Keeping our fingers on the pulse of educational happenings, here’s our latest wrap on the news in Japan related to schooling or educational matters. With a number celestial phenomena approaching, science classrooms here will likely be taking time out to observe the phenomena, read more about them via our news links below as well as our previous blogpost with more information on the upcoming solar eclipse…
Starting with an annular eclipse on May 21, Japan will be treated to three rare celestial phenomena this year, exciting astronomy fans across the nation.
In the annular eclipse, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun and leave nothing of our star visible but a bright golden ring. The last time the phenomenon was observed in Japan was 25 years ago in 1987, from Okinawa.
Weather permitting, this year’s annular eclipse will be visible from southern Kagoshima Prefecture to southern Fukushima Prefecture — a swathe of Japan with over 80 million residents. According to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in Mitaka, Tokyo, the coming annular eclipse will be the first spectacle observable from such a large area in 932 years.
Furthermore, in locations outside the abovementioned area, a partial eclipse is expected to be visible.
May 21 falls on a Monday, and the annular eclipse is expected to be observable around 7:30 a.m. “Many people will likely be able to see it from their own homes,” says Masato Katayama, head of the NAOJ’s Ephemeris Computation Office.
The prospects of this lucky year have astronomy buffs ecstatic. “All three (phenomena) are rare, magical astronomical events that one can hope to see once in a lifetime, if at all,” says TV weather forecaster Takeshi Amatatsu. “That all three will take place in the same year makes me so happy to be living in this time.”
Masaya Kawaguchi, editor of the monthly magazine Hoshi Navi (“Star Navigation”), meanwhile, has seen a total of three annular eclipses in both Japan and abroad. “As you watch the sun slowly wane, you’re able to perceive that the moon is indeed orbiting the Earth, and get a feel for how fast it’s moving,” he says.
In the second of the three phenomena, Venus will transit in front of the sun on June 6, meaning that Venus will appear as a black dot moving across the sun’s surface. Experts say that it will be more than a century before the event will be visible again from Japan. In the third phenomenon, meanwhile, an occultation of Venus by the moon on Aug. 14, Venus will disappear behind the moon and reappear in the eastern sky before dawn.
Precautions are necessary, however, for viewing these phenomena. Because the sun’s powerful rays can damage the eyes, one must not look directly at the sun even when it’s hidden behind another celestial body. Specialized eclipse glasses are a must; regular sunglasses will not suffice.
As a testament to the public’s interest in this year’s celestial marvels, eclipse glasses are already enjoying brisk sales. A sales representative at Vixen Co., which sold out all 700,000 of its solar-viewing glasses in 2009 when a total solar eclipse took place, says: “Sales of the glasses have been increasing since late last year, and we’re hoping this will popularize astronomy.” The company plans to manufacture 1.5 million solar-viewing glasses this year.
According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Society for Education and Popularization of Astronomy, 14 people complained of “pain in the back of their eyes” and other symptoms after looking at the sun directly or through a camera viewfinder on the day of the solar eclipse — an overcast day — in 2009. Koji Onishi, the deputy chief of the 2012 Annular Eclipse Japan Committee comprising researchers and educators, warns: “The sun’s rays are very strong, and viewing (it) involves great risks. We want people to be well prepared in enjoying the upcoming rare opportunities.”
One major factor in how the three events are experienced is the weather. According to Amatatsu, late May is usually around the time when the weather tends to be wet. However, in Tokyo and Shizuoka, May 21 has statistically had a higher chance of sun compared to days before and after it, at 60 percent.
“It must be fate that the typical chance of sun for the very day of (the annular eclipse) is high,” Amatatsu says. “Forecasting the weather on that day will be a huge responsibility, so I’m already nervous.”
