Valentine's Day

A Happy Valentine’s Day to all (read How Valentine’s Day conquered Japan), …my daughter lugged along quite a few wrapped packets of teddy bear chocolates to school today, only I know they’ll all be given out to girls rather than to the boys…giri choco to be replaced with giggly chocos?

Below you’ll find our regular sweep of news, commentaries and such, as we try to keep our pulse on what’s happening in the educational arena.

In the local arena, an interesting phenomenon is seen with more than three thousand applicants seeking to enrol in a new political school still in the pipelines, in order to enter the political arena…

Over 3,000 apply to enter school set up by Osaka mayor Hashimoto’s party

OSAKA — More than 3,000 people have applied to enter a political school founded by the Osaka Restoration Association, a regional party led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, the association said on Feb. 12.

The Osaka Restoration Association said that 3,326 people had applied for enrollment at “Ishin Seiji-juku,” a political school to be opened by the local party on March 24.

The applicants included Shoichi Takahashi, a Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) member of the House of Representatives, and other DPJ legislators, but the association said it would not accept their enrollment.

At the association’s executive meeting on Feb. 12, which was attended by Mayor Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who serves as party secretary-general, it was decided that the association would boost the brand-new school’s capacity from the initial 400 to a level in the range of 2,000 to 3,000.

The party executives agreed that the school would admit most of the applicants, except for those who submitted papers containing assertions conflicting with the party’s policy. Successful applicants will be selected through the screening of documents by Feb. 18, without undergoing interviews that had initially been planned.

The applicants also included local assembly members, bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors and university professors. Although the school will admit members of other political parties, Gov. Matsui questioned accepting legislators, saying on Feb. 13, “Incumbent Diet members are bound by their parties’ policies, and I wonder if they should be allowed to participate in the school.”

Once enrolled, students will be divided into five groups and attend the school’s programs twice a month. They will be assigned to hit the streets for political stump speeches and debates by late May before “reserve candidates” are singled out in early June for the next lower house election. The party plans to field some 300 candidates in the general election, most of whom will hail from the school, to win at least 200 seats in the powerful lower chamber.

The Osaka Restoration Association said that 3,326 people had applied for enrollment at “Ishin Seiji-juku,” a political school to be opened by the local party on March 24.

The applicants included Shoichi Takahashi, a Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) member of the House of Representatives, and other DPJ legislators, but the association said it would not accept their enrollment.

At the association’s executive meeting on Feb. 12, which was attended by Mayor Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who serves as party secretary-general, it was decided that the association would boost the brand-new school’s capacity from the initial 400 to a level in the range of 2,000 to 3,000.

The party executives agreed that the school would admit most of the applicants, except for those who submitted papers containing assertions conflicting with the party’s policy. Successful applicants will be selected through the screening of documents by Feb. 18, without undergoing interviews that had initially been planned.

The applicants also included local assembly members, bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors and university professors. Although the school will admit members of other political parties, Gov. Matsui questioned accepting legislators, saying on Feb. 13, “Incumbent Diet members are bound by their parties’ policies, and I wonder if they should be allowed to participate in the school.”

Once enrolled, students will be divided into five groups and attend the school’s programs twice a month. They will be assigned to hit the streets for political stump speeches and debates by late May before “reserve candidates” are singled out in early June for the next lower house election. The party plans to field some 300 candidates in the general election, most of whom will hail from the school, to win at least 200 seats in the powerful lower chamber.

Related news: Huge interest in studying at Hashimoto’s political school(Asahi, Feb  14)

Editorial: The flipside of compulsory judo  (Mainichi, Feb 13)

Educational guideline changes that will make judo compulsory in junior high schools are causing widespread alarm. Revised every 10 years, the Guidelines for the Course of Study are precepts issued by the education ministry on what must be covered in school instruction.

Under changes that will take effect in April, instruction in judo, kendo, or sumo will be required in physical education classes for students in their first and second years of junior high school, and 60 percent of schools are expected to choose judo.

There are, however, important figures that need to be taken into account. Over the 28-year period ending in the 2010-2011 school year, 114 students in junior and senior high schools died due to judo-related accidents, while 275 were left with severe disabilities. The majority of accidents took place during afterschool club activities rather during gym class. However, it does not follow that judo instruction in classes is safe, only that classes tend to be less intense and shorter in duration.

In fact, data from junior high schools in seven prefectures in the Tohoku and Sanriku regions during the 2010-2011 school year show that the ratio of students suffering neck and head injuries was 2.4 times higher during physical education class than during afterschool club activities. In making the sport compulsory, we must also take into consideration the fact that girls, who are generally less likely than boys to have experience in judo, will be subject to instruction in classes.

Physical education teachers who will be required to give instruction in judo are also concerned about the prospect, especially since many of them did not take martial art classes in college. With the cooperation of local judo associations, education boards are now conducting workshops for P.E. teachers who have no experience in the sport. However, it has emerged that in several prefectures, teachers who have undergone just a few days of training have been given black belts — a high rank that is generally impossible for a beginner to attain.

