Hello to our readers, and I hope you are enjoying the cooler fall weather that has finally arrived. We shall be seeing temperatures fall below 20 degrees, according to the weatherman.

Here is our regular news update on what’s happening in education on the local as well as international scene. There’s also the usual updates on the Fukushima crisis.


Aileen Kawagoe

First up, the news briefs on education in Japan:

Gov’t eyes keeping over 10 billion yen to help study abroad programs (Mainichi, Sep 29, 2011)

“The education ministry plans to request over 10 billion yen in the budget for the next fiscal year from April to offer subsidies to universities eager to send their students abroad, ministry sources said Wednesday.

The subsidy program will be aimed at helping university students acquire better foreign language and negotiation skills through overseas studies in a bid to keep the country competitive internationally, according to the sources.

Under the plan, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will provide 50 to 60 universities with 200 million to 400 million yen each in annual subsidies after screening their proposed programs.

The ministry is also considering expanding the program to senior high schools, the sources said.

The ministry envisages the subsidies will go toward establishing courses to help students acquire conversational skills in languages such as English and Chinese, while hiring advisers knowledgeable about universities overseas.

The number of Japanese students studying abroad fell to about 67,000 in 2008 after peaking in 2004 at about 83,000. University students in particular have apparently become increasingly reluctant to study abroad amid concern over job prospects after they return from overseas.”

Related: Society must value overseas study: Nakagawa  (Sep 24, Japan Times)

“Young Japanese shouldn’t be blamed for not studying abroad, but society needs to change so they can attend universities overseas without having to worry about their careers after they return, education minister Masaharu Nakagawa said. “It is not really the case that young people are losing their drive to go abroad,” the new minister told a group of reporters at his office in Tokyo on Wednesday. “Everyone is interested and willing to go overseas,” said the 61-year-old minister. Nakagawa is a fifth-term Lower House member elected from the Mie Prefecture No. 2 district. Youngsters are worried about losing out on job opportunities once they return home, and also about the extent their overseas experience is valued by society, especially corporations and local governments, he said.”

Mark Miodownik King’s College London Nutty professor showcases the lighter side of science (Yomiuri) in the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures…

Japanese schoolgirls: Cute, flirty, vulnerable psycho killers (CNNGo.com

Brian Ashcraft book “Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential”  explores the role of schoolgirl demographics in driving or directing societal trends. Excerpts from the article follow:

“The book, which is full of vivid illustrations, begins with the symbol of her identity, the uniform. From there, he delves into popular culture, from pop idols to film, magazines, art, fashion, manga.

“I wanted to look at how schoolgirls have been portrayed in a variety of different mediums,” he says. “Usually, when people write about schoolgirls in Japan, they write about cute stuff. I also wanted to look at elements of cool — a feminine cool in Japan.”

Whether it’s loose socks or the newest gizmo, “they are always changing and adapting to the next trend, and they’re doing it in a society that is high tech and eager to meet their needs.”

Ever wonder how cell phones first became popular? It was the way teenage girls in the mid-1990s were using them, just as the generation before them had embraced pagers, “the first viral youth tech.”

Before reading “Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential” I didn’t appreciate how resonant this story of “girl power” could be. Now I see that it’s really about Japanese women’s shifting place in the culture.

As Ashcraft says, “The way that the country has changed is reflected in schoolgirls in a manner that it isn’t reflected in corporate Japan or other aspects of society.”

Ultimately, he writes, “she is a metaphor for Japan itself.”” – end of excerpt

Now that summer fireworks have ended and beach toys have been stored away, it’s time for jukensei (受験生 entrance examination-takers) throughout the land to burn the midnight oil in earnest. High school seniors and third-year junior high students moving on to higher education – as well as elementary school sixth-graders who aspire to private junior high schools – must prepare to take rigorous late-winter entrance exams. Among other subjects, jukensei will be tested on Japanese (国語 kokugo, “national language”), including knowledge of four-kanji idioms (四字熟語, yojijukugo).

Japan asks UNESCO to list Mt. Fuji, Kamakura as World Heritage sites (Mainichi, Sep 29) Excerpts follow:

“Taking into account the council’s recommendation, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is expected to make a decision on Japan’s request around the summer of 2013.

