Here are our news updates on the education scene:

Scholarship for disaster sufferers set up (NHK, May 18)

A scholarship foundation has been set up for children who lost parents in the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that devastated eastern Japan.

The scholarship is to be used for such children’s elementary through high school education.

The foundation is asking individuals and companies to donate at least 120 dollars every year for 10 years.

Architect Tadao Ando, who proposed the foundation, met reporters at the education ministry in Tokyo on Wednesday with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Masatoshi Koshiba and the chairman of apparel company Fast Retailing, Tadashi Yanai.

Ando pledged long-term support for the children, saying he was raised by his grandmother and could not go to college.

Koshiba referred to wartime hardship during his early childhood, and said it’s important to keep working hard no matter how difficult one’s situation.

Orphans, other quake victims to get cash (Yomiuri, May 18)

The Miyagi prefectural government will give 500,000 yen to each child whose parents died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, using donations it has received in the wake of the disaster, prefectural officials said. The decision reflects the local government’s view that it is necessary to give such children special consideration, according to the officials. (Yomiuri, May 19)

Elsewhere in the world on education:

Cambridge tops the Guardian league table

(Guardian, May 16)

Cambridge has taken the top spot in this year’s Guardian University Guide league table, breaking its arch rival Oxford’s six-year stint as the UK’s leading institution.

Oxford has come second and St Andrews third, while the London School of Economics has climbed four places from last year to take fourth place.

University College London, Warwick, Lancaster, Durham, Loughborough and Imperial College make up the top 10.

The University Guide, published in full on the Guardian website on Tuesday, is based on data for full-time undergraduates at UK universities.

Related articles: What every student should know | University? Colleges offer students the best of both worlds

This next article takes a look at why the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor? …

Your So-Called Education (NY Times May 14)

In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.

The following article excerpt taken from From the Fields to Inner City, Pesticides Affect IQtalks about the  results of new studies on the effects on IQ of children of  organophosphate pesticides – the replacement pesticides for DDT that have been in use since the banning of DDT.

Green Goat on The Global Search for Education: Can You Pass the Global Standardized Test? (Education News, May 17)

On disaster-crisis related news:

New cooling systems to be installed at fuel pools (NHK May 19)

The operator of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant is likely to start operating a new system within 2 weeks to cool spent fuel in reactor Number 2.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says it is preparing to install cooling systems in 4 of the 6 reactor buildings, 3 months earlier than initially planned.

TEPCO says it is laying power cables for a cooling system for Number 2 reactor’s spent fuel pool. A heat exchanger will be brought into the facility early next week to start operating the cooling system by the end of this month.

Workers entered the Number 2 reactor building on Wednesday for the first time since a hydrogen explosion on March 15th. They tried to check radiation levels but left the building after 14 minutes because it was filled with steam, making further work impossible.

The utility says the vapor appears to be coming from the damaged suppression chamber as well as from the fuel pool itself.

Senior TEPCO official Junichi Matsumoto says he believes cooling the spent fuel pool will help reduce steam inside the reactor.

TEPCO reports more than 90 percent humidity inside the Number 2 reactor building. Matsumoto says the building’s roof is intact, making it more prone to filling with steam. Number 1 and 3 reactor buildings are exposed to the air because hydrogen explosions blew off their roofs and walls.

Release of radioactive water made at request of U.S.: Cabinet adviser (Japan Times May 19)

Playwright Oriza Hirata, a special adviser to the Cabinet, claims Japan dumped radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean after a “strong request” from the United States. Excerpts follow:

“The Japanese government had apparently given its permission for the release of the water after receiving a report from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Hirata’s remarks, made Tuesday, that the release was not carried out based on Tokyo’s independent judgment but rather on a request from Washington is likely to ignite a debate.

South Korea and other neighboring countries have protested the lack of prior notification of the discharge.

Hirata’s lecture in Seoul was titled “Earthquakes and the Revitalization of Japan.” In response to a question at the venue, he called Japan’s failure to give advance notification a communication error.

While acknowledging that the release of the water caused concern in South Korea, he said the thousands of tons of water were not highly radioactive.”