An official certification system that the All Japan Judo Federation will adopt for teachers starting in the 2013-2014 school year stipulates: “Taking the situation (in schools) into consideration, will we allow for exemptions and offer conditional certification.” In other words, teachers will be able to obtain certification without any judo instruction. But a teacher with a pseudo black belt teaching judo to junior high school students is hardly different from a newbie driver becoming a driving instructor.

The education ministry’s hastiness is noticeable. It analyzed sport-related accidents in schools and set up an expert panel to deliberate safety measures in August 2011. The safety guidelines for judo are set to be drawn up by the end of the current school year in March, but that leaves very little time for school administrators and teachers to familiarize themselves with the new rules before the new school year begins in April. Despite this rush, Deputy Education Minister Tenzo Okumura told a news conference on Feb. 8 that the implementation of the new guidelines could not be postponed. Does the ministry realize that the lives of children are in their hands?

In recent years, there have not been any major judo-related accidents in France, where three times the number of people take part in the sport. A judo instructor there must have national certification, which entails at least 380 hours of training. As 75 percent of French judo enthusiasts are 19 or younger, ensuring safety is considered a top priority. There are more than a few things that we in Japan, where judo originated, can humbly learn from the French.

It’s not that judo is particularly more dangerous than other sports or martial arts. The problem lies in its instruction, which in Japan depends only on experience that is not back up by medical knowledge, and an environment in which accidents fail to prompt investigations and reviews. The education ministry must first postpone making judo compulsory and then set up a safety mechanism that the public can trust, for both class instruction and club activities.

‘Super Ice Age’ for Japanese graduates(New Straits Times) 

College students in Japan can no longer expect a good, comfortable life. Many of them feel they are confronting multi-faceted challenges not known to previous generations. “We are facing a really yabai (chancy) time,” says one male junior student of a prestigious private university in Tokyo. He is one of the desperate third-year students already looking for jobs for his post-graduation life starting in April next year. Such an early job hunt is a common practice in Japan. He reads and speaks English and Russian and has good grades. And yet, he says, it is very tough for him now and perhaps for many decades to come. Such gloomy prospects are shared by many of his peers. About three out of every 10 university students graduating this March — the end of Japan’s academic year — have not found regular jobs yet. In spring last year, 19.3 per cent of the total new graduates, or 107,000 graduates, left school with no full-time, regular job.

FUKUOKA–“What beautiful tulips you’ve drawn! Good job,” cram school head Taizo Itoyama said to a first-grade primary school student who smiled and looked at the sketchbook she had submitted to him. However, the last summer class at Donguri Club cram school in Fukuoka was not an art lesson. It was a math lesson.

During the class, students were given unusual word problems featuring animals or insects. Each student was then asked to choose one problem to solve by drawing pictures depicting the scenario described in the problem.

As Itoyama places priority on encouraging students to enjoy drawing, there is no set time limit for solving the problem. He doesn’t even care whether their answers are correct or not.

During his time as a teacher at a major cram school, Itoyama noticed many children were good at calculations, but struggled with word problems.

Concerned, Itoyama struggled to find a solution before asking himself, “How do people reason?” He concluded that a person’s reasoning ability is divided into two types of skills. One is the ability to visualize images based on literal information. The other is to have a command of these visualized images.

To help children improve these skills, Itoyama developed study materials consisting of 700 word problems for kindergartners through sixth-grade primary school students.

At Donguri Club, each pupil is asked to solve one or two of these problems every week.

The headmaster, however, has included a twist in each question to prevent the problems from being too easy to solve. No matter how tricky the questions are, students have to figure out the correct answers by carefully visualizing the scenario described in the word problem.

According to Itoyama, even first-grade primary school students can understand the concept of division–though they have not yet learned about it at school–by drawing a picture of a cake and thinking about how to cut it so that they can serve it on plates to share with other people. Drawing pictures enables fourth-grade primary school students to solve problems that usually require simultaneous equations.

If a student’s main priority when studying is how many questions they can solve and how fast they can solve them, students will stop trying to figure out answers for themselves. Instead, they will try to just memorize basic patterns in math problems and the appropriate equations to solve them. They may easily give up on problems that are more complex than they are used to. Some may become impatient and ask teachers, “Do I have to multiply or divide [to solve this problem]?”

At Donguri Club, Itoyama encourages students to start off with easy problems and take their time drawing pictures depicting the scenario described in the word problem. He says students need to recover their sense of focusing on one problem if they want to learn how to visualize situations based on literal information.

“Before reaching middle school, children are supposed to develop various ways of thinking,” Itoyama says. “Children usually show their ingenuity on their own when playing together, and [their brains] accumulate visual images through these actions. It helps them build up a base of academic abilities that will afford them enjoyable lives.”

Endorsing his unique educational approach, an increasing number of people have independently adapted the Donguri method at home or school.

One example is Nakasatsunai Primary School in Nakasatsunai, eastern Hokkaido. The school has implemented the Donguri method for word problems since 2009 in homework worksheets as a school-wide experiment.

Principal Akio Nakamura praised the Donguri method because “it attaches a high value to [children’s] thinking processes.”

