GAKKO enters second year

Fourteen Yale students and two Harvard students ran the GAKKO camp in Japan last summer.
Fourteen Yale students and two Harvard students ran the GAKKO camp in Japan last summer. Photo by Florian Koenigsberger.

After a successful first year, GAKKO — a student group that targets education reform — is getting ready for its second session.

GAKKO was founded last academic year by Kenta Koga ’14 and aims to reform education worldwide by bringing a team of American college students to Japan to work with local high school school students during a six-day summer camp. The program, which arranges lessons taught by Japanese public personalities for the high school students and had its first session last summer, was funded by $250,000 from the Japanese education firm Benesse and is currently negotiating funding for the coming years. GAKKO is now accepting applications from college students for summer 2013.

“The idea was to give a strong voice to amazing people who don’t usually have one in the education world,” Koga said.

Fourteen Yale students and two Harvard students ran the camp last summer, bringing a professional magician to teach a class on surprising people, a designer to teach a class on giving aesthetic value to ideas and a journalist on conveying ideas to others.

Though GAKKO’s initial funding came from Benesse, which runs a number of programs designed to help Japanese students apply to college in the United States, Koga said his aims in creating GAKKO were to cultivate a passion for unconventional learning in the high school students involved.

“This is not us trying to get Japanese students to come to Yale and Harvard,” he said. “It’s for us to design a new learning environment.”

Koga said the idea for the GAKKO program originated in his own frustration with his education in Japan and at Yale. He added that the education he has received has underemphasized “creativity, inspiration and ideas.”

Florian Koenigsberger ’14, official photographer for GAKKO 2012, said the group’s planning meetings centered on the question of “How do we change education?”

“It became this weird philosophical ‘change everything’ camp,” Koenigsberger said.

Koga said the 2012 session received substantial local media coverage and was generally well received.

Ben Boult ’14, the filmmaker for GAKKO 2012, said the program was successful with the high school participants.

“The kids were breaking down and crying by the end,” Boult said. “We were shocked by the amount of influence it had.”

Koga said he hopes to expand the program to other countries in coming years, though he said he is “uncertain about what has to happen in order for Gakko to evolve.”

Masanori Fujii, an executive at Benesse who decided to fund GAKKO, said in a Tuesday email that GAKKO’s education reform ideals were worthwhile.

“I strongly believe that looking at education from different angles, especially from the perspective of the youth, and trying to create a new learning structure are what not only Japan but the world is in need today,” Fujii said. “GAKKO definitely provoked a question of ‘what is a good learning environment, and what is actually important in the process of learning?’ to the Japanese society in a very direct way.”

Four students who plan to apply as coordinators to GAKKO 2013 said they want to participate because of its innovations in education.

Leyla Levi ’16 said she is concerned about education reform and feels that the GAKKO project could have a real influence in the field.

“I can’t think of a better way to investigate what a good education should be than being with a group of people from different backgrounds all invested in the same ideas,” she said.

GAKKO 2012 was held at the “Benesse House” in Naoshima, Japan.

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