Boys ‘can’t read past 100th page’, survey suggests (BBC News, May 17)

Excerpt: “Some 70% of the 500 teachers surveyed for publishers Pearson said boys had switched off by the 100 page mark.

This is leading many teachers to ditch longer novels in favour of shorter books, it adds.

Teachers were asked to identify points where boys would switch off in class when novels were being read.

A quarter said that the interest cut-off point happened within the first few pages of a book. …

Nearly a third of the teachers questioned said boys were put off before the book had even been opened, if they saw it had more than 200 pages.”

Researchers Probe Causes of Math Anxiety (May 17) Discalculia and bias can exacerbate math fears and anxiety which can lead to difficulties, frustration and negative reactions to math problems over time.

6 Reasons Tablets Are Ready for the Classroom (US News, May 17)

Among the six reasons, the article says, are that classrooms are ready for iPAD use; the device fits students’ lifestyles and that the iPAD is the best way to show textbooks.

10 Most Popular Medical Schools (US May 16)

Students ‘frustrated’ over lack of lectures, says Willetts (Daily Telegraph, May 12)

British universities are failing to provide students with enough lecture and tutorial time, according to David Willetts

Studying abroad: making the experience count (Daily Telegraph, 18 May 2011)

Studying abroad: the foreign offers (Daily Telegraph, May 18)

As the cost of higher education in the UK spirals, Paul Bray investigates the option of studying for a degree overseas.

Almost half of all parents take children out of school to save money on holidays

Almost half of all parents admit to taking their children on holiday during term time in order to save money, a survey has found.

Pupils at risk from wi-fi networks

Mobile phones and computers with wireless internet connections should be to be banned in schools, European body rules.

Boarding school a form of child abuse, says psychotherapist  (The Independent)

Children who are sent away by their parents to boarding school risk severe psychological damage, according to a leading psychotherapist. So bad is the problem that Nick Duffell, who has counselled former boarding school pupils, has now set up a support group.

Children who are sent away by their parents to boarding school risk severe psychological damage, according to a leading psychotherapist. So bad is the problem that Nick Duffell, who has counselled former boarding school pupils, has now set up a support group.

Boarding School Survivors (BSS) will run workshops for sufferers of “boarding school syndrome” whose symptoms include a hatred of the opposite sex, intimacy problems and obsession with work.

This week, Mr Duffell will tell a health conference in London that boarders cope with the trauma of separation from their families in the same way as victims of child sexual abuse do, by burying their emotions so they are unable to form fulfilling relationships as adults.

Many say college too pricey but grads say worth it: survey (US News, May 15)

Top university plaecs on offer for students with wealthy parents (Independent, May 10)

Wealthy parents could be allowed to ‘buy’ their children places at top universities by paying higher fees under plans being put together by the government.

Extra places would be provided at the leading universities and could be filled by undergraduates rich enough, or whose parents were wealthy enough, to pay fees up front.

Want a place? Get the insider tips from admissions tutors (Guardian, May 17) Admissions tutors are the best people to advise students applying to university. Here are some expert tips on everything from humour to using Twitter including the following:

  • Pick a course you’ll be motivated to study – either a subject that fascinates you or a vocational course that sets you on the path to your dream career.
  • Make a list of possible courses by scouring prospectuses and speaking to teachers, students and lecturers. Think laterally: top courses such as economics and medicine fill up fast, but business studies or medical sciences might boost your chances. Finally, remember to use each of your five Ucas choices, cover a range of entry requirements, and be certain your qualifications (or predictions) fulfil them all.
  • “Don’t be afraid to contact a university to find out more – this shows interest and commitment,” says admissions tutor John Wheeler at Staffordshire University. “Many universities make a record of personal contact, and may use it in their decision-making. We want applicants to show that they’ve really thought about the course – this can come through in the application form, at open days or through personal contact.”
  • The best way to get a place is to prove you love the subject and all it entails, says Lucy Backhurst, Newcastle University’s head of admissions. “Be focused when making your choices,” she adds. “Not all courses are the same. In medicine, for example, keep an eye out for words like ‘problem-based learning’, ‘traditional’ and ‘case-led’, and find out what they really mean.”
  • “Don’t apply for lots of different types of courses,” says Sheila Byrne at Anglia Ruskin. “This shows lack of commitment and not knowing what you want to do.”
  • “Use the ‘entry profiles’ on Ucas’s website to make sure that the course you have earmarked to put as a choice is actually the course you want to study,” advises Daniel Cox, admissions officer at City University London. “We get a lot of people interested in biomedical engineering, thinking the course is medicine-based. In fact, it’s on the design of medical equipment.

