EF Education First: 'Education has the power to save the world'

Sponsor Interview: EF Education First 'Education has the power to save the world'

Achieving peace through language learning

‘Opening the world through education.’ This has been the corporate philosophy of Education First Japan Ltd. (EF), since the company was founded back in 1965 as a global educational institute offering groundbreaking educational programmes.

EF quickly expanded overseas, providing immersive cultural and language learning programmes which promote personal growth through interactions with local people. EF believes that this leads directly to bringing about peace throughout the world.

It is predicted that a larger number of overseas visitors than ever before will come to Japan during the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. We spoke to EF - a Tokyo 2020 Official Partner in the category of Language Training Services - to find out about the initiatives the company is undertaking ahead of the Games, and their thoughts on the power of education.

The common mission of ‘peace’

Why has EF decided to become part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020?

Kristoffer Kullengren (hereafter: Kris), Academic Director, EF Education First Japan Ltd.
Throughout its history, EF has supported numerous events. One of the main reasons that EF sponsors the Olympic and Paralympic Games including the Tokyo 2020 Games is because the stated mission of the Games is closely aligned with our own corporate mission. That mission is achieving peace. The Olympic and Paralympic Games wants to promote peace through sport. In the same way, EF aims to bring about peace through education.

Kris explains EF’s corporate mission.
Kris explains EF’s corporate mission.

One example that illustrates EF’s philosophy on education is our boarding schools. At our New York school, which is our largest school in the USA, we have around 800 students from 80 different countries. The students range from third year junior high school to third year senior high school students, and they all board and study together. They live, eat, study and interact with each other for four years. Even if students don’t become friends with everybody it's quite possible that they could end up making friends with people from around 40 different countries.

"The Olympics and Paralympics realise their aims through sport and EF tries to achieve its mission through education. This essentially means our objectives are the same.


Could you please tell us about some of the initiatives you are currently undertaking for the Tokyo 2020 Games?

Sanchori Lee (hereafter: Sange), President of EF Education First Japan Ltd.

As part of the Tokyo 2020 Education Programme ‘Yoi, Don!’, we are providing interactive educational programmes at elementary, junior and senior high schools across Japan where students learn about the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics in English. Our programmes consist of four elements: a) learning about the Olympic spirit in English; b) learning about the Paralympic spirit in English; c) giving presentations on the Athletes' Village in English; and d) learning about the Olympic Truce in English.

Sange discusses the educational programmes currently being undertaken.
Sange discusses the educational programmes currently being undertaken.

EF makes full use of its extensive experience and proven track record of providing language training services at previous editions of the Games to create an environment in which students can improve their English and communication skills – essential qualities for those aiming to work and function successfully in an international environment.


We already have a commitment to begin introducing our educational programmes in March next year. At the same time, we are also putting in a lot of hard work on our police schools. At the Metropolitan Police Dept. schools, we have created lessons for police officers stationed in koban, or small neighbourhood police stations. EF receives lots of requests to provide English lessons.

Helping children to be self-confident

The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee is holding a Tokyo 2020 High School Student English Speech Contest under the themes of the ‘power of sport’ and ‘peace’. EF is co-organising the contest and is focusing on the ‘peace’ aspect of the contest. The speech contest aims at promoting widespread awareness of the Olympics as a festival of peace, but where do you feel the significance of this contest lies?

This is a speech contest open to high school students to encourage them to think about the Olympics as a festival of peace. They ponder the Olympic values and the inherent power of sport,. The contest provides the students with the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained through their Olympic educational lesson to a global audience.


Peace is an integral part of our corporate philosophy, and as our educational programmes include the Olympic Truce, we feel that peace is a very suitable subject for the speech contest. Shortly before the United Nations Assembly finalises its decision to call for a truce during the period of the Games, the Japanese government will make an announcement and ask all countries to observe the Olympic Truce. We believe that this is deeply significant. After discussing the speech contest with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, we all agreed the concept of ‘peace’ would be an extremely suitable theme for the speech contest.

How do you go about formulating your lesson plans? How did you incorporate the Olympic Truce in your lessons?


I came to Japan when I was 17, and I didn’t understand a word of Japanese, so I know how tough it is when you don’t understand a language. The students actually understand what’s being said, but just don’t have the ability to express what they want to say. So if we teach them little by little, they’ll gradually be able to express themselves. It would be helpful, for example, if social studies lessons about Japanese politics were taught in English. In English lessons, children are taught how to order a hamburger in English, but these situations occur only very rarely in a child’s everyday life.

