Here is our EDU WATCH  summary on the educational scene in Japan as well as worldwide:

Elementary school textbook publisher prints alternate, tsunami story-free material (Mainichi) Excerpts follow below:

The fifth-grade Japanese textbook pictured here includes a portrayal of a massive tsunami, prompting the publisher to issue alternative materials for teachers who deem it too soon after the March 11 disaster for their students to handle. (Mainichi)
The fifth-grade Japanese textbook pictured here includes a portrayal of a massive tsunami, prompting the publisher to issue alternative materials for teachers who deem it too soon after the March 11 disaster for their students
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The publisher of a textbook that includes a story about a man who saved people from tsunami over 150 years ago has issued alternate materials in case teachers judge it is too immediate for their students to stomach after the March 11 quake and tsunami.The story is based on a biography called “Hyakunen-go no furusato o mamoru” (Protecting our hometown 100 years from now) about Gihei Hamaguchi (1820-85) — the then proprietor of what has become a major soy sauce manufacturer — and how he saved the residents of what is now the Wakayama Prefecture town of Hirogawa after the 1854 Ansei-Nankai Earthquake. …

Concerned that the depictions of tsunami in the story would be too much for students to handle, Mitsumura Tosho held a board meeting to discuss what steps to take. In April, the textbook company began posting announcements on its website and their newsletter for teachers asking them to think over whether to use the text in their lessons, and created a booklet with a different story to be used in lieu of the biography.

Some 25,000 copies of the alternate text were sent to schools along the northeastern coast of Japan, hit hardest by the March 11 disaster, and other schools that requested them. Teachers are permitted to choose between the alternate text and the biography. According to the publisher, at least one official at an education board in one of the hardest-hit areas said they were hoping to use the original text because it would help the students think about disaster prevention and recovery.The director of Mitsumura Tosho’s editorial division said that he, too, hoped that the original text would be used, if circumstances permit. “If possible, we’d like schools to use the text, because it is an educational text that aspires to teach students about love for one’s hometown and independent thinking.”Meanwhile, the director of Inamura no Hi no Yakata, a comprehensive educational facility in Hirogawa, said that it was understandable that some schools may choose not to use the original materials. “I can’t make a judgment because I haven’t seen the alternative text, but I can understand that for children living in the disaster areas, a story about the tsunami is just too immediate,” he said. Still, he continued, “It is true that tsunami come in multiple waves, and I want to keep teaching people outside the disaster areas that it is dangerous to return home after the first wave.”

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In fiscal 2004, the state-run national universities in Japan were given the status of “corporations” – the initial six-year “medium term” after this shift to “national university corporations” ended in fiscal 2009.

In Living with national universities (Japan Times, Jun 20)  Takamitsu Sawa who is president of Shiga University, Japan and who had opposed the corporatization of national universities scheme before Education and Science Committee of the Lower House gives critical scrutiny of the fiscal and operational aspects of national universities in Japan, and offers an opinion as to why the “corporatization” of national universities is failing …

Takamitsu makes the following observations that:

– Japan’s international competitiveness in science and technology has not been strengthened as a result of creating corporations out of the national universities. On the contrary, this country is being caught or even being passed by countries like South Korea and China.

– that despite the number of students from abroad studying in Japan having increased, there has been “no qualitative improvement”.

– that “Teachers at national university corporations now spend much of their precious time drawing up medium-term targets and plans, preparing progress reports and annual programs and writing explanations about research projects in order to win research funding in competition with other schools. As a result, they find it extremely hard to concentrate on their own research”.

– that “the quality of their education and research programs has inevitably suffered” … “[b]ecause perational subsidies from the education ministry have been reduced at the rate of 1 percent per year, most universities have sought to reduce personnel expenses to cope with the situation”.

– that “the protracted recession, rising unemployment and other unfavorable economic factors in recent years have prompted a growing number of high school students to apply to universities within their localities rather than to big-name universities in large cities. In other words, Japanese national university corporations have become similar to state universities in the United States”.

– that the introduction of the national university corporation system has been a failure.

– “that it is difficult to implement reform at a large university while “One of the advantages of being small is that reform can be carried out easily”. He maintains that “because of a serious disparity between large universities and small ones at the outset, and because of the unfair competition between them that necessarily follows, the corporation scheme would bring about a situation in which small universities fall prey to the larger ones”.