Japan finds a key to unlock philanthropy  (nature.com)

Japan’s universities and research institutes have long had to make do with few philanthropic donations. Strict laws governing university finances, and the lack of a philanthropic tradition, have discouraged the gifts that serve Western institutions so well. But change is coming. This week, the University of Tokyo unveils the country’s first institute named after a foreign donor: the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe. The announcement adds Norwegian philanthropist Fred Kavli’s name, along with a US$7.5-million endowment, to one of Japan’s most successful institutes.

Students’ retreat from English  (Japan Times)

A recent education ministry survey of third-year middle school students nationwide found most students have an ambivalent and contradictory attitude toward English. Of the 3,225 students surveyed, most felt English was important to study, but few wanted a job requiring English. The disjuncture between what they consider important and what they want for themselves is puzzling and disappointing. In the survey, 85 percent agreed English was important and 70 percent – up from 47 percent in 2003 – agreed that knowing English would give them an edge in finding a job in the future. Clearly, English is perceived as integral to internationalizing Japan and the world. However, despite students’ increasing awareness of the importance of English, the percentage of students who said they did not want to get a job requiring English increased six percentage points to a whopping 43 percent.

Mixed response to autumn enrollment plan / National universities (Yomiuri, Jan 22)

National universities are evenly split over an autumn enrollment system proposed by the University of Tokyo, with about half considering a similar change to their calendars but others skeptical whether it would fit Japanese society.

The survey was conducted after recent reports the University of Tokyo, also known as Todai, plans to shift the enrollment of its undergraduate students from spring to autumn. Among 36 institutions that have started or will start discussions on introducing autumn enrollment was Tsukuba University, which said the change will be crucial to securing excellent students and faculty members from overseas to improve the university’s education and research capabilities.

“We believe it’s necessary for us to change our systems to better fit global trends,” it added.

Tsukuba is among 11 higher educational institutions that the University of Tokyo has asked to take part in a conference in April to promote autumn enrollment. The 11 universities were briefed about the proposal last month, according to sources.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 36 national universities are interested in introducing autumn enrollment, with many saying it would help their efforts to become more “internationalized” by attracting more foreign students.

However, 30 said they are not considering changing their calendar, while seven were undecided.

At a press conference Friday, University of Tokyo President Junichi Hamada said he believed such work behind the scenes would help the proposal gain traction.

“The University of Tokyo has raised this issue, and I believe many universities share the basic stance of positively reviewing the enrollment period,” he said confidently.

If the university goes ahead with the change, its first term would run from September to December and the second from February to May, according to an interim report released by the university last week.

This schedule would match those of major universities abroad, the report said.

Yale University of the United States has its first term from the end of August to December, with the second from January to April.

Many respondents to the survey that expressed interest in autumn enrollment–including some regional universities–said they hoped changing their calendars would help them become more internationalized.

Among regional universities, Miyazaki University said the measure tied in neatly with its efforts to be competitive in a global age.

“We’d like to have constructive discussions on this issue in terms of not only securing competent foreign students, but also encouraging Japanese students to study overseas,” the university said in its written response.

Yamagata University predicts the advantages of making it easier to attract foreign students and encourage Japanese students to study abroad “might encourage one institution after another to shift their enrollment period from spring to autumn, like dominoes.”

However, some universities that expressed interested in autumn enrollment were still not completely convinced about the potential merits of the change.

Gunma University, for example, said it might consider switching to autumn enrollment. However, it added: “We think national universities should stay in step on this issue. We would consider starting this system if Utsunomiya, Shinshu, Ibaraki and other universities in our neighboring prefectures go along with it.”

===

Medical, teachers colleges wary

Medical universities and teachers colleges are among educational institutions expressing caution about switching the start of the academic year to autumn.

“We need to discuss the issue carefully due to the timing of national exams for students in medicine and nursing courses,” an official at Asahikawa Medical University said. The national exams are held in February.

An official at Miyagi University of Education said it would be virtually impossible to adopt the autumn enrollment system unless enrollments at kindergartens and primary, middle and high schools also shift over.

“Our students’ on-the-job training programs are dependent up to a degree on such schools,” the official said. “Problems will resonate throughout the university system unless changes are made in teachers employment exams and hiring practices.”

Physical education colleges also were wary of such a change because of the timing of athletic meets.

If students enter the colleges in autumn, they will have insufficient time to prepare for athletic events held in spring.

The National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture, said it would consider shifting to autumn enrollment, but a number of problems needed to be ironed out.

“We would have to study the situations at other colleges and discuss the matter with officials of sports events as we must take into consideration students’ participation in athletic meets,” said an official of the college, the only national four-year sports university in Japan.

Shiga University President Takamitsu Sawa reacted skeptically to the “internationalization” of universities.

“Even if the enrollment period is shifted to autumn, the number of foreign students coming [to Japan] to study will not increase,” he said.

“In the first place, educational levels at Japanese universities are quite low,” Sawa said. “Excellent students overseas will go to universities in the United States and England, as it takes time for them to master Japanese, which is a rather special language.”

Financial problems are another factor.

An official at the University of Fukui said: “According to a survey we conducted, many students are not well off. If both enrollment and graduation periods are delayed by six months, their financial burdens will probably increase.”

Ibaraki University President Yukio Ikeda is also cautious.

