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     There are many more opportunities to see foreigners in Japan now than in the past.  What kind of environment is easy to use for any kind of person from any country?  In a society where various people live together, members of the minority and the majority all have the same right to be able to live in a comfortable way as they go about their daily lives.  Universal design is design that is easy to use and easy to understand not only for you, but for everyone.
     Can you make this with your own hands?  Let’s try cooperating and coming up with ideas together.  Let’s try asking your family and people in your community, and adults, too….
     In this lesson are hints of how to develop a spirit of understanding others that can reach beyond borders and that is also a foundation for a rich heart that can empathise with people even if they are different.

Wouldn’t It Be Hard for Foreigners to Read Kanji (Chinese Characters)?
    Pictosigns are visible symbols (marks) that convey information or warnings.  In the main, they are used in public places such as railroad stations and airports.  By using a visible picture rather than expressing meaning through words, one can communicate without the restrictions of language differences.  In pictosigns, the ideal of universal design is living.
Koto Ward’s Shinonome Elementary School is in a school district that borders the Tokyo waterfront.  Because the Tokyo International Exchange Centre is located within the school district, many students who go to the school are of foreign nationality and the school is the only one in Koto Ward to have Japanese as a foreign language course.  This case study not only has this as background, but was originated by the question of one child.  “X’s mother was lost in the school when she came!”  “Isn’t it difficult for foreigners to read kanji? (Chinese characters)”

Let’s Not Only Think of Ourselves, But Also the Lives of Others
    To enable third-graders to understand universal design, the teacher first showed concrete examples and gave time for the children to think carefully about it during the lessons.  “In the shopping area within the school district is a sloped moving walkway.”  Why is it not good to have an escalator with steps?  What kinds of people need this sort of sloped walkway?  In the world, there are tall people, short people, men, women, children, adults, the elderly, people from your country, people from other countries, people who are healthy and people with disabilities—“a variety of types of people.”
    What is best to do to make things easy for the “variety of types of people” to use?  Students thought not only about the necessity of universal design but its standards.  Through the process, they gradually came to show interest in the concept of “diversity.”  “Put things that are necessary in low places where they are easy to reach.”  “Provide explanations in the languages of various countries.”  The first step towards a personal change involving thinking about the lives of others rather than just themselves could be seen.

The Sloped Moving Walkway Cited in the Children’s Lessons

Connection with the Community Drew Out Children’s Interest and Concern
   When it was time for the children to think about universal design, the teacher showed them something called “The Seven Standards.”  These standards were developed by a group comprised of people like architects and industrial designers, technicians, and environmental design researchers.  The standards consist of the following seven: “Everyone can use it in the same way,” “there are many ways to use it,” “the way of using it is simple and easy to understand,” “one can quickly understand what is needed to use it,” “it is not dangerous even if one uses it in the wrong way,” “one can use it easily with little strength,” “it is of a size and breadth that is easy to use.”
    Seizing upon these points, children considered and listed up the facilities in the community that seemed to use universal design and started to conduct survey activities.  The teacher divided the children into small groups and the groups examined the web sites of each facility, sent emails with questions to the facilities, and collaborated with students in other grades—there were a variety of activities.  In addition, they heard a lecture from a staff member of the Panasonic Centre (a Tokyo building that is the “corporate global communications hub for Panasonic”)   During a visit to Big Sight (Japan’s largest exhibition-related convention centre), a question was directed thrown back at the students themselves.  “What kind of efforts at universal design are you making in the school?”
    The experience of actually seeing universal design nearby and this unexpected question were a big stimulus to the students.  They catalysed the interest and concern of the students towards deep learning.

Let’s Do It!  Universal Design Corps
    The children took in this question and thought about the school facility from the perspective of universal design.  The point of the strategy to repair and improve the school facilities and equipment was to indicate in a way that was easy to understand for anyone’s eyes “What is where?” and “How does one get to the place that is one’s goal?”  There is a tendency to think in terms of costly repairs, but the children were encouraged to examine costs versus benefits and to think practically.  Then they divided up the work and made the pictosigns.
    “If one uses the mark of books, will someone understand it’s a library?”  While moving ahead with the design of the pictosigns, the children divided up each floor by colour.  This is something the children incorporated directly from their field study at Big Sight.  For example, together with deciding that the third floor would be green, they designed the pictosigns for that floor with a green background.  As a result, one could communicate information by saying: “Go to the green floor” or “Go to X on the green floor.”  This was an easy to understand design not only for people visiting the school for the first time, but also for the students who were used to attending the school.
    When the students visited the Panasonic Centre, they learned that there are many people who have sensory disabilities (such as colour blindness).  The knowledge students gained from this visit was connected to efforts expressed in the suggestions “We put down green and light blue as floor colours but the brightness of these was about the same and there are people who would not be able to recognise the difference,” and “I don’t like it so much, but let’s switch to purple.”  The children’s broadening view and concern for others became visible in these concrete activities.

Students feel the necessity of universal design
themselves by covering their eyes.