Japan has 12 sites registered as World Heritage cultural sites, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, known as the Atomic Bomb Dome, in Hiroshima.

The Mt. Fuji site, straddling Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, is composed of 25 “asset components” including five major lakes at the foot of it, and came to symbolize Japan through Japanese woodblock prints, known as ukiyo-e, in the Edo Period, which had a strong influence on Western art, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency.

Kamakura, located in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo and which was Japan’s capital from the 12th to 14th century, features many historic temples and Shinto shrines, the agency said.”

Students’ skills help to forge a new Tohoku (Japan Times, Sep 25)

In late July, when the students of Osaka Institute of Technology’s Department of Architecture first arrived at the tiny port of Oharahama, an air of negativity hung over the conversation of the locals.

Against Forgetting: Three Generations of Artists in Japan in Dialogue about the Legacies of World War II, July 2011
Laura Hein, Rebecca Jennison


Elsewhere in the world, these are the educational issues under the spotlight:

A model T test in the internet age (Sep 29, 2011, Concord)

Standardized tests do students no favors. Multiple choice tests were invented by Frederick J. Kelly in 1914 at a time of national crisis, when the country needed to process students quickly and efficiently and to “streamline schooling”.  Kelly’s Kansas Silent Reading Test was intended to measure “lower-order thinking” among the masses. And although after WWII, Kelly began to ardently champion a different direction for educational reform, a model of liberal, integrated, problem-based learning, today American public school students are still taking versions of Kelly’s test …

Why a private education may be more affordable than you think (Independent, 22 September 2011)

The article suggests that while fees at independent schools may be high but there are funds available to soften the blow

Teaching science: A physical solution (21 September 2011, Independent)

Physicists don’t want to teach biology and chemistry? Get them to teach maths instead, suggests Christopher White

Andy Burnham to unveil ‘modern baccalaureate’ (Telegraph, 28 Sep 2011)

A “modern baccalaureate” placing greater emphasis on IT, leadership and business skills should be at the heart of Britain’s school system, says the shadow education secretary, Andy Burnham.

Relating 9/11 to a generation that wasn’t born yet (Yomiuri, Sep.27)

Sawa Kurotani speaks about how his young students see 9/11:

“My students today were 8 to 12 years old at the time of the terrorist attacks, and their recollections of the event–the majority of them grew up on the West Coast–were vague and unremarkable. Most of them knew the event solely through fragments of adult conversations and media images and, except for those with relatives or friends in the East, it largely remained distant and abstract, quite understandably so, given their relatively young age.

My current students’ reactions to 9/11 sharply contrast with mine, and with their predecessors who are only 10 years older than them, all of whom grappled with an imminent sense of fear, loss of innocence, anger and sadness.

In another 10 years, my classrooms will be full of students who “weren’t born yet” when 9/11 happened. Younger Americans, who do not have a way of relating to 9/11 the way the older ones do, may never question how we ended up with a war in Iraq and Afghanistan, why we have permitted unprecedented infringement upon human rights in the name of national security, and why a prime piece of real estate in Manhattan has to be kept vacant. Because that’s how they found the world, when they were born…”

Lectures are homework in schools following Khan Academy lead (Edweek.org, Sep 27)

Schools ‘Flipping’ Instruction in Khan Academy Style. The “flip model” of schooling calls for students to watch lectures online for homework and use class time for discussions, problem-solving, and labs …

Study Finds Few Links Between Teacher Characteristics, Performance (Edweek.org, Sep 8) Excerpts follow:

“The finding on experience is probably the most interesting, as many other studies using panel data of this type find that experience does make a difference in the first few years of teaching. And on master’s degrees, studies have linked higher achievement with teachers who hold content-specific degrees in math and science, though those studies didn’t always correct for students’ prior achievement histories….”