“The autumn enrollment system is for universities, not students. We shouldn’t move students around merely to boost the pride of universities,” he said.

Hirosaki University President Masahiko Endo said: “Autumn enrollment does not fit in with Japanese society, such as the fiscal year and enrollment periods at primary, middle and high schools. It’s obvious that adopting autumn enrollment will cause confusion.

“This is an issue that involves both the government and universities. If the new system is adopted, the government should make appropriate changes to various aspects of society.”

Children walk 30% less than 30 years ago (Yomiuri)

Primary school students in Tokyo walk an average of 11,382 steps a day, according to a recent survey conducted by the Tokyo metropolitan board of education. The figure marked a more than 30 percent decline from the 17,120 steps found in a 1979 university survey. The trend was even more evident among middle and high school students. An expert attributed the decrease to children spending less time outside after school due to video games and other indoor activities.

‘Talking place’ helps teenagers gain self-confidence (Asahi)

Japanese teenagers are pretty glum: Half of them feel they have no special talent, three-out-of-five feel useless and a third feel alone, according to a 2009 Japan Youth Research Institute survey. Kumi Imamura is trying to solve this chronic lack of self-esteem with “Katariba,” a nonprofit organization that strives to create an environment in which young people feel they are capable of anything. Imamura and her team run high school workshops, where volunteer university students explain how they overcame difficulties, realized an ambition or decided upon a career. “Young Japanese people think that even if they do something, nothing will ever change,” says Yuta Yamauchi, Katariba public relations officer. “We try to create an opportunity for them to gain self-confidence and believe they can achieve things.”

I have been studying academic juku (for-profit supplementary schooling) for many years and have visited over 50 individually operated juku throughout Japan. I have been thrilled by the dedication of charismatic educators, and dismayed by the relentless focus on standardized test results and by the lack of a diversity of offerings beyond the narrow confines of the curriculum in an era of hypereducation. In January, thousands of students in Japan sat for the central university entrance examination (center shiken or center test). For ambitious students, the exam is merely a requirement to check off on their way to the entrance examinations for specific fields of study that follow later. For others, the exam is a convenient way to avoid multiple examinations. The exam is one of the ultimate goals that supplementary education through primary and secondary schooling focuses on.

Bullying rose 6.7% in 2010 school year (Japan Times)

The number of bullying cases recognized by public and private elementary, junior high and high schools nationwide in the 2010 academic year rose 6.7 percent from a year earlier to 77,630, according to an education ministry survey. It was the first increase in five years. The number of such cases had been falling since the 2006 school year, when the ministry began collecting such data. An education official said the number rose as teachers became better at recognizing bullying.

Older news, article or blog links:

Rather a TCK than a Kikokushijo

Waseda professor helping restore students’ confidence (Feb.4, Yomiuri)

NHK report on problems with ALT dispatch companies

Students enhance global views via English papers (Dec 10)

Universities targeting parents to target students (Yomiuri, Nov 19)

About 120 parents gathered at Kanagawa Institute of Technology in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 31 to attend an hourlong meeting for parents whose children are considering attending the university. The event was aimed at explaining various issues students will face, including those related to scholarships and job hunting.

The meeting was followed by a campus tour. About 60 parents were guided by Atsushi Kuroko, head of the planning and admissions department, and other school officials and to various facilities including a center to support supplemental study.

“Please encourage your children to visit the center if they aren’t able to keep up with their classes. In the case of boys, fathers aren’t good at handling sons, so mothers should take the lead,” Kuroko said, making the parents laugh.

“This is the third introductory session I’ve attended. But I’ve never attended a tour specifically designed for parents before. The explanations were so easy to understand I had nothing to ask,” said a pleased mother who visited the campus with her daughter.

The school launched the campus tour for parents in 2007, adding to the explanation sessions for parents it launched in 2000. In 2008, the institute had school officials who help with postgraduate employment attend the session. Thanks to university’s efforts, the number of parents attending open houses–originally intended for students–reached 1,285 in the 2011 school year compared with 582 in the 2007 school year.

“A parents-only session allows us to hear parents’ opinions firsthand and discuss them,” Kuroko said.

At a time when universities are competing fiercely to get more students–39 percent of private universities in the country under-enrolled–schools are trying a variety of measures to appeal to parents.

Nanzan University in Aichi Prefecture has held open house events for parents in March every year since 2007. This year, in a newly built building, about 300 parents listened to university students talk about their experiences studying abroad and took a trial lesson.

Ritsumeikan University has held an event designed for parents titled, “Let’s go to Kitano Tenmangu shrine to pray for entrance exam success,” during their summer open house since 2009.

The university’s cooperative association students give tours around the Kinugasa campus in Kyoto.

“It seems like parents enjoy the walk and the chance to talk with students,” a member of the association said.

“Parents’ opinions have a strong influence on a student’s choice of schools. It is important to win the hearts of parents who visit schools,” said Kenji Yasuda, a senior official of Daigaku Tsushin, an education information firm.

“Recently, parents want to tour campuses together with their children. I expect there’ll be more events where they can take part together,” Yasuda added.

It appears there is nothing to stop the battle between universities to win the hearts and minds of parents.

