Esther Cummins portrait

Written by Esther Cummins

Course Leader MA Education (online) at Falmouth University

Every four years, the World Cup offers schools a theme around which to focus their learning.  The links to geography and sport are obvious, but further learning opportunities include the application of probability, time zones, languages, and textiles.  Unexpectedly, this year we have all been shown an example of community values from the Japanese fans and players.

The pictures and videos that have circulated of spotless dressing rooms and tidy stadiums show the communal value of respecting your hosts held by the Japanese visitors.  This representation of fans and players is a far cry from the embarrassing behaviour that is often seen in media reports about English fans.  So why is there such a difference in the behaviour?

Interviews with Japanese fans have commonly cited the term, “atarimae”; the English translation is similar to ‘obvious’ or reasonable.  From a young age, children take on the responsibility of cleaning their schools before they leave for the day.  This task is not an ‘add-on’ to be squeezed into the curriculum if there is time.  It is not a quick tidy-up or asking the students to put their chairs on the table.  Without this cleaning, the school would be dirty.

I have cleaned schools out of necessity; in a small school where I was a senior leader, the headteacher and I were the contingency plan when the cleaner was absent.  I have asked children to wash some toys at the end of a school term.  I have asked university students to put their rubbish in the bin.  But I have not worked in an environment where it was a regular expectation for the educators or the students to maintain the tidiness and cleanliness of the learning environment.  

Within our society, we pay cleaners and caretakers less than we pay our educators.  Perhaps this mentality is a hangover from the British Empire, where the wealthy expected their servants to clean up after them.  Our values impact our behaviour (Steg et al., 2014), thus it is important to consider what and who we value.  When we litter or leave a mess, we are saying we are more important than the environment or those that are paid to clean.  Is this who we want to be as educators, and as a nation?

Respect is part of who we are; indeed, “The teaching of respect for others is not only one of education’s more important objectives, but in its absence little, if any, real learning can take place” (Ungoed-Thomas, 1996, p152).  If we are viewing our pupils as the citizens of the future, we need to think carefully about the values we are instilling in their lives.  Saying we are respectful is different to being respectful; we need to model and insist upon behaviour that mirrors this value.

This issue is about more than tidying up.  It can be applied to any of our inclusive values, our desire for equality, and our drive for fairness.  If atarimae means stating the obvious, which behaviours and values do we need to instil in our classrooms, from nursery to university, that creates a respectful community we are proud of?  

We are yet to see who takes home the trophy, but I know whom I see as the winners of this year’s tournament.