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[Tuning In] Tsuyoshi Domoto on nurturing creativity in early childhood education

Written by Emily Fang Published on   4 mins read

This educator believes early education curricula should be more student-driven rather than instructor-led.

Born in Japan, Tsuyoshi “Yoshi” Domoto identifies as a global citizen. While building a community library in La Unión, Honduras, Yoshi discovered his passion for education and subsequently pursued a master’s in education technology at Harvard University. Now a country manager at Saturday Kids in Japan, Yoshi shapes the path to transform early education for young children so that they become curious, self-directed learners by picking up programming, design thinking, and other skills.

Community members can ask Yoshi questions on childhood development here

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): At Saturday Kids, why is there a focus on “the idea of play”?

Tsuyoshi Domoto (TD): My parents were fairly traditional when it came to education. I tended to cram for the majority of my life, and I learned at a very early age that studying was something you had to force yourself to do. It wasn’t an enjoyable activity. Then, I went to college in the United States, where I really felt like I had the liberty to pick what I wanted to learn for myself. Obviously, it felt liberating. For the first time in my life, I thought that learning was actually quite fun.

That’s the kind of experience that we’re trying to provide to our kids here in Japan. We really think that if we help kids discover the joy in learning at a younger age, then they’ll be able to reach their true potential. That’s why at Saturday Kids, one of our core beliefs is that learning should be through games, fun, and play.

Kr: When it comes to technology, what barriers have you seen in Japanese education?

TD: You’d be surprised to meet a lot of educators here who still have fairly traditional mindsets. There are people whom I have spoken with that believe girls should be learning ballet and boys should be learning robotics. Sometimes I have to push back and be like, no, boys can also learn ballet if they want to, and girls can learn robotics if they’re interested. We shouldn’t really engender these things from such a young age, because it has a long-term effect on our kids. One of the things happening in the play-based education space here in Japan is that you’re starting to see more gender-neutral games. That’s a wonderful thing.

For example, during the pandemic, Animal Crossing became huge here in Japan, and you see young boys and girls playing it. When I interview a lot of my instructors, a lot of times they say they got into programming through games. That’s usually their first encounter with technology. The more that we normalize the fact that games could be for both young boys and girls, the more we can increase the entry points and allow more Japanese girls to become technologists, programmers, software engineers, and whatnot. I think that we’re definitely heading in the right direction, and this trend is really exciting for me.

Kr: How can we ensure that high-quality education is delivered consistently regardless of socioeconomic status or gender?

TD: That’s a super challenging thing for anyone to do. If we have to deliver or come up with a product or service for the mass audience, that means we have to make sure that the price point is affordable for the masses. We lower the barriers to entry as much as possible. When it comes to the price, we have to make sure that we create products that limit the need for in-person teaching, or we alter the role of the instructor in the classroom so that he or she, rather than being someone who has all the information, can play the role of a facilitator instead.

Tsuyoshi Domoto takes a class photo with his students in Brazil. Courtesy of Tsuyoshi Domoto.

I think that it’s really important to create a curriculum that is more student-driven than instructor-led. For a lot of educational institutions and companies, your highest cost is usually salaries. So when we create a service or product, we have to make sure that we limit those human costs as much as possible, so that the end consumer can have access to that product at an affordable price point.

We have to start developing content that will use tools that are becoming more mainstream, like smartphones. In Japan, at least 96% of households now own mobile phones. Because almost every single household in Japan now has a smartphone, you’d be surprised to know there’s a lot of young boys and girls who don’t know how to use a computer, but will be masters at moving an object on a touchscreen. Five or ten years down the line, I think that VR and AR technologies are going to become more widespread. That’s a really exciting development for me, because it’s going to increase the range and availability of educational experiences that we’ll be able to offer to our students.

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