***

On health and safety matters:

High level of radioactive cesium found in Okinawa noodles

NAHA — High levels of radioactive cesium have been detected in noodles produced in Okinawa, apparently because they were made with water filtered by ashes from Fukushima-produced wood.

The noodles, called “Okinawa soba,” had a level of radioactivity of 258 becquerels of cesium per kilogram. The restaurant that produced them had kneaded them with water filtered by the ashes of Fukushima Prefecture-produced wood.

The Forestry Agency on Feb. 10 notified prefectures across Japan not to use ashes made from wood or charcoal in cooking if the materials were lumbered or produced in Fukushima Prefecture, Tokyo and 15 other prefectures following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March last year, even if the wood or charcoal bore levels of cesium lower than the government-set standard — 40 becquerels per kilogram for cooking wood and 280 becquerels per kilogram for charcoal.

According to the agency, the cesium contamination of Okinawan noodles surfaced on Feb. 7 in testing conducted by the Okinawa Prefectural Government. An ensuing survey found 468 becquerels of cesium in cooking wood that was distributed through the same route as the one for wood delivered to the restaurant.

The central government set a standard on Nov. 2 last year stating that the radioactivity of cesium concentrated by burning wood or charcoal should not exceed 8,000 becquerels per kilogram — a level allowed for landfill at disposal sites. However, methods for examining the concentration were not established until Nov. 18, while the cooking wood in question was shipped on Nov. 7.

“We had not assumed that ashes would be used in food processing (when we drew up the standard),” said a Forestry Agency official.

Ashes are used in kneading noodles and sometimes in removing the bitter taste, or “aku” from devil’s tongue and wild vegetables.
Put children before politics (Japan Times’ abridged translation of an article from the February issue of Sentaku magazine, Feb 14, 2012) Excerpts below:

“Almost a year after the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11, earthquake and tsunami, one serious question remains: to what extent have residents in the vicinity of the plant been exposed to radiation?…The amount of iodine-131 detected in the area within 20 km of the ill-fated nuclear plant reached a maximum 55,000 becquerels per square meter, yet 2,5 million becquerels was detected per kilogram of weeds collected in Iidate Village. Radiation figures in some places are not much different from measurements of contamination near Chernobyl.

The municipal hospital at Minami-Soma, about 30 km from the nuclear plant, measured 100,000 counts per minute on clothing from some patients.

Tomoyoshi Oikawa, a doctor at the hospital, has complained that even though he has time and again talked about the exposure of patients to high-level radiation, most media has not reported his findings.

In Chernobyl, an estimated 6,000 children suffered from thyroid gland cancer. This suggests that, proportionately, it won’t be surprising if several hundred children in Fukushima Prefecture are affected similarly. Although this cancer is curable if treated at an early stage, victims remain subject to the aftereffects of operations or radiation treatments for years to come….

Although the government has been trying to pacify citizens by claiming there is no immediate threat to human health as a result of exposure to radiation, medical experts are deeply concerned about children and their exposure and the potential hazard to their health.

Even though the area contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Fukushima plant is smaller than the region contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster (1986), radiation levels in some places are similar. A medical doctor working in the contaminated area has said the government has been moving much too slowly to cope with the situation. The pace has been compared to that of the government of the former Soviet Union in its dealing with the Chernobyl disaster.

Two chemical elements that could seriously expose children to radiation are iodine-131 and cesium-137. If iodine-131 is taken into the thyroid gland, it remains there for a long time, damaging adjacent tissues through beta decay (by which a beta particle, an electron or a positron, is emitted from an atom). This volatile element can spread quickly to other areas.

And since its half-life (the time it takes for radioactive material to decay by half) is only eight days, it disappears within months, making it difficult to detect unless a medical test is conducted at an early stage of exposure.

The amount of iodine-131 detected in the area within 20 km of the ill-fated nuclear plant reached a maximum 55,000 becquerels per square meter, yet 2,5 million becquerels was detected per kilogram of weeds collected in Iidate Village. Radiation figures in some places are not much different from measurements of contamination near Chernobyl.

The municipal hospital at Minami-Soma, about 30 km from the nuclear plant, measured 100,000 counts per minute on clothing from some patients.

Tomoyoshi Oikawa, a doctor at the hospital, has complained that even though he has time and again talked about the exposure of patients to high-level radiation, most media has not reported his findings.

Medical checks by the Minami-Soma Municipal Mospital using Whole Body Counters (WBCs) show the seriousness of radiation exposure. Of the 527 children checked in and after September, 268, or 51 percent, were found to have suffered from internal exposure to cesium-137. One doctor at the hospital said some of the children had been eating wild plants picked in the mountains. Evidence of high-level exposure to gamma rays was detected in the clothes of some children, indicating, he said, that their parents were paying little attention to the risks of radiation exposure.

The municipal hospital is capable of examining and treating only 110 children per day due to the small number of WBC machine’s available. Efforts by the hospital staff to purchase more equipment has been hindered by an internal power struggle within the municipal government. Minami-Soma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai’s call for buying additional machines has met opposition from city office workers who harbor antipathy toward the mayor.

