Keeping our finger on the educational pulse of the Japanese system, here is our news roundup for this week:

Are middle schools ready to teach martial arts? (Yomiuri, Jan. 30, 2012)

The government has begun investigating how prepared middle schools are for the introduction of mandatory classes in Japanese martial arts, apparently due to safety concerns voiced by parents, especially in regard to judo.

The move by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, ahead of the introduction of martial arts classes in April, is unprecedented.

“Martial arts classes will still be compulsory, that point won’t change. The research is to confirm whether schools are sufficiently prepared for the classes,” said one ministry official.

Male and female first- and second-year middle school students will have to take classes in a traditional Japanese martial arts–such as judo, kendo, sumo, naginatajutsu (Japanese halberd fighting) and aikido–chosen by schools or local boards of education.

The ministry’s research began in late December, covering points such as:

— Which martial arts will be taught?

— Will measures such as training sessions be offered to improve the abilities of school teachers to teach martial arts?

— What help do the schools expect from the ministry? For example, will the ministry distribute guidebooks for the teaching and learning of martial arts?

The ministry has asked similar questions about dance classes, which will also be compulsory at middle schools from April.

The ministry aims to compile the results of its research by the end of February.

Currently, Japanese martial arts classes are optional in middle schools. In a ministerial sampling survey, nearly 60 percent of public middle schools offering martial arts classes had chosen judo.

Once the classes become mandatory, the ministry predicts that many other middle schools will choose judo and the number of classes will increase, as the sport does not require special protective gear or other equipment.

Under the ministry’s curriculum guidelines, the students are expected to be taught grappling and throwing techniques.

But the ministry has not confirmed how many school teachers are experienced in teaching judo, nor has it presented a plan for a martial arts curriculum and what should be prepared by when.

Ryo Uchida, an associate professor at Nagoya University and researcher of educational sociology, said his studies showed 114 middle or high school students died during judo practices, including after-school club activities, in the 28 years through fiscal 2010.

“In many of the accidents, the students died because of the risky nature of the sport, not because of heat stroke and other indirect causes,” Uchida said.

The ministry leaves decisions on such points as how the classes will be taught and the training of school teachers who will do so to local governments and martial arts associations.

The All Japan Judo Federation, based in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, and other Japanese martial arts associations offer training sessions for school teachers. But the contents of the training sessions greatly differ.

The Aichi Judo Federation in Aichi Prefecture gave black belts, indicating the holders are dan-ranking judoka, to all school teachers who had completed a six-day training session.

The ministry received complaints from parents concerned about mandatory judo classes.

“Are teachers who have only received several days’ training capable of giving martial arts classes?” asked one parent. “Is it really necessary to teach students grappling and throwing techniques?” asked another.

Their concerns are mirrored by Yoshihiro Murakami, 50, from the city of Hachioji, Tokyo, whose nephew died in a judo practice accident when the boy was a first-year middle school student. “I don’t think there’s been enough preparation for judo classes to be offered across a wide range of schools,” he said.

“The central government, which decided to make the martial arts classes compulsory, should take more responsibility in ensuring students’ safety,” Murakami added.

Yet the government says teachers should be mindful of their students’ abilities. “The curriculum is not designed to make all students capable of practicing grappling and throwing techniques. We hope teachers will give instructions suited to each student’s abilities,” a ministry official said.

Schools that have already introduced judo classes are struggling to find ways to ensure students’ safety.

Hiroshi Ito, a 49-year-old health and physical education teacher who teaches judo to about 40 first-year students in municipal Matsugi Middle School in Hachioji, said, “I’m always reminding students that judo is a risky sport.”

On tatami mats in the judo training hall, the students practiced front-rolling defense. Students who belong to the school’s judo club did it energetically from a standing position, but those who were apparently beginners were extremely cautious, practicing the move from a bent position.

An apparatus gymnastics expert, Ito learned how to teach judo after attending training sessions at a local judo training hall.

From April, he will also teach female students. “I’ll have to be more careful training girls as their muscles aren’t usually as developed,” he said.

