Reviewed here:
Warning! Don’t read this article after a tiring day at work or it will faze you completely. This article reads like a sociology thesis paper — it throws up a lot of fat academic-sounding words and phrases such as “whole-culture socialization”. Take this paragraph for example:
“In Japan, the educational system has probably been the primary institution most responsible for both of these functions. That is, schooling is the primary site for the development of shared patterns of representation and whole-culture forms so central to the integrity of adult culture and social cohesion, and at the same time, it is the primary mechanism for the social and cultural differentiation of different segments of the population into distinct class trajectories which is central to the reallocation of young people into a highly diversified labor market.”
Nevertheless, if you manage to stick with it beyond the first few pages, you should be able to get some solid stuff out of it. The “great stuff” for me was the part that began with an explanation of “group living” (shūdan seikatsu). Much of the primary and early middle-school curriculum is based on a model of socialization that has been called “group living”. This is the  group living concept which many foreign residents like myself with kids in public schools will be familiar with: it is regarded as the “hidden curriculum,”  yet manifestly practised at the core of the formal curriculum of primary and middle schools — most of us know of it or think vaguely of it as the Japanese communal way of doing things in everyday school life.
From there, the author goes on to explain how the social diversity of students in middle schools is decreasing today because middle schools now have a class sorting role as they reflect their urban neighborhoods in terms of class composition so that middle schools in wealthier areas have better facilities, wider range of programs and more parental participlation and support, as well as a better reputation for getting students into better high schools. Slater also speaks of a “chilling” and dramatic trend of “educational apartheid” that takes place between middle to high school whereby – “If those who can afford it move their child into private school, the public schools end up with those students who are, in the words of one public school teacher, “poor enough so that they have to rely on public schools—it is a shame.”
Slater says, “the point is clear: Tokyo, and other large cities, end up having a social class divide that is played out between public and private schools.”  He sums up the class-sorting role of the educational system thus: ” The sorting process is mediated through the middle school as follows. During elementary and early middle school, the curriculum is substantially uniform across schools and focuses on the various forms of social relations that are needed to form productive and coherent school cultures, that is, group living. But at the end of middle school, all students are reallocated to high schools on the basis of their achievement test scores. The top students in each district are streamed into the most selective high schools, and low-achieving middle schoolers end up at the bottom-ranked high schools. In order to facilitate this reallocation, the middle school curriculum becomes increasingly academic, ensuring that students are sorted into a reliable array of academic streams that find formal articulation through high school entrance exam scores (hensachi).”
There are a number of other writings that make the same sorts of observations but Slater does a tighter job of describing the Japanese social cultural phenomenon that is often hard to grasp for outsiders and in far fewer words than others have taken to make their point.
I also found particularly well put some conclusions that I’d myself had come to from having two kids of my own in public schools here in Japan – “…rather than contributing to a warm and wet moral community, middle school becomes more of a competitive market involving a rearticulation of individual values based on a narrow criterion of academic success. Group living that once served as the foundation for constituting a coherent and meaningful self is juxtaposed with the imperative of developing coherent and effective maximization strategies. In fact, the group living strategies learned in primary school have little value; indeed, they often retard success within this new academic curriculum. Individual priorities, peer relations and deployment of institutional authority all shift accordingly. Some students are better able to negotiate this shift than others.”
Parents who have kids in public schools going up the educational ladder in Japan will find this article helpful. Beyond the big academic words, there are plenty of case studies of individuals peppered throughout the article that will prevent the reading from getting too dry or dull. For example, one case study looked at the “effective maximization strategies” of a student called Sara – the way she balanced public school life with academic cram school “Sara quickly learned how to balance them in ways that satisfied both by compartmentalizing. Sara explained that as she progressed in middle school, she would spend as much time on her school lessons as was required for her to pass and as much time on her club activities as was available, but first allocated the time and energy necessary for success at cram schools.” Well-chosen stories like this make his article worthwhile reading…very worthwhile indeed.

The job market for this academic year is rough–not only for university students but also high school students. This is because many companies have refrained from hiring new graduates since the global financial downturn that began in September 2008. Some people compare the situation to the so-called employment ice age that followed the collapse of the bubble economy in early 1990s.