The Fukushima prefectural government is not helping the hospital, either. Even though a large budget has been allocated by the central government to the prefecture to cope with radiation issues, no funds have gone to the Minami-Soma Municipal Hospital for purchasing the WBC devices. This has forced the municipal government to bear the entire cost of examining the children exposed to cesium-137. As it examines more children, it incurs greater costs.

Not only citizens of Minami-Soma but also those from other municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have expressed a desire to be examined by the WBC machines. In reality, though, only a small number of them have had the chance.” Read the entire article here.

Spreading cancer awareness in the classroom (Feb.12, Yomiuri)

“In an age when the average Japanese person has about a 50 percent chance of developing cancer in their lifetime, providing children with accurate information about the disease is gaining popularity in the classroom.

The goal of cancer education is not only to inform children about the disease, but also to give them the opportunity to learn about cancer prevention and the importance of life. …

At Ishikidai Primary School in Kagoshima, Masami Kamizuru, 60, told a classroom of 35 attentive sixth-graders how he felt after he was first diagnosed with cancer six years ago.

Kamizuru’s visit is part of the school’s “Inochi no Jugyo” (Lesson of life), a lecture program designed around teaching the importance of life. The program was jointly created by homeroom teacher Yusuke Murasue and “Gan (cancer) Support Kagoshima,” a corporate-status nonprofit organization of cancer patients and their families in Kagoshima Prefecture, of which Kamizuru is a member.

The idea for the lesson came out of a meeting between cancer patients and their family members. At the meeting, participants said they were struck by the number of recent tragic incidents involving children. They wanted to find a way to teach children about the importance of living by introducing their own daily struggles with life and death.”…Read more here

High school girl found dead in Osaka bar after night shift (Mainichi, Feb 13)

TEPCO:broken thermometer may show high temperature NHK | Reactor 2 heat spike reading said faulty (Japan Times)

A thermocouple device in the pressure vessel of reactor 2 at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant reads over 285 degrees but Tepco dismisses the reading, claiming the device is faulty.
Water pipes to be made quake-resistant (NHK , Feb 13)

The ministry says only one-third of the water pipes in Japan are earthquake resistant as of March last year due to tight funds.

After the March 11th earthquake, 2.3 million households in 19 prefectures were left without municipal water, some for more than five months. But in areas with earthquake-resistant pipes, the water supply remained unaffected. …

 Drink water, lose weight | Cold Water Could Help Fight Obesity

Drinking cold water causes the body to burn more calorie and could be an effective weight-loss method for overweight children, according to new research published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Overweight children could lose an average of 1.2kg a year if they drank about 1,800 cubic cm of cold water daily, the equivalent of three to four bottled drinks, the study found.

The research was conducted on 21 overweight boys, aged 10 and 11.

Dr Gal Dubnov-Raz, a sports medicine and nutrition expert at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel Hashomer, who was involved in the research, said ordinary water cooled to between 14 deg C and 17.25 deg C, was used for the study.

The children’s metabolic rates were measured before and after they drank the water. The results showed that their metabolic rate rose by up to 25 per cent at the peak, about 60 minutes after they drank.

The results showed that plain water worked. There was “no obligation to drink water dispensed by coolers or sold in bottles or to drink mineral water”, Dr Dubnov-Raz told the Jerusalem Post.


Nurture children’s ability to avoid danger on their own (Yomiuri editorial, Dec 10, 2011) Excerpted below:

‘Miracle of Kamaishi’

Although Kamaishi was struck by the catastrophic tsunami on March 11, the great majority of the 3,000 primary and middle school students in the city fled to safety and were physically unhurt. Many children decided on their own that it would be risky to take shelter at designated evacuation sites, and instead made a beeline for higher ground to escape the oncoming tsunami.

For the last seven years, schools in Kamaishi have taught their students the basics of evacuation by inviting experts in disaster management as advisers to speak to the children. The golden rules drilled into the children were “Don’t trust assumptions about disasters” and “Put yourself first and flee.” The schools also incorporated content about disasters in each subject. One question in a mathematics class on velocity asked students to think about the speed at which a tsunami would reach the coast.

The accumulation of these efforts resulted in the students swiftly evacuating in what has widely been referred to as “the miracle of Kamaishi.”

Other ingenious methods have been employed elsewhere. In some places, children heard from elderly local people who experienced massive earthquakes in the past, while others drew antidisaster maps highlighting vulnerable areas by examining geographical features of their neighborhood. Some school athletic meets included bucket relay races and contests to build makeshift stretchers.

These antidisaster education activities, however, have been held only in some regions, rather than nationwide.

The education ministry and several local governments have introduced examples of antidisaster education on their websites. They should provide more in-depth information online so their expertise can be shared with schools in every corner of the nation.

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Don’t leave kids home alone

Boosting teacher awareness about antidisaster education is also a key task.

The ministry is scheduled to hold antidisaster training courses this month and January for 220 supervisors from prefectural boards of education. These supervisors will pass this information on to teachers.

It is of basic importance that every teacher acquire the skills to teach students how to stay safe in a disaster. It will also become necessary to include antidisaster lessons in university courses for prospective teachers and courses for newly appointed educators.

