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    Across the world, there are said to be over 800 million people who suffer from hunger or poor nutrition.  In Japan, the food self-sufficiency ratio is less than 40%, and Japan exists by importing over 60% of its food.  Despite this, people hail “eating one’s fill,” and Japan throws out a large volume of food as a result of people leaving food over, food that goes unnoticed in the refrigerator past its expiration date, unsold products, and losses during processing.  When children at Otemachi Elementary School in Joetsu City enter the fifth grade, they imagine “what if imports were to stop,” and participate in “Hunger Survival For A Day”, lessons that center on a life of self-sufficiency.  On that day, the students in the fifth grade share and eat food that they have planted and harvested themselves.  Students learn about food conditions in the world by recognising the small amount of food and experiencing hunger on that day.  The “Hunger Survival For A Day ” lesson, which is experienced by fifth-graders each year, is an educational activity that has continued for more than twenty years.  What do children learn from this “Hunger Survival For A Day ”?


Teacher!  It Seems Yotchan Can’t Get Up !
   
On the second day of the “Hunger Survival For A Day ”, children nearby to her reported one after the other: “Teacher!   It seems Yotchan (not her real name) can’t get up.  She says she doesn’t feel well.”  The teacher went over to Yotchan, looked around, and realised that there were other children who also could not be roused.  Earlier in the morning, Yotchan had started to feel badly and threw up three times.  The children who felt okay began to make breakfast, but Yotchan was brought to the nurse’s office.  The nurse gave Yotchan medicine called “Magic Water,” and bit by bit colour began to return to Yotchan’s cheek, and she was able to move her body again.  This was not only the case with Yotchan.  On the second morning of the “Hunger Survival For A Day”, just like every year, the “Magic Water,” which is just sugar dissolved in water, had a positive effect for students.  This is because the cause of the sickness was hunger from the “Hunger Survival For A Day ” begun the day before.  How are the lessons designed to provide the children with an experience of hunger and learning that comes through that experience?




One-Night, Two-Day “Hunger Survival For A Day PDF


Ingredients and Cooking for “Hunger Survival For A Day ”
    The children cooked lunch and dinner on the first day and breakfast on the second day.  Children and their teachers discussed the ingredients for the three meals and the total harvest of the food planted beginning in April (start of the Japanese school year) was divided by 365 to calculate a daily portion.  This amount was then divided by the number of fifth-graders (68 in two classes) to obtain the amount for a single person’s portion.  The amount of food for a class sub-group of eight children looked small when it was placed into a square container.  Furthermore, the dinner menu did not even amount to 50 calories.  Even so, all the students were smiling during the meals on the first day.  However, students had no energy for the morning cooking on the second day.  There were even children who laid down on the kitchen counter.  There were children like Yotchan who could not participate in the cooking.  The children experienced hunger for the first time, and they experienced it not in their heads, but felt it in their bodies and were able to think about it.

Ingredients for three meals for eight students


Otemachi Elementary School’s Traditions Are Always New
    Otemachi Elementary School’s “Hunger Survival For A Day ” lessons were begun in 1986 with the aim of connecting educational activities to current social issues* and raising the level of practice to connect to students’ daily lives.

*In the1980s and 1990s, global issues like famine in Africa and environmentalproblems gained notice and Japan’s wasteful food consumption came underscrutiny.    

   On its own, Otemachi Elementary School became involved with timely educational issues like this even though the “Integrated Studies Period” and “National Basic Law on Food Education” were yet to come.

