April 10, 2018
Students at a junior high school in La Libertad Department in Southeast El Salvador received a math textbook of their own for the first time.
The junior high school students' eyes shined as they received their new textbooks. "I'm happy to be able to use my own textbook to solve problems and do my homework," one said.
In February, when a new school term began in El Salvador, math textbooks were distributed to 280,000 junior high school students nationwide. It was the first time math textbooks had been distributed to each and every student in certain junior high schools.
This textbook was developed by the El Salvador Ministry of Education in cooperation with JICA. It emphasizes increasing students' ability to think independently rather than teaching them one-sidedly. Before in El Salvador, textbooks were not distributed in junior high schools. Instead, teachers wrote problems and solutions on the blackboard, and students copied them to memorize them. With the distribution of the textbooks, it is now possible for students to learn on their own initiative and mutually, with the teacher helping when appropriate in a support role.
Using the new textbooks, students learn from one another while figuring out the answers to problems.
The newly distributed math textbooks were created to contain many practice problems and allow students to grapple with them themselves. At least 20 minutes out of a 45 minute class are devoted to solving math problems. Because the problems are arranged from easy to gradually harder, it is easy for students to learn.
In the background of the development of El Salvador's new textbooks are Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) and their accomplishments. Many of the specialists working on the textbook-creation project are former JOCVs. Now JICA experts, they continue to be involved in promoting education in Central America and are putting their experience to work in the field.
One of the experts centrally involved in this particular project is Norihiro Nishikata. Since being sent to Honduras as a JICA overseas volunteer in 1987 and working to improve the capacity of teachers, he has expanded his work to Asia and Africa while working consistently on JICA's education assistance.
"Because there were no textbooks in El Salvador junior high schools, knowledge and skills tended to be taught," said Mr. Nishikata. "When one textbook was distributed to each student for the first time, it became possible for them to make the effort to learn independently."
JICA Expert Norihiro Nishikata (the man at center) exchanges opinions regarding textbook creation with a Ministry of Education technical official and mathematics specialist who is a textbook author.
"The more opportunities a student has to study on her own using her own textbook, the better the learning effect that can be expected," Mr. Nishikata added.
One teacher said, "In the past, there were students who did not concentrate on their studies. Now, with a textbook on hand, the subjects they are studying are clearer and most of the students are able to concentrate on their studies."
JICA is also carrying out training to improve the capacity of teachers so they will be able to teach classes that take full advantage of the newly developed textbooks. Students' and teachers' mutual support will continue.
JICA is also assisting with making textbooks (that make students think on their own) in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, which are also Spanish-speaking countries. The distribution of textbooks in junior high schools in El Salvador pioneered this effort. It is JICA's first attempt at developing textbooks for junior high schools and high schools in a wide area. The textbooks follow the curricula of each country and their distribution is planned for 2019.