Deteriorating math skills of current batch of university students attributed to cram-free education (Yomiuri, Feb.26) …cross-reference this with the UK situation: Maths ‘too hard for students and dons: Universities drop subject from science courses
Freedom to choose textbooks vs. law on supplying free textbooks to public schools(Yaeyama District dispute)
On February 14, English language learning apps featuring Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes took the top slots on Japan’s App Store in the education segment. Since then, they have also taken the #1 spot overall for both iPad and iPhone categories. These apps, based on 30 stories from the Oxford Bookworms graded reader series, help learners improve their English. Classics Phantom of the Opera, The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book, Pride and Prejudice and Gulliver’s Travels are among the selected titles. Using the apps, learners can read and listen to the story, view full-color illustrations and test vocabulary using interactive quizzes. Narrated by native-speaking actors, the apps allow learners to bookmark their progress, check meaning of highlighted words and scroll the glossary to check for words.
How to beat habits that stifle English learning (Yomiuri, Feb.27)
“There are four midlevel Japanese words that every English teacher in Japan should know: taisaku (precautions or preventive measures), tamerai (hesitation), tetsuzuki (official or formal preparations) and tejun (formal order). These words have more in common than the fact that they all start with a “T.” They all represent approaches that when used in education, can have a negative impact on student English development.I’m not going to argue that these qualities are uniquely Japanese. All societies employ them for order and stability, although few to the degree that one sees in Japan. Let me explain them, and their impact upon acquiring English skills, one by one.First, taisaku. Societies utilize “taisaku” to secure safety and social order, but few as obsessively as Japan. A good example of taisaku (a term used much more frequently in Japanese than its counterparts are in English) can be seen surrounding university entrance examinations.Proctors are given an enormous how-to manual well in advance that focuses extensively on the crucial avoidance of the dreaded “miss” (mistake). Steps for every possible eventuality are drawn up not so much to enable good performance or to allow for a comprehensive measure of student ability but rather to avoid a “claim” (“formal complaint”) based upon a “miss.”In fact, taisaku can go into so much detail that they eventually become unwieldy and bloated–and thus ignored. As with the constant announcements on trains reminding you not to forget bags and umbrellas–you become inured to it. Due to the numbing effect, the very problems that one hopes to avoid might actually be exacerbated.Students too fear English “misses.” As a result, instead of taking chances, and making errors of commission while communicating, many will choose to make errors of omission–by saying as little as possible or sticking to banal, well-rehearsed formalized structures. It is a form of taisaku–a “preventive measure” to avert a “miss.” Students remain in an English safety zone, rarely venturing into more complex communication.How can teachers encourage students to escape this limiting approach? By rewarding risk-takers, by penalizing avoidance, omission, or banality, and by focusing more upon content well expressed in dialogue rather than emphasizing formal incorrectness. What about tamerai? Some see this as good manners. For example, at take-out restaurants I’m puzzled by the Japanese way of lining up. Unlike those societies in which people queue religiously or those that have “me-first” clusters, in Japan one usually finds a vague, cloudlike scattering of people hovering near the counter. It’s often impossible to tell whether they are just checking the menu, waiting for an order already taken, or are waiting to place an order. It’s as if actually getting in a line is too bold, rough and ill-mannered. One shows delicacy by hesitating, appearing unsure, uncommitted. This is tamerai.This hesitancy is highly civilized and refined but can also be annoying since being so unassertive means that no one knows where to stand–or even wants to ask. Since I will invariably stand behind the last person who is forming a recognizable line regardless of who is hovering nearby, I might come across as boorish–but also efficient.The most obvious manifestations of tamerai in English classrooms are the habits of consulting with a partner before offering even the most obvious response to the teacher, taking an inordinate amount of time to start group work or pair exercises (since no one wants to look pushy), and in extreme cases, not even wanting to face your partner, staring elsewhere until the teacher comes to get the task flowing. This hesitancy is hardly refined or delicate.Tamerai can also be seen in the habit of not being able to repair confusion or misunderstanding (even in Japanese) but instead resorting to a chorus of “Eh!? Eh!? Eh!?” with complete comprehension breakdown. And don’t start me on the habit of pulling out dictionaries in midconversation! One way of minimizing the negative effects of tamerai is to emphasize English strategic competence–a sociolinguistic skill that involves knowing how to check, confirm, repair, or venture information or questions. If students have a better sense as to how to manage–open, close and maintain–different types of interactions, the tamerai effect can be mitigated.Tetsuzuki’s most obvious manifestation is in bureaucracy wherein performing “correct procedure” can take precedence over purpose, making that which should be simple, difficult…”Author Mike Guest suggests limiting time-wasting, meaningless tetsuzuki/tejun in three ways:”First, I set strict time limits in advance and keep to them so that students focus on the actual task. I offer clear samples and models before starting any complex task. I also explain the purpose of the task–students know that a quick warm-up does not have the gravity of a formal test.”He also argues that “this is not “culture.” These are habits, and educationally unproductive ones at that. If the goal is to develop English skills, they have to be challenged”.Read the entire article here.
EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Volunteers spark kids’ interest in engineering (Yomiuri, Feb.25)
YOKOHAMA–An engineer from IBM Japan watched sixth graders of Hikijidai Primary School in Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture, in mid-December, as they cheered on a robot running along a length of tape stretched on the floor of the school gym.”Stop!” shouted the children, squealing with delight when the robot made of toy blocks stopped right at the end of the tape.The engineer, Motomasa Toma, 34, was one of 10 volunteers the company sent to the school that day as a guest lecturer.The lesson, developed by the company, is called Robolab. A problem-solving workshop, it is aimed at creating computer programs to control the movement of a robot so that it operates according to the programmer’s wishes.The company started the year-long workshop in 2006, emulating Engineers’ Week that takes place every February in the United States to encourage children to take an interest in math, science and technology through various events. Engineers’ Week began in 1951 and is now joined by more than 75 groups of academics and engineers and more than 50 corporations and government institutions every year.”You can do it, so don’t give up till the end,” Toma told the children. The engineer who works in the company’s services department.”I want the children to experience the joy of achieving a goal through perseverance,” Toma said after the class.”IBM should be a good corporate citizen,” the company’s founder, Thomas Watson, once said. Acting in this spirit, educational contributions have become the pillar of IBM’s corporate social responsibility program. The company’s program covers a wide range of subjects, including science, the environment, English and career guidance.”It’s our employees’ volunteer work that drives our programs,” said Aki Tsukamoto, the company’s social contribution program manager. “Nearly 50 percent of the employees have registered for volunteer network.”The 10 guest lecturers who visited the primary school in December used their paid holidays to volunteer. ….The guest lecturers’ classes also offer teachers an opportunity to see another side of the children.”They’re the kind of lessons we can’t give the students ourselves because we have neither the know-how or the equipment,” said Mayumi Ikeda, 48, the children’s homeroom teacher. “I’m glad I was able to see another side of the children. Even those who tend to easily give up, saying they can’t understand this or that, tried again and again this time with delight in their eyes.
“Ishihara agrees with Nagoya mayor’s Nanjing massacre denial (JAPAN TODAY, Feb. 25, 2012)
LIFELINES Ill-prepared schools put returner, family in tough spot By ASHLEY THOMPSON Feb. 21, 2012According to this JT article, following a scandal involving a JET teacher and a local BOE, an “entire city was blacklisted by JET in the aftermath of the dispute and would never again receive new teachers from the program” see
By PATRICK BUDMAREnglish teachers on the JET program are often faced with the bittersweet moment when they realize their contract is ending and they will soon be returning to their home country.
FEB. 26, 2012TOKYO —Reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano on Saturday met a delegation of six school children from the tsunami-hit Tohoku area. The six students were selected from 60 applicants in Rikuzentakata and Yamada town in Iwate Prefecture, and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. The children handed Hirano a petition calling for the government to include the opinions of young people in its reconstruction efforts, NHK reported.They asked that parks have disaster-prevention facilities, that temporary housing be removed from school grounds and that the pace of debris cleanup be accelerated. Hirano replied that his agency would do its best to reflect the opinions of the students, NHK reported. He explained to them that the pace of debris removal has been slow because many local governments around Japan have refused to help with disposal due to radiation fears.The visit by the children follows a similar one last week by a student delegation that met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Helen J. Uchida gives advice on how to encourage students to excel by Recognizing progress through awards (Yomuiri, Feb.17)
Elsewhere in the world, the news on education:
On language learning and bilingualism, see Babies Learn To Talk By Reading Lips, New Research Suggests (Huffington Post) and Six-Month-Old Babies Understand Basic Words, Scientists Claim (14 Feb. Huffington Post); also Learning many languages ‘no problem for infants’ finds a study of 100 infants aged between 18 and 30 months.
