STEM Education for the Blind and Low-Vision in Japan
Author: Hisae Miyauchi (Edited by Ying-Ting Chiu)
The condition of STEM education for the blind and low-vision (BLV) in Japan strongly reflects how STEM education is provided to students without disabilities (Click for a PDF document: Science Education at the Stage of Compulsory Education in Japan). Japan is a unitary state, meaning that the central-level Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) plays the primary role in managing educational administration throughout the country. MEXT determines the national curriculum and the courses of study as well as certifies textbooks for all schools, including special education schools. Schools for the blind are obliged to follow the same educational content as mainstream schools based on the national curriculum with necessary adaptations. This has been the case in Japan since the late 1950s.
STEM Education for the Blind and Low-Vision
Schools for the blind: As inclusive education has become a global trend, more and more BLV children in Japan are being educated in mainstream schools. Basically, all the teaching methods and tools needed for BLV students to learn the same STEM content taught to the sighted students are created or invented in schools for the blind by teachers who are experts in the content field and the education of BLV. For this reason, much of the information on how to teach science to BLV students can be found on web pages created by the schools for the blind. (Here is an example: https://www.nsfb.tsukuba.ac.jp/rika/rika.html). The School for the Blind at the University of Tsukuba in Tokyo is one of the oldest schools for the blind in Japan (See reference: The Development of Special Education). This school for the blind is known for its expertise in academic instruction for BLV students, especially braille users.
Study group formed by science teachers: There is a national study group established in 1980 and formed by science teachers working at schools for the blind. It is called the Japanese Association of Science Education for the Blind (JASEB). The study group meets annually and publishes in-house journals on different teaching methods and tools. The teaching methods and tools they created are shared with those who are involved in science education for BLV.
Instructional manuals produced by the Ministry of Education: There are instructional manuals produced by the Ministry of Education on how to teach science to blind students. Many science teachers working at schools for the blind were involved in the making of these manuals. These manuals were distributed to all schools for the blind in the nation so that science education equivalent to those students who are sighted is possible. Despite the advances in technology, the basics in the instruction for hands-on science experiments and observations have not changed. A couple of instructional manuals are listed below:
As aforementioned, many of the teaching methods and tools for STEM education were created or invented in the 1980s and onward by teachers at schools for the blind. Because inclusive education has become a global trend, more and more BLV children in Japan are being educated in mainstream schools. The primary challenge in Japan is exporting these skills and knowledge to mainstream schools so that high-quality STEM education equivalent to students without visual impairments can be delivered at mainstream schools.
As one of the ways to overcome these challenges, a national event called Jump to Science was created and launched in 2008. Jump to Science is an intensive program provided through collaboration between several schools for the blind. It provides BLV students enrolled in both schools for the blind and mainstream schools to come together and develop skills and acquire the needed information to become specialized in the fields of science and technology in higher education. Jump to Science Summer Camp 2008 Report gives details about the aim of Jump to Science as well as the content and different teaching methods and tools used to teach science to BLV students. Besides, all of the schools for the blind are conducting outreach services to provide direct and indirect support to mainstream schools. As of 2020, the country has 67 schools for the blind (1 private; 66 public: 1 national, 62 prefectural, and 3 city-based).
Teaching methods on how to teach biology to blind students were highlighted in the Mainichi Shinbun national newspaper in 2018. Please see the links below for the news:
Later, the compilation of the above news became a book titled 手で見るいのち (Seeing Life Through Touch) published by the Iwanami company in 2019.
BLV Students Pursuing STEM in Higher Education
BLV individuals who majored in chemistry were also featured in the Mainichi Shinbun national newspaper in 2018. Please see the links below for the news:
Teaching methods and tools used to teach advanced science and math to BLV students were created in the country relatively early. Several blind students were ready to pursue their careers in STEM fields in the early 1980s. However, the primary challenge at that time was negotiating with universities to allow BLV students to take the university entrance exam in braille or take the exam that involved practicum with the needed accommodation. Nowadays, providing accommodation for the university entrance exam is perceived as normal.
Published in June 2023