Top 10 European university alternatives for UK students (Telegraph)

The Secrets of a Good Principal (Sep 25, 2011, NY Times) A columnist suggests what makes a good principal…

Opinion: Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril (NY Times)

On technology and education:

Amazon Unveils Tablet That Beats iPad’s Price (NY Times) | Amazon launches Kindle Fire (Telegraph) Excerpts follow:

“New Amazon Kindle Fire will challenge iPad, as Amazon also updates existing Kindle range to include touchscreen models

The seven-inch device will let users download books, magazines, newspapers, videos and music and will be available from November 25 in the US. Amazon is selling the device for $199, significantly undercutting the iPad that starts selling for almost $500.

The long-awaited device is smaller than the Apple’s 10-inch iPad, weighs 14.6 ounces and has a dual-core processor. And analysts said that it’s the price that may prove the greatest threat to Apple, which has managed to sell millions of iPads despite the lacklustre recovery in most western economies.

Decked out in jeans, white shirt and a jacket, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, told an audience in New York that “this is unbelievable value. What we’re doing is making premium products and offering them at non-premium prices.”

Mr Bezos also claimed that the ability of Amazon to store all the content users download on the internet will prove a key selling point. “All of the content on this device is backed up on the cloud,” said Mr Bezos. “The model where you have to back up your own content is a broken model.”

Besides the Kindle Fire, Amazon also announced new versions of the Kindle that will sell for $99 and $79.”

Donald Eastman: Online Learning is ‘Emperor With No Clothes’ (Educationnews.org)

Donald Eastman, III, president of Eckerd College, fears for the future of education … Read more | See earlier Edweek.org article: Full-Time E-Learning Not Seen as Viable Option for Many E-learning experts say online learning works best with involved parents and even advocates concede that full- time virtual education might not be a good fit for students with both parents working outside the home.

Are technology initiatives in schools paying off? (Educationnews.org)

While some districts are using technology to pair Shakespeare with Kanye West, critics point out the data is thin and some are beginning to wonder if additional technology is having a positive effect on student achievement.  This article discusses and reviews the recent article in the New York Times

Technology Has Changed the Teaching of Deaf Students (Edweek, Sep 15) Excerpts follow:

“Changes in technology have had a dramatic effect on how children who are deaf or hard of hearing are taught, according to a new report from Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

Technology, including visual or text-communication devices and speech-to-print software as well as the wider use of cochlear implants, can generally be positive influences on these students’ access to a free, appropriate education …” See related article: Online, Virtual Classes Expand for Students With Disabilities (Edweek.org)


In news on parenting, child safety or health:

Disaster warning system to be placed at schools nationwide (Sep 27, Majirox news)

Disaster warning systems will be set up at all of Japan’s roughly 52,000 schools to provide better protection for children, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). MEXT had been planning the system for some time, but been unable to implement it due to local governments’ lack of funds, but the March 11 disasters have prompted greater urgency for disaster response. MEXT has applied for funding for the program for the 2012 fiscal year.

See also earlier news: Gov’t to distribute radiation guidebooks to schools | Greenpeace demands children be evacuated from Fukushima, Koriyama

Ikuro Anzai, professor emeritus at Ritsumeikan University who specialized in radiation protection, asked about what measures that can be taken, said that the first step is to force the government to thoroughly stand by the provisional standards and enforce stricter standards in order to regain the sense of trust among consumers. He also said that the “current measurement methods are being conducted according to strict procedures in order to produce accurate figures, but the number of tests is therefore limited. Such tests are important as basic information for conducting scientific debate. However, what consumers are most concerned about is whether the food they eat every day is contaminated with unbelievable levels of radiation. //One option may be to place simple measurement devices at public health centers, hospitals, schools and supermarkets to allow those people who are worried to conduct measurements. The measurement time would be limited to three or five minutes.//While the accuracy may decrease, people will be able to check for extreme contamination so a considerable level of worry can be resolved…”

Fukushima children at risk of heart disease (Japanfocus.org)

13 Discipline Tricks from Teachers from Parenting.com

Teaching Civility (NY Times, September 7, 2011 )

Should Parents Pay Kids for Good Grades? (Educationnews.org)

Children should be taught from the earliest age about responsible government and how to achieve it.

