3D avatar would aid hearing-impaired students

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Natsumi Sasaki, left, and Holly Casandra compete in the final of the 10th Annual All Japan Student English Presentation Contest on Nov. 27 in Chiba Prefecture.

Judges and audience alike were fascinated by the winning idea at the 10th Annual All Japan Student English Presentation Contest, at which the grand prize team proposed creating a 3D avatar to provide sign language interpretation in the classroom.

The top prize went to Natsumi Sasaki and Holly Casandra, both second-year students at the Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages. Given three possible topics, they chose “Maximize learning using data. Propose the DX [digital transformation] of schools!”

The final was held on Nov. 27 in Chiba Prefecture. Students who reached the final round gave a presentation for up to 10 minutes in English with visual aids and answered questions from the judges.

Sasaki and Holly focused on using the significant advances in digital technology to support the disabled, especially hearing-impaired students, who can feel at a disadvantage in class due to schools’ lack of awareness.

They suggested developing a system called “i Hear U,” in which a portable desktop generator projects a 3D hologram of a sign language interpreter.

The team was inspired by Holly’s experience as a junior high school student — she wondered why she couldn’t take classes in the same room as students with disabilities, and shared her feelings with Sasaki. After the young women saw a K-pop group use an avatar as a member, they wondered if such avatars could help people with disabilities.

Sadaaki Numata, the chief judge and chairman of The English-Speaking Union of Japan, praised Holly and Sasaki’s passion for inclusivity and practicality. Judge Miki Yoshimura, a director at SDG Partners, Inc. said: “There have been many ideas that sought a greater impact, but the winners were focused on specific targets. It’s great that they realized there is still a lot of room for small social changes in the world.”

Holly and Sasaki were overjoyed at the awards ceremony. Sasaki said: “We joined our school amid the pandemic and have benefited a lot from online classes and other digitization. We wondered if there was any way we could make use of that.”

“This experience gave me more confidence,” Holly said.

Second prize went to Mana Tsuchiya, a sophomore at Kanda University of International Studies who began her presentation by sharing how a science teacher brought in a math teacher to present the same topic from a different perspective when Tsuchiya was in her third year of junior high school.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mana Tsuchiya delivers her presentation.

Also choosing the theme of the digital transformation of schools, she discussed the possibilities of transdisciplinary education, and suggested developing an innovative app named “SmarT.” The app would analyze schedules and textbooks, find common keywords and suggest the best way for busy teachers to combine classes.

Protecting the future

Honorable mention awards were given to three presentations, one on each theme.

Zhao Ziying, a junior at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, was deemed the best speaker on the theme of improving news literacy to avoid being deceived by fake news. She proposed a project for children using online educational comics in a bid to help them enjoy learning and make it easy to remember.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Zhao Ziying

Kaya Miyazono, Yui Chikamori and Keietsu Fukushima, a trio of sophomores at Sophia University, suggested fun and habitual methods to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially a goal to combat climate change, through projects such as “The Ultimate Choice Box,” which encourages people to separate plastic bottles and their caps, by letting people vote on questions using the caps.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left, Kaya Miyazono, Keietsu Fukushima and Yui Chikamori

A team of three sophomores at Akita International University — Rintaro Ishito, Sky Cangas Tampol and Arian Rahman — tackled the topic of digital transformation measures in schools, and suggested an app that would simulate investments to promote financial education at high schools.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left, Sky Cangas Tampol, Rintaro Ishito and Arian Rahman

This year, 747 students from 192 universities, graduate schools, junior colleges and other schools took part in the contest, which was organized by the Kanda Gaigo Group and The Yomiuri Shimbun. It was also supported by entities including the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy.

The Annual All Japan Student English Presentation Contest will go on hiatus after this year.