Student-teacher relationships: Don’t stand too close to me (Jan 28, 2007)

Four year olds ‘too young’ for school (Independent, Apr 8)

No grades or grade levels at this school (CNN May 15)

It seems like a simple question, but ask Victor Perez and Dulce Garcia what grade they’re in and you won’t get a traditional answer

Librarians fight for a role in a digital world (Globe and Mail)

In a time before the internet, children gathered among stacks of books arranged according to letters and numbers taped to their spines


Related article:

Radioactivity in the Ocean:
Diluted, But Far from Harmless 

With contaminated water from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear complex continuing to pour into the Pacific, scientists are concerned about how that radioactivity might affect marine life. Although the ocean’s capacity to dilute radiation is huge, signs are that nuclear isotopes are already moving up the local food chain. READ MORE here

TEPCO to focus on water circulation (NHK, May 18)

Tokyo Electric Power Company’s revised plan to stabilize its reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will focus on creating a system to decontaminate and circulate water back into the reactors to cool them down.

TEPCO unveiled changes to its plan on Tuesday after the discovery that the fuel rods in the No.1 reactor had melted. The melting apparently damaged the vessel containing the reactor, and a large amount of water has been found to have leaked out.

The utility has effectively abandoned its initial plan to cool the reactor by filling it with water, and says it will instead install an alternative cooling system.

The system would collect the highly contaminated water in one place, reduce the amount of its radioactive materials, and return it to the reactor as a coolant.

TEPCO says it is preparing to set up a facility at the Fukushima compound to treat the contaminated water and plans to start operating it by June.

The company says it will apply the circulation system to the No.2 and No.3 reactors, where meltdowns may also have occurred. TEPCO hopes to stabilize these by the end of July.

Failed venting tries linked to No. 2 damage (Japan Times, May 19)

Two failed attempts to vent steam soon after the March 11 quake and tsunami most likely damaged the containment vessel of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant’s No. 2 reactor.

Workers enter building of reactor 2 (Japan Times, May 19)

“Workers trying to restore the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Wednesday entered the building of the troubled No. 2 reactor for the first time since it suffered an explosion in the early days of the nuclear crisis

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has already sent workers into the No. 1 reactor building to lay the groundwork for a system to more stably cool the nuclear fuel. Similar work is expected to take place in No. 2’s building, such as checking equipment and adjusting or repairing any malfunctioning gauges.

Radiation level at No.3 reactor water intake rises (NHK, May 19)

The operator of the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima has reported a sharp rise in the concentration of a radioactive material in samples of  seawater near the Number 3 reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it detected 110 becquerels of radioactive cesium-134 per cubic centimeters in seawater samples taken on Wednesday morning.

The level is 1,800 times the national legal limit, compared to 550 times, which was reported the previous day.

The utility also found 120 becquerels of cesium-137, 1,300 times higher than the limit.

Last Wednesday at the same location near the water intake of the Number 3 reactor, water contaminated with highly radioactive substances was found flowing into the sea from a pit. TEPCO says it detected cesium-134 at 32,000 times the legal limit.

In its latest announcement, TEPCO said the concentration of radioactive iodine in seawater samples from the same location fell from 1,900 times the limit on Monday to 630 times on Tuesday.

The utility also said it detected radioactive materials at levels higher than the national limit at 2 of the 4 survey points along the shoreline near the plant.

It says cesium-134 with a concentration level 1.8 times the limit was found at a point 330 meters south of the water drainage gates of the Number 1 to 4 reactors.

Plan to cool reactors revised but not timeline (JT May 18)

Reactor worker error comes to light (JT May 18)

The emergency cooling system for reactor 1 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant may have been shut down manually before the tsunami hit March 11, according to a Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman and documents released by the utility.
A part of the cooling system known as the isolation condenser was down for about three hours, which could have contributed to the reactor core’s meltdown.

