Hello to readers old and new of the EIJ blog,

The spotlight on educational news this month is dominated by introspection by various educational agencies over the results from 2010 PISA study reports. Here’s our rundown on the news on the J. educational scene:
Academic rankings bring tempered praise / Japanese students fare better in latest international tests, but alarm over declining standards persists (Dec.9, 2010)
“Japanese students in 2009 showed improved reading, math and science skills in international academic aptitude tests compared to three years earlier, but were outdone by their counterparts in Shanghai who ranked top in all three fields, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported Tuesday…
Japan’s rankings in the 2003 and 2006 PISA tests for 15-year-old students caused wide public concern about a general decline in the academic ability of Japanese children.
In 2009, however, Japan’s rank in reading rose to eighth among the 65 countries and regions involved in the program, which saw 470,000 students take the exams. Japan was ranked 15th in reading in 2006.
The nation’s students were ranked fifth in applied scientific skills, up from sixth in 2006, and ninth in applied mathematical skills, rising from 10th.
Asian countries and regions featured in the upper rankings in all three skill sets, with Shanghai claiming top position in all of them, the results of the triennial tests show.
“Reading and other academic skills of students in our country are improving,” said Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshiaki Takaki, referring to the latest test results.
But some observers see cause for concern in the test results, pointing out that Japanese students as a group were outperformed by their Asian counterparts, and that 10 percent of Japanese students were among the lowest achievers in all three academic categories.” – end of excerpt, read the rest of the article here.

Japanese students fare better in latest international tests (Edvantage)
“In 2009, however, Japan’s rank in reading rose to eighth among the 65 countries and regions involved in the program, which saw 470,000 students take the exams. Japan was ranked 15th in reading in 2006. The nation’s students were ranked fifth in applied scientific skills, up from sixth in 2006, and ninth in applied mathematical skills, rising from 10th….But some observers see cause for concern in the test results, pointing out that Japanese students as a group were outperformed by their Asian counterparts, and that 10 per cent of Japanese students were among the lowest achievers in all three academic categories.”

For more detailed analysis, read the report Viewing the Japanese system through the prism of the PISA (excerpt)

Meanwhile, an Yomiuri editorial “Kids’ academic ability can be improved more” notes some ” (Dec 10, 2010 disturbing problems” revealed by the PISA study results, and suggests what needs to be done…

Excerpts: “More than 10 percent of Japanese students were among the lowest achievers in all three academic categories. Students in this group are considered likely to have difficulty living as members of society. These figures were strikingly high among the top 10 countries and regions.
Are any students being left behind because they do not understand what is being taught? It is important that teachers give meticulous attention to these students to help them learn and overcome their difficulties.
In exam questions that required written answers, many Japanese students simply left blank spaces.
Schools and parents need to get creative in helping children learn to express themselves. Getting children into the habit of regularly reading books and newspapers and organizing their thoughts would be one way of doing this.
Teaching methods need to be verified and improved to ensure children’s academic ability improves. In this respect, the National Achievement Exams in which children are tested on their ability to apply their scholastic skills–just like the PISA tests–would be quite effective.

Asian countries and regions made eye-catching jumps in the rankings. Students from Shanghai, which participated in the tests for the first time as a region, topped all three fields.
Although the figures of Shanghai students cannot be easily compared with those of their counterparts who participated as a country, their high scores stood out. Curriculums at Shanghai schools reportedly focus on helping students improve their ability to apply their knowledge and academic skills, and they are closely linked with university entrance exams there.
Students from Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea also generally eclipsed Japanese students.
Meanwhile, head offices of some Japanese companies have begun hiring excellent Asian students. This is an age in which young Japanese now find themselves competing with rivals from foreign countries to get a job.
Students also need to polish their ability to express themselves and communicate with others. The government has a responsibility to ensure Japan’s youth can acquire academic abilities that will not be put to shame by students in other countries.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 9, 2010)

Private sector reacts to scholastic pitfalls (Daily Yomiuri, Dec 2, 2010)