It’s the Economy: Why Are Harvard Graduates in the Mailroom? (New York Times)
More college students turn to Online Courses (EducationNews.org)
Online schools are recording higher numbers of enrollment, with an increasing number of college students choosing to receive their education via the internet.
On the scrapping of “unsatisfactory” state inspections of UK schools …Euphemisms | Unsatisfactory terminology (The Economist, Feb 10th 2012) and Ofsted announces scrapping of ‘satisfactory’ judgement in move designed to help improve education for millions of children (Ofsted HP, 16 Jan 2012)
Earlier news: Poor grades at King’s? Students were too busy protesting (Daily Telegraph)
US varsities cross out science and maths lectures (Washington Post)
Science, mathematics and engineering departments at many US universities are abandoning or retooling the traditional lecture as a style of teaching, worried that it is driving students away… read more here
History and geography lessons minus exam stress (Feb 5, Straits Times) The Singapore Education Ministry ditches stressful exam approach in favour of a new syllabus of history and geography lessons, that requires a self-directed approach to learning, students to work together to formulate questions based on a real issue or relevant topic and that favours excursions over exams.
Bill Shishima shares how he joined the Boy Scouts as a 12-year-old behind the barbed wire of a Japanese American internment camp, or how he had to work on a rabbit farm to earn his keep when his parents couldn’t afford to move the family back to California after World War II. The 81-year-old retired teacher answers the questions of those who ask — school groups, news reporters and sometimes his children and 14-year-old granddaughter — but he’s never sat down and recorded his life story or that of his now-deceased parents, who lost the family’s grocery and hotel business when they were sent to Wyoming’s Heart Mountain camp. “They just endured,” he said. “My parents never talked about it.” Like many survivors, Shishima is now being asked to write down his memories with thousands of others before they’re lost to time.
TODAYonline | Voices | Keep lessons true to history … Compare and contrast this story with: Tokyo governor backs Nanjing massacre denial(AFP) and Japanese teacher’s gratitude to Singaporean POW]
Ex-teachers headhunted … for S$1000 a day (CNA, Feb 6) | TODAYonline | Singapore | Educating the world, Singapore-style | A poignant call by a parent to place value on the process of learning and to nurture the holistic child rather than target academic success solely … For kids’ sake, step out of paper chase
China schools ditch holidays – secretly (Straits Times, Feb 17, 2012) Excerpts follow:
“BEIJING – The new school term has not started in most places, but many schools in China are already calling back their charges for extra classes – secretly.
Some students are told to ditch their uniforms and wear home clothes; others are bussed to hidden locations far from their schools. …
The schools have been going to such lengths to avoid drawing attention because the country’s Education Ministry has banned the holiday classes, in a bid to lessen the load on overworked students.
The ban was implemented in 2006 on educationists’ recommendations, after complaints poured in about excessive classes that left students with virtually no school holidays. …
The ban is taken seriously: The local education authorities issue stern warnings before schools close for the holidays every year, and harsh punishment has been meted out in some cases. …
Many schools are breaking the ban – with the support of parents — due to increasing pressure to deliver good examination results. …”
See related articles on S. Korean education system: “Reforming S. Korea’s education system“; S. Korea cram school accused of hi-tech copying 7 Feb, CNA; Wi-Fi bullies emerge in wired Korean schools (Reuters, Jan 20).
On health, safety and crime matters:
Fertilizer mixed with potassium helps cut down amount of cesium in brown rice ((Mainichi Japan) February 27, 2012
TSUKUBA, Ibaraki — Fertilizer mixed with potassium can greatly reduce the amount of radioactive cesium absorbed by brown rice from contaminated rice paddies, researchers at the National Agricultural Research Center have found.
Officials at the research center based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, said they succeeded in cutting down the amount of cesium absorbed by brown rice by up to 50 percent after they used potassium-laced fertilizer in contaminated paddies in four prefectures, though the results differed depending on soil characteristics. Potassium is known to be easily absorbed by plants.