School teachers do not require a special license or certification to teach martial arts classes. As of April, many teachers who end up taking martial arts classes will be in a similar situation as Ito.
International vs. Japanese school: Which is top of class for mixed kids? Japan Times’ readers’ column provides some “insider” perspectives on local attitudes towards bicultural children, skills and talent.

 ‘7 habits’ program boosts students’ growth (Yomiuri, Feb. 2, 2012)

This piece, third in a five-part subseries detailing efforts by schoolteachers and administrators to motivate students, focuses on an educational program designed to encourage children to adhere to “seven habits” through which they can better their lives.

“Think of five activities that could give you confidence and carry out three of them. That’s your task for this week,” a teacher at a cram school in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, told his middle school students preparing to take high school entrance exams.

It was not a conventional study session, but a program on life lessons, titled “Nanatsu no Shukan J” (The 7 J habits).

The program makes students learn, through various case studies, about such issues as self-esteem, how to set goals and make plans, and how to build a positive attitude and win the trust of others.

The students–from primary school to high school at the Itto Kobetsu Shido Gakuin cram school–attend the class once a week. Although far from what a cram school typically offers, more than 60 percent of students take the class.

“Adolescents are more concerned about relationships with their parents and friends than academic achievement. If they can gain confidence in solving [relationship] problems, their academic performance will improve,” said Yuki Yabe, head of the cram school’s Fukasawa branch, who is in charge of the program.

The program is based on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, written by U.S. educator Stephen Covey. The business management book, widely considered a classic of the genre, shed light on the importance of human qualities such as self-motivation, sincerity and cooperation. The principles in the book have been used by many companies in employee education seminars.

Tokyo-based FC Education Inc. launched the education program designed for children in 2004, using some aspects of overseas education practices and ideas from the book. As the program’s reputation grew, an increasing number of cram schools adopted the program–214 cram schools now use it, along with 87 private middle and high schools.

Kinrankai Girls’ Junior & Senior High School in Kita Ward, Osaka, introduced the program after one of its teachers, Yoshihiro Tanaka, 51, proposed the program to Tomio Fujibayashi, the private school’s headmaster. Despite some initial resistance, the school introduced the program in 2008 for first-year middle school students after some intense discussion.

When the students of the inaugural class reached the third grade, teachers found them to be high achievers, winning prizes, including top honors, in national competitions.

The students also astonished teachers with their psychological growth.

The school has 12 teachers, including the 57-year-old headmaster, certified as instructors of the program, who teach first- and second-year middle school students in the two-year compulsory classes. Every week, class reports are sent to the students’ parents and the school organizes parents’ meetings to discuss progress.

According to a survey conducted by the school in 2011, two-thirds of parents had positive impressions of the class, with one saying they “saw a change” in the children. The number of parents who read Covey’s book also increased.

“I learned [through the program] that my reactions and feelings depend on my choices. It helped to make a brand new me,” said Nozomi Tsumori, a second-grader at the middle school. She said that, from time to time, she used what she learned in the class when she worried about relationships or academic results.

Although it may seem like a roundabout way to get good results, the students have experienced enormous growth as the program has engineered many small changes in their ways of thinking.

Some Yomiuri commentaries:

Ensure university tests are fair for all (Yomiuiri, Jan.19)

Give more kids without parents a place to call home (Yomiuri, Jan.8)

Young people should take adversity as good opportunity (Yomiuri, Jan.9)

School’s Out: Gundam fans will be wanting to visit the new Gundam Theme Park:  Gundam Park to open in Odaigba (Japan Times, Feb 2)

A theme park featuring popular “anime” series “Mobile Suit Gundam” will open on April 19 in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.

According to Bandai Co., the new theme park, named Gundam Front Tokyo, will have a huge dome-shaped screen showing images of Gundam, the venerated fighting robot in the popular series, and rare documents related to the series’ production will be on display.

The theme park will be on the seventh floor of a new shopping complex, DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, opening on April 19.