After the March 11 disaster, many commuters were unable to go home because of disruptions to transportation networks in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Many children spent hours at home alone after returning from school, waiting for their parents to return.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has settled on a policy of, in principle, keeping children at school after a massive disaster until they can be given to their parents. We hope parents and schools will together work out the rules governing when children should be picked up following a catastrophe..

iPad use can cause shoulder and neck pain, a Harvard study finds (NY Daily, Jan 25, 2012)

Your new tablet computer could be causing a digital-age malady called “iPad shoulder.”

A study by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health found that millions of iPad and tablet users are at risk of shoulder and neck pain because of the way they use the high-tech devices.

“The problem is getting stuck in these awkward postures for a long period of time,” study leader Jack Dennerlein of Harvard told the Daily News.

Tablet junkies holding the gadgets in their laps or at low angles put pressure on joints by continuously gazing downward, researchers said.

Related: Can tablet computers give you a pain in the neck? ‹ Japan Today (Jan 28) Excerpted below:

“Users of tablet computers should place their device on the table and tilt its screen, rather than have it flat on their lap, to avoid potentially painful hunching of the neck, a study suggests.

“Tablet users may be at high risk to develop neck discomfort based on current behaviors and tablet designs,” it warned.

A team led by environmental health researcher Jack Dennerlein of the Harvard School of Public Health asked seven men and eight women who were experienced tablet users to carry out tasks on an iPad2 and a Motorola Xoom.

Using a motion-analysis system, the team filmed the 15 volunteers as they worked on the tablet in four common configurations.

In the first position, the tablet was not placed in its proprietary case but held on the lap in one hand while the other was used to touch the screen.

In the second, the tablet was placed on the lap, but stayed in its case. The user worked with both hands on the screen.

In the third, the tablet was set up in its case on a table, with its screen set at a lower angle, and the user worked with both hands.

The last configuration, dubbed “table-movie,” entailed placing the tablet on the table in its case, tilted at a higher angle. The user did not work on the screen and instead watched movies or other programming on it.

The experiments showed the angle of the head and neck varied hugely across the four configurations and between the iPad and the Xoom.

Compared with the Xoom, the angles were more acute in the iPad, which the researchers attributed to the different case designs.

The study found that tablet users generally had more acute angles of head and neck flexion than with desktop or notebook computers.

Only when the two tablets were in the “table-movie” configuration—when the screen’s angle was at its steepest—did the user’s posture approach a neutral position.

“This suggests that tablet users could place the tablet higher, on a table rather than a lap, to avoid low gaze angles, and use a case that provides steeper view angles,” the scientists said.

A 2009 study found that the “gaze angle” for looking at computers should be roughly 45 degrees or more to avoid straining the neck’s extensor muscles. ….”

Elsewhere in the world on education:

Big Savings for U.S. Students in Open-Source Book Program (NY Times, Feb 12)

Students worried about the rising cost of college textbooks are about to get a break. Connexions, an initiative atRice University in Houston devoted to producing textbooks using open-source materials, will produce free textbooks for five of the most-attended subjects in American colleges.

Funded by a number of philanthropies, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the OpenStax College textbooks “will be competitive with texts that currently retail for $150 or more,” said the books’ editor in chief, David Harris. “Furthermore, because our content is openly licensed, faculty will be able to easily modify and adapt OpenStax College content to meet specific course needs.”

Physics and sociology texts are due out next month and texts for introductory biology, anatomy and physiology are scheduled for next fall. Connexions’ director, Richard Baraniuk, said, “if we capture just 10 percent of the market with these first five textbooks” students in the United States could save $90 million over the next five years.

Books will be available free online via computers, tablets and smartphones. Connexions’ print-on-demand feature will also make it possible for students to order low-cost print copies. …

The first ‘outstanding’ school of 2012 reveals all (Guardian, Feb  13, 2012)

This school has been on a remarkable journey in the last 16 years, the latest stage of which will culminate in academy status this summer. It has clawed its way out of special measures from being, according to the league tables, the worst school in England’s second city to becoming one of the best, and all this in Alum Rock, an area notorious for social disadvantage and gang culture. Just 4% of pupils were gaining five or more A-C grades at GCSE in the late 1990s – last summer that figure was 72%.

This is a remarkable school in many ways. Almost all pupils are Muslim, yet Park View is run by a white female headteacher and a Sikh deputy. Lindsey Clark, the headteacher, is able to reel off the names of the three pupils out of a cohort of 600 who are not of the Islamic faith. “I suppose it sounds a bit odd, but somehow it works,” she says.

Colleagues at Clark’s previous school, a successful all-girls secondary, tried to dissuade her from coming to Park View in 2001. At the time, the school had a reputation in Birmingham as attracting and catering for children with special needs, the excluded and disaffected – in other words, the pupils other schools didn’t want.

“Parents wanted academic results, but they also wanted their children to be safe and secure,” says Hardeep Saini, the deputy head. “Fathers would accompany their daughters into the classroom and then pick them up again after lessons. There was very little trust.

“This wasn’t a bad school, it was just bumbling along. We didn’t have behaviour problems, but those early inspections and league tables of the 1990s had exposed how bad things were academically.”

