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Japanese educator nominated for world's best teacher prize for lessons with Minecraft

Hidekazu Shoto, who was among the 10 finalists in the 2019 Global Teacher Prize for his video game assisted lessons, is seen in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on June 2, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichi Yamashita)

TOKYO -- Every year, the U.K. based Varkey Foundation holds the "Global Teacher Prize," to celebrate some of the greatest educators in the world. This year's 10 selected finalists included Hidekazu Shoto, 36, whose lessons using online games to get his students to introduce the wonders of their home city, Kyoto, to children abroad have been lauded as revolutionary.

Shoto teaches English and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at Ritsumeikan Primary School in Kyoto in western Japan. About five years ago, he tried to pilot English conversation classes for his students with people abroad over the internet, but it didn't go as he hoped. The conversations they had didn't develop; one child even told him the lessons weren't interesting. It was then Shoto settled on the idea of using the internationally popular video game Minecraft.

In Minecraft, players use blocks to construct various structures and items in a virtual world. Using these tools, Shoto's students recreated famous landmarks and world heritage sites from Kyoto, such as the Byodoin Temple. Then they introduced their work to children from countries like India and the U.S., and asked them their impressions. Shoto says, "The children are absorbed in the game, wondering how children in other countries would react to their works they poured their hearts into."

When talking about the impression teachers left on him as a child, Shoto said, "They were busy, tired and angry too." He also said he remembers that they were fun to chat with. But when he started learning under top class instructors in his graduate school days he realized those fun, idle chats were a purposefully implemented part of teaching, revealing the profession's depth to him.

When Shoto attended the award ceremony for the "Global Teacher Prize" in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he didn't win, he said he felt that the world is looking for "change makers" willing to take on the responsibility of reforming the ways we approach education. He added, "Teachers who stir the hearts of their students, who give them the tools to make small discoveries and cause change, are of course change makers."

(Japanese original by Yuka Narita, City News Department)

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