An 18-meter statue of Gundam will stand outside the complex. A second outlet of the popular Gundam Cafe, located in Akihabara, Tokyo, will also open on the second floor of the complex.

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Elsewhere in the world the news and views on education:

Study: No Link Between School Meals and Obesity (Educationnews.org)

New evidence on school nutrition has shown that there is no link between childhood obesity and the sale of sweets and junk food in schools.

UK Head Says Heavy Tutoring Undermines Natural Development (Educationnews.org)

A leading head teacher in the UK has warned that competitive parents who arrange too many tutorials outside of school are ‘taking joy out of childhood.

What really improves children’s learning? Excerpts follow below:

“Forget about smaller class sizes and other education myths, fascinating new research says it’s the interaction between pupils and teachers that really matters…

We speak little about the issues that can dramatically improve learning. By far the best hope for better results is to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. What matters most is the interaction between teacher and pupil. All else is, well, academic.

I can tell you this with such confidence as we now have the numbers behind this pedagogical wisdom. This is thanks to one of the modern wonders of the education system. That wonder is the Pupil Premium toolkit. Published by the Sutton Trust, and developed by Professor Steve Higgins and colleagues at Durham University, this is a Which style guide showing schools which broad approaches work best at improving attainment of pupils. It is aimed at poorer pupils who will attract the Premium funding, but most of the findings apply universally to all children.

Based on reviews of robust educational research from across the world, the toolkit compares the cost-effectiveness of different approaches available to schools. What makes the toolkit so accessible to teachers is that these research findings are translated into practical, concise language: comparisons are made in the extra months of development seen in children if approaches are adopted and delivered effectively. The point is not to tell teachers what to do, but to get them to think about the research evidence, and make informed judgments about what to pilot in their own school.

The toolkit has proved incredibly popular among schools. But I always take a nervous gulp before presenting the findings to groups of head-teachers. They can be both shocking and challenging for even the most successful school leaders.

Reducing class sizes has in fact little impact on learning, unless pupil to teacher ratios are dramatically reduced. Overall, teaching assistants add zero to the attainment of children: billions of pounds of public money is currently spent on a workforce that has no discernible effect on school results.

Ability grouping in class meanwhile has little impact on overall results: the gains of children in high ability groups are outweighed by the losses of those in low ability groups. Parents also have some humbling news: homework during primary school has little or no impact on attainment (although it does during secondary school). One-to-one tuition works but is relatively expensive.

On the other hand, if delivered well, “effective feedback” can boost learning by an extra nine months in an academic year. By effective feedback I mean shifting fundamentally how teachers approach their work in the classroom – understanding where their pupils are in relation to learning goals, adapting their teaching in response, and planning how to plug the learning gaps.

Teachers spend surprisingly little time discussing what happens behind their own classroom door. Too often teachers perceive feedback as a one way street, when the most valuable information is to be found from the pupils themselves. And too often feedback from teachers is unfocused – simply urging pupils to do more of the same…

Prof Higgins coins the “Bananarama principle”: it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it that counts. This simple point is often lost in education, as it is often the hardest challenge of all. If it was easy to introduce effective feedback, then of course it would have been done already. The same applies to other star performers in the toolkit such as peer-to-peer tutoring and “learning to learn” (metacognitive) strategies which are also associated with large gains in attainment.

The challenge is how to take these tips and turn them into sustainable change in the lessons and classrooms of every school. And this is the dream driving the new £125 million Education Endowment Foundation. The aim is to build on the toolkit’s evidence by trialling innovative schemes for poorer pupils in English schools and evaluating them to see whether they work and how they should be best implemented. The hope is that teachers in future will have their eyes on the evidence. Only then will we have a chance to deliver the rising results we all yearn for.”  Read on here.

Making the Case for the Liberal Arts (New York Times, Feb 2)

Gaming the College Rankings(New York Times) The academic world is dismayed, but not quite surprised, by news that Claremont McKenna fudged its numbers.

College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures for Ratings (New York Times) Claremont McKenna College said it submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings.

