A class scene at Mihama Elementary School in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture
The waning interest in science among children these days is a matter of deep concern. Even at school, children are said to have fewer opportunities to conduct chemistry experiments and enjoy other experiences. We at JSR want children to feel for themselves the importance, the potential, and even the enjoyment of manufacturing, not through thinking but through experiencing such emotions as surprise and delight. At the same time, we also want children to learn how necessary and important JSR's materials are in making so many things that exist in the world.
Utterances of excitement were heard as each lab group stood before the mysterious white substance that was distributed to them. “What is it?” “Can I touch it?” Such is a typical moment in the “Fun Lab Class” taught by JSR employees at elementary schools in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture.
“Watch closely now,” Emi Hata, of the General Affairs Team at JSR's Yokkaichi Plant, said as she led that day's science class. After giving the children time to react—“It's so stretchy!”, “It smells funny.”—Emi went on to explain that the odd substance is “synthetic rubber” manufactured by JSR.
And after much anticipation, the groups finally begin their experiments at making synthetic rubber. Using a dropper, the children sucked white liquid out of a jar and squirted it into another containing a water-like liquid. The children gasped in surprise as they watched a cloudy white glob form and float to the surface. As soon as they strained the glob with a tea strainer they were finished. Their experiment had produced synthetic rubber. “There's one more thing you made today besides rubber. What is it?” asked Yoshifumi Kato of the Environment & Safety Department, taking Emi's place as lecturer. “The answer is: ‘liquid waste.' JSR's rubber factory produces a large amount of liquid waste every day, but we filter this liquid so it doesn't pollute our rivers and oceans.” The children listened attentively to this critical detail.
Fun Lab Classes Held
Hinaga Elementary, Yokkaichi (Nov. 2010)
Utsube-Higashi Elementary, Yokkaichi
Mihama Elementary, Yokkaichi (Apr. 2011)
Utsube-Higashi Elementary, Yokkaichi
As one of its social contribution activities, JSR has been an ongoing supporter of education, hosting a range of educational programs, including workplace tours for junior-high-school students and teacher training events. The “Taking Science Lectures on the Road Program,” which started at Yokkaichi Plant in 2007, is one such initiative. The idea for this program came when we received a request from Yokkaichi City asking us to help them spark children's interest in science.
A particularly important theme at Yokkaichi Plant, which is located next to a residential area, is harmony with the community. And for a manufacturer like JSR who could potentially suffer from a future lack of workers, bringing children back to science would certainly be an appropriate way for us to contribute to society. It was considerations like these that led us to launch a program to teach science at local junior high schools with JSR employees standing in as “substitute teachers.” With the drafting of the JSR Group's “Basic Approach to Social Contribution” in 2009, this program was expanded into a company-wide initiative. Around the same time, we also added elementary schools to list of participants. Yasuo Ito, an elementary school teacher in Yokkaichi who proposed that the project be held for elementary students, put it this way: “Children are born inquisitive. They love to experiment and observe. I suggested that a company plan a class project because I hoped to give children an experience we normally can't provide.”
Voice from the Classroom
I was surprised when two completely different liquids made this new thing, synthetic rubber.
The best part was when we dropped the white liquid in and rubber came out. I had never seen synthetic rubber before.
While the general idea of the project was set, what subject to teach was not. How do you keep a child's interest through a 45-minute class while also connecting the subject with the textbook? “What about an experiment like this?” “That seems a little dangerous...” A prolonged brainstorming session led by Ito and Hata took place between JSR, local teachers and the board of education. After nearly a year, the subject was decided: synthetic rubber, a material readily seen and used in children's lives. We were finally ready to start.
It was to be a novel approach to teaching, made possible through partnerships between business, schools, and local government. “Meeting and hearing from a person who works at a company is a taste of the real thing,” said Ito, referring to the program's value. “What is a company and what goes on at a company? JSR can communicate something that we can't, no matter how hard we try. That's the power of ‘the real thing.'”
Hata said, “We feel that it's a sustainable social contribution that also perfectly matches our capabilities. If it helps the children when choosing their future career, we would be happy.” Since then, the program has spread to other JSR sites as well, including a science class held by Kashima Plant at junior high schools in Ibaraki Prefecture. JSR's role in creating the leaders of tomorrow is ever expanding.
Plant field trip (Nov. 2010)
Students toured the Yokkaichi Plant, performed a rubber experiment, and experienced the daily work of the plant manager, including a plant patrol.
Participants: Eighth graders, Utsube Junior High School, Yokkaichi
Teacher training at a private company (July 2010)
Teachers learned about company operations and interviewed different divisions at JSR's head office. They also learned about safety activities and toured the Chiba Plant.
Participants: 4 teachers from elementary, junior high, and high school
Fostering the Leaders of Tomorrow
Contributing to society through business—that's the essence of a company and its “reason for being.” In that sense, I think social contribution activities that take advantage of a company's business capabilities are really the perfect way to meet the company's true goals. For the employee, these activities are stimulating, expand their field of view, and give them a valuable opportunity to think about how to connect with society at large and behave within it.
Going forward, we intend to increase the number of participating employees and sites, and also hold activities for high school students. We also want to do more than visiting lectures, and take part in the educational development of the next generation in a number of different ways.