I often speak about the need for face-to-face interactions in our changing education system and increasingly digital world. I have also cautioned about the proliferation of fully online courses, (in this district or elsewhere) as being an important move forward. There is great power in digital learning to support, supplement, and sometimes even replace face-to-face learning, but K-12 should remain, primarily, a face-to-face enterprise as we prepare our future generations.
Two weeks ago, I had a great reminder of the power of face-to-face. For more than 20 years the West Vancouver School District has had a relationship with Mejiro Kenshin Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan. This has been a very enriching relationship for all involved. Each summer, Mejiro sends a large group of students to West Vancouver to study English and engage in cultural experiences, and we have teacher and student exchanges on a regular basis. Also, over time, those most closely involved with the relationship have retired. Each year, there have been fewer people to explain the history and importance of the relationship. I have heard the stories about the relationship, read briefs and have spoken to a number of teachers and students who have travelled to Mejiro, but I did not truly appreciate this relationship and all of its importance until I had spent some face-to-face time with our friends in Japan.
Along with our Board Chair, Cindy Dekker, we were kindly invited to Mejiro, as their guests, to discuss our relationship, renew our bonds of friendship, and build new partnerships. Being the start of the Japanese school year, I had the opportunity to speak at the school’s Opening Day, and to all the new parents at Mejiro. I spoke of how technology will connect our world all the more. I also spoke about the power of relationships –- the one true strength as a social tool in reinforcing and deepening the relationships we make in the face-to-face world.
After a whirlwind, three-day trip, I left committed to the continuity and strength of our relationship — and, I wonder if I would have felt the same way if we hadn’t connected in person. We also made some commitments for the future that will see Mejiro assisting with Japanese instruction in our community, and will have our teachers assisting with English instruction at their institution. I also left with relationships that, when I connect with future emails, will mean something more than just an electronic connection.
So for us, as well as for our kids, it is one thing to explore and learn in the digital space, or understand things in theory, but real world learning and real world relationships will still require face-to-face interactions.