How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life (New York Times)

One percent education (Telegraph, Jan 20)

School holidays are a pointless relic (The Telegraph, Feb 2)

Do you know the colours of your college degree? Here’s a fun page to surf and find out more about the history of academic couture.

Earlier Guardian articles but still good reading: How to inject creativity into your maths lessons |
Peer tutoring and reading in the primary classroom

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On kids’ health and safety issues:

Surprise evacuation drills for kids / Ministry plans to prepare schoolchildren for any disaster situation (Yomiuri, Feb. 1, 2012)

The education ministry plans to create disaster drill models for primary and middle schools and curriculum guidelines for teachers starting in April, it has been learned.

The disaster drills will include surprise drills using an emergency earthquake alert system.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry aims to educate children on what they should do in the event of a disaster. The ministry’s plan emerged in part after regular evacuation drills were credited with saving many children’s lives during the Great East Japan Earthquake.

After the disaster, the ministry started training teachers to oversee the teaching of disaster prevention to schoolchildren. It also decided to adopt an emergency earthquake alert system in schools.

The ministry plans to create model curriculums based on expert advice that can be used for instructing students, as well as teachers unfamiliar with disaster prevention.

The purpose of the surprise drills is to cultivate children’s ability to move to safer places regardless of their current location. For example, a primary school student would hear a warning sound similar to an emergency earthquake alert during recess, cleaning time or after school without advance notice. They would then move to a safer place based on what they learned.

Takashima No. 1 Primary School in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, has conducted a similar drill for the past three years. Yoshiaki Yazaki, the principal of the school, said, “Through repeated surprise drills, students are able to determine at a moment’s notice a safe place where things will not fall on them, even outside the classroom.”

The disaster prevention models will include teaching students to create disaster prevention maps by marking dangerous places along their school routes and activities for the students after the drill, such as discussing their actions and what they would do differently next time.

It is especially important for disaster prevention education be adapted to specific regions. If a school is in a coastal area, evacuating to higher ground is important. The models will show example situations that could be applied to various circumstances, according to the ministry.

An education ministry official said the ministry was seeking to break away from conventional drills such as “ducking under the desk when an earthquake hits.”

Tokyo Gakugei University Prof. Masaki Watanabe, an expert on safety education, said it would be necessary to train students to relocate during a disaster while anticipating danger on the basis of various scenarios.

“It is desirable for teachers to provide students with specific instructions, for example, by indicating safe places along their school route where there is no danger from falling objects or debris,” he said.

He also called for municipalities to train teachers to be able to handle various situations in times of emergency.

Anxiety and inattention over Tokyo’s next Big One (Mainichi) | Learn the lessons of earthquakes, for big ones will happen again (Yomiuri, Jan.17)

New quake system created / Researchers to be able to accurately predict earthquake aftermaths (Yomiuri, Jan.31)

Building a disaster-resistant nation / Tsunami warning systems to be built in space, sea floor (Yomiuri, Feb.3) | Agency to revamp tsunami warnings (Yomiuri, Feb.1)

System eyed to predict spread of terror substances (Yomiuri, Jan.29)

Parents’ dilemma: Is letting kids play in possible contaminated areas risky? (Asahi, Feb 2, 2012)

After Susumu Takagi retired, he rented about 3,000 square meters of farmland and converted it into a park called Tatsunokomura (Tatsunoko village) in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, in 2006.

There, the 74-year-old taught children about the outdoors, set up work shops and gave them valuable experiences of surviving in a natural environment. He also provided advice for new parents.

But attendance has dropped sharply at the once-popular park.

Since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March last year, many parents have refused to let their children play outside, fearing radiation contamination. But parents are also torn because playing outside is considered indispensable for children’s growth.

Kazuko Osato, 51, a homemaker from Sakura, says she also has anxieties about radiation. But she keeps bringing her three children to Tatsunokomura.

“It is not only good for their physical development, but they can also learn various things by gaining experience in unexpected situations in the natural environment,” she said.

But she does acknowledge: “There have been days when only my children are taking part in the programs. Actually, I want them to play with other children.”