The experiment covered a total of five paddies in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures, which were contaminated with radioactive materials emitted from the disaster-crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Researchers used fertilizer under different conditions to study cesium absorption by brown rice.
As a result, the levels of cesium absorbed by brown rice were reduced by 6 to 46 percent in rice fields where potassium compounds three times the normal amount were applied. Researchers presume that the similarity in chemical characteristics between cesium and potassium helped brown rice to absorb more potassium.
Researchers have also found that the optimal amount of potassium compounds is 25 milligrams per 100 grams of soil and that any amount beyond that would bring about no remarkable results. Currently, the target amount of potassium compounds in rice paddies is set at 15 to 30 milligrams per 100 grams of soil.
“I hope the results will be reflected in this year’s rice planting,” said Naoto Kato, a senior scientist at the center.
Related news: Japan’s food self-sufficiency: mixture of pessimism and optimism(Mainichi Japan) February 25, 2012 (Excerpt below)
“…cultivated land in Japan slipped from 6.08 million hectares in 1961 to 4.56 million hectares in 2011, while abandoned arable land jumped from 130,000 hectares in 1975 to 390,000 hectares in 2010.
“We should secure enough farmers and farmland to quickly increase food production in case of emergency, but the government’s measures are insufficient,” Hisano argues. Farmers are also quitting globally, and the U.N. estimates that by 2008 the world’s urban population had surpassed the rural population for the first time in human history.
Koichi Ikegami, a professor of agricultural economics at Kinki University, says, “Young people in Africa are also moving into big cities and the number of farmers is decreasing. The global food supply warrants no optimism.”
But Hiroyuki Kawashima, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Tokyo, is optimistic.
“We can cover our food needs thanks to the production capabilities of the United States, Australia and other major exporters. A further reduction in (Japan’s) food self-sufficiency will not hurt. It’s important for Japan to maintain its purchasing power,” he says.
Major Japanese trading houses are increasingly handling grain imports for China much more than those for Japan. But Tetsuhide Mikamo, head of the Marubeni Research Institute, says, “If orders (to buy food from abroad) come from the government, we will collect them. We still have that power,” Mikamo says.”
On youth misdemeanours…5 youths ordered to apologize to monkeys, clean pen for throwing fireworks (Japan Today, Feb. 25, 2012)
Museums love teenagers, but only if they are in uniform (Guardian, Feb 27) Salford Museum’s decision to throw out two teenagers was more about protecting its cathedral-like status than the girls’ safety…
Upper classes ‘more likely to lie and cheat’ (Guardian, Feb 27)
“Classes at the Singapore campus, which has been a year in the making, will commence in March, with an expected annual intake of between 70 and 100 international students.
The Government’s strong support and the multi-cultural society here were key factors in choosing Singapore, said Sony Electronics Asia-Pacific and Singapore managing director Narihiko Uemura.
Courses from the Sony university in Tokyo might be adapted for use here in future, including one module jointly developed with the University of California, Los Angeles.
Speaking at the launch yesterday, the Economic Development Board (EDB) deputy managing director Tan Choon Shian said: “Today’s event is truly significant as… this is Sony’s first corporate university outside of its Japan headquarters.”
Windows on the iPad, and Speedy (NY Times, February 22, 2012) A new app Onlive Desktop lets you
“gives you the complete Windows Office suite. In Word, you can do fancy stuff like tracking changes and high-end typography. In PowerPoint, you can make slide shows that the iPad projects with all of the cross fades, zooms and animations intact.
Thanks to Microsoft’s own Touch Pack add-on, all of this works with touch-screen gestures. You can pinch and spread two fingers to zoom in and out of your Office documents. You can use Windows’ impressive handwriting recognition to enter text (although a Bluetooth keyboard works better). You can flick to scroll through a list.
Instead of clicking the mouse on things, you can simply tap, although a stylus works better than a fingertip; many of the Windows controls are too tiny for a finger to tap precisely. (On a real Windows PC, you could open the Control Panel to enlarge the controls for touch use — but OnLive’s simulated PC is lacking the Control Panel, which is one of its few downsides.)