   The lessons involved a grand simulation.  “If the importation of food was to stop, you would need to live during the snow-covered months on food produced and harvested with your own hands.” Living like this for four months during the winter was considered, and the “Hunger Survival For A Day” lessons began.
    “Hunger Survival For A Day” has been continuing for more than twenty years.  However, it is not simply repeated.  The learning expands and evolves based on the aims and ideas of the children and their homeroom teachers that school year.  Truly, the traditional educational activities of Otemachi Elementary School are always mysteriously new every academic year.
    In April 2008, the children held a “Dream Conference” and decided the theme for the year’s life skills and integrated studies periods.  The “key words” raised by the students included “walk,” “run,” “food,” “environment,” “sea,” and “mountains.”  These were organised and narrowed down into “health,” “food,” and “environment.”  An overwhelming number of the children selected “food.”  However, they did not decide quickly.  For each of the themes, they thought about what kinds of activities they could do and what kinds of issues they would discover.  The children who chose themes other than “food” realised that the theme of “food” was connected to other themes and became supportive of working on the theme of “food.”  The theme of “food” was set.  However, the opinion was raised that this was the same theme as the fifth grade students in the previous year.  Then a plan was raised to sell the vegetables that they grew by themselves.  This would be meaningful in providing the perspectives of consumers who buy vegetables to eat as well as those of producers who raise food to sell.  Then, finally, the children came to the idea: “Let’s become farmers!”
    As a result of this discussion process, the theme “Let’s Make It—Everyone’s Dream Farmers: Looking at Food and Work” was chosen, and plans began for a year-long programme of activities.



 
Children cooking on the first day
Is that all there is to eat?!
The student investigated the food supply issue in other Countri


One Year of Learning by Looking Closely at Food and Work
     Otemachi Elementary School (352 students, 13 classes—including one special education class, 30 teachers), aims at developing “human power,” which the school defines as “In the midst of connections with things, ideas and people around us, to be able to think of your existence from the perspective of its interdependence with nature and other people and have the power to live with strength as an independent human being.”  In order to cultivate this “human power,” the school develops educational activities to cultivate the five attributes and abilities of “a mind that explores creatively,” “communication ability,” “ability to use information,” “internal thinking ability,” and an “attitude of interdependence” across each of the three spheres of “life skills/integrated studies,” “subject area study,” and “human relations.”
    The learning that the fifth-graders began in April 2008, and which looked closely at “food and work,” had students pursue issues concerning food in order to consider the meaning of growing something, working, and eating.  By focusing on these fundamental questions, the five attributes and abilities were developed.



Experience cultivating the land



Let's Make It - Everyone's Dream Farmers PDF


All Forms of Connections Wrapping Up the Practice
    Otemachi Elementary School (former name: Daiichiban Elementary School, Daigo Secondary School District) opened in 1873 in the Shudokan, which had been the clan school of the Takada samurai clan.  Before other schools, a PTA had been created and educational activities were developed in collaboration with parents.  The school has also conducted numerous applied research studies of progressive educational practices that have gained national attention.  In 1979, in particular, the school proposed the Joetsu Plan involving seven school subjects and life skills activities, and the school engaged in research and practice involving a forward-thinking curriculum which it put before all the schools in the country.
   School-based research often involves themes that change every three years, and knowledge and experience that have been accumulated dissipate once the school principal or teacher responsible for the research rotates to a new position.  The unique, traditional educational activities of Otemachi Elementary School are well supported by research activities and do not get off track in this way.
    In addition, even when some children got sick as a direct result of the one-time “hunger experience,” the educational activities were not suspended or discontinued permanently because of parent complaints.  This is because of the bonds (relationships of trust) built with parents/guardians, the connections with experts (linkages, collaboration), and because of the school’s efforts to provide a safe and secure environment for children.  However, more than anything, the “Hunger Survival For A Day ” brings about changes in the students themselves and has caused the expansion and evolution of their learning.  Children used their knowledge, heart, and bodies--and parents, guardians and teachers saw them engaging in this meaningful learning.
Further, we should move beyond a debate over which is more important—integrated studies or academic ability.  We should focus on a curriculum that is able to guarantee academic ability by knitting together connections among life skills/integrated studies, subject area learning, and human relations. 
    At Otemachi Elementary School, whether it was food education or increasing academic ability—or whatever kind of education—there is no debate about which things have highest priority.  A curriculum is developed and implemented that will bring connections to children and enable them to engage in deep learning around a theme, putting content together inside themselves.  Whether or not the word ESD is used to describe this, the theme of food was used to connect the subject areas and spheres within the school as well as teachers, parents/guardians, community members, and experts, and the educational practice that integrated children’s learning.  This is without a doubt ESD.



Students have no energy because they are hungry
 Students learn about food experientially