Hello, and please find here on our EDU WATCH blog our latest news updates and article links on the educational scene in Japan:
… the top court presented two instances where a person’s freedom of thought and conscience would be considered to have been infringed on: when a specific ideology is imposed on a person, and when a person is forced to declare a certain ideology. The court said the order to play “Kimigayo” to accompany the singing did not violate these standards and was thus constitutional.
This judgement, however, was only over the playing of the piano. In Monday’s case, experts said that since standing and singing “Kimagayo” is closer to expressing one’s feelings, there was room for the top court to make an additional decision.
Monday’s ruling said standing and singing “Kimigayo” includes the “expression of respect” to the national flag and anthem. The ruling by the court’s second petty bench recognized that for individuals who do not have respect for the national flag and anthem based on their view of history, the order to stand and sing is an “indirect constraint”, even if it does not restrict freedom of thought and conscience imposing an ideology.
The court gave weight to the importance of enrollment and graduation ceremonies at schools, as well as the roles of public school teachers, who as public servants must obey orders at their jobs. The ruling recognized the “necessity and rationality” of the order as exceeding any disadvantage experienced by teachers. The constraint imposed by the order was therefore permissible, the court judged. …
“Ordering [teachers and staff] to stand and sing ‘Kimigayo’ has legal basis in the National Flag and Anthem Law. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the order was appropriate,” said Prof. Setsu Kobayashi of Keio University, a constitutional expert.

Related news:Flexibility needed over schoolteachers’ obligation to stand up and sing national anthem (Mainichi, May 31) The Supreme Court has ruled for the first time that school principals’ orders that teachers stand up and sing the national anthem when it is played at school ceremonies does not constitute a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of thought and conscience.  

U. N. expert urges Japan to protect rights of foreign students (May 31, Kyodo)

A U.N. expert on migrants’ human rights criticized the Japanese government’s discrimination towards foreign schools and urged it to do more in guaranteeing the rights of foreign migrants’ children, in his report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Jorge Bustamante, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, compiled the report on his findings during his visit to Japan in March last year. During the week-long visit, he interviewed migrants and their families, including Filipinos and Brazilians in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, and met Noriko Calderon, a Japanese-born daughter of a Filipino couple who was granted special permission to stay in Japan, while her undocumented parents were deported to the Philippines. (Kyodo)
The board of education in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture, has stopped using agricultural products from the prefecture in school lunches due to concerns over radioactive contamination, a move local agriculture and livestock farmers are saying will fuel harmful, unfounded rumors. According to an official of the board, food products from the prefecture are not being used at 16 out of 17 public primary and middle schools in the city. Lunches for the 16 schools are prepared at a municipal school lunch center that is now buying most of its ingredients, including meat, vegetables and fish, from the Kansai and Shikoku regions, the official said. (Yomiuri)

Govt to ease visa rules to lure students (Yomuri, May 31)

The government plans to ease the academic requirements for obtaining work visas, thereby making it easier for foreign graduates of Japanese vocational schools to work in this country, sources said Monday. The move is aimed at attracting more foreigners to study in Japan, the sources said. The Justice Ministry plans to revise the relevant ordinance shortly, with the new policy to be implemented in late June at the earliest. 

Japan to invite 32 U.S. high school students in memory of JET disaster victims

Japan will invite 32 U.S. high school students who are studying Japanese for a program in July to study the Japanese language and culture in memory of two American teachers who were killed in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Japanese officials said Monday. In a speech at a symposium in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto referred to the program intended to nurture people who will serve as a bridge between Japan and the United States in the future. The program is in commemoration of English teachers Taylor Anderson, 24, and Montgomery Dickson, 26, who were taking part in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. (Kyodo)

1,100 children lost parents in March 11th disaster  (NHK, May 31)

March 11th earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
The scholarship organization Ashinaga says that as of Monday, 1,101 people had applied for one-time payments from its fund for disaster orphans.
The number is nearly twice that for similar payments after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake in western Japan.
Of the latest applicants, 75 lost both parents, 632 lost only their fathers and 394 their mothers.
Ashinaga says it has raised over 20 million dollars since the disaster.
The payment for junior high school students and younger children is about 6,000 dollars. High school students and graduates preparing for university entrance examinations can receive nearly 10,000 dollars, and university and vocational school students around 12,000 dollars.