OnLive Desktop is seamless and fairly amazing. And fast; on what other PC does Word open in one second?
But the only way to get files onto and off OnLive Desktop is using a Documents folder on the desktop. To access it, you have to visit OnLive’s Web site on your actual PC.
The news today is the new service, called OnLive Desktop Plus. It’s not free — it costs $5 a month — but it adds Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer and a 1-gigabit-a-second Internet connection….
And “1-gigabit Internet” means the fastest connection you’ve ever used in your life — on your iPad. It means speeds 500 or 1,000 times as fast as what you probably get at home. It means downloading a 20-megabyte file before your finger lifts from the glass.
You get the same speed in both directions. You can upload a 30-megabyte file in one second.”
BBC’s Webwise gives you tips on how to make the most of being online
Could search engines be damaging learning? With seemingly every US school district scrambling to out-do each other with tech implementation — iPads, SMARTboards, school lunches beamed directly into kids’ stomachs via Wi-Fi — it’s worth considering what effects simple search has on the learning process.
“Educators and others worry that it may result in less learning because research may be more shallow and students may be less likely to retain information because it is accessible online. It’s called the Google Effect, writes Shirley Jinkins at the Star-Telegram. Marc Schwartz, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and director of the South West Center for Mind, Brain and Education, admits that while that the Internet is changing the face of how research is done, but fundamentally teachers in the classroom have a greater influence on learning.
British firm develops ‘cheapest wireless tablet’ AFP Feb 20, 2012
A British technology company claims to have developed the world’s least expensive computer tablet for wireless Internet access.
At a cost of as little as $35 (Â£22) apiece, Datawind Ltd hopes to supply a market of billions of customers, many in underdeveloped countries.
Tablet computers the new electronic babysitter (AFT, Fri 17, 2012)
Move over TV. Tablet computers are the new electronic babysitter.
A Nielsen survey published on Thursday broke down the ways tablet-owning parents of children under age 12 are using gadgets such as the iPad to keep the kids occupied.
More than half of parents — 55 percent — said their kids used tablets for entertainment while traveling and 41 percent said they give the children the device to use in restaurants.
Some 77 percent said their children play downloaded games on a tablet while 57 percent said they access educational applications.
Learning music’s just a game of touch Called the Moomba Music Programme, large-screen interactive units that resemble gigantic iPads, designed by tech firms are a hit with some schools such as the Ace Montessori House kindergarten …
In surfing educational sites:
Secrets of the Bog Body (BBC)
Discover the Secrets of the Bog Body in this interactive game as you turn forensic scientist to uncover the evidence! [This site may take a few seconds to load]
A useful note on language abuse of the usage of the word “literally” on The comedic potential of “literally”
Still a baby website Back to School (BTS) being developed, but worth looking at. Read about it here: S’pore teachers offered free lesson plans on website – For e.g. I thought the media ethics/skyping with Gaza/National Income-standard of living. The site is good for lesson plans on live current affairs or topics not likely to be covered in standard texts…”…a new website, Back to School (BTS), is trying to do. A project by publichouse.sg, the site aims to ease teachers’ workloads by allowing anyone interested in education to contribute lesson plans that teachers can easily download and use it as their classroom material.
The creator of the free site, Lisa Li, a teacher of six years, thinks that as a common platform of pooled resources, the site can help save teachers a lot of time.
From the perspective of a user, Padman said, “With at least the core ideas of what the lesson could entail, it provides us a good solid framework to work with while at the same time leaving enough room for further refinement so that the individual teachers and schools can fine tune it to focus on just what they want.”
Stimulating debate on varied topics
Read Lisa Nielsen’s compelling writing on 12 Most Compelling Reasons To Homeschool Your Children
Also, we’d like to put in a plug for:
An international outdoor club in Tokyo for Japanese and foreign people to enjoy outdoor and social activities together; hiking, camping, climbing, cycling, skiing, running, diving, kayak, barbecue parties, social events etc. Get a workout or some gentle exercise in the beautiful Japanese countryside.
Same as IAC we allow children to attend with them if parents sign a safety waiver. Or attend events themsevles with parental permission/safety waiver.– Andy @ OCJ
And that’s a wrapup for now….