The Things We Designed Are Useful for Society
    After that, the children gave a presentation on universal design, including the pictosigns they proposed for the school building.  In the process of creating their design, they were told by the teacher to make test signs.  Concerning the presentation as well, the teacher provided guidance so that the speaker made the points of the plan clear and so that the audience asked questions and offered opinions and advice actively.
    Lastly, the students tested whether the pictosigns and other instructions they made for the school building were truly easy for various people to understand.  Activities expanded to include interviewing families and requesting evaluations from staff in charge of universal design at the Tokyo International Exchange Centre and the Panasonic Centre.  During the presentation, students explained the learning process, including why they ended up thinking about universal design and the “homework” given to them during the field trip to Tokyo Big Sight.  It seemed that reflecting on their activities up to that point enabled each of the students to attribute meaning to them and it became a good opportunity for the students to confirm that their learning had progressed.
    As a result of receiving a positive evaluation from the representative of the Panasonic Centre, children’s motivation towards their future study increased even more.  “The things we designed are useful for society.”  For the children, this activity was probably connected to strong feelings of self-esteem.

Pictosigns students discovered on the field trip to
Tokyo Big Sight, located in the school district.

Pictosignshe students designed for the school building.

The Foundation of Education for International Understanding
    International understanding can be rephrased as “understanding others across borders.”  Among the issues ESD has taken as themes are inter-cultural friction and violations of human rights, which are among the many problems that start with intolerance towards others who are different.  These problems prevent the realization of a sustainable society in which all people can live in peace and comfort.  This learning unit has students consider as a topic of study the environment of their own school facilities to which they are very close, using the perspective of universal design.  When one thinks about “education for international understanding,” there is a tendency to associate it with a large-scale curriculum.  This learning unit has, however, aimed to cultivate a foundation for this kind of education through a very concise introduction accessible to beginners.  From this perspective, one can say that the connections with outside entities and the rootedness in the community are important points.  The acceptance of diversity and feelings of sympathy towards others are the foundation of international understanding and become extremely important attitudes for children to have.

Development of Communication Abilities
    In this learning unit, through the process of completing pictosign designs to provide instructions within their own school building, there is an active exchange of opinions among children and with experts.  In ESD, it is important to have a full cycle of “children’s interest is raised → understanding deepens → children develop participatory attitudes and problem-solving skills.” This then leads to children taking concrete action.  The learning unit should not just be a one-time occurrence.  If it is placed within the context of the flow of an ongoing curriculum, one can make the most of this early opportunity to develop communications abilities.  However, it is not okay simply to allow students to do what they would like.  The teacher needs to provide appropriate guidance so that important points are emphasised and the children are encouraged to think of a constructive alternative plan that takes into account the opinions and advice they receive.
    In the communication with the outside participants in the project, there is an aspect where a positive evaluation will give children strong feelings of self-esteem.  This is the result of communication.  At the same time, if children are able to agree with the idea that “I accept the ideas of others and my ideas will be accepted, too,” this aligns with the foundation for international understanding mentioned above.

Unit Objectives
1. For students to understand what “universal design” is
2. For students to try to resolve the issues they face through interviews with people from community facilities and teachers
3. For students to develop methods to address the issues, and for them to communicate the ideas to others
4. For students to design signage in the schools using pictosigns, thinking about the feelings of school visitors and using universal design as a base
5. For students to know the importance of understanding others through designing for various kinds of people

Evaluation Criteria
Experience Goal: Evaluation Methods—Words and actions, observation of activities, cards, etc.
1:The student can act by embracing a goal and seeing and listening

Knowledge Goal: Evaluation Methods—Words and actions, observation of activities, cards [not sure what cards are], etc.
2:The student understands the basic thinking underlying “universal design.”

Skills Goal: Evaluation Methods—Words and actions, observation of activities, etc.
3:The student can design signage within the school building based on the thinking of “universal design.”
4:The student can research content that s/he wants to know.

Attitude Goal: Evaluation Methods—Words and actions, observation of activities, cards, etc.
5:The student makes efforts to make her/his design better.
6:The student tries to think by putting herself/himself in the place of others.

Learning Unit Activity Plan (Total: 25 hours)

Main Learning Activities



What is “universal design?”
  • Children listen to a presentation and think about the facility adaptation (sloped moving walkway) they discover at a local shopping centre.
  • Children think about what kinds of people are in the world.
  • Children think about the necessity of universal design.
  • Children understand the fundamental attributes of universal design.
  • Children think about adaptations other than the sloped walkway they have discovered from the perspective of universal design.
  • Students observe examples of actual use.
2 Let’s investigate efforts made in facilities within our community.
  • Children think about other facilities in the community where universal design is likely to be used, list them up, and consider methods for surveying them.
  • Children survey the facilities.
  • Children present their findings.
  • Children visit facilities in the community and learn about the adaptations they have made.
Is our school using “universal design?”
  • Children try thinking about the school facility in terms of universal design.
  • Children design pictosigns for the school facilities.
  • Children visit places where the pictosigns are being used and make revisions.
9 3,5,6
Let’s make presentations on “universal design!”
  • Children prepare for presentations.
  • Children make presentations.
  • Top designs are chosen.
6 3,6
Children improve signage and prepare for presentations
  • Each class presents a plan and hears opinions from another class.
  • The class improves the plan based on opinions of children in the same grade and prepares for a presentation.
  • Children create a record of the learning experience.

How are these designs?

  • Children finalise the record of the learning experience.
  • Children improve the pictosigns they designed for the school buildingand determine if they are easy to understand for non-Japanese peopleand other types of people.
1 3,6

*To promote a grasp of the integration of learning materials and activities at Shinonome Elementary School, for each grade an “ESD Calendar” is produced.  See the school home page (Japanese) at http://www.koto.ed.jp/shinonome-sho/unesco.html.