A world beyond the United States now beckons Japanese youth (Japan Times Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010)

Japanese students are not being drawn to the United States to pursue their studies as they once were. When the parents of today’s students were themselves of student age, too, it was a major thing to go to the U.S. to study, and friends would throw big going-away parties. In most cases, the student would be gone for a year with no visit home in the interim. There was no e-mail or Skype, and international phone calls were expensive.
What has changed to so reduce the number of students going to the U.S.? The article gives four reasons:
— young internet-savvy Japanese are now aware of many opportunities to study all over the world and have their pick of global universities.
— short-term study is much more in vogue especially with Japanese universities now more flexible in allowing their students three- or six-month stint in a foreign country.
— education in the U.S. for a foreign student sans scholarship is expensive (estd at $50,000 a year including tuition fees, board, travel, etc.) Cheaper options are offered by Canada, Australia, Europe and elsewhere in Asia.
— According to the article, there is no doubt that, over the past two decades, the U.S. education system has deteriorated. This is particularly true in the sciences, a field that has traditionally drawn Japanese students there. American students, attracted to the virtual thrills and the seven-figure promises that the dealers of finance and their big-money chums in accounting and law offered them, have eschewed the sciences.
(Jan. 4, 2010)Many high school students have given up finding jobs and instead are entering vocational schools. High school teachers who help students hunt for jobs also are in a bind over what to tell their students.During another so-called employment ice age around 2002, temporary jobs were available as a last resort. But now even temporary staffing agencies are not hiring new people. “I have never pressed students so fervently to go on to universities and other vocational schools,” the guidance counselor said.

Special-needs kids join mainstream classes (Yomiuri Shimbun Jan. 7, 2010)

Some mainstream high schools have started accepting students with developmental disorders under a current special-needs education system that was launched in 2007 to cover students in categories not dealt with by the previous system. According to teachers, there is a growing demand for education designed to support such students and help them become independent. The education ministry, which conducted a survey in March on third-year middle school students, found that about 2.2 percent of students who were going on to high school had learning problems, including developmental disorders.
The current system of special-needs education was fully launched in 2007, newly covering students with developmental disorders, in addition to the mentally or physically disabled students who had been covered under the previous system. Under the current system, many primary and middle schools have established systems to support students suffering from developmental impairment–by setting up internal committees in charge or assigning teachers as coordinators to handle related issues. Into the third year of the nation’s new special-needs education system, high schools and other institutions providing post-compulsory education still lag in providing support for targeted students when compared to efforts taken at primary and middle schools. With regard to special-needs education, a report compiled in August by an education ministry panel recommended establishing a system in which such students would take special lessons at schools depending on their needs–with each student basically enrolled in a mainstream class.
Nishinippon Junior College High School in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture, is one of the pioneers in accepting students with developmental disorders–including learning disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and high-functioning autism. The school has set up a special class for such students in its regular course.
The Saga prefectural government is launching a similar special-needs education system in high schools by setting a quota for students with developmental disorders at the prefectural government-run Tara High School in Taramachi–starting from the entrance examination for the 2011 academic year.  Read more here at this link (but the link will expire soon).

Elderly life lessons for kids / Nursing care staff show children how to help older people in need (Yomiuri Shimbun Jan. 8, 2010)

Schools are beginning to introduce special classes to help children deepen their understanding of elderly nursing care-related issues, such as senile dementia.
At municipal Sanko Primary School in Minato Ward, Tokyo, about 30 fourth-graders attended a special class for nursing care. Under the direction of staffers from major nursing care company Nichii Gakkan Co., the children gathered in the gym and got a hands-on lesson in the physical disabilities that afflict the elderly. Omi Primary School in Kahoku, Ishikawa Prefecture, started a class on dementia two years ago during integrated study periods. In the classes, children watch a play about dementia put on by a local volunteer group, and participate in activities to consider the feelings of dementia patients with the help of students of Ishikawa Prefectural Nursing University.
The education ministry on Wednesday commenced hearings with experts and local government officials on how to improve education for foreign students living in Japan. In four hearings to be held by early February, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will ask 24 college professors and local officials about the current educational situation of and challenges facing foreign students, including Japanese Brazilians, so that it can compile new measures to provide better education to them by the end of March.

No. of foreign students reaches record 132,720 (AP Dec 24, 2009)

The number of foreign students studying in Japan reached a record 132,720 as of May 1 this year, up 8,891 from last year, a student support organization announced Thursday. According to Japan Student Services Organization, students from China accounted for the largest number at 79,082, followed by South Korea at 19,605 and Taiwan at 5,332.Students from the three countries made up 78 percent of overall foreign students, and Asian students occupied 92 percent of the total. By university, Waseda University in Tokyo accepted the largest number of foreign students at 3,114, followed by Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Oita Prefecture at 2,786 and the University of Tokyo at 2,473.

Prosecutors have indicted a teacher at Kaishin High School in the city of Kumamoto over an accident that left a karate club member at the private school with serious brain impairment, the victim’s parents said Wednesday. The victim, now 18, suffered a concussion during club activities on July 10, 2007, but the teacher, who is in his 40s, made him do additional training. Although the student complained of headaches the next day, the teacher again ordered him to participate in training, sources said.

Teachers overwhelmed by cell phone abuses

Schools, parents and local governments are trying to stop cell phones from being used to bully and abuse children–taking such steps as prohibiting students from bringing cell phones to school and passing local ordinances–but many say the problems may be beyond their power to solve. Yomiuri Shimbun recounts the story of one regrettable and shocking incident of a middle school girl with decent academic record who fell prey and became a victim of cell phone abuse.
The Cabinet has moved to cut the education ministry’s budget for antiseismic construction work to improve the earthquake-resistance of about 5,000 public middle and high school buildings by about 63 percent (to about 103.2 billion yen), which will likely will leave about 2,800 buildings unimproved.
Local governments across the nation had been scheduled to start work on school buildings that it is feared might collapse in a major earthquake. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said about 277.5 billion yen would be necessary for the antiseismic reinforcement and other related work for which local governments had requested subsidies.
Though up to two-thirds of costs to make school buildings quake-resistant had been subsidized by the central government, it now needs about 393.3 billion yen to make public high school education effectively free–a policy pledge of the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. This led to the cuts in the budget for the antiseismic work.

[Ed. comment:  It would seem that the new administration banked on education giveaways to shore up its popularity, but is gambling on no major earthquakes taking place (and hence no school collapses) during its reign of power.]

LOOMING CHALLENGES Universities must look abroad to reverse Japan’s brain drain Monday, Jan. 4, 2010 Japan Times

Excerpt follows: Japan appears to be suffering from brain drain. Examples include chemist Osamu Shimomura and physicist Yoichiro Nambu, both of whom won Nobel Prizes in 2008 for research conducted in U.S. universities.
Japan is not the ideal place to seek employment for some postdoctoral researchers. According to a study conducted by Masako Asano of Osaka Prefecture University, 41 percent of postdocs in particle physics leave Japan to get jobs because there aren’t enough here to go around.
But Japan’s public universities rate quite well internationally, according to the evaluation committee on national universities, part of the education ministry.
Six universities were ranked among the world’s best by Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd. in 2009, including the University of Tokyo (22nd) and Kyoto University(25th).
“Japanese universities are greatly advanced, particularly in natural science research,” said Motohisa Kaneko, an education professor at the University of Tokyo, otherwise known as Todai.
“For example, the number of papers (in the natural sciences) submitted for publication to academic journals is the second most after Harvard,” he said, adding he thinks Todai got a lower ranking than it deserves.
According to Norimichi Kojima, an executive vice president at the University of Tokyo, scientific research there gets high marks overseas. Although its work in the humanities is also highly rated, Todai isn’t as well-recognized in this field because some publications are issued only in Japanese.
Read the rest of the article here.

Gov’t begins hearings on improving education for foreign students (AP Jan 07 2009)