 You Can Change Your Education Family Tree (Educationnews.org)

When it comes to education, parents can have a dramatic effect on how their family tree develops. Read more

How Exercise Can Strengthen the Brain ( Sep 28, 2011 NYTimes)

From the findings of a new study at the University of South Carolina during which scientists assembled mice and assigned half to run for an hour a day on little treadmills for 8 weeks, while the rest lounged in their cages without exercising, scientists concluded after examining tissue samples from different portions of the exercised animals’ brains, and finding markers of upwelling mitochondrial development in all of the tissues, that exercise resulted in the brain cells having newborn mitochondria. Although the study involves only mice, scientists surmise that exercise would also potentially revitalize human brain cells to reduce mental fatigue and sharpen your thinking even when you’re not exercising.

New cool spot to hangout with kids: DORAEMON: robocat for the ages (Yomiuri, Sep.23) [Related: Manga museums preserve precious cultural tradition (Yomiuri, Sep.23)]

Teenage girl dies in Japan ‘exorcism’ (News on Japan) A 13-year-old girl suffocated after she was strapped down and doused with water by her father and a monk who were trying to expel an “evil spirit”, Japanese police said Tuesday


Last but not least, here are up the updates on the Fukushima situation:

High hydrogen levels in pipes at No.1 reactor (NHK)

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says that high densities of hydrogen have built up in pipes connected to the No. 1 reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says that an explosion is unlikely as there is no oxygen in the pipes, but that it will begin work to drain the gas starting on Thursday.

TEPCO began measuring the density of the gas on Wednesday after finding it accumulating in pipes connected to the reactor’s containment vessel late last week.

It found that the density of hydrogen was high, at between 61 to 63 percent.

TEPCO says the hydrogen is likely the remains of gas that caused explosions at the plant in March, following the quake and tsunami disaster.

The utility has also promised to check the density of hydrogen in pipes in the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, in line with instructions from Japan’s nuclear safety agency.

Breaking news: Troubled reactors all cool below 100 degrees (NHK, Sep 29)

Related news:  3 Fukushima reactors cooled below 100 degrees (Japan Times, Sep 29, 2011) Reactor temperatures said near cold shutdown
Tepco reports that the bottom of all three crippled reactors at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are now below 100 degrees.

High cesium levels detected as far away as Gunma Prefecture(Asahi, 09/29)

Radioactive cesium from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has spread more than 250 kilometers toward the southwest, reaching as far as Gunma Prefecture, the science ministry said.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has been measuring contamination levels in each prefecture in eastern Japan, including Gunma Prefecture from Aug. 23 to Sept. 8 using prefectural government helicopters.

According to the measurements released Sept. 27, most of the radioactive cesium first spread about 60 km northwest from the Fukushima nuclear plant, then changed course and spread to Tochigi Prefecture and further to Gunma Prefecture.

A plume of radioactive materials was carried by winds along the mountain range and then fell to the ground, according to ministry officials.

In Gunma Prefecture, the largest amount of cesium-137 accumulated in the northern part of the prefecture. Cesium-137’s half-life, the period it takes for materials to be reduced by 50 percent, is 30 years.

The radioactive accumulation reached a range between 100,000 and 300,000 becquerels per square meter in a mountainous area encompassing the cities of Midori and Kiryu in the eastern part of the prefecture, about 180 km from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Even in areas in the western part of the prefecture, which are located about 250 km from the Fukushima plant and border Nagano Prefecture, the accumulated radioactivity exceeded 30,000 becquerels.

In the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl, areas where radioactivity levels exceeded 37,000 becquerels were designated as contamination zones.

In mountainous areas of Gunma Prefecture, where accumulated cesium amounts were quite large, the radiation levels were 0.5 to 1.0 microsieverts per hour. In other areas of the prefecture, the radiation levels were less than 0.5 microsieverts.

The criterion that requires removal of radioactive materials from schoolyards is more than 1.0 microsieverts.

The ministry has released the results of measurements in each prefecture on its Japanese website: http://radioactivity.mext.go.jp/ja/1910/2011/09/1910_092714.pdf

Children, armed with hand-held light-emitting diodes (LEDs), placed the devices around the yard to mirror various constellations.