Elsewhere in the world the news on education:

Michelle Obama to UK Girls: Work Hard, Don’t Fear Failure (Education News, May 27)

Speaking to 40 girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson College, a state school in Inner London during her visit in England, Michelle Obama encouraged them to keep reaching for academic excellence and not to be put off by their origins.  The school boasts a student body that speaks 50 languages and was made famous when the then Prime Minister – Tony Blair decided not to enroll his daughter there. She had earlier spoken in the hall of Christchurch College, one of the most prestigious of Oxford University colleges.

Record 700,000 students compete for university places(May 31, The Telegraph)

The number of candidates attempting to get into British universities is set to top 700,000 for the first time, figures suggest, as students race to beat a rise in tuition fees in 2012.

Applications were up by 1.4 per cent at the end of May – the highest total for that point in the academic year.

Demand is strongest for practical courses more likely to lead straight to a job, such as nursing, engineering, the sciences and business and management studies. Fewer students are competing for places in many language and humanities subjects.

The overall rise is being fuelled by a surge in demand from students from mainland Europe who are eligible for the same Government-backed loans as British undergraduates.

More Schools Turn to ‘Pay to Play’ (Education News, May 31)

As schools face economic realities, they’re increasingly asking students and families to pay for school activities themselves.

The Bilingual Advantage(NYTimes, May 31)

One of the benefits experts have found is that bilinguals manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important. Excerpted from the article:

“There’s a system in your brain, the executive control system. It’s a general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what is relevant, while ignoring distractions. It’s what makes it possible for you to hold two different things in your mind at one time and switch between them.

If you have two languages and you use them regularly, the way the brain’s networks work is that every time you speak, both languages pop up and the executive control system has to sort through everything and attend to what’s relevant in the moment. Therefore the bilinguals use that system more, and it’s that regular use that makes that system more efficient.” The article also says bilinguals are better at multi-tasking and that  when bilinguals tried to solve the same problem as monolinguals, they used different connections of the brain than monolinguals use and that on certain kinds of even nonverbal tests, bilingual people were shown to be faster.

Educational Psychology: Now you know, when should teach children and when should you let them explore (The Economist, May 26)

Over a third of college students need remedial help (Education News, May 31) a report shows that far too many high school students are graduating without being prepared for the academic rigors of college.

Mobile phones ‘may increase brain cancer risk’ (The Telegraph, May 3o)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, has classified the radiation emitted by handsets as “possibly carcinogenic” although it did not find evidence of a clear link.

Its decision – putting mobiles in the same risk category as lead, the pesticide DDT and petrol exhausts – will put governments under pressure to update their advice to the public on the potential dangers of talking on mobiles for long periods of time.

Christopher Wild, the director of IARC, said that while more research is carried out “it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting”.

It has long been known that the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones are absorbed by the body, much of it by the head when the handset is held to the ear. …

Last year a landmark IARC study, known as Interphone, disclosed that making calls for more than half an hour a day over 10 years could increase users’ risk of developing gliomas – a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine – by 40 per cent.