Following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Gakuryoku-ko series, which examines experimental measures to improve scholastic abilities. This installment–the last of four parts–looks at corporate involvement in public education.
Along Mikawa Bay in Gamagori, Aichi Prefecture, sits Kaiyo Academy, a private boys boarding school that covers both middle and high school and is the product of significant corporate-sector involvement …… in another dormitory, a group of about 60 fourth- and fifth-year students (equivalent to first- and second-year high school students) are conducting a study hall.
The school was established in 2006 by about 80 companies, mainly Toyota Motor Corp., Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) and Chubu Electric Power Co., who contributed a combined 20 billion yen to the project.
The companies opened the school, modeled after Britain’s “public schools”–prestigious private schools associated with the social elite–in the hope of fostering Japan’s next generation of leaders.
The boys at Kaiyo Academy spend about twice as much time on English and mathematics than they would at typical public schools. In fact, the students finish the nationally prescribed curriculum two years ahead of time, leaving them to study more advanced material during the final two years of school.
There are currently 503 first- through fifth-year students attending the private institution. They live in a typical group setting and receive their instruction from teachers who include people sent from private firms.
By establishing the school, the participating companies are hoping to create a new type of education. The unprecedented initiative came as a reaction to the government’s stated goal of a stress-free education under which study time was significantly reduced and the five-day school week was introduced. The policy has since been revised.
JR Tokai Chairman Yoshiyuki Kasai, who was involved in the creation of the academy, said: “Public education has neglected basic scholastic skills. We, as the private sector, wanted to create a model of what a good school could be.” … read the rest here.

Princess Masako turns 47, says Aiko coping better at school Kyodo News Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 Crown Princess Masako marked her 47th birthday Thursday and said she is relieved to find her daughter,
Princess Aiko, enjoying elementary school after her difficulties earlier this year.
“Her hours in school are getting longer, and I am relieved to see her enjoy spending time together with
her friends,” she said in a statement regarding Aiko, 9, who has been attending fewer classes since
missing several days in March due to the “rough behavior” of boys in her grade.

Other current concerns recently in the local news  ... the govt’s. proposal-to-integrate-kindergartens-and-daycare-runs-into-opposition/

Child allowance raise only for tots (Japan Times Friday, Dec. 3, 2010) Excerpt follows:
Kyodo News – “The government is set to raise the monthly child allowance from the next fiscal year but only for children aged under 3, breaking the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s pledge in last year’s general election, government officials said Thursday. Cabinet ministers agreed the same day to raise the monthly allowance to ¥20,000 in April from the current ¥13,000, but only for children under 3.
In its campaign platform for the August 2009 House of Representatives election, the DPJ pledged to pay ¥26,000 per month from fiscal 2011 to all children until they graduate from junior high school, normally at the age of 15.”
The article also noted that fears that the handout policy could further strain government finances is leading ministers to discussed putting an income cap to exclude wealthier households from the program.

Cram school buys out Shane English School

Cram school operator Eikoh Inc. announces it has acquired Shane English School to strengthen its English-language education for elementary school children ahead of the planned compulsory teaching of the language for fifth- and six-graders. Read more here.


NOVEMBER 18, 2010, The Wall Street Journal article explains why Japanese students are staying local and not heading out to U.S. for their higher education…in Home Schooling: Fewer Japanese Head to U.S. Universities

Excerpt: “Japanese students are increasingly content on staying put in the classroom – at home. The number of Japanese students who enrolled in U.S. universities dropped a whopping 15% for the 2009 academic year, following a 14% fall off the previous year, according to a report released this week. It was one of the biggest country declines noted. The Japanese student population in the U.S. declined to 24,842 this year, or approximately 4,400 fewer students compared to 2008, according to an annual study by the Institute of International Education. Studying abroad is “usually not considered as a legitimate or realistic path ? both at the macro-social level and at the individual level,” said Yoshitaka Yamamoto, a member of the U.S. College Alumni Network of Japan, a non-profit organization that informs Japanese students of overseas education options, explaining Japan’s ebbing interest. Mr. Yamamoto, who graduated from Harvard in 2008, said few Japanese high schools “actively encourage” students to look at colleges overseas primarily because high school ratings are based on matriculation statistics to top domestic universities like Tokyo University and Kyoto University.
Then there is the sticky issue of what happens after graduation. Fearful that a diploma from overseas is less valuable compared to one imprinted with the name of a Japanese university parents are weary of how time abroad could handicap their children’s career prospects.” – read the rest here.

