A 10 year old's jiyu kenkyu summer project in progress - my daughter's mockup model of the nearest train station

On the reverse side.

The school holidays have begun! My daughter has already been tearing about early in the mornings taking photos of the nearby train station, buying art materials, and is unusually charged up working on her assigned holiday project this year. Which is kind of nice for a change because the frenzied activity isn’t coming from me.  Her teacher was trying to cajole her into trying out for the science project competition to no avail, as she has her heart set on reproducing a model of our local train station, as you can see picture above… My only worry is when she has completed her project which is likely to be soon, how am I to channel all that excess energy for the rest of the holidays?

Anyway, some of the suggested ideas for summer activities from our online community have included visits to the museum to see either the Dinosaur Expo 2011 in Tokyo Ueno’s National Museum of Nature & Science (more info here) and “Fossils” exhibits on in Osaka and Ueno, Tokyo, or the Ancient Greece “The Body Beautiful” exhibits. For those with itchy fingers, try Mibostudio for cute print and cut-out projects to download to make or Marvel’s Create_your_own_superhero for the imaginative one.  Or you might like to try soothing aquarium visits, Kodomo no KuniMother’s Farm (Mazar Bokujo) and the many more School’s Out and Field Tripper’s Corner suggestions. Last but not least, in the movie theater corner, here are some boxoffice rankings of the kid’s movies to help with the choosing of your summer holiday viewing.

I do apologize for the lapse in blogging our EDU WATCH news updates. The last topic I was working on Countering Radiation Damage & Contamination took several weeks of heavy research and a bit of the wind out of me. Today however, I make up for my lapse with a bumper catchup news roundup on happenings on the educational scene here in Japan as well as worldwide.

Updates on the Fukushima crisis and radiation situation are also included at the bottom of the page, along with health and safety topics.

Ganbatte ne on those jiyu kenkyu or summer projects!

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe


The news briefs on education in Japan:

Todai plans English-only course (Japan Times, July 25, 2011)

Seeking to promote internationalization and “gather competitive students from across the world,” the University of Tokyo said it will launch a course whose classes are all in English from fiscal 2012 . The entrance exam for the course to be set up in the College of Arts and Science will be conducted in English as it mainly targets foreign students. Excerpted from the article:  The university will recruit a small number of students from January to March for the course starting from October 2012. Applicants are required to have been educated in languages other than Japanese for 10 years or more before graduating from high school. While applicants will have to submit short essays, written exams will not be held.

[Editorial note: It might have been more useful to have announced what course it was launching, rather than its intention to launch a course merely for the sake of catching foreign students???]

Four win medals in Chemistry Olympiad | The Japan Times Online Jul 20 A Tokyo high school student won a gold medal in the International Chemistry Olympiad  

“A Tokyo high school student won a gold medal in the International Chemistry Olympiad, while three others got silvers, the education ministry said.

The gold medalist was To­mo­hi­ro So­e­ji­ma, 16, a third-year student at Rik­kyo Ike­bu­ku­ro Senior High School in Tokyo.

The silver medalists were Hi­ro­ki Ura­ta­ni, 17, a fourth-year student at Ze­Ze High School in Otsu, Shi­ga Prefecture, Sa­o­ri Ku­ri­ha­ra, 18, a fourth-year student at Hok­kai­do Sapporo Ni­shi High School, and Ha­ya­te Sai­to, 18, a fourth-year student at Na­da Senior High School in Hyo­go Prefecture” …

Students from Nagano win video award (Japan Times, Jul 25) “A group of second-year junior high school students from Nagano Prefecture has received an award for a short documentary film at a global video contest for children around the world.

Awarded at a ceremony in Hollywood on Thursday was a five-minute film, about the construction of a local dam, created by five female students from Nagawa Junior High School in Matsumoto as part of the Kid Witness News education program run by Panasonic Corp.

The program aims at boosting creativity and communication skills and fostering teamwork through video production by children at the elementary and secondary school levels, according to Panasonic, which lends video production equipment to schools for student video productions.

In the awarded video, the students interview residents who sacrificed their homes in the valley where the Nagawado Dam now stands. The students concluded their video with the message that energy is too precious to waste” …

City tries to lessen ‘hot spot (Japan Times Jul 25)  Excerpts follow below:

“The city of Fukushima tried Sunday to remove radioactive materials from school routes and other locations in a district believed to be a “hot spot” by mobilizing about 3,800 employees, construction workers and residents.

Although the prefectural capital is around 60 km from the stricken Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, …its Watari district showed higher radiation levels than elsewhere in the city in a survey last month. … A street cleaner brushed around 1.5 km on routes to and from two local elementary schools, while residents removed soil and weeds from and around ditches.”

Decontamination experiment starts in Fukushima (NHK, Jul 24)

More than 3,500 city employees and citizens took part in an experiment to remove radioactive materials from roads in a highly contaminated area of Fukushima City on Sunday.

The experiment follows the city’s decision to clean up all the roads used by elementary and junior high school students.

Participants dug up weeds and removed sludge from roadside ditches, where radioactive materials tend to accumulate.

They used high-pressure washing equipment and scrubbing brushes to clean roads near schools.

A father of 2 elementary school children said he took part to bring down radiation levels for the many children who are still living in the community. …”

S. Korean students to attend cultural exchange event in Japan–other nations back out (Asahi, 07/24)

Students from Hyungang Girls’ Information High School in Seoul will meet Japanese students in Toyama Prefecture, which will host next year’s festival, although they will not make it to Fukushima, where this year’s event will take place.

“Japan is a country very close to us,” one student at the high school said. “I want to encourage them.”

The Fukushima Festival of Arts and Sciences originally attracted about 80 participants from South Korea, the United States, China and Brazil. All but the students from the Hyungang school backed out over radiation fears.”

English teachers sent abroad (Japan Times, Jul 18) Positive comments about Japan’s system of English teaching are rare, but hope is on the horizon. This month, 96 Japanese high school and junior high teachers of English leave for a half-year training program in the United States. They will enroll this fall in courses on English-teaching methods, stay with local families and work as interns at secondary schools in America. The experience they bring back will be a great step toward genuinely improving Japan’s woeful way of teaching English. The program, sponsored by the government, is an important initiative. The teachers, most in their 20s to 40s, will be able to acquire the kind of experience that will have an enormous impact on their students.

Fukushima high school students to stage play (Asahi, 07/23)

Fund set up to repair music instruments at disaster-hit schools (Kyodo Jul 21) A fund has been launched to help repair musical instruments damaged at schools in northeastern Japan areas hit by the March quake and tsunami. The fund will finance a three-year “School Music Revival” project to help repair damaged instruments or purchase new ones at about 1,850 schools in disaster-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, according to the organizer Zenkoku Gakki Kyokai, a national association of musical instrument makers.

Summer offers opportunity to assit Tohoku economy, kids | Vacation length affected (Yomiuri Jul 20)

Job-hunt ‘dress code’ doesn’t suit summer (Yomiuri, Jul.18)

Disaster role for schools (Japan Times, Jul 18) An education ministry panel has proposed strengthening the functions of schools during disasters after taking into consideration lessons of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The crux of the proposals, announced June 30, concerns the role of schools as evacuation centers. Specifically, the panel proposes that schools have enough stocks of food and water to enable students and local residents to stay there for several days after disasters strike, be equipped with means of communication to be used when normal means of communication do not function and be installed with toilets that can be used even without water.

Students’ belongings go unclaimed (Yomiuri, Jul.17)

Dozens of backpacks and other school supplies found in the debris after the March 11 tsunami sit inside a sports gym in Ishinomaki, but many parents of the dozens of children killed by the disaster apparently still cannot bring themselves to pick up the items.

The school gear, much of it clearly named, was found near Okawa Primary School. Seventy-four students, or about 70 percent of the school’s students, died or went missing due to the disaster.

Fukuchi Taiiku Kenshu Center, a sports gym in the Okawa district, is one of five locations for displaying personal belongings found in the debris. In one corner of the center sit neat rows of backpacks and other school gear that belonged to the children who died or remain missing….

Some parents are still reluctant to accept the deaths of their loved ones even though more than four months have passed since the tsunami …”

Child-raising benefit deal ‘likely today’ (Yomiuri, Jul.25) Excerpted below:

“The DPJ’s new proposal would reduce the child-rearing allowance for people earning 10 million yen and more in annual income, rather than providing the full benefit regardless of income–a point that had irked the main opposition parties.

“I understand there are various opinions and motives inside the LDP, but [LDP members] shouldn’t treat this issue as a game. It’s very important to families with children,” Okada said after the lecture Saturday.” Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada also said, “We won’t be able to realize 100 percent of the policies in the manifesto,” he said. “We implemented many policies, and we’ve apologized for the ones we couldn’t. The government must be honest with the public.”

| Earlier news: Revised child allowance plan mirrors Sakaguchi’s (Yomiuri, Jul.24) | Child benefits may be cut if net income tops 10 million yen(Japan Times, Jul 23, 2011)  

Fukushima, Miyagi schools mark end of 1st term (Yomiuri, Jul.21)

Japanese schools seek more Taiwanese students (NHK, July 24) Following the growing concern about the decline in foreign students…

“Japanese universities and colleges have held a fair in the Taiwanese capital Taipei in an attempt to attract more students from the island.

About 5,300 Taiwanese students are studying in Japan. The figure is the third largest after China and South Korea.

Some 200 schools set up stands at the venue on Sunday to explain application procedures and give details of courses. … read more here

Quake-hit riding club to be resuscitated soon (Yomiuri Jul.24) His facilities destroyed and nearly all his horses killed in the Great East Japan Earthquake, an equestrian club manager in Miyagi Prefecture is preparing to start again–inspired by the indomitable spirit of a horse that miraculously survived.

Yoshinori Suzuki of Bell Seaside Farm will “purchase about 10 more horses from my equestrian friends to restart my club, first by starting a horseback riding class for children and their parents…”

Fun in the sun for Fukushima families (Yomiuri, Jul.23)  Excerpts follow below:

“For children living in Fukushima Prefecture who have few chances to play outside due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, volunteers and municipalities nationwide are organizing events to give them an opportunity to enjoy summer vacation outside of the prefecture.

In Fukushima city, primary and middle school students are advised to wear masks and caps on the way to and from school. Even on hot days when temperatures exceed 30 C, some children wear long-sleeve shirts and tights to protect against radioactive material. Every school in the city canceled the use of outdoor pools during the first term of the current academic year.

To make summer more enjoyable for children, a newly organized group called “Fukushima no kodomo o mamoru kai” (group to protect Fukushima children) is planning a 29-day trip around Hokkaido for children and their parents from Fukushima Prefecture.

The group was founded by a woman who evacuated from Fukushima to Sapporo and other volunteers. During the one-month program, which begins Monday, participants can enjoy swimming, hiking and bug collecting.

It costs only 5,000 yen for children and 20,000 yen for parents with additional funds coming from donations by Hokkaido residents and others. A total of 20 families or 44 people are slated to participate in the program.

Yuka Saito, 38, who will join the trip with her three children, said: “My kids and I are tired of worrying about radiation. In Hokkaido, we don’t have to worry about food contamination and I want my kids to run around outside and enjoy themselves.”

The Fukushima University disaster volunteer center, mainly made up of university students, will invite about 40 primary school students for a free, five-day summer camp on the Shima Peninsula, Mie Prefecture.

In Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, parents and schools will give about 840 children and parents the opportunity to travel abroad to Asian countries or to many destinations in Japan, including Okinawa. Participants do not have to pay for transportation, accommodation or most other expenses, which will be covered by local governments and nonprofit organizations.

The Akita prefectural government was flooded with inquiries and spots quickly filled up when they offered a program providing disaster victims free accommodations and meals at about 90 locations around the prefecture.”  Read more here

Child consultation centers short of staff (Yomiuri, Jul.22)

(Yomiuri, Jun 21) This installment of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series, the fifth of six, introduces a middle school principal in Saitama Prefecture who has launched exercises at his school to improve students’ mental and physical well-being… Excerpted below:

EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Vision, relaxation skills raise motivation (Yomiuri, Jul.21)

“The students were prone to tiredness and their concentration span was short. Both teachers and parents were unhappy about this, and some simply assumed the students were lazy. But Nakajima, a health and physical education teacher by training, decided to look at the problem from a different perspective: Maybe the adults were unaware that the students’ sensory and motor functions were underdeveloped.

“Mental and physical well-being must be the source of motivation,” thought Nakajima, who subsequently obtained qualification to teach mind-body coordination. In November, he started an experimental program in one second-year class, in which the students were taught to relax during the morning meeting every day through deep breathing and light exercise while listening to music.

At first, some of the students showed no interest and simply rested with their heads on their desks, but they gradually started to take part.

“The students started concentrating better, so it became easier for me to give lessons,” said Yoshie Kawabata, 29, who was in charge of the class.

Subsequently, the class’ average score in the term-end exam far exceeded that of all the second-year classes, which amazed the students themselves.

This result prompted Nakajima to start another program–vision training. The ability to quickly focus one’s eyes and to adjust them for accurate perspective and depth perception, affects the efficiency of studying and physical activities.

Visual training is not about improving ordinary vision but about improving various functions of the eyes, such as eye movement, body-eye coordination and dynamic visual acuity, or the ability to accurately track moving objects. Such training has a more than 100-year history in the United States, where state-qualified optometrists test and train children as well as athletes.

It came to Nakajima that his students needed visual training after seeing them bump into a cart while they were cleaning the school ground as part of their daily routine. The cart was in clear sight when the students bumped into it.

Nakajima does not hesitate to ask specialists for advice for his vision- training project, and he also invites students he is particularly concerned about to the principal’s office for individual instruction. The effect of his efforts is currently being studied, but he has received positive feedback.

“Students can change if we train them and give them confidence in their abilities,” Nakajima said.

In May, he introduced the morning relaxation exercise to the entire school. He has received many requests from other schools as well as parent-teacher associations to give lectures. It seems he has hit upon a surprise method to change the way students think and feel.”  Read the whole article here (note: the link will expire soon)

[Editorial note: These visualization techniques and relaxation skills are incorporated into the Shichida Method of training children and into their classroom lessons.]

Education ministry welcomes top university’s academic year shift (Kyodo, Jul 7)  “The education ministry on Thursday welcomed the move by the University of Tokyo to consider changing the start of its academic year to the fall from spring, following most universities overseas. Senior vice education minister Kan Suzuki told a press conference, “I welcome the idea. How to develop global human resources is an important theme in society.” Suzuki also said the move shows the leading university “has a strong sense of awareness that global competition is increasing day by day.”

Japan is ‘fourth-best in the world’ for digital literacy (InsideJapanTours, Jul 7)

The young residents of Japan are among the best in the world when it comes to understanding the digital world. That is according to a new survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which found that only Australia, New Zealand and South Korea were ahead of Japan. Associated Press revealed that the OECD questioned 37,000 15-year-old students from 19 countries. Included in this number were 109 senior high-school students and 3,400 first-year students from Japan, who scored 519 in the survey.

The young residents of Japan are among the best in the world when it comes to understanding the digital world.

That is according to a new survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which found that only Australia, New Zealand and South Korea were ahead of Japan.

Associated Press revealed that the OECD questioned 37,000 15-year-old students from 19 countries.

Included in this number were 109 senior high-school students and 3,400 first-year students from Japan, who scored 519 in the survey.

The average score for the poll was 500, while South Korean children topped the charts with 568 points.

Another interesting figure to come out of the survey is that – in Japan – girls are generally more knowledgeable about digital matters than boys, scoring on average 23 points higher.

Japan is usually considered one of the most technologically literate societies in the world. It is home to companies such as Sega, Sharp and Nikon.

Panel targets English proficiency  (Japan Times, Jul 14) An education ministry panel proposed Wednesday that local governments hire 600 foreigners and Japanese with excellent English-language skills nationwide as regular schoolteachers by the end of fiscal 2016 to enhance students’ English-language proficiency. The 12-member panel suggested the state and local boards of education double the number of 18-year-old students who have studied or stayed abroad to around 30,000.


In news on education elsewhere in the world:

Does the IB open doors to top colleges? (ST, Jul 6th) Excerpted here: “In a new survey, university admissions officers in Britain, Europe and the US were asked to compare their own country’s secondary school qualification with the IB in nine different categories, including business skills, communication skills, creativity, the ability to cope with pressure and detailed knowledge of a subject. British admissions officers rated the A level superior in assessing detailed knowledge of a subject. But in every other category, the IB was rated either equal or superior to other qualifications.

The survey was commissioned by ACS International Schools, a group of independent schools based in Britain. Mr Jeremy Lewis, head of ACS Egham International school in Surrey, south-west of London, said the group ‘has over 30 years’ experience in delivering the International Baccalaureate Diploma, so we welcome the news that the qualification is so highly thought of by university admissions officers from the UK, US and Europe’.

But are the survey’s claims that the IB is ‘the top passport to international education’ really justified?”Read on to know what the different universities have to say… see also

First study comparing international Baccalaureate Diploma Programme with UK A Levels demonstrates strength of IB Diploma curriculum globally

Is Cursive Obsolete? Distressed Cavalier blogs Over at the blog Seconds, amcgrann recently asked Is Cursive Obsolete? The real reason to teach cursive isn’t beauty or charm. It’s continuity.

…Any time we reform our writing system, we render all that has been produced illegible to subsequent generations. Though, as amcgrann points out, we don’t write quite like the cursive in the Declaration of Independence, we can still read it. But 15th-century manuscripts usually require training to be read. And although reading 15th-century manuscripts can be tough, when we transcribe them into a typewritten format, they become quite legible. The same cannot be said of Old English, but the difference between late Old English and early Middle English is nothing but a spelling reform. Because of reforms in penmanship, most people cannot read Chaucer as he was meant to be read. …Read more here


Language crisis experts warn about  slip in Chinese language standards (BeijingToday, Jul 8) Excepts follow:

“Young Chinese people’s fondness for using phrases commonly found on social media platforms, the rise of English and worsening handwriting as a result of widespread use of computers have left Chinese educators wringing their hands, the Straits Times reported last Thursday. …

The Times said standard or traditional Chinese expressions are being replaced by phrases coined in cyberspace. Some educationists warn that the country may have a Chinese language crisis on its hands.

An education ministry report on Chinese language usage last month said that exam scripts written like an e-mail or blog were a sign of deteriorating language skills and that the overuse of newly coined expressions “impairs Chinese culture.”

The report also revealed that three in 10 university students in Beijing failed a Chinese proficiency test conducted by Renmin University. About seven in 10 scored less than 70 percent.

A poll by China Youth Daily showed two in five young Chinese admitted they often wrote the wrong characters while seven in 10 said they would have trouble writing a formal letter and 80 percent of respondents agreed that a language crisis is looming.”  [Related older news: Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan (AFP, Aug 25, 2010)

A third of English universities to charge 9000 pounds (Jul 13) “Some 58 percent will charge the maximum £9,000 for at least one of their undergraduate courses, the Office for Fair Access (Offa) revealed on Tuesday. The average student starting a degree next year faces annual fees of almost £8,500.

Ministers say far more money will now be spent on encouraging students from poorer families to attend university, because institutions which intend to charge more than £6,000 must get Offa to approve their plans for widening access.

These “access agreements” will be reviewed each year, with universities facing fines or losing the right to charge more than £6,000 if they fail to meet their agreed targets for recruiting and retaining poorer students….

Altogether, universities and colleges plan to spend £602 million a year by 2015-16 on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as those with disabilities and those from some ethnic minorities, to attend university.

The money will go on fee waivers, bursaries and “outreach” activities such as summer schools. There will also be funding for the National Scholarship Programme, providing one-year grants to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“These agreements represent a considerable commitment by universities and colleges to improving access for students who are under-represented in higher education and, where appropriate, improving retention and student success,” said Sir Graeme Davis, Offa’s Director of Fair Access….

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “Fee waivers are being used in a cynical attempt to cover up the mess made when the Government trebled the tuition fee cap, instead of properly supporting less-wealthy students. …”
On the debate about whether higher learning is overpriced today, there is a back and forth pendulum swinging motion of viewpoints can be seen…

In related news: More reforms soon for British Universities, SgGraduate.com July 6th) Britain’s government has unveiled plans for more revamps of its higher education sector….Excerpts follow:”A policy paper last week proposes that, before students register for courses, they will be informed about the quality of teaching they can expect, and their future employment opportunities. The university sector will also be opened up to competition from commercial firms, exposing education to the full force of the market.Professor Wendy Purcell, who runs Plymouth University, compared the sweeping proposals to the deregulation of airlines. ‘We’re going to see diversity of provision and innovation,’ she said.Reform is long overdue. For, as every British employer knows, there is a world of difference between a graduate from, say, Oxford, and one from a small, obscure university, or between a degree in engineering and one in ‘literature and the environment’. Yet, currently, all courses in most establishments cost about the same and follow the same admission procedures.Universities Minister David Willetts wishes to force educators to show their true performance records.

From next year, universities will be obliged to reveal their teacher-to-student ratios, what recreational facilities they offer, and how many of their students gain employment after graduation.”…

See also: Universities to fight for places (Independent, Jun 28)

Rich Chinese splurging on a stiff upper-lip education at Eton, Harrow (Telegraph, Jun 27)

“Elite boarding schools such as Eton and Harrow are Britain’s biggest draw for Chinese millionaires looking to spend some of their growing fortunes abroad, according to the creator of China’s leading rich list. … the prospect of acquiring crisp English vowels and a Public School boy’s sense of entitlement is a potent attraction for Britain.

“What I’m constantly hearing from Chinese millionaires is that they like England as a place to get their children educated,” said Mr Rupert Hoogewerf, the publisher of the Hurun Report magazine and the leading expert on China’s new rich.

The scions of China’s new rich already make up a considerable portion of foreign students, with nearly a third of the 10,030 non-British students coming from Hong Kong and China last year, according to the Independent School Council.

Some are the children of leading Communist Party figures – so-called “Princelings” and others from the new breed of property-owning families that have capitalised on the Chinese economic miracle.” …Read more here.
Top five schools that fill Oxbridge and Cambridge: They take more places than 2,000 comprehensives combined… (Daily Mail) Five elite British schools are sending more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than all of the country’s 2000 comprehensives and colleges combined, a study has revealed.

Four prestigious private schools and only one state school produced 946 Oxford and Cambridge entrants over three years…

The leading fee-paying schools, which charge around £30,000 a year, are Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s School and St Paul’s Girls School.

The only state school to make the grade, Hills Road college, is based in the heart of Cambridge and caters for the children of leading academics and scientists based in the university city. … Read more at Dailymail.co.uk


Is there an education bubble?  (The Atlantic, Apr 14)

Billionaire libertarian businessman Peter Thiel, the founder and former CEO of PayPal,best known as the venture capitalist who gave Facebook the angel investment it needed to really get started, said, in a National Review interview earlier this year, Thiel said that higher education is a “bubble in the classic sense,” because education is “overpriced,” something people have “an intense belief in,” and an investment that’s unlikely, in the majority of cases, to have a positive return. He made the point again last week at TechCrunch.

No, education isn’t about returns on an investment: The concept of the education bubble is based on horrifying, false logic, says Freddie deBoer at L’Hote. “To see an education, college or otherwise, as merely a way to increase the amount of money you make is a terrible corruption and fundamentally unsustainable.” Increasing earning potential was never meant to be the sole purpose of education, and if it’s reduced to that, we’re all in trouble.


Well, college is overpriced: College has gotten too expensive, with state governments cutting aid to public universities, says E.D. Kain inForbes. But let’s not abandon institutions of higher learning. If needed, we should raise taxes to make public universities more affordable. “Yes, education costs money. But that money should not fall squarely on the heads of middle class kids who are forced to take out tens of thousands in debt just to attend school.”
I tend to think going to some college …is a good decision for most people – even if it ought to be a lot cheaper. But grad school is a lot less certain.  …

The Economist’s Apr 21st, contribution to the debate is High education: Is it really the next bubble?

See  Is College a Rotten Investment? (Slate, Moneybox May 11) in which Anne Lowrey says why student loans are not like subprime mortgates…

A house is an investment vehicle much more like silver or stock shares than it is like a degree. It can be readily bought and sold. Americans had a housing bubble not just because they bought more homes, but because they speculated on homes, snatching them up, fixing them up, and pushing them back onto the overheated market. The asset-price bubble burst when people started defaulting and stopped buying.

No such market for college degrees exists: You cannot trade your University of Phoenix B.A. for a Yale degree when you start making the big money. In the words of Kevin Carey of the think tank Education Sector, “College degrees have value. … But they have no inherent worth. They are secondhand testimony of something valuable—the knowledge and skills associated with a unique person.”

A diploma is a polymorphous investment. It is a guarantor of higher lifetime earnings: The “college wage premium” for highly educated workers is in the tens of thousands of dollars per year. It is also an insurance policy against unemployment, a signaling device to employers and peers, a prestige line for your resume or New York Times wedding announcement, and a place to make friends and connections. Most importantly, it is a way to learn new skills and information.

In “Yet another casualty”  blogger Freddie says, “what I am horrified to find is the generally assumed model, that it exists for the purpose of increasing earning potential. To see an education, college or otherwise, as merely a way to increase the amount of money you make is a terrible corruption and fundamentally unsustainable. Education was never intended that way, and it cannot succeed on those grounds.It never ceases to amaze and dismay me. This totalizing vision of mankind as homo economus, where absolutely every element of human life is reduced to the exchange of currency and resources, has vast, negative consequences. “


Singapore unis ‘producing sought-after grads’ (Straits Times, Jul 5) “Three Singapore universities have been ranked within the world’s top 200 in economics and accounting, two of the subjects most prized by employers. National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) were given the impressive placings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS)” … Read more here.

On Education: As Best Schools Compete for Best Performers, Students May Be Left Behind (NY Times)

The Global Search for Education: A View from Norway (Education News, Jul 13) — There is too much emphasis in our education systems on assessment and accountability instead of on curriculum and responsibility.

Teaching tomorrow’s skills to today’s students (EdWeek.org July 5, 2011) Many teachers have been hearing this question more frequently in recent years. Students detect a deepening divide between “real life” and “school life,” and they have a point. Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s take on the need for teachers to commit to linking instruction directly to the skills students will need in higher education and the workplace.

Harvard Researchers In Trouble Over Facebook …

To Reach Simple Life of Summer Camp, Lining up for Private Jets, (NY Times) Tea Party summer camps for 8 year-olds to learn about economic liberty (Telegraph, Jun 17) Now American children as young as eight are being raised as the Tea Party’s next generation, at summer camps where they are taught about God, the constitution, and how to defend their economic liberty…in “classes that compensate for what their parents call an anti-religious liberal bias in the public school system.”

Tiger mums hire tutors as Korea scraps Saturday classes (Businessweek)

Quiet digital revolution under way in N. Korea (Straits Times, Jul 25) Excerpts follow:

“North Korea is undergoing its own digital revolution, even as it grapples with chronic shortages of food and fuel. It is still among the most isolated of nations, with cyberspace policies considered among the most restrictive in the world. Yet inside Pyongyang, there is a small but growing digital world, and a whole new vocabulary to go with it: CNC, e-libraries, IT, an operating system called Red Star and a Web portal called Naenara.

In a world ever-wary of the unpredictable nation’s motives, some see in North Korea’s bid to train a generation of computer experts the specter of hackers launching attacks on the defence systems of rival governments. Others see the push to computerise factories and develop IT expertise as a political campaign designed to promote Kim Jong Un, the reputedly tech-savvy, Swiss-educated son being groomed to succeed his father as North Korea’s next leader.” Read the rest here.

Follow-up updates on the Fukushima nuclear crisis:

Fukushima residents’ radiation level low (Yomiuri, Jul. 25, 2011)

“None of the 122 residents from Namiemachi and other areas in Fukushima Prefecture whose internal radiation exposure was tested in late June received doses that would endanger their health, the prefectural government said….

Converted to a yearly level, the group’s radiation exposure level was confirmed to be less than 1 millisievert.

According to Makoto Akashi, executive director of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, radioactive cesium was detected in the urine of about half of the 122 residents.

“The detected exposure level was much lower than the level that affects human health. I think the residents will be relieved,” Akashi said.” Read more here

Gov. releases radiation forecast system data (NHK, Jul 25) Excerpts follow:

“Japan’s nuclear watchdog has released results of their analysis on how radioactive substances spread after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency released data analyzed by a computer forecasting system designed to track the movement of radioactive substances based on wind and weather.
The System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI, calculated 6 days’ worth of data, from March 12th through 17th.
The results show the amount of radioactive substances in the atmosphere, external exposures and accumulation on the ground.
A map from March 12th, a day after the disaster, shows radioactive substances first flowed towards the southeast and then gradually moved north.
The Agency says it calculated the data based on updated figures obtained from the nuclear reactors through June.
The 600 pages of information are available on the internet.” Read more here

TEPCO tackles trouble with decontamination units The Tokyo Electric Power Company is trying to figure out why a system to decontaminate radioactive water at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi plant remains unstable. …  The system sends 3.8 cubic meters of water per hour to each of the No.1 and No.2 reactors.
However, the operation has been unstable for the last 3 days. On Friday, the amount of water injected suddenly decreased to 3.4 cubic meters per hour at No.2 reactor, and then fell to 3.2 cubic meters on Saturday.
At No.1 reactor, water levels decreased to 3.3 cubic meters on Sunday morning.

IAEA chief says cooling operation going as planned (NHK, Jul 25)| IAEA chief visits Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant (NHK, Jul 25)

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant has stabilized, say Fukushima officials (LA Times, Jul 21)

Contaminated water on increase at Fukushima plant (NHK, Jul 25)  TEPCO halted the process of removing salt from contaminated water after an alarm went off around noon on Sunday due to a problem with the installation of the desalination equipment. It resumed the operation in the evening after installing another device.

The new device is only able to treat half the amount of water. The amount of contaminated water has been increasing since the problem occurred. …

NHK’s reporter points out that as a result of Sunday’s trouble, the amount of contaminated water is increasing. He adds that the recycling of cooling water, a key element of bringing the accident under control, cannot be maintained.

TEPCO is investigating the cause of the problem. The utility says the decontamination system as a whole is not operating stably and it needs to improve its reliability.

70% of homes get Red Cross appliances / Overseas donors pay for disaster aid (Yomiuri, Jul.20)

On child health and safety issues:

Japan forced school children to clean radioactive dirt from swimming pools Jul 11 Japan schools forced students to clean radioactive dirt from swimming pools in locations designated as hot spots with radiation levels 4 times Chernobyl evacuation limits. In another propaganda show meant to convince the public there is no threat from radiation in Japan, local schools forced children to clean radioactive dirt from the bottom of the schools swimming pools. One PTA member who didn’t trust the assertions from the school and the government kept a sample of the dirt collected from the pool and decided to have it tested for radiation. According to a the Mainichi Daily News (Japanese), that sample was found to contain 17,020 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium.(examiner.com)

Child abuse cases in FY10 hit record / Greater public awareness said behind surge (Jul.21) | Pediatric brain death confusing / Survey: Some parents don’t know how long kids’ hearts go on beating (Jul.20)

Were there precursors of March 11 quake?  (Yomiuri, Jul 25)

… “Some researchers have suggested one possible precursor could have been found about 80 kilometers up in the ionosphere.

Atoms in the ionosphere are exposed to energy from the sun and other sources, and divide into ions and electrons. The ionosphere reflects electric waves used for radios and other devices.

Prof. Kosuke Heki of Hokkaido University, a researcher of geophysics, checked changes in the density of electrons in the ionosphere using electric waves from Global Positioning System satellites.

He found the density over the epicenter rose by up to 10 percent compared with other areas from 40 minutes before the magnitude-9 quake.

A similar phenomenon occurred just before a magnitude-8.8 quake in Chile in 2010 and a magnitude-9.1 quake off Sumatra Island, Indonesia, in 2004.

However, the electron density was only marginally higher before a magnitude-8 quake struck off Tokachi area, Hokkaido, in 2003.

“Though we don’t know why this happens, it could be an effective way to forecast a big earthquake just before it occurs,” Heki said.

Masashi Hayakawa, professor emeritus of the University of Electro-Communications, believes the changes in the ionosphere started “about five days before the quake.”

Hayakawa, who researches the relationship between earthquakes and electromagnetic phenomena, said distortions in the ionosphere were detected by analyzing the transmission of radio waves in the air.

He said this was because cracks that occur in the Earth’s crust just before an earthquake cause vibrations that pass through the air.

According to Hayakawa, the phenomenon occurs from about a week before an inland earthquake of magnitude 6 or larger with a focus up to 40 kilometers underground.

Despite this, no clear precursors were detected from movements of the Earth’s crust before the March 11 temblor. …

About 50 small whales became stranded on the Ibaraki Prefecture coastline a week before the Great East Japan Earthquake. Although there were reports of other strange animal behavior, the connection–if any–between these phenomena and the quake remains unclear.” Read the whole article here…   More quake news: M.6.2 Quake hits Miyagi and Fukushima (NHK, Jul 25) | M-6.4 earthquake jolts Tohoku; no tsunami (Jul.24) | Hamaoka to get seawalls of 18 meters (Japan Times, Jul 23)
Chubu Electric Power Co. says it will build seawalls as high as 18 meters at its Hamaoka nuclear plant to protect the facility from tsunami. (see also Asahi report)

Declassified papers show U.S. promoted atomic power in Japan (Kyodo,Monday, July 25, 2011 retr. from online version of Japan Times)

Panel tries to quantify radiation exposure risk( Asahi, 07/23) Excerpted below:

“Lifetime exposure to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation presents a significant risk of cancer, according to a preliminary finding of the Food Safety Commission reached at a meeting July 21.

The calculation includes radiation from food and external exposure.

The committee, established under the Cabinet Office, has been tasked by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to assess the effects of exposure on human health over a lifetime.

The committee will make its final decision as early as next week and will present it to the ministry.

On March 17, the ministry set provisional benchmarks, backed by the Food Sanitation Law, to restrict distribution of food contaminated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis.

Some studies contend that children and fetuses are more vulnerable to radiation than adults. The panel issued a statement saying the 100-millisieverts level may not apply to all people of different ages.

According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), exposure to 100 millisieverts raises the risk of developing cancer by 0.5 percent.

However, some ministry officials are skeptical that an exact exposure reference point would be of value because most people would find it difficult to take precautions over such a broad time frame.

The Food Safety Commission initially attempted to perform the assessment only for exposure through ingestion. But the committee found that very few relevant studies conducted overseas, including the paper on which the ICRP based its recommendation, discussed exposure through ingestion and external exposure separately.

This led the committee to incorporate both types of exposure to create a lifetime exposure standard.

Natural radiation exposure, which is about 1.5 millisieverts annually in Japan, is not included in the calculation.”

Related earlier news: Fukushima Pref. to check children’s thyroid for possible illness (Jul 9)

DISCLAIMER: Errrr … read at your own risk these next two articles …‘Don’t worry about eating a little bit of tainted beef’ (Yomuiri, Jul.18)

The concentration of cesium remaining in the meat of cattle that were fed with highly radioactive straw is dramatically lower than the reading of the straw itself, according to a radioactivity expert.

The straw purchased as feed by a livestock farmer in Asakawamachi, southeastern Fukushima Prefecture, was found last week to have been contaminated with up to 97,000 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, according to prefectural authorities. That is 73 times higher than the government-set provisional regulatory limit for pasture plants.

However, the concentration of cesium in the meat from the farmer’s cattle that was shipped to Tokyo via meat processors and wholesalers measured no more than 650 becquerels per kilogram.

Yoichiro Omomo, special advisor to the Institute for Environmental Sciences, has pointed out, “Since cattle eat many other foodstuffs in addition to straw, the cesium may have diluted substantially.”

Beyond that, not all of the radioactive materials digested accumulate in the cattle, said Omomo, who specializes in how radioactive substances are taken up in cattle and farm produce.

“Radioactive cesium is highly soluble in water, so if ingested, it’s gradually discharged from the body through urine and sweat,” he noted.

Radioactive cesium in people is also discharged via urine and sweat, so whatever remains in the body is reduced by half every 80 to 120 days, according to Omomo.

Unlike radioactive iodine, which tends to accumulate in the thyroid gland, cesium does not accumulate in any specific organ, he said.

“Suppose a man eats 200 grams of beef containing 650 becquerels of radioactive cesium daily for a whole year,” Omomo said.

“The internal radiation exposure reading in this example would be up to 0.6 millisievert,” he added.

“That falls short of the government-set annual exposure limit of 1 millisievert, meaning there’s no need to worry about eating cesium-tainted meat several times during a certain period,” Omomo said.

Japan’s Food Chain Threat Multiplies as Radiation Spreads (Business Week, Jul 25) 

Radiation fallout from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant poses a growing threat to Japan’s food chain as unsafe levels of cesium found in beef on supermarket shelves were also detected in more vegetables and the ocean.

More than 2,600 cattle have been contaminated, Kyodo News reported July 23, after the Miyagi local government said 1,183 cattle at 58 farms were fed hay containing radioactive cesium before being shipped to meat markets. …

On July 22, Aeon Co., Japan’s biggest supermarket chain, said 1,614 kilograms (3,558 pounds) of beef from cattle fed contaminated feed had been unknowingly sold at stores in Tokyo and nine other prefectures. Supermarkets started testing beef after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government found cesium in slaughtered cattle this month.

The government on July 19 banned cattle shipments from Fukushima prefecture, though not before some had been slaughtered and shipped to supermarkets. A ban on shiitake mushrooms from another part of Fukushima was introduced on July 23 because of cesium levels, the health ministry said.

Seafood Concerns

“Some areas still have high radiation dosages and if you also eat products from these areas, you’ll get a considerable amount of radiation,” said Sentaro Takahashi, a professor of radiation control at Kyoto University in western Japan. “This is why the government needs to do something fast.”

Hay contaminated with as much as 690,000 becquerels a kilogram, compared with a government safety standard of 300 becquerels, has been fed to cattle. Cattle with unsafe levels of the radioactive element were detected in four prefectures, the health ministry said July 23.” … Read the rest here.

Are worries over meat warranted?
The disclosure that 1,500 cows fed hay containing radioactive cesium in excess of the government limit were shipped nationwide raises questions about whether it remains safe to eat beef, or even chicken and pork.  Parts of the article are excerpted below:

Do people who have eaten contaminated beef need to worry about their health?

Not unless a person continues to consume tainted beef over a long period of time. As of Thursday, the most highly contaminated beef found contained radioactive cesium of 4,350 becquerels per kilogram, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The meat did not reach the market.

Eating 1 kg of the meat is roughly equal to a radiation dose of 82.65 microsieverts for a period during which radioactive cesium remains in one’s body. If a person eats food with radioactive cesium, half the amount remains in the body for nine days for a baby younger than 1. But the duration gets longer as people age, and it takes 90 days for those aged 50.

The 82.65 microsieverts compares with the 100 microsieverts of radiation a person would be exposed to during a one-way flight from Tokyo to New York.

Where has tainted beef been sold?

At various shops and restaurants in all prefectures except for Okinawa. Every cow has a 10-digit identification number and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry can trace the buyers of beef from contaminated cows.

At what level of radiation does the government ban distribution of contaminated meat?

For radioactive cesium in meat, eggs and fish, the maximum limit is 500 becquerels per kg, the same level as in the European Union and Thailand. That compares with 1,000 becquerels in Singapore and Hong Kong, 1,200 in the United States and 370 in South Korea and Taiwan, according to the “Food and Radiation” booklet produced by the Consumer Affairs Agency.

There is no provisional maximum level of radioactive iodine for meat and eggs because its half-life is as short as eight days, compared with 30 years for cesium, and it takes longer than eight days from the time they are produced to the time they are eaten, according to the agency’s booklet.

The level of radioactive iodine found in beef is at most 50 becquerels per kg, according to the agriculture ministry… Read more here

Radioactive beef scare widens (Asahi, 07/24)Cattle fed on locally grown straw in Iwate, Miyagi and Tochigi prefectures were contaminated with radioactive cesium exceeding government safety standards, prefectural government officials announced July 22

More Aussie beef in pipeline amid cesium fears (Japan Times, Jul 26 update added)

See related news:   Government may buy all radioactive beef(Asahi, 07/23) | Simpler radiation detectors to be permitted for beef (Japan Times, Jul 23) | Effects of cesium beef fiasco hit meat industry (Yomiuri, Jul.23) | ‘Colossal blunder’ on radioactive cattle feed / Govt officials admit responsibility for foul-up that let tainted beef enter nation’s food supply (Yomiuri, Jul.18) |Radioactive cesium found in rice straw fed to cattle in Mie (JapanToday, Jul. 23, 2011)

Fukushima city sows sunflower seeds to decontaminate ‘hot spot’

Some surprising research reports from University of Essex: Middle children more likely to bully their siblings (TheMedGuru, Jun 28)  Excerpts follow below:

“According to the new research,children with both older and younger siblings have a higher chance of becoming bullies.

While it can be very difficult to pinpoint the reason a child starts to torment and oppress others, recent research works have linked bullying to several risk factors, including violenceat home. Recently, a research found that kids are more likely to bully if their dads work too much. Earlier this year, a U.S. study had found that popular teens are more likely to develop tendency towards aggressive behavior, as their popularity continues to soar.

Middle children more likely to become bullies
Now the new research shows that children who are slapped or shouted at by their parents are more likely to become bullies. Also, children having both older and younger siblings are the most likely to bully.

Also, contrary to the common belief that the oldest child was usually the culprit forbullying younger siblings, the surprising findings suggested that the eldest child was, in fact, most likely to be the ‘pure victim’”

Finally, if you’re faced with the prospect of a hot and humid Japanese summer holiday, here are some tips for Staying cool while saving energy this summer (from Yomiuri Shimbun, Jul 10)