Next, the news reports related to the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and ongoing nuclear crisis:
With contaminated produce continuing to be detected beyond Fukushima Prefecture, public concern over the health effects of radiation exposure continues to mount.
Experts agree that exposure to more than 100 millisieverts in total increases the risk of cancer. However, scientists have yet to achieve consensus about the degree of risk of contracting cancer below that level.
“What we know today is that there is a risk of cancer incidence and mortality from exposure to more than 100 millisierverts in total. Above that level, the percentage of cancer risk increases in proportion to exposure level,” said Masayori Ishikawa, a professor in the department of applied molecular-imaging physics at Hokkaido University and a radiation therapy expert.
The best epidemiological study on health effects from radiation exposure in the world is that of the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.
A followup study on some 100,000 survivors found that the occurrence of cancer increases in proportion to doses above 100 millisieverts, but “the study so far failed to detect any statistically significant increase in the incidence and mortality of cancer at doses below 100 millisieverts,” explained Otsura Niwa, professor emeritus of Kyoto University.
According to the study, lifetime cancer mortality is estimated to rise 0.5 percent for anyone exposed to a dose of 100 millisieverts, said Niwa, an expert on radiobiology.
In Japan, about one out of every two people develop cancer during their lifetime, and about 30 percent of deaths in Japan are attributed to cancer, Ishikawa said.
Below 100 millisieverts, “the chances are too small to get statistically significant data,” he said. With such a low risk, it would be difficult to have statistically significant data, even if information on about 1 million people were available, he added.
However, Niwa said that the lack of evidence does not mean there is no risk.
“It means that if there is an increase in the health risk, it is below the level detected by the best study in the world,” Niwa said.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection has drawn up recommendations on radiation protection based on such hypotheses as that there is a small risk of contracting cancer even when the level is below 100 millisieverts. ICRP’s recommendations have been used worldwide, including in Japan, for setting guidelines to set limits for the general public as well as for nuclear plant workers.
The ICRP’s 2007 recommendations set three different dose limits, depending on the situation.
Normally, it advises not exceeding an upper level of 1 millisievert per year for the general public. In times of emergency, it calls for upper limits of between 20 and 100 millisieverts. For a postaccident period, it urges setting the limit to between 1 and 20 millisieverts, which the government is now using as a base figure in setting the 30-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 plant, as well as for the use of school grounds in the rest of the prefecture.

Although there are arguments over the degree of risk below 100 millisieverts, a panel of experts at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences also supports the hypothesis that a small dose has the potential to increase the risk of cancer in humans. It predicts that approximately 1 in 1,000 people will develop cancer after being exposed to a total of 10 millisieverts.

But even based on such a hypothesis, the chances of developing radiation-induced cancer are very small compared with the risks associated with a high salt diet or lack of exercise, Niwa said.

According to a report by the National Cancer Center, based in Tokyo, the risk of cancer incidence from low exposure to radiation is much smaller than that from smoking or obesity. The NCC notes, however, that the report should be considered a reference to get an idea about the level of cancer risks due to radiation exposure because the percentage changes depending on the individual and also the duration of studies. …

But when it comes to children, experts say extra care is needed, because the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are to radiation.

“Children have higher rates of cell division than adults. So when they are exposed to radiation, it can result in more damage than adults,” Ishikawa of Hokkaido University said.

Experts estimate that children have two to three times more risk of cancer mortality than adults.

Children’s vulnerability was manifested in the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

Among people exposed to radiation while they were age 18 or under, more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed. Of those, 15 people had died as of 2005, according to a 2008 report by the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

The thyroid cancer cases were believed to be caused by drinking milk contaminated with high levels of iodine-131. When ingested, iodine-131 accumulates in the thyroid gland. Because children’s thyroids are smaller and because they absorb iodine much more actively than adults, they have a much higher chance of developing thyroid cancer, experts say.

Considering these factors, the annual upper limit of 20 millisieverts set by the government for schoolchildren in Fukushima Prefecture is too high, experts say.

“Twenty millisieverts a year is a level that should prompt a country to start instituting safety measures. It is too high, especially for children,” said Ishikawa of Hokkaido University.

In response to strong criticism from parents and activists about the 20-millisievert annual upper limit, the education ministry last Friday set a new nonbinding target to reduce radiation exposure of children in Fukushima Prefecture while they are at school to 1 millisievert or less per year. However, the ministry has not changed the binding upper limit of 20 millisieverts for Fukushima children both in and outside schools.