Experimental teaching measures are in place in some J. public schools to try to help foreign children improve their scholastic abilities, see Educators work to close language gap (Nov.25, 2010 Yomiuri Shimbun) permanent link here.

Floating field trips popular among students (Nov.17 Yomiuri Shimbun)
Excerpt: “Haneda Airport’s newly built runway and the Tokyo Sky Tree attract many sightseers, but some students are experiencing the changing city landscape from a different angle, traveling via Edo-era pleasure boats, or yakatabune, around Tokyo Bay. The Tokyo Bay recreational fishing guides cooperative, based in Shinagawa Ward and comprising 22 membership companies, began operating cruises for schools to view the city waterfront about five years ago. At that time, few students used the service. However, travel agencies recently began advertising the tours in a new and novel way to introduce Tokyo attractions. Schools outside Tokyo also include the tours as part of their school excursion programs and in some cases, the boats are rented for events involving several hundred students.”- end of excerpt, read the rest of the article here.

Another fieldtrip destination that’s popular with J. schools is the local planetarium, and there’s more to choose from with new planetariums springing up recently…

Planetariums make Tokyoites look to the stars (Nov. 24, 2010 Yomiuri Shimbun)
Excerpt: “Cosmo Planetarium Shibuya, which will open in the Sakuragaokacho district of Shibuya Ward on Wednesday, claims it will offer a faithful reproduction of the starlit sky…
The Cosmo Planetarium Shibuya planetarium has 120 seats in the 17-meter-diameter dome.
Ninety-one stars of an apparent magnitude of 2.5 or brighter, which can be observed by the naked eye, are reproduced faithfully and with all the attendant colors.
Of them, the 20 brightest stars are projected through fiber optics so that the stars’ shimmering lights, which are technically difficult to reproduce, can be projected.
The screen reproduces about 265,000 shimmering stars.
The planetarium has introduced the first domestically produced planetarium projector, manufactured by Konica Minolta Planetarium Co. A computer graphics reproduction of the Hayabusa space probe as it moves through the sky will be screened through the end of the year. From next year, starlit sky views using lights will be shown.”

“In Setagaya Ward, a planetarium opened in May with a claim that it projects the world’s largest number of stars, and last month, planetariums opened at Haneda Airport and in Shinagawa Ward.”

Supercomputer of Japan’s ranked world’s no. 1 The Earth Simulator, a supercomputer operated by a government science agency for evaluating weather and climate change, is the fastest in the world, taking the top spot in the Top 500, an international ranking of complex calculations of the fast Fourier transform algorithm. The agency had tweaked the supercomputer’s system in March last year, allowing it to achieve a computing speed of 12 trillion calculations per second.

EDUCATIONAL RENAISSANCE / Teachers head back to the E-drawing board (Dec 9, 2010 Daily Yomiuri)
DY article features a popular event, “New Education Expo,” the largest of its kind in Japan and is sponsored mostly by makers of educational devices, and an exhibition class aimed at introducing ways to incorporate new information technology into classroom lessons.”

The article notes “this year’s significant increase in the number of electronic blackboards at schools, under the economic stimulus program funded by the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget.
According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, electronic blackboards installed at public primary, middle and high schools across the nation totaled 56,000 as of late March–3.4 times the number of the previous fiscal year, and 1.6 blackboards per school.
When asked by the ministry about their mastery of the electronic blackboards, more than 70 percent of teachers in five prefectures, including Mie and Kyoto–which ranked among the top five in the survey–said they knew how to use the device, while only 50 percent of teachers in Wakayama Prefecture, which placed last, were as confident.” – end of excerpts, read the article here.