In last month’s inspection, 94% of lessons were judged good or outstanding. This was despite the school being little more than a building site as its BSF programme is completed.

The journey to academic success for Park View has been long and arduous. …

Pupil attitudes also had to change. “We really clamped down on coursework and attendance at exams about five years ago, and staff were despatched to round up pupils from their homes and drive them to school,” Clark says. “One girl turned up in her pyjamas and dressing gown to sit an exam after she’d overslept and we sent out a taxi to get her.

“We had to peel back the layers and change hearts and minds. The only time we failed to get a pupil into the exam room was when he was banged up in a police cell and the custody officer said he was not allowed to sit the paper in there.”…

Building relationships with parents has also been crucial. “They have to understand their role as co-educators,” Saini adds. “It’s no good handing over their children to us and saying ‘we want them to have a better life than us’. If they want their children to become doctors or lawyers, then we have to do this together.

“All along we have been out to prove that inner-city kids can achieve just as well as anyone else, so we had to kick out of our thinking any notions that this was not possible.”

This attitude was not lost on inspectors, who gave the school an “outstanding” grading in all key areas. The only room for improvement, they said, was to increase the number of A* and A grades at GCSE.

Record numbers of international students (BBC)

A TED TALKS Raffi’s 2011 lecture on his need to respect children philosophy:
http://www.youtube.co Visit also Raffi’s Child Honouring website: http://www.childhonouring.org/

The fight against bogus degrees in higher education (Guardian)

Self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor finer-tuned-praise (Washington Post, Jan 16) [or read this version “US teachers cutting out empty praise for student]

Purring Tiger mums

Asian Americans most bullied in US schools: study | ABS-CBN News

Asian Americans endure far more bullying at US schools than members of other ethnic groups, with teenagers of the community three times as likely to face taunts on the Internet, new data shows.

Policymakers see a range of reasons for the harassment, including language barriers faced by some Asian American students and a spike in racial abuse following the September 11, 2001 attacks against children perceived as Muslim.

“This data is absolutely unacceptable and it must change. Our children have to be able to go to school free of fear,” US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday during a forum at the Center for American Progress think-tank.

The research, to be released on Saturday, found that 54 percent of Asian American teenagers said they were bullied in the classroom, sharply above the 31.3 percent of whites who reported being picked on.

The figure was 38.4 percent for African Americans and 34.3 percent for Hispanics, a government researcher involved in the data analysis told AFP. He requested anonymity because the data has not been made public.

The disparity was even more striking for cyber-bullying.

Some 62 percent of Asian Americans reported online harassment once or twice a month, compared with 18.1 percent of whites. The researcher said more study was needed on why the problem is so severe among Asian Americans.

The data comes from a 2009 survey supported by the US Justice Department and Education Department which interviewed some 6,500 students from ages 12 to 18… read more

Yale astrophysicist’s Washington Post commentary urges science-education reform

Priya Natarajan’s thoughts complement recent similar calls in Science. (PhysicsDaily.org, Feb 6)

In her Post piece, she focuses on how to build a lifelong interest in science. She declares that “America’s universities are not graduating nearly enough scientists, engineers and other skilled professionals to keep our country globally competitive in the decades ahead” and that if “we want more Americans to pursue careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] professions, we have to intervene much earlier than we imagined.” She charges that “U.S. schools’ approach to math and science lacks, in large part, a creative element,” and she advocates “self-guided or collaborative research projects—something the Internet has made much more feasible.”

“Without firsthand experience of the scientific method and its eventual payoff,” she says at the end, “students will continue to flock to other majors when their science and math courses become too demanding. If we want more scientists and engineers later, we need to teach children about the joys of hard work and discovery now.”

Science Labs in Elementary School? | Education.com

Reasons to consider a degree in science | Dallas News

Straits Times: Students shine in scientific research 

6 Steps to Preparing for College During High School (Smarter Schooling)

How to prepare for college in high school

Sample admissions interview questions released – University of Oxford |

Behind the scenes of an Oxford interview | Story & Education Stories

Elite Asian students cheat like mad on US applications | GlobalPost

Zhejiang University tops 2012 China University Rankings in overall strength (30 Jan, Zhejiang news)  | Top 30 Chinese universities 2012 – China.org.cn

Is teaching English in China a waste of time? (SeeingredinChina blog)

Teaching the ABCs of values | The Straits Times Blogs

Infants’ brains thrive in a bilingual world (China Daily) | Scientists Examine Bilingualism and Babies |

Baby brain: bilingual in social setting, more flexible – watch also Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies | Video on TED.com

Malaysian universities are breeding grounds for militants, say experts (India Times, also excerpted here) – see  Islamic Education in Malaysia | RISIS Monograph

Making cyberspace safer for kids – Tech – New Straits Times

Singapore: Headline: Varsities making more lectures available online | BBC News – MIT launches free online ‘fully automated’ course

Free Online Lectures from Top Colleges and Universities | Free Online College Classes and Course Lectures |

Best Free online courses and classes | 300000 Free Lectures From The World’s Top Universities

The Joy of quiet (NY Times, Dec 29, 2011)

Valentine’s Day – the Perfect Holiday for One (Japan Times)

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Posted by Aileen Kawagoe