Anzai of Ritsumeikan believes what people should do now is make an extra effort to reduce the intake of radioactive materials as much as possible, especially among children, rather than keep discussing dose limits.

As the level of radioactive materials detected in the air across Japan has declined and stabilized since hitting a peak in mid-March shortly after the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima plant, what the public should look out for now is how much cesium-137 fell from the sky. That has a much longer half-life than iodine-131, Anzai said.

Removing surface soil from school playgrounds, as has been done in Fukushima Prefecture, is a very effective way of reducing exposure, both internally and externally, he said.

As for food, people should not be too worried, because foodstuffs contaminated with radioactive materials that exceed recommended levels are currently not being sold to consumers, experts say. Vegetables, including cabbage and turnips, and milk and “konago” sand lance fish from Fukushima Prefecture, excluding some areas, as well as spinach from Kitaibaraki and Takahagi in Ibaraki Prefecture, were still banned as of Monday, according to the agriculture ministry. Any bans on using tap water had been lifted as of Monday, according to the health ministry.

If people want to take extra precautions, washing vegetables or boiling them can remove some radioactive materials. For rice, most of the radioactivity can be removed by milling the grains, Anzai said. Read the entire article here

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has detected high levels of a radioactive substance that tends to accumulate in human bones.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says it took soil samples on May 9th at 3 locations about 500 meters from the No.1 and No.2 reactors and analyzed them.
The utility detected up to 480 becquerels of radioactive strontium 90 per kilogram of soil. That’s about 100 times higher than the maximum reading recorded in Fukushima Prefecture following atmospheric nuclear tests carried out by foreign countries during the Cold War era.
TEPCO reported detecting 2,800 becquerels of strontium 89 per kilogram of soil at the same location.
This is the second time since April that radioactive strontium has been found inside the plant compound.
The substance was also detected in soil and plants more than 30 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power station in March.
When people inhale radioactive strontium, it accumulates in bones. Scientists say that strontium could cause cancer.
Tokyo Electric Power says it believes that radioactive strontium was released from the damaged plant and it will continue to monitor radiation levels.
An expert on radioactive substances says he thinks radioactive strontium may continue to be detected around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But he says the strontium levels that might be detected in soil will be far lower than those of the radioactive cesium released in the accident by a factor of several thousand.
Yoshihiro Ikeuchi of the Japan Chemical Analysis Center says strontium tends to accumulate in bones, like calcium. But he also says its levels in the air are thought to be lower than those for soil and even if people inhale the substance, no health problems will be caused by such internal exposure to radiation.

The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has started operating a system to effectively cool water in a spent fuel pool in the plant’s No.2 reactor building.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company on Tuesday set up at the building the first circulatory cooling system to be installed at the plant since the accident in March.
The utility has been pumping about 50 tons of water into the pool every few days.
The pool’s temperature is around 70 degrees Celsius, apparently producing steam that has filled the building and resulted in a humidity level of 99.9 percent.
The humidity and high radiation levels have been hampering repair work at the site.
The new system is to pump water out of the pool to a heat exchanger and return the water to the pool as coolant.
The firm says it plans to lower the pool’s temperature to around 40 degrees Celsius in a month and hopes to reduce the humidity level before installing equipment to remove radioactive substances in the building.
The firm says it will start operating similar systems at the plant’s No.1 and 3 reactors in June, and at the No.4 reactor in July.

See related article: TEPCO starts system to cool spent fuel pool at Fukushima plant  (Mainichi, June1)

An oxygen cylinder has burst at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But the plant operator says the blast caused no damage to the plant’s facilities, and no injuries.
At around 2:30 PM on Tuesday, workers reported hearing a loud noise like that of an explosion at the south side of the plant’s No. 4 reactor.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company says unmanned heavy machinery removingdebris at the site damaged the cylinder, causing it to burst