In books, our recommended reading is:

Title: Japanese Education in the 21st Century
Author: MikiY. Ishikida  |  Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (June 2005)


Elsewhere in the world on education (this week we highlight PISA study articles and college concerns:

Shanghai teens are world’s smartest (AFP)
“More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just three percent,” the OECD said.
Other Asian countries and regions also scored particularly well, and OECD education expert Eric Charbonnier said the continent’s success was a result of educational values that favour equality as well as quality.”In Shanghai, a city of 20 million, they followed policies to fight against social inequality, to target the schools that were in most difficulty and send them the best performing heads and most experienced teachers,” he said.South Korea came second in comprehension, fourth in maths and sixth in science and Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan were well-placed. Finland, whose educational system has been hailed by Western experts, remains the best performing European country, coming third in comprehension, second in science and third in maths….Analysing the results, experts found that high performing school systems prefer to pay teachers more rather than reduce class sizes, and countries that force underperformers to repeat years to do badly overall.” (Related news: Top test scores from Shanghai worry US educators)

Shanghai OECD test results reflect fierce competition (Dec.9, 2010) The success of students in Shanghai–which topped every league table in the test under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)–reflected fierce competition for entry to higher educational institutions in the city.”We introduced school curricula that placed importance on how to apply students’ accumulated knowledge, which is linked to university entrance examinations,” a Shanghai city official said.Shanghai, which scored the world’s top marks in reading, mathematics and science in the tests, is said to be the city with the most improved education system in China. …Meanwhile, a local reporter on education issues said: “It wasn’t a result that represents the whole of China. It only indicates how getting into better schools in an urban environment is highly competitive.”

On being inspired by top-performing countries’ of the PISA test, in the 7 Dec 2010 press release (UK) Secretary of State comments on the PISA study of school systems
“Michael Gove has today commented on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study of schools systems from around the world. Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said:
Today’s PISA report underlines the urgent need to reform our school system. We need to learn from the best-performing countries.
Other regions and nations have succeeded in closing the gap and in raising attainment for all students at the same time. They have made opportunity more equal, democratised access to knowledge and placed an uncompromising emphasis on higher standards all at the same time. These regions and nations – from Alberta to Singapore, Finland to Hong Kong, Harlem to South Korea – should be our inspiration.
While each of these exemplars has their own unique and individual approach to aspects of education, their successful systems all share certain common features. Many have put in place comprehensive plans for school improvement which involve improving teacher quality, granting greater autonomy to the front line, modernising curricula, making schools more accountable to their communities, harnessing detailed performance data and encouraging professional collaboration. It is only through such whole-system reform that education can be transformed to make our nation one of the world’s top performers.”

Related news: Study shows England’s 15-year-olds performing poorly (8 Dec 2010 ESI)

“England has continued to fall in the PISA rankings, meaning that in just nine years we have dropped from 7th to 25th in reading, 8th to 27th in mathematics and 4th to 16th in science. We have been overtaken by countries such as Poland, Iceland and Norway. This is despite England spending far more on education than comparable nations such as Germany.

And the report worryingly shows that England has relatively high numbers of low-performing pupils compared to countries like Australia, Canada and Finland. We are also less successful at overcoming the effects of social background than countries such as Canada and Japan, meaning that the poorest children in England are up to two full years behind their wealthier peers.”

(Canada) 2010-12-07 – PISA 2009 Webcast
The PISA report shows Canadian students rank among the best in the world in reading, mathematics, and science. Only seven countries performed better than Canada in mathematics and only six in science. The major focus was reading, with a secondary focus on mathematics and science. Canada has a larger proportion of high achievers and a smaller proportion of low achievers compared to the OECD average. Students in nine of the Canadian provinces performed at or above the OECD average in all subject areas.

