For 30 years, ai International has been providing young learners with a warm environment for exploration, education, and collaboration.
Founded 30 years ago, ai International School doesn’t chase trends. Instead, they rely on tried-and-true methods based around the heart of their programs since opening. As School Director Eri Ogawa says, “Our focus isn’t just on English language. We don’t want to be defined as an ‘eikaiwa,’ because we aren’t. It’s the international factor that we put emphasis on.”
Eri explains that the school offers head starts and opportunities she wishes she had. “The world is a large place, and there is much more to learn out there if you don’t just stay in one neighborhood. Students aged 18 months to 6 years explore language, math, science, music, and art through hands-on and play-based activities prepared using resources and materials from around the world. “Our teachers help the students put on a huge show each year,” Eri explains. Children are given control of their roles with the guidance from their teachers “so they can learn to be responsible and be confident and showcase their own talent.” Parents often see marked progress in their children’s knowledge and personal achievements.
Some of the greatest pride that Eri has is for her teachers, most of whom have been here for over 10 years, and who collaborate and design their curriculum through constant communication. “Because the teachers are well trained and aware of their roles at the school, we resolve any issues that come up together. We have a strong and trusting relationship and we work as a team.”
Classes here are all-day, everyday investments, another difference from chain schools offering 30 to 60-minute lessons once a week. Moreover, “all activities are tailor-made to each student. Everyone here gets the attention they deserve.” Those sentiments remain from the earliest days of the school. In a time when children with special needs were kept in the shadows, ai International School opened doors.
“Even now, our door is still open to everyone. No discrimination of race, creed or abilities.” Eri leans forward, knitting her fingers. “I, or the teachers, have sat with our parents many times to explain autism or other conditions and how to better support their kids to further their growth. No challenge is unmet. Nothing’s changed since then. We are honoring that 30 years of open door policy today.”
The testament to her confidence is the classrooms. Large and warmly lit by sunlight that streams in from a large side-windows, the rooms are framed by brightly colored walls. Redecorated and refurbished for the school’s 30th anniversary, they feature warmed wooden flooring and are full of mats, ABC charts, world maps, and walls of books. The whole place is designed to enhance learning.
The children are eating now; a little while later they will have their naps and play at the park. Faces from around the world are full of smiles. Kids spring up to introduce their best friends, read aloud pages from their favorite books, and ask questions. They’re chattering away in English effortlessly. “Our children are not bound by inhibitions or overprotectiveness that limits their potentials. They are free to be who they are,” Eri says.
The school defies trends in another fashion: they don’t rely on technology for its own sake. “We believe in the old school, tech-free teaching methods. At such a tender age, the children need a foundation in the basic life skills. In some ways, technology can interfere with creativity and our young ones learn best through movement, hands-on tasks, and interaction with each other.”
Lunch wraps up, and children clean their space. An experienced teacher holds up a book to pull them into the next lesson. Eri beams. “We instill in the kids a strong sense of responsibility from a young age. They learn to clean up after themselves and to help each other out. ai is, their second home, after all.”
ai International School is no longer the only international school in the Azabu area, but it remains steadfast to its original spirit, maintaining the same, affordable rates from years before, allowing them to put education first. As Eri explains, “this choice is not just for parents for now, it’s not just a decision for kindergarten: it’s a decision for life.”
ai International School