staff members manage the operations assigned to them, but overall, the members of this team work together closely as to operate the programs of FJSP.

A Japanese Team Working Together as One

In April 2020, the Specialists dispatched to FJSP were temporarily evacuated back to Japan. This occurred suddenly before we were able to properly determine how we would manage the Japanese-language programs for 2020 when separated from each other. As a result, each of us focused on tasks we could carry out remotely, hosting similar events to each other though the targets of each might vary, due to an inability to collaborate.

Given the situation, one of the local full-time lecturers pointed out that now was the time for the FJSP Japanese team to work together as one to come up with a way to provide the support needed in South America during the pandemic. One of the ways we came up with to do that was to host webinars. We began by sharing our understanding of the problems faced by Japanese-language teachers in South America with the other team members. Then we discussed the types of support we could provide regarding those problems from the standpoint of FJSP. The result of these discussions was a new policy for 2020 to develop a training program under the theme, “Thinking about Active Learning.” For the training, we invited teachers involved in English education at a Brazilian public school which practices the Reggio Emilia approach to hold a webinar on active learning in foreign language education. We also planned a separate study session after the webinar for the participants to think about ways they could apply the lessons of the webinar to their own classrooms.

The picture of members of the Japanese team in an online meeting
Members of the Japanese team in an online meeting

This was the first time for the Japanese team to run a large-scale online event, so there was much we had to learn from the standpoint of technology, such as how to stream on the Internet and how to send tickets for the event automatically. There was a limit, however, to what the Specialists in Japan could do on their own due to the time difference with Brazil and the need to communicate with local contractors in Portuguese, so the majority of the mountain of work was handled by the local full-time lecturer and administrative staff. Also, any issue that came up was shared by the local staff with the overall team, allowing us all to debate the issue and find a solution together, and this formation is what made it possible for us to plan and implement the event as a team. This experience reaffirmed the importance of the Specialists and local staff working together as a team no matter what the situation is. All staff in Sao Paulo have been forced to work from home for over a year now (as of the time of this report in May 2021), but we will continue the webinars and continue to work together as a team to plan other ways to contribute to the improvement of the quality of Japanese-language education in South America.

The Ripple Effect of the Webinars

Thanks to the heroic efforts of the local full-time lecture and staff, our webinar received high praise in the survey handed out afterwards, and many of the participants expressed their hope that the webinars would continue.

Meanwhile, autonomous learning and learner agency have been adopted as themes for study sessions throughout Brazil hosted by the Japanese teachers associations. Considering that previously, the main interest had been in the Japanese-language teaching method and language acquisition methodologies, I get the sense that the interests and awareness of the teachers are beginning to change.

The webinar can be viewed at the link below. It is available in both Spanish and Japanese, so feel free to view it in either language.

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