Finland’s fall from top education spot worrying minister is attributed to increased apathy to reading, particularly, that of boys.

Taiwan students slip in overall ranking
“The Taiwan PISA 2009 Report results showed the nation struggling the most with reading ability, slipping seven spots from 16th to 23rd. Not only that, it fell four spots in math to fifth place, and eight spots in science at 12th…”

International OECD Study Affirms the High Quality of Singapore’s Education System
“Singapore students ranked fifth in Reading, second in Mathematics and fourth in Science. Singapore also had the second highest proportion (12.3%) of students who are top performers1 in all three domains”

Australia education not so bad at all really (by Richard Farmer, The Crikey Group Blog) and PISA test and Australia – what does it mean? (8th December 2010 ESI)


Mathematics Teaching and Learning Strategies in PISA 27-Sep-2010

Mathematics Teaching and Learning Strategies in PISA uses data from the PISA 2003 assessment to examine the relationships between teaching strategies, student learning strategies and mathematics achievement. The report aims to identify instructional practices and learning strategies that contribute to increased achievement in mathematics and general knowledge. It then explains how these strategies may be related to different countries’ school system structures.

Exams to be brought in line with world’s toughest tests 06 Sep 2010 The Telegraph  (related news: New science GCSEs ‘still too easy’ (16 Jun 2010 The Telegraph)

Many universities are ‘broke’ and won’t be bailed out while top universities may go private, warns DAILY MAIL 16th November 2010
Excerpt: “Failing universities will not be propped up by the Government, leaving them at risk of closure. Many are ‘broke’ and should not be bailed out but allowed to close, Vince Cable said. Speaking at the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association in Manchester yesterday, the Business Secretary added that the rise in tuition fees would force universities to reform and become more competitive.’We already have a lot of universities that are effectively broke. If they were in the private sector they would have been filing for bankruptcy. Various arrangements have been cobbled together to keep them going, and we can’t continue to do that,’ he said.”

Gillian Low, the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association, tells Richard Garner of the Independent why she supports single-sex education – and what she believes state schools can learn from the private sector in  ‘Girls learn so much better without boys

An overhaul of the UK education system has been recently announced. Here is a summary of the main points included in the Government’s White Paper: Education White Paper: key points

Related news: Education White Paper: Coalition drive on back-to-basics discipline (24 Nov 2010 The Telegraph)

Schools will be encouraged to introduce uniforms, house systems and prefects as part of a back-to-basics approach to discipline … schools would be given more help in promoting good behaviour including the use of a traditional blazer and tie uniform. In a series of radical reforms, an education White Paper published on Wednesday said parents with concerns about behaviour at their children’s school could complain to Ofsted – potentially triggering a fresh inspection. Teachers will also get more powers to search pupils for banned items used to disrupt lessons, greater protection from malicious allegations and freedom to physically restrain disruptive pupils. According to figures, almost 18,000 pupils were permanently expelled or suspended for attacking staff members in 2007.Separate data suggested only half of teachers believed they received appropriate support from their school to manage poor behaviour.The White Paper said: “We need to act to restore the authority of teachers and head teachers, so that they can establish a culture of respect and safety, with zero tolerance of bullying, clear boundaries, good pastoral care and early intervention to address problems. “As a last resort, head teachers need the ability to exclude disruptive children and to be confident that their authority in taking these difficult decisions will not be undermined.”The Coalition suggested that schools should be encouraged to introduce “clear and simple rules, rewards and sanctions for pupils”.”Schools can [encourage] pupils to take responsibility for improving their own behaviour and that of others, providing pastoral support for all pupils not just those who misbehave, and having traditional blazer and tie uniforms, prefects and house systems,” said the White Paper.

How can we make our teachers better? (24 Nov 2010) The Telegraph Ofsted’s damning report on teaching standards is no surprise, but with imagination and courage, it’s a problem we can solve, says Katharine Birbalsingh who pinpoints the union’s one-size-fits-all-policy, the inability to fire dud teachers from the system and the lack of rigorous standards for teachers, as obstacles to quality state education.