The finding upends the government’s previous conclusion that the condenser was functioning normally on March 11.

“I learned (of the shutdown) through media reports today,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference Tuesday. “We have asked the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency and other bodies to give detailed analyses and reports (on that matter).”

NISA, the government agency that oversees nuclear plant operators, urged Tepco on Tuesday to provide a detailed explanation by May 23.

Tepco, Japan’s largest electricity supplier, disclosed internal documents and data Monday indicating the isolation condenser may have been manually shut down around 3 p.m. March 11 shortly after kicking in following the massive quake at 2:46 p.m. The plant was hit by tsunami around 3:30 p.m.

The release of key data following the March 11 disaster was delayed because most of it was kept in computers and documents in the plant’s central control room, where high levels of radiation prevented workers from entering, Tepco said.

The isolation condenser is designed to inject water into the reactor for at least eight hours after the main coolant system loses power, as happened March 11.

“It is possible that a worker may have manually closed the valve (of the isolation condenser) to prevent a rapid decrease in temperature, as is stipulated by a reactor operating guideline,” Tepco spokesman Hajime Motojuku told The Japan Times.

A worker may have stopped the condenser to keep cold water from coming into contact with the hot steel of the reactor to prevent it from being damaged.

Japan’s Environment Ministry says it will combine parks in three prefectures affected by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami into a new national park that symbolizes the area’s reconstruction.

The ministry on Wednesday said the plan is to promote the region’s economic reconstruction by developing tourism on the scenic Sanriku coast.

Six parks in Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, including the Rikuchu Kaigan National Park straddling Iwate and Miyagi, are to be made into a single national park.

The new park would have facilities equipped with observation platforms where people can learn about the disaster, as well as trails for emergency evacuation that link beaches to communities and mountains.
As part of efforts to secure regional employment and to promote eco-tourism, the ministry will hire disaster-affected fishermen and farmers as guides.

Officials with the ministry will consult with relevant municipalities to decide specifics of the plan while carrying out clean-up and restoration of the beaches.

A radioactive substance exceeding the legal limit has been detected in pasture grass in Miyagi Prefecture, neighboring Fukushima Prefecture in which the damaged nuclear plant is located.

1,530 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram were found in a sample collected last Wednesday from a farm operated by the southern town of Marumori. The figure exceeds 5 times the legal limit of 300 becquerels.

350 becquerels of cesium were also detected in a sample from a prefectural farm in the northern city of Osaki.

Miyagi prefectural government has asked about 6,000 livestock farmers across the prefecture not to feed pasture grass to livestock and not to put cattle out on grazing land.
This is the first time radioactivity exceeding the legal limit has been found in grass or vegetables in the prefecture.

Meanwhile, in the sample from Marumori, 40 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kilogram were detected. The figure is below the legal limit of 70 becquerels.

In the sample from Osaki, no iodine was detected.

Tracking the Destructive Power
Of the Pacific Ocean’s Tsunamis 

The devastating tsunami in northeastern Japan is only one of many that have battered Japan over the eons. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, tsunami and earthquake expert Lori Dengler describes the historic and paleological record of tsunamis across the Pacific, and what it may mean in the future for Japan and the western United States. Read more here

Japan’s Once-Powerful Nuclear Industry is Under Siege
The disaster has highlighted the importance of nuclear energy to Japan and the power long wielded by the nuclear sector. The proposed Kaminoseki nuclear plant to be built on landfill in a national park in the country’s well-known Inland Sea, hailed as Japan’s Galapagos is spotlighted. For three decades, local residents, fishermen, and environmental activists have opposed the plant, saying it should not be built in the picturesque sea, with its rich marine life and fishing culture dating back millennia. The Inland Sea has also been the site of intense seismic activity, including the epicenter of the 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed 6,400 people. Read the article here  

As utilities seek to build new nuclear power plants in the U.S. and around the world, the latest generation of reactors feature improvements over older technologies. But even as attention has focused on nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels, questions remain about whether the newer reactors are sufficiently foolproof to be adopted on a large scale, journalist Susan Q. Stranahan reports. Read more here

By Aileen Kawagoe