Tohoku Cherry Tree Planting Ceremony


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Paris, 2 September 2014 – 9h30

Dear Ambassadors, students and teachers from Tohoku, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to celebrate with you today the remarkable achievements of all the students and teachers involved in the Tohoku School project (Japanese version) – including those that could not be with us today.

I had the privilege of visiting the Tohoku region myself in April of this year to see first-hand the impressive recovery efforts under way, and the important leadership role that the students are playing in envisioning a ‘new Tohoku’ – they are truly inspirational!

Today’s ceremony marks the next chapter in their story, and this cherry tree is a fitting symbol not only of the excellence of their achievements, but of their gratitude to the citizens of the world for their solidarity, as well as of the remarkable resilience of the Japanese people.

In the ‘spirit of Tohoku’, it is precisely these characteristics that the students have demonstrated so wholeheartedly, from the time the tsunami struck in 2011 right through our Tohoku School Project until today.

Having the right skills is critical to success in the 21st Century

Of course, the lessons from this project, and from Japan’s resilience and recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, have a much broader application: whether rebuilding after a natural disaster, or thriving in the 21st century, knowledge-driven economy, skills are at the centre of any notion of resilience.

For individuals, improved skill levels bring better employment opportunities, wider social networks and increased capacity to assess and manage risks. For communities, enhanced skills can provide greater flexibility and responsiveness to rapid social and economic changes. In short, skills are the engine of empowerment!

Through the Tohoku School Project, the students have developed their capacities for innovation, leadership, and co-operation. They learned how to get the information they need when there isn’t a readymade answer in their textbook or a teacher to guide them. In other words, they learned how to learn – perhaps the most valuable lesson of all!

Tohoku is playing a key role in transforming Japan’s education system

To equip Japan’s future generations with the skills they need to thrive will require nothing short of a complete transformation of the school system. In this respect, Tohoku can be seen as a pilot project – the challenge now is to apply these on a national scale.

By the time the tree we are planting today reaches full maturity in 2030, we can already imagine a Japanese education system where innovative teaching techniques are the rule, rather than the exception. This means that children – and teachers – will be able to define and achieve their goals, organise themselves and others, be creative, think critically, and put their ideas into practice.

These are the 21st century skills and competencies that are needed to build global, diverse, inclusive, knowledge-based societies and thriving local communities… and Tohoku will be remembered for having blazed the trail!

Let me now hand over to Ambassador Kodama, who has been so encouraging of the Tohoku students - Ambassador, you have a lot to be proud of!

Thank you all!


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