Less Than Half Of College Students Attained Degrees In The Last 6 Years, New Study Shows (3 Dec Huffington Post)
A report reflecting data collected over the past six years – focused on rates of completion at institutions where students first enrolled as well as on rates of completion overall at two- and four-year schools. The report found that, within six years of enrollment:
49 percent of students attained a certificate, associate or bachelors degree from some institution; 31 percent of students received a bachelor’s degree from some institution; 35 percent of students had not received any type of degree and were no longer enrolled at any institution; 12 percent of students who initially enrolled in two-year institutions went on to attain a bachelor’s degree; 46 percent of students who initially enrolled in two-year institutions did not receive any type of degree and were no longer enrolled at any institution; 50 percent of students who enrolled in a four-year college attained a degree from that college.

In What we can learn from Finland:A Q&A with Dr. Pasi Sahlberg Justin Snider of The Hechinger Report, and Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture debate over whether increasing instructional time for learning is the answer to improving scholastic ability of American students, or whether there is more the issue than that. Sahlberg has trained teachers, coached schools and advised policymakers in more than 40 countries. The Hechinger Report: Two Million Minutes, a recent documentary by Bob Compton, revealed that American students spend significantly less time learning than their counterparts in India and China. But Salhberg says: There’s no evidence globally that doing more of the same [instructionally] will improve results. An equally relevant argument would be, let’s try to do less. Increasing time comes from the old industrial mindset. The important thing is ensuring school is a place where students can discover who they are and what they can do. It’s not about the amount of teaching and learning. More here.

Book review by Joe Nathan – superb new book and “CD” describe terrific teaching – Imagine someone visiting and videotaping teachers who make a huge difference with youngsters – producing very positive, orderly classrooms with large gains in student skills, knowledge and test scores.That’s what New York educator Doug Lemov did – producing a remarkable book and accompanying “CD”.  The book is called Teach Like a Champion, and it’s winning raves all over the nation.  Recently 60 Minnesota educators from both district and charter public schools became Lemov fans….

Teaching Like a Champion (Jossey Boss) is not about educational theory.  It’s about how teachers can maintain a well disciplined, positive classroom through specific praise of students who are doing what the teacher wants, and quite, non disruptive actions for students are not behaving.  It’s about not just setting theoretical expectations that “all students will succeed,” but about developing teacher skills so that this does happen.  As one workshop participant wrote, the book and workshop focus “on teaching strategies, both classroom management as well as academic.”
Here are a handful of many examples that the book describes, Kramer demonstrated, and workshop participants practiced:
“No opt out” – if the student gives an incorrect answer, the teacher finds someone who has the correct answer, and then goes back to the student who was wrong.  That youngster repeats the right answer, and receives praise for this.  Students learn that  everyone is expected to learn, and that correct answers receive praise and recognition.
“Cold-calling,” which means that the teacher does not just call on students who with their hands up.  Students learn that the teacher expects each of them to be attention and involved.
“Joy Factor”. Through humor, drama, song, dance, suspense and surprise, teachers can help produce a real joy in learning.
It didn’t matter whether the educators came from district or charter public schools.  They agreed about the book, “Cd” and Kramer’s presentation.  Overall, on a 1-5 scale – with five being terrific, Kramer earned a 4.6 average (that is extremely high, especially given that he was working with teachers and administrators from vastly differently schools.  The educators also ranged from those working with elementary to those in secondary schools.
Teach Like a Champion is an immensely practical book on terrific teaching. One educator wrote that the book and  ”CD”  are  “Superbly done, a model of instructional techniques that should not be a mystery but an integral part of every teacher’s repertoire.” – end of excerpt of book review, read it here.

Other publications:

What Makes a School Successful? Resources, Policies and Practices, examines how human, financial and material resources, and education policies and practices shape learning outcomes.


Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe