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GLOBAL ISSUES IN LANGUAGE
EDUCATION NEWSLETTER
April 2004 - Issue No. #53 (p.10-11)

A Student Website for a Brazilian Streetchildren NPO

by Anthony Robins

Aichi University of Education, Japan

An EFL Homepage Production Class

This article describes a project I did with 2nd year International Cultural Studies majors at Aichi University of Education in Japan. I have two classes a week with these students, and one focusses on homepage production. Two semesters means 30 classes each year, so there is the obvious necessity to have distinct stages, which show students that their language and computing skills are developing in complexity. While the initial project is usually about their own lives, projects later in the year widen the arena to cover such areas as Japanese culture and issues related to current eating habits.

The project described here was particularly rewarding and worthwhile, because it had a 'client', in the sense of a non-profit organi-sation (NPO) which actually needed a homepage. Let me describe the organisation.

The Japan-Brazil Children Network

The Japan-Brazil Children Network consists of study groups at churches and universities which aim to find out more about the issue of Brazilian streetchildren and to raise funds through such means as bazaars and concerts. While there are streetchildren in many countries, the situation in Brazil is especially notable because of the number (10 million or 6% of the total population), the evidence it provides of social inequality (in 1993, Brazil was 65th in the world based on the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme) and its notoriety (resulting from the murder of streetchildren by police). Given the scale of this issue, it's necessary for this network to channel its help. Thus, the specific project they are helping is the "Programa Comunitario da Reconciliacao, formerly the Reconciliacao do Menor", which supports and educates 400 children and teen-agers at a community centre in Santo Amaro, Vila Sao Jose in the outskirts of Sao Paolo.

Education is a key issue in helping streetchildren and the project's success has been recognised through an award from the Kanitz Foundation as one of the fifty best managed child welfare organisations in Brazil.

Why Get Involved?

So, why did we get involved with this global issue and this specific project? First, I'm committed to achieving more than an anglo-centric study environment. Secondly, Brazilian issues can have particular resonance with students in Aichi, Japan. It is an area where many Brazilian immigrants to Japan have settled, particularly in order to work in car-related industries. Some of my Japanese students will become teachers and may have the opportunity to work with children from the Brazilian community in local schools. Although Portuguese is not yet available as a subject at our university, there are plans to introduce it shortly. Thirdly, I had long known Michael Hoehn, an educator from Germany who has untiringly publicized the streetchildren issue and the Japan-Brazil Children Network.

Michael provided the initial impetus and organizational structure for our homepage project. Such impetus and structure needs to be replicated if you're considering a similar project. He and his wife, Yuko, came to the class to eloquently describe the issue, based on their long involvement, and suggested eight areas for groups to work on. These eight areas ranged from outlining the activities of the study groups in Japan to focussing on the wider global issue of streetchildren, and from devising a quiz on Brazil to looking at the local situation in the place where the Programa Comunitario da Reconciliacao is located.

Achieving a Balance

Obviously, there has to be a balance to allow enough time to complete the project while avoiding 'overkill', and to widen the issues while retaining the focus of the project.

Methods to achieve this balance primarily depended on 'rich input' through:

  1. a variety of sources. There was exposure to NPO (Non-Profit Organisation) websites, both as models of what content and aims such webpages have and to consider the issues they focus on. Media sources included the BBC's 'Children of Rio', a short programme looking at the contrasting lives of children around the world, as well as videos provided by the Japan-Brazil Children Help Network.

  2. a mix of input (about Brazil and the wider world). While newspaper and magazine articles were used which focussed on the then new reformist President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and on a project organised by a local company to help poor Brazilians, articles were also used which considered disparity in the world's wealth as well as United Nations' schemes to reduce poverty in the world.

  3. 'first-hand' insights. As well as Michael and Yuko Hoehn, two Japanese Brazilians, Natsuko Tojo and Mina Kashiwagi, visited the class. Natsuko was then an overseas student at the university while Mina was providing language support at public schools in the prefecture. Such visitors were an extension of my ongoing invitation to people to visit classes, which means that most months students have the opportunity to talk with outside visitors.

Designing the Website

Although the topic of the project was my decision, the aim throughout was to be democratic. Voting was used to decide issues such as how uniform the style of pages from different groups should be, which of the photographs provided by the Japan-Brazil Children Help Network should be used, which of the competing designs for a logo should be adopted, and how similar the English and Japanese pages should be. While the pages were initially composed in English, obviously Japanese was needed to publicize this primarily Japanese group. Therefore, the students adapted their English pages to produce them in a Japanese version as well.

How about the location for the homepage? The Japan-Brazil Children Help Network had already organised a 'Tripod' address, meaning a free site, albeit with advertising. This was used, although my existing students' website was already in place on a server (a long-suffering veteran Mac). Obviously, this is economical but did prove to have disadvantages. Apart from the intrusiveness of advertising, mergers between providers led to the address changing, with some resulting publicity loss.

Results and Follow-up

The students expressed much satisfaction with what they achieved. However, it's important that this is not just an issue explored and then forgotten. Therefore, although the project itself was completed in under 3 months, the issue has been returned to.

Most notable was an invitation to another class visitor, Alexandra Lake, a Brazilian teaching at Aichi University. She described her feelings towards Brazil and explained a different streetchildren project that she had personally been involved in. This drew interest from many students apart from those who had produced the homepage and should help provide the impetus for a study group in the coming year. Meanwhile, the news section of the students' homepage is regularly updated and the idea of producing homepages for a client continues. The next project is a homepage for the Toyohashi Chapter of JALT.

An Invitation

I hope this article has interested you in the possibility of getting your students involved in the issue of streetchildren, creating their own homepage for a real client and perhaps supporting the work of the Japan-Brazil Children Help Network. Find out more by looking at (a) the homepage that my students designed and (b) the background to this project which is described on my students' website:

Students' Homepage for Japan-Brazil Network

Background to this Student Website Project

  • http://www.kokusai.aichi-edu.ac.jp/AR/Brazil2.html
    [Site no longer active]

This article is based on a presentation by the author at the 2003 JALT CALL conference in Nagoya, Japan.

Anthony Robins, Aichi University of Education, 1 Hirosawa, Igaya-cho, Kariya-shi, Aichi-ken, Japan 448
E-mail: robins@rio.odn.ne.jp

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