Children can take part in the playground’s programs twice a month for a fee of 100 yen (about $1.30) per person.

A total of 167 parents registered their children with the playground before the accident at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. That number has decreased to 10.

Another program that Takagi teaches at Tatsunokomura is caring for babies. Up to 20 parents had taken part in the program with their children before the nuclear accident. The figure has since dropped to four or five, forcing Takagi to reduce the child-care activities from twice a week to once a month.

In June last year, 38-year-old homemaker Momoko Hori, who had taken part in the activities with her two children aged 1 and 4, brought a dosimeter to the park.

The device continued to sound alarms and registered radiation levels higher than 0.23 microsievert per hour, the government’s standard for decontamination.

Hori said she thought, “If the radiation level is left as it is, we cannot play here.”

She asked Takagi to decontaminate the playground. But due to a shortage of funds, he could not clean up the entire area, and instead removed the topsoil in the more popular spots and buried the soil in a corner.

The radiation level declined from around 0.25 microsievert to 0.16 microsievert per hour. But some parents said they would no longer bring their children to Tatsunokomura. Other regulars at the park moved to western Japan, fearing the radiation from Fukushima.

Citizens’ groups trying to promote “playing outside” in the Tokyo metropolitan area face similar problems.

They often invite Hirofumi Harada, a member of the anti-nuclear organization No Nukes Plaza Tokyo, to give lectures at study meetings.

According to Harada, it is necessary for the groups to regularly measure radiation levels and avoid “hot spots,” where radiation levels are relatively high. But he also warns against overreacting.

“Radiation levels in the Tokyo metropolitan area are not so serious as to prohibit children from playing outside,” Harada said. “What people should do are such things as hand-washing, gargling and dressing cuts if they suffer injuries.”

Closer to the crippled nuclear power plant, in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, a large indoor playground opened late last year to let children play without the fear of radioactive contamination.

PEP Kids Koriyama features an athletic field with 30-meter-long tracks, a 70-square-meter sand pit and other playground equipment.

The facility is operated by the Koriyama city government. More than 30,000 people used the free playground during the first three weeks of its operation.

A 28-year-old company employee brought his two children, aged 5 and 6, to PEP Kids Koriyama. He has not allowed his children to play outdoors in the city since the nuclear accident started.

“My children are becoming stressed out. As a result, they are fighting more. We, the parents, have also become irritable,” he said.

Before the indoor playground opened, he sometimes took the children to the Aizu region in western Fukushima Prefecture on weekends and holidays to let them play outside where the radiation levels are relatively low.

In May last year, pediatrician Shintaro Kikuchi, who has urged the Koriyama city government to set up indoor playgrounds, studied weight changes in 33 kindergarten pupils in the city.

He found that 4 and 5 year olds were gaining 1 kilogram less than the average increase of 30 children of the same age before the nuclear accident.

“The causes for the smaller increase are unknown. But there is a possibility that stress and the change of food are having an influence on their growth,” Kikuchi said.

Some children he has examined have become obese due to an increase in snacks consumed. Other children have stiff shoulders because of a lack of physical exercise.

“From the viewpoint of health, I think that the risk of not playing outside is bigger than the risk of radiation,” Kikuchi said.

Back at Tatsunokomura, Takagi is starting to see people trickling back to his park.

Around 9 a.m. on Jan. 14, eight children gathered in the playground for the first time in a long while. A fifth-grade girl of an elementary school, said, “I brought my friends here.”

It was the first activity day this year for Takagi. He taught the children how to make kites and build a bonfire. The children also drew pictures on “washi,” or traditional Japanese paper, and chopped bamboo with small knives.

All eight of the children enthusiastically joined the activities.

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On Fukushima nuclear disaster-related news:

Nuclear Watch: A First Look Inside (NHK) on what the robot found inside reactor no 2 | Robot pair to explore inside Fukushima nuke plant(Asahi, Feb 1) A pair of robots will be sent into the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as early as mid-February to measure radioactive materials and survey 3-D structures inside the buildings.