The project brought a ray of light into their lives after the dark months that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake.

This town in northeastern Japan was badly battered by the quake and the tsunami it spawned.

Fourth-graders at the school, helped by friends from another school in Onagawa, had huge fun creating the pageant of lights…”

Gov’t to decontaminate areas with radiation exposure of 5 millisieverts or more per yearThe Environment Ministry has decided to decontaminate areas where people could be exposed to radiation of 5 millisieverts or more per year by removing up to 28.78 million cubic meters of radioactively contaminated soil in Fukushima and four other adjacent prefectures affected by the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The areas subject to the decontamination project are in Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures. A huge temporary storage facility for contaminated materials needs to be built, and therefore the government is likely to have tough talks with local municipalities on selecting a space for such a facility.

Under the special measures bill passed into law in August to deal with radiation contamination and debris, the environment minister designates highly contaminated areas as “special decontamination areas” and the central government becomes directly in charge of decontaminating such areas. The central government also designates other areas with certain levels of contamination as “priority inspection areas for contamination” and local governments are to check the levels of contamination in those areas to determine locations to be decontaminated and actually decontaminate them.

On the reason to set the levels of radiation at 5 millisieverts or more per year, the Environment Ministry said, “If the dose of radiation exposure is less than 5 millisieverts, the dose of additional radiation exposure will fall below the official dose limit of 1 millisiervert as it decreases with the passage of time and is spread by rain and wind.”

The amounts of soil to be removed are calculated on these assumptions, with 5 centimeters of topsoil being removed from contaminated areas. For calculating the amounts of soil to be decontaminated in forests, the areas are divided into three sections of 10 percent of the whole areas, 50 percent and 100 percent.

As a result, if 100 percent of the designated areas were to be decontaminated, the amounts of radioactive soil and other materials to be removed would reach 28.785 million cubic meters, which would fill the Tokyo Dome stadium 23 times…

The Environment Ministry said it would try to work out specific decontamination plans by the end of this year.”

Ministry sets radiation levels requiring decontamination(Asahi, 09/29)

The Environment Ministry will decontaminate areas with an estimated annual dose of 5 millisieverts or more from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which the government will shoulder as its burden in cleaning up the mess. All the areas recording 5 millisieverts or more are in Fukushima Prefecture and encompass 1,778 square kilometers, or 13 percent of the prefecture’s area.Five millisieverts in an annual dose is equivalent to about 1 microsievert per hour based on the assumption that people spend eight hours outdoors and the rest of the time indoors.The latest standards are translated into an exposure of about 1 microsievert of radiation per hour. The cleanup work is aimed at removing soil up to about 5 centimeters down from the ground surface, a point where cesium is concentrated. The decontamination will also clean up so-called “hot spots” in urban areas where unusually high levels of radioactive substances were measured, such as side ditches and gutters, if the projected annual reading is 1 millisievert or more.

Related earlier news: Fukushima City to decontaminate all houses  (NHK, Sep 27)

Inside Japan’s nuclear ghost zone (BBC, 13 Sep 2011)

David Shukman,  equipped overalls, boots, gloves and face-masks, and Geiga counter enter the exclusion zone, find that the radiation level rises is even lower than expected, “during the course of a three-hour visit… the rate averages about three microsieverts per hour”, but sees a grim scene of a ghost town with decomposed animal carcasses as well as of roaming feral animals…

Japan’s tax officials have decided to check alcoholic beverages produced near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for radiation to ensure their safety.
The National Tax Agency says testing will be conducted starting next month on all kinds of alcoholic drinks, including sake, wine, and beer, produced at breweries and factories located within 150 kilometers of the plant.
Brewing facilities outside the radius will also be randomly tested.
Taxation bureaus in 6 major cities including Tokyo and the National Research Institute of Brewing will check water samples used for alcoholic products.
If they find radioactive cesium or iodine above the government-set safety limit in any of the samples they will ask local authorities to issue a shipment ban or take other measures, as necessary.
The National Tax Agency says it will post the test results on its website.
Rice and wheat, the main ingredients for alcoholic beverages, have already been tested for radiation.