– “that all youths at least 18 be provided with equal opportunities to get a higher education at a national university corporation in their area, where admission fees and tuitions are relatively inexpensive compared with private universities”.

– that while the government has found it more cost-effective to “pour several hundred million yen a year into each of a limited number of projects for five years, on the principle of “selecting and concentrating (investment) on a small number of projects””, this has led to the embezzlement of research funds by well-known professors at highly reputed universities.

– that excepting the initial stage of a research project if expensive experimental equipment has to be installed, “if there is a budget of ¥3 billion per year, it would be far more desirable to allocate it to 30 projects at ¥100 million each than to support six projects at ¥500 million each” and advocates limiting disbursements to less than ¥50 million a year should be allocated toward the costs of expendables, salaries and travel expenses”.

Takamitsu in the final analysis advocates that the government should endeavor to strengthen national universities located away from metropolitan areas as a way of providing broader opportunities for young men and women in the countryside, and also calls upon officials of Japan’s education ministry to “bear in mind that the best means of improving the quality of higher education lies in following in the footsteps of Finland: Elevate the standards of primary and secondary education to the highest in the world, and don’t concentrate investments on a select few institutions and projects”.

Japan research team shows black hole at center of galaxy built of many black holes (Mainichi Japan) June 19, 2011

The super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy is in fact the product of many smaller black holes merging over time, a University of Tsukuba research team has discovered using computer simulations.Usually, black holes are created in the wake of supernovae, when the remnant of a blue giant star folds the fabric of space around itself. The remnants are extremely small, but have masses tens of times greater than that of our sun. However, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way has a mass of between 10 million and a billion suns, and until now no one knew how it had formed. The Tsukuba team, led by professor Masayuki Umemura, posited an early Milky Way with 10 black holes with masses in the 10 million suns range, plus 500,000 stars. The team ran a computer simulation concentrating on the gravitational attraction among the 10 black holes and the stars.What the researchers found was that over time, the bodies began to lose their energy as they pulled on each other, and eventually collected in the center of the galaxy. The bodies that had fallen into the center began to combine, and after about the 300 million year mark in the simulation, six of the 10 black holes had glommed together. The group’s research was published in a recent edition of the United States astronomy periodical “The Astrophysical Journal.”

‘We want information!’ / Kanto residents make own radiation measurements (Yomiuri Jun.19)

As the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant drags on, an increasing number of concerned citizens in Tokyo and the surrounding areas have started to measure radiation levels on their own.

One local government in Saitama Prefecture has been flooded with applications from residents wanting to use its radiation-measuring instrument. People have become anxious about so-called hot spots, in which radiation levels in isolated places are much higher than the surrounding areas. Parents with small children have been especially uneasy about the situation. The privately run Mikuni Kindergarten in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, chose to remove the surface soil of its playground after measuring its radiation level. Readings that had reached up to 0.52 microsieverts per hour have decreased to 0.15 microsieverts. According to measurements by the prefectural government, radiation levels in the city were lower than provisional limits. However, the kindergarten decided to make its own radiation measurements as radiation levels in Kashiwa have been reported to be higher than other areas.

After quake submerged tiny island’s only port, children can’t regularly take boat to school (Mainichi, Jun 20)

School children on this small, remote fishing island can no longer regularly take a boat to school on the main island because the March 11 earthquake left the ground level of the tiny island submerged, leaving the pier at the port underwater.

Following the devastating earthquake, “commuter boat” services have been disrupted because the pier at the harbor of the small island has frequently been flooded. Two junior high school students from the island were forced to stay at an evacuation shelter on Honshu temporarily to attend school. But one elementary school student has been able to take the boat to school on the main island for only 12 days since May. Read more here

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Up next, the news updates on education elsewhere in the world:

How Slang Affects Students in the Classroom (Jun 13, US News & World Report)

Universities are all ‘internationalising’ now(Guardian, 7 Jun 2011)

Universities have always had roles that transcend national boundaries, says Peter Scott who offers his views on the ugly side to internationalisation …

After Home Schooling, Pomp and Traditional Circumstances (NY Times)

Adding ‘breadth’ to specialist degrees in Australia (NY Times) The University of Melbourne offers specialized training only for postgraduates, but the system has many detractors.

The girls can’t help it: The sacred bond of sorority (The Independent, Jun 20)

Friends, rivals, partners – sisters can be all these and more. Why is this particular sibling set-up so complicated, and so fascinating to outsiders? From the Bennets to the Middletons, Harriet Walker studies the sacred bond of sorority..

New IGCSE may lead to ‘super A*’ (BBC)

Experts say that a new “super A*” grade could be ushered in by the introduction by one exam board of an “A* with distinction” in further maths IGCSE.  Various education experts say this new grade “might be setting an impossible standard at the top.” John Bangs, former head of education at the NUT and now a senior Cambridge researcher, told the TES:”Once one exam board does this, the others will follow. This will become the pre-requisite for Russell Group universities which look for these new distinctions as an easy way of taking a 360-degree view of students.”

‘Flexitime’ school that rewrites book on teaching (Independent)

Teachers to be trained on the job (Independent) Teachers will be trained on the job in the classroom under a radical shake-up of training to be announced by the govt.| OPINIONATOR: The Failure of Rational Choice Philosophy (NY Times, June 19, 2011)

New Harry Potter trailer  Warner Bros releases final trailer for Deathly Hallows – Part 2 – the movie will be out this summer in Japanese cinemas from July 15th, 2011.

Parents’ behaviour can influence teen drinking (Jun 16, BBC) Excerpts follow:

Children who see their parents drunk are twice as likely to regularly get drunk themselves, a survey of young teenagers has suggested.Poor parental supervision also raises the likelihood of teenage drinking, said the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Ipsos MORI survey found the behaviour of friends is also a powerful factor in predicting drinking habits. The more time teenagers spend with friends, the more likely they are to drink alcohol, it suggested. Read more here

Surge in stationery sales as Britons increasingly opt for the personal touch over phone or email (The Independent)Cost rankings on US colleges (by US News & World Report):

10 Least Expensive Public Colleges for In-State Students | 10 Most Expensive Public Colleges for In-State Students | 10 Most Expensive Private Colleges | 10 Least Expensive Private Colleges 5 Ways to Make a Jobless Summer Productive | 10 Business Schools that lead to jobs  | Business schools hope to shatter sturdy glass ceiling (US News & World Report)

Next are the follow-up news updates on the Fukushima nuclear crisis:

Even if the device can be removed, restarting the reactor will be risky, given its safety record and its use of highly toxic plutonium as fuel, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a watchdog group, and a member of an advisory government committee on Japan’s long-term nuclear energy policy. The plant is 60 miles from Kyoto, a city of 1.5 million people, and the fast-breeder design of the reactor makes it more prone to Chernobyl-type runaway reactions in the case of a severe accident, critics say.

POST-MORTEM time: TEPCO workers ‘frantic’ over vents (Yomiuri, Jun.20) | Aftershocks, explosions hindered N-plant staff (Yomiuri, Jun.20) |  Tepco report reveals lack of preparedness A 41-page timeline of Tokyo Electric’s initial actions in the first days of the Fukushima nuclear crisis reveals a lack of preparedness and severe difficulty coping with the debacle.

 

Current status: Mountain of problems still remains before Fukushima plant brought under control (Mainichi) | Tepco plays down decontamination failure Tokyo Electric plays down concern that a solution to its nuclear plant crisis faces delays after finding more radiation than expected must be removed from millions of liters of water. | Tepco airs out humid reactor No. 2 building (Japan Times) | TEPCO injects water to No.4 reactor storage pool

Related nuclear news:

The Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor — a long-troubled national project — has been in a precarious state of shutdown since a 3.3-ton device crashed into the reactor’s inner vessel, cutting off access to the plutonium and uranium fuel rods at its core.Engineers have tried repeatedly since the accident last August to recover the device, which appears to have gotten stuck. They will make another attempt as early as next week.But critics warn that the recovery process is fraught with dangers because the plant uses large quantities of liquid sodium, a highly flammable substance, to cool the nuclear fuel.

— End of EDU WATCH post

By Aileen Kawagoe