If we discuss the Olympic Truce, children have little knowledge about it. So our main purpose is to make sure that the students enjoy learning English by only introducing new information little by little to add to what the students already know.

Did you conduct similar initiatives or programmes at past Games?


By and large they were the same, but our programmes for the Rio 2016 Games and the PyeongChang 2018 Games were slightly different. The Tokyo 2020 Games are the first in which we are conducting programmes on such a large scale. Also, at the PyeongChang 2018 Games some of our programmes were successful while others were not, and this served as a valuable frame of reference.


The programmes are largely the same, but for the Tokyo 2020 Games, we are trying to see things more from the children’s viewpoint. Our general aim is to create programmes that will help the children to be more self-confident.

When children play together they don’t care about language. When children of five or six years of age mix and play together, they don’t care about what nationality their playmates are. When people get older, if they don’t speak the language they don’t interact with others. The reason for this is due to the social restrictions and social programming people are subjected to. They are made to feel that it is not the social norm, or they may lose face in some way if they try. When babies learn to walk, they take a single step and then fall down. But their parents praise them for managing to take that single step. But when we become adults, we can walk perfectly well, but if we fall down, we are often ridiculed. I think it’s important to encourage children to become self-confident without worrying too much about English or other things.

English education as a tool to create opportunities

Sange and Kris believe that education has the power to save the world
Sange and Kris believe that education has the power to save the world

There is now just over a year until the Tokyo 2020 Games. Could you please tell us about what you want to achieve both in the build up to the Games and post-Games?


Our corporate mission is ‘opening the world through education.’ We want to continue providing education that contributes to world peace and helps children to become self-confident after the Games, not only prior to the Games. That is precisely the reason that we are actively conducting initiatives that will have a legacy after the Games. But, we don’t want to work completely alone. Through the Tokyo 2020 Games, we want to work closely with many different groups and organisations towards creating a variety of initiatives.


The Olympic values are “excellence, respect and friendship”. We want to make sure that these values are ingrained long after the Games are over. My interpretation of ‘excellence’ is having objectives or goals, but I believe that there is a lack of people in Japan with goals or objectives. These don’t necessarily have to be major aspirations, small objectives or goals are just as valid. It is important to have a dream and continue towards making that dream a reality. I would also like to see a society that supports people with their dreams and aspirations. ‘Respect’ is the value that is probably already most entrenched in the Japanese psyche. Understanding the concept of ‘friendship’ could lead to resolving a range of societal issues such as bullying.

As you have stated, EF’s corporate philosophy is ‘opening the world through education.’ But could you give us your thoughts on how you define the ‘power of education’?


I think the most important thing is to create an atmosphere in which each and every child can develop self-confidence.


I believe education has the power to save the world. I think that English education is simply a tool to give people opportunities. If people from a variety of different countries got together and talked with each other they would become friends and begin to learn about each other’s countries. If there were more people like this, the world would become a better place.

Tokyo 2020

Listening to the two members of EF discuss their feelings about education and hopes for world peace, their passion certainly comes shining through. Even though EF is striving to bring about world peace through education–and the Olympics and Paralympics aim to achieve world peace through sport–their ultimate objectives are the same.

Tokyo 2020 Education Programme ‘Yoi Don!’

The Olympic and Paralympic Games serve to deepen our understanding about the value of sport, the spirit of fair play and the importance of challenging oneself. They raise awareness about diversity and inclusion. They serve as a valuable opportunity for those with aspirations to live and work in an international or local community. To ensure that the Tokyo 2020 Games serve as an invaluable asset for children, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee is conducting the Tokyo 2020 Education Programme ‘Yoi Don!’ The Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP) created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)

The OVEP is a set of teaching resources that focus on the five core Olympic values:

a) joy of effort

b) fair play

c) respect for others

d) pursuit of excellence

e) balance between body, will and mind

The programme also offers suggestions on how to communicate the educational values of Olympism via different study methods.

The Tokyo 2020-authorised EF Educational Programmes (Japanese only)
These are interactive educational programmes provided by EF Education First Japan Ltd. that teach the spirit of Olympism and Paralympism in English.