TEPCO: Fukushima reactor leaks, radiation tiny (Asahi, Feb 2, 2012)   | TEPCO ordered to prevent water leaks at stricken nuke plant

Pipe leaks water from reactor 4 fuel pool (Japan Times)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it has found radioactive coolant water leaking from a broken pipe in reactor 4 of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but it hasn’t flowed outside the building.

The reactor’s fuel rods are in the spent-fuel pool, as the reactor was offline for maintenance when the March 11 disaster struck. The leaked coolant water contains radioactive materials from the fuel pool.

According to Tepco, about 8.5 tons of water leaked onto the floor of the reactor 4 building at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. The leak was stopped 13 minutes later by closing a valve, officials said.

Tepco initially estimated that 6 litters of water had leaked.

The utility is looking into the cause of the pipe damage and suspects it was caused either by the recent cold weather or the hydrogen explosions that took place in the early phase of the crisis.

Criticism is mounting against Tepco and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for their failure to take basic steps to prevent the freezing of numerous makeshift water pipes that have been set up since the crisis started. …Read more here.

Nuclear Watch: Storing Tainted Soil (NHK)

Special hose used to clean contaminated paving stones (Yomiuri, Jan.30)

Hibakusha: Now is the time to discuss radioactive ‘black rain’ (Mainichi)

JCOPE2 is a data-assimilative ocean general circulation model and the Japan Coastal Ocean Predictability Experiment 2 (JCOPE2) particle tracking model represents the movement of particles by advection and diffusion due to ocean currents, and it includes the half-life decay of the radioactivity for each radionuclide. The surface current data reproduced by an operational ocean forecast system JCOPE2 are used for the advection. You can watch a simulation of the oceanward dispersion of Cesium-137 by JCOPE2 particle tracking model from March 21st, 2011 to January 3ast, 2012 at the JCOPE website.

Hope growing for indoor farming in disaster-hit Tohoku region (Yomiuri, Feb.1)

On parenting matters:

Govt to create new child care program in ’15 (Yomiuri,Feb.2)

The government has agreed on a final draft plan for a new preschool child care program designed to combine kindergartens with day care centers.

The scheme is designed to reduce the number of children on day care center waiting lists, and the target year for its introduction is fiscal 2015.

The government will cover the projected cost of the new program by allocating more than 1 trillion yen in the fiscal 2015 budget to its implementation. It intends to cover about 700 billion yen with revenue expected to be earned through an increase of the consumption tax rate. The hike is part of a government plan to reform the social security and tax systems.

The government will finalize the plan by the end of the month at a meeting of a group led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that is responsible for addressing the nation’s declining birthrate. The government will also submit bills related to the program at the current Diet session in the hope that they can be approved and implemented from fiscal 2013.

A Salad Your Kids Might Really Eat (Telegraph)

 

On technology:
NC District Launches Tech Center for 21st Century Learning (Educationnews.org) Excerpts below:The Alamance-Burlington system in North Carolina has launched a Career and Technical Education Center which aims to give students 21st-century skills.

The center has 13 classrooms fitted with wireless and smartboards, five labs, five conference rooms and a culinary arts kitchen.

At the moment students receive half a day of learning at the center. While there they study subjects like culinary arts, computer programming, health care and digital media. However, the center wants to expand its offerings by adding more scientific subjects like engineering in the near future.

This comes as IBM announces that they have partnered with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY) to open a technology college called “P-Tech” –  Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn.

Where traditional high schools finish at 12th year, the P-Tech college runs for two more years beyond that. Graduates will also then receive an associate’s degree from a nearby technical college.

Steve Kastenbaum at CNN reports that the school focuses on giving students a strong foundation in math the sciences. The school wants to qualify students for jobs in the tech industry when they graduate.

E-Testing: The Future Is Here (Telegraph, Jan 20)

E-book apps found ‘stealing’ private user info (Yomiuri, Feb.3)

Sharing a Screen, if Not a Classroom (New York Times)

Harnessing Gaming for the Classroom (New York Times) At the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London, the experts gathered to explore the pros, and some cons, of computer gaming as a learning tool.