Kazuya Takahashi, an English teacher at Kogakuin University Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Japan and an alumnus of the University of Georgia's College of Education, was selected as a top 10 finalist for the prestigious Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize for his innovative work in the classroom.
Takahashi was selected among 8,000 candidates around the world and is the first person from Japan to ever be nominated for the $1 million award. The Global Teacher Prize is the largest of its kind and is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.
"My teaching style is based on learning science and constructionism," said Takahashi. "I believe educators have to teach not only the subject, but also how students should take responsibility for their learning and contribute to others using what they learn."
After receiving a master's degree in English medieval literature from Keio University in 2006, Takahashi was encouraged by his supervisors to enroll in a course at UGA where he eventually received a master's degree in instructional technology. While there, Takashi studied cognitive science, instructional design and cutting-edge technology in the academic world.
Takahashi's teaching style is heavily influenced by the theory of instructional design. In fact, he often uses LEGO-based instruction in class to harness student creativity and to bring out different aspects of students' intelligence.
"Schools usually focus on students' language intelligence," said Takahashi. "Students who are not good at language, but good at expressing themselves in other ways are not labeled as 'good' or 'exemplary' students. With LEGO, students can express themselves and learn how to manage time. They can try to make their own products many times and easily get engaged in what they are doing."
By implementing these innovative teaching techniques, Takahashi hopes he can help reshape Japan's educational system. Traditionally, students in Japan study to attend a prestigious college and to work for a respected company, which is why they are afraid of making mistakes and dropping out of a single-track career path, said Takahashi.
To challenge fixed mindsets and educate passionate students about business and service, Takahashi created a program that lets students travel and volunteer in different countries, including at a children's orphanage in Thailand. In Indonesia, students can help a social entrepreneur confront local issues on a larger scale.
"I want students to move around without paying attention to their borders," he said. "Now [they can see from] the world's perspective and not only from their own domestic perspective."
The winner of the Global Teacher Prize will be selected in March. If Takahashi wins, he will establish a foundation to help students in the Tohoku region, which was hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He also hopes to establish a school one day. Currently, Takahashi is most proud of bringing more attention to the quality of Japanese education.