The ideology of Olympism has always been strongly connected with education and the concerns of the founder of the modern era Olympiad, Pierre de Coubertin, led him to identify the Games as a tool to overcome the problems of his time.
In 1922, Coubertin referred in his book Pédagogie Sportive to the concept of teaching human values through sports. Although he didn’t use the term “Olympic Education”, he expressed his preoccupations and the need to include Olympic thoughts in educational systems. Hence, he wrote the essay L’Olympisme à l’école. Il faut l’encourager ! that was published in 1934.
Although Olympic values had already been taught in prior contexts, the term “Olympic Education” officially appeared in research only in the 1970’s and the first actual programme was implemented in German elementary schools on the occasion of the 1972 Munich Games. This example was followed by the Organising Committee of Montreal 1976; during three consecutive years (1973—1976) the programme “Promoting Olympism in the school environment” was held across the province of Quebec. The objectives of this programme were to promote understanding of the Olympic Movement and its impact on modern society. It was considered as a norm-setting for the time and subsequently contributed to the development of Olympic education on an international scale.
Today, in many countries around the world, Olympic education programmes are being implemented, particularly when staging the Games. The host country and city is responsible for the development of the nationwide Olympic and Paralympic Education (OPE) which’s execution period varies from a few weeks to more than ten years, with an average length of one to five years. Although “learning processes” include a broad range of educational opportunities, programmes are mostly carried out through kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, and schools for children with special needs.
As of May 2018, Tōkyō counted 2,323 public schools and 978,549 kindergarten and school students. The Olympic Education Programme got continuously improved throughout a period of five years from the academic year 2016 to 2020 (starting in Japan in April). It is provided in all public schools of the capital and the following five key values are being aspired: volunteer spirit, understanding of people with impairments, healthiness through sports, self-awareness and pride as Japanese citizens, and rich international mindset.
Herewith, Tōkyō aims to lay a legacy in both, children’s minds and bodies. As globalisation is progressing in various fields such as academics, culture and economy, the Japanese capital is conscious about the need to develop towards the future, and the necessity to realise an inclusive society in which different cultures and values are socially accepted. Children shall therefore be encouraged to acquire international senses such as foreign language ability (notably English), to cooperate with people coming from various cultural horizons, learn about existing differences in values and have an open mentality.
As the gap between the desirable image of children living in the coming era and reality is considered being one of the major challenges for education in Japan, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Board of Education sees the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics as an opportunity for shaping the lives of the younger generations.
Four action programmes have been developed in the run-up to the Games: Tōkyō Youth Volunteers, Smile Project, Dream and Future Project and Global Friendship Project. Though initiatives are in each institution of the capital somehow integrated, their execution depends on the Ward, the school, and especially the available budget.
In April 2019, the Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen opened in Tōkyō’s Kōtō Ward. This school comprises elementary and middle school, which is rather uncommon, as the both of them are usually separated in Japan. Ariake Nishi Gakuen counted 802 students in 26 classes, from Grade 1 to 9 in September of Reiwa 1 (2019). Thereof, 700 students (21 classes) were in Grade 1 to 6, and 102 (5 classes) in Grade 7 to 9. Given that the school is surrounded by several Tōkyō 2020 Bay Zone Venues, specifically the new Ariake Arena, the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, the Ariake Urban Sports Park and the Ariake Tennis Park, its students may particularly sense the impact of the Games.
When Friday, February 28, 2020, I visited Ariake Nishi Gakuen, I was surprised, not only about the modernity and the standard of the facility, but also about the vibrant atmosphere and the remarkable good English language ability of the students and their enthusiasm to prove skills by conversating with me. However, the context was exceptional, as the previous day the imminent closure of the school was announced.
In Japan, this year’s Spring Break was scheduled from the end of March to early April. However, due to the growing fear over the COVID-19 virus, most public schools nationwide close their doors from tomorrow, Monday, March 2, 2020. This decision caused confusion for parents, students and teachers and thwarted many people’s plans, including mine of regularly visiting the school this month. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that this first visit will not have been my last, and that I can soon continue to follow the Olympic Educational Programme close-by; find out about students’ feelings towards the Games and their perception of the city they live in.
I am flattered for having frequently been asked about my opinion regarding a potential cancellation of the Tōkyō 2020 Games. However, clairvoyance does not count amongst my competences and I can therefore merely emphasise that, in history, only three, respectively five Olympiads have been cancelled: one in 1916 because of World War I, and as the summer and winter event was held the same year from 1924 to 1992, two in 1940 and two in 1944, due to World War II.