Video-game machines, long seen by parents as a formidable enemy in the battle to get their children to study, are advancing into the Japanese classroom.
In a growing number of cities, teachers hoping to engage children born in the fast-moving digital age are using game machines such as the Nintendo DS, the hugely popular double-screen handheld console, to draw in and hold students.
AdvertisementThe strategy seems to be working in one Tokyo classroom, where students come for extra-curricular maths lessons each Saturday morning.
Saito Miyauchi, 12, approaches teacher Raita Hirai with a bashful smile as he holds up his DS screen. "That's great!" the teacher tells him after Saito has topped the class by doing 45 multiplications in 15 minutes.
"I've quickly grown accustomed to this," Saito says as he operates the machine with a touch pen.
Of the 26 students aged 12-14 who were advised to take the class to catch up with coursework, half showed up for the extra weekend session at the publicly funded Wada Junior High School.
Nana Watanabe's face streams with perspiration as she studies. She heaves a sigh of relief as she says: "The badminton club keeps me busy. But with DS, I can study everywhere, and quickly."
Volunteer instructor Kyoko Yamaguchi said she envied today's children.
"This was totally unthinkable when my children were in school," said Yamaguchi, whose three children graduated from Wada two decades ago.
Hirai, a veteran private tutor, says the game machines help ease the strain of repetitive lessons.
"It's not our aim to make them study. The aim is to make them study by themselves," he said.
The school is headed by Kazuhiro Fujiwara, a former businessman with major Japanese information services company Recruit.
He says he believes that just like television, game consoles can be good or bad depending how they are used.
The western city of Yawata has expanded DS learning this year, introducing the machines to teach English. At the city's four junior high schools, students use the console to study new words for 10 minutes every morning.
"The benefit is that students can look at, hear and write an English word at the same time. With conventional flash cards, you would have two of them at the best," said Yukimitsu Hayashi, a school education official of the city.
"With the game console, you can feel the fast speed and tempo. I think it matches today's children," he said, adding the board had received no complaints from parents.
At just one-fifteenth of the cost of a personal computer -- around 17,000 yen (150 dollars) each -- the DS is an economical teaching tool, he said, adding that results in an initial trial showed the English vocabulary of junior high school students using the DS had soared by 40 percent.
The private Otemon Gakuin Elementary School in the western metropolis of Osaka used Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) from last September to March this year in a class of 38 fourth-graders, aged nine or 10.
Teacher Toyokazu Takeuchi did not need to print out or check tests. Instead, his own console received real-time data showing which students were making mistakes and what mistakes they were making.
"This is e-learning made in Japan -- traditional efforts in reading, writing and calculating coupled with the power of information technology and game machines," he said.
With the pilot programme wrapped up, Takeuchi plans to expand the use of PSPs to second graders from April next year. If the project is extended, it would cover some 800 students in Osaka.
While the education ministry says it has no policy on using game consoles in the classroom, this new application has come as a pleasant surprise for the machine makers.
Kenichi Fukunaga, vice president for external relations at Sony Computer Entertainment, said he believed the educational uses would spread further, as game consoles were easy-to-use, high-performance machines.
There was still some tough opposition to game machines, he said, but added: "In every era parents have worried over a new medium they cannot understand but their children are absorbed in."
Hirai, the teacher, said game consoles could be put to use in developing countries.
"You don't have to print sheet after sheet with a copier. If you can just secure a source of electricity, you can build your basic academic ability on your own.
"This is a revolution in education in that you can learn basic things without teachers who blindly believe their only mission is to direct children to study."
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