The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The environment in which children learn plays a significant role in defining their personal growth and the opportunities they are presented with later in life. Choosing the right school is a major decision—one made more difficult by the increasingly globalized nature of our world. With the importance of an international education growing, United School of Tokyo (UST) focuses on preparing children who are not just intellectually well-rounded, but socially and culturally literate.

Elementary school is a child’s first real introduction to formal education, and it’s important to focus not just on academics but on the whole child by addressing values and morals, social–emotional and physical development, and, ultimately, character building. This all ties in with UST’s mission to offer a challenging, holistic, values-based education and raise conscientious, responsible, caring world citizens.

There are sizable benefits to sending your child to a school of only 140 students. Class size is limited to 16 students from ages 3 to 12. As Principal Natasha Dytham put it, “A higher teacher-to-children ratio and a smaller, close-knit family are more conducive to confident and happy learners.”

The student body comprises more than 30 nationalities, and the school provides an inclusive environment despite differences in culture and language. In this way, no child feels alone or secluded. “Children spend very long days at school, which can be difficult. For them to be comfortable, it needs to feel like home,” Dytham said.

Social and emotional development is also considered important, and the ungraded Guidance class addresses the school’s values while giving students a chance to discuss things that trouble them, including regular life issues such as bullying, friendship, problem-solving, and gender and racial equality.

So, rather than just learning rules, the students learn what values are important in life and why, and they are given the opportunity to shape the rules for their class and for the school as a whole.

Officially opened in September 2014, UST follows the American Common Core curriculum standards, but with a difference. “The school is in Tokyo and we have children who come from all over the world, so it’s important for us to adjust our curriculum—for social studies, for example—to make it more relevant to our students. We do not just focus on American history, but teach world history, too,” said Dytham.

Japanese language is also an integral part of the UST curriculum and is taught every day.

While ensuring benchmarks are followed, highly ranked literacy and numeracy programs also broaden learning opportunities. As a private school, UST can choose programs that differ from those taught in public schools.

To help grow motor skills, the curriculum is complemented with regular physical education classes twice a week and swimming once a week.

Hands-on, inquiry-based learning is a core approach to delivering the curriculum at UST, and that includes opportunities for extended learning outside the classroom. This means nature walks or art classes outside, frequent field trips to enrich the social studies or science curriculum, and visits to art galleries and concerts. These real-life connections are crucial to raising engaged and well-rounded learners.

An inherent part of the curriculum is instilling morals and ethics. “We want to make sure that the values parents are teaching at home are replicated in school,” Dytham explained. “We are a value-driven school, and we also have a lot of things that we want to teach children on top of academics.”

Charity is one such item. Charity and community service are a large part of the way the school functions. UST gives back through child-driven fundraisers organized by the students for both local charities and international outreach programs.

International schools are notoriously expensive, and judging whether the quality of education justifies the fees can be difficult. UST believes every child should have access to quality education, and it is their school’s responsibility to make international education more accessible by offering financial support and a lower level of tuition.

“I truly believe education shouldn’t be about profit, but about trying to do right by the children,” Dytham said.