The education ministry on Wednesday commenced hearings with experts and local government officials on how to improve education for foreign students living in Japan. In four hearings to be held by early February, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will ask 24 college professors and local officials about the current educational situation of and challenges facing foreign students, including Japanese Brazilians, so that it can compile new measures to provide better education to them by the end of March.
Fourth, it is fundamentally true that the gilded charms on the U.S. bracelet have faded in Japanese eyes over the last decade. They long turned a blind eye to the crime and poverty in the U.S., seeing only the freedom and opportunity there. But then the (George W.) Bush era, with its attacks on that freedom at home and its opportunistic wars abroad, began to tarnish the gilding.
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Events:
JALT Presentation: Facilitating Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Strategies on Your Campus
Speaker: James L. Morrison, UNC Chapel Hill
Date: Sunday, January 10th, 2010
Time: 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Location: Tokyo
Venue: Showa Women’s University (near Sangenjaya Sta., 2 stops outside Shibuya)
Enhanced Active Learning Strategies on Your Campus
Sponsored by the JALT CALL SIG
In this 90-minute session, Professor Morrison will first respond to these questions:
(1) What do we mean by technology-enhanced active learning strategies? And
(2) Why are they important to improving instructional effectiveness?
The majority of the session will focus on small group work addressing these questions:
(1) What are the barriers to implementing technology-enhanced active learning strategies on Japanese campuses? and
(2) What are effective strategies for addressing these barriers?
The group report backs will be recorded and posted on a Web site along with relevant references.
James L. Morrison is Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership at UNC Chapel Hill. He is the Founding Editor of On the Horizon, The Technology Source, and Innovate Facilitating Technology.
This event is co-sponsored by the CALL SIG and both the Tokyo and West Tokyo chapters of JALT. For more information, please contact Kevin Ryan at (tokyokevin at gmail dot com).
Cost: free
Organization: CALL SIG, Computer-Assisted Language Learning Special Interest Group, Japan Association for Language Teaching
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Elsewhere in the world on education:
Be practical when teaching languages. By Janadas Devan (Tue Dec 08 Dec 2009 The Straits Times)

The fact that English is in reality a ‘second language’ for many of our students – and that it should accordingly be taught like a second language to them, despite its status as the ‘first language’ in our schools – does not seem to have occurred to many educators. Literary and linguistic education in any language, far more than scientific education, always seems prone to unrealistically high expectations. explains why  we should be too unrelatistic about lingusitic learning of languages particualrlly when the languags belong to different linguistic universes.

Fast ForWord software help for dyslexic students … as well as for regular students

Singapore is IB’s new HQ for Asia-Pacific (8 Thur, Dec 17, 2007 The Straits Times)
Four years after the first local school started offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme, the organisation behind it has made Singapore its Asia-Pacific headquarters (the other two are Hague in Holland and Maryland in the US). The IB, founded in 1968 in Geneva, offers three programmes – the primary years, middle years and diploma programmes – for children aged three to 19. It has a reputation for nurturing creativity, social skills and a global outlook in students.
Read the full story here.
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Useful links:
Use this ready-to-use lesson plan on the Japanese New Year traditions / Oshogatsu from the Yomiuri Shimbun Campaign looks to hand down New Year traditions (link will expire soon)
Or go to the Website (www.oshogatsu.jp) and choose one New Year tradition.
FT Rankings for top 10 MBA schools are:
1. IESE Buiness School (University of Navarra, Spain)
2. IMD (Switzerland)
3. Haas School of Business (University of California, Berkeley)
4. Booth School of Business (University of  Chicago, US)
5. Harvard Business School (Harvard University, US)
6. Tuck School of Business (Dartmouth College, US)
7. Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford University, US)
8. London Business School (UK)
9. Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania, US)
10. Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School (Belgium)
Top 10 Universities for 2009 are ranked (Times-QS ranking) as follows:
University of Cambridge
Yale University
University College London
Imperial College London
University of Oxford
University of Chicago
Princeton University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
SOURCE: Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd.
Although the term “immersion” seems to have become an attractive label in Japan for any form of intensive English language experience, immersion education has been slow to take hold in Japan to the same extent that immersion and bilingual education have in other countries around the world. A prevalent question of many Japanese parents and educators regarding immersion is: What impact will the immersion experience have on young learners’ first language and cultural identity? Behind this question lurks a fundamental misconception regarding foreign language acquisition for learners who speak the dominant societal language and points to the now discredited “container” view of language where the learning of a second language can “push out” a first language. The study described in this book explores the assumptions of Japanese junior high school students toward English immersion education. In illuminating attitudes toward immersion education in particular, this insightful investigation also exposes the underlying ambivalence that some Japanese may have toward early bilingualism.
Price: 3,400yen Available from Livedoor
ISBN 978-4-7985-0000-3
Date of publication: Oct 2009