Dear Readers,

Edu Watch is back!  Rounding up the news on education over the summer holidays for you now … here we go:

Here in Japan, the Otsu school bullying incident has taken centerstage in the past months, with public opinion and criticism forcing the police, education board, government to take a proactive stance and to redress the bullying problem in Japan. The spotlight on bullying has encouraged more aggrieved parties to step up so that  More bullying victims turning to police to file criminal charges (Japan Today). The story is excerpted below:

“Police have been called in to take action in 11 cases of bullying nationwide in the past month, according to the National Police Agency.

The filing of criminal charges by bullying victims is believed to be the result of a high-profile case in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, in which three bullies were blamed for the suicide of a 13-year-old boy last October. More victims have started to speak out against their tormentors now that bullying has become a national talking point.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that in the past month, police were consulted on bullying that included victims suffering broken bones and cases in which photos and video of acts of violence were posted online.

In the most recent case, a junior high school boy in Tokyo filed criminal charges against his classmates after he sustained broken ribs in a bullying incident. In other cases, a high school boy in Sendai sustained 20 cigarette burns to his arms, and a junior high school boy reportedly took a video of himself bullying a primary school boy in Hyogo and uploaded it to the Internet. The video was viewed around 180,000 times, NHK reported.

Last month, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced plans to conduct a nationwide survey of all public elementary and junior high schools in an attempt to ascertain the prevalence and nature of bullying in the nation’s public schools.

On Aug 2, the ministry also launched a taskforce dedicated to supporting schools as part of its drive to stamp out bullying.

The taskforce consists of staff from departments currently dealing with bullying, national educational policy researchers and experts from the National Police Agency.”

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A Yomiuri editorial article highlights the perceived problems with education boards and why they have been powerless to prevent or resolve the bullying problem:

Education boards must improve their responses to bullying (Aug.3, 2012 Yomiuri)

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has set up a new office specializing in bullying issues in response to a case in which a second-year middle school student committed suicide in Otsu last October.

In addition, two other serious middle school bullying cases have recently been revealed–one in Soka, Saitama Prefecture, and the other in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture–both of which resulted in severe injuries to the bullied students.

Bullying-related issues continue to appear. We urge the ministry to make effective use of the new office to deter bullying, which causes serious suffering to children.

The new office, established Wednesday, comprises about 20 officials, including some from the National Police Agency. When serious bullying cases are revealed or students commit suicide as a result of bullying, the office is supposed to provide schools and boards of education with instructions and advice regarding how to probe such cases and prevent their recurrence.

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Ministry’s commitment needed

The ministry used to leave how to respond to bullying cases up to schools and boards of education whenever they came to light. It can be said that the ministry has responded slowly to bullying issues so far even though it is aware of the overall trend of bullying nationwide.

Setting up the new office suggests that the ministry has concluded it would be difficult to solve bullying cases as long as it leaves them up to schools and boards of education.

It is necessary for the ministry to gather information related to bullying and establish a framework that will allow it to swiftly respond to emergency cases.

It is also important for the ministry to dispatch experts to schools and boards of education to give them appropriate advice on preventing children from killing themselves.

It would, however, be unreasonable to expect the ministry to directly respond to every single bullying case. Only schools and boards of education are responsible for dealing with the issue firsthand.

The Otsu case has revealed how dysfunctional the city’s board of education was in responding to the problem. Reforming education boards is an urgent task.

The Otsu Municipal Board of Education rushed to wrap up its investigation even though many students at the public school the boy attended told how he was bullied when the board surveyed them following his suicide.

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Board showed no understanding

Members of the board, moreover, reportedly did not raise any questions or express any opinions regarding the case during their regular meetings following the suicide. The board did not show that it understood the seriousness of the case or that it was committed to probing the cause of the suicide.

This seriously calls into question whether boards of education are really necessary.

It has long been said that boards of education–most of whose members are appointed from among local communities–lack substance. Although the boards are independent from the heads of local governments, it is often the case that the majority of board members simply rubber-stamp decisions made by their secretariats, which handle practical affairs.

Many boards of education have former teachers as their superintendents–the heads of the secretariats. A common criticism is that such superintendents fail to respond properly when problems arise because they feel camaraderie with the teachers involved.

Some observers strongly feel that boards of education are unnecessary. Some heads of local governments insist that it should be up to them to decide whether to even have such boards, in light of moves toward the decentralization of power.

Should boards of education be left as they are? It is necessary for the ministry to review the system.

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Education board’s response to suicide mustn’t be overlooked  (Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2012): “…  The education board’s handling of the boy’s suicide was utterly slipshod. The board apparently lacks a sense of responsibility in confronting school bullying.

Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi admitted earlier this month that the education board’s probe was flawed and has decided to launch a new investigation into the boy’s suicide. This is a reasonable move.

The new investigation will be conducted by an independent expert panel. Why did the people concerned fail to prevent the suicide? Did the education board and the school attempt to cover up information unfavorable to them? We want the panel to thoroughly clear up such questions.

The student’s parents have filed a lawsuit against the Otsu city government and others, seeking damages. The city has denied a direct link between the bullying and the suicide, but the mayor has indicated the city may seek to settle. Koshi reportedly intends to ask for the suit to be discontinued or suspended for the time being….

Police’s response questionable

Questions also have been raised over the police’s response to the incident.

After the student’s death, his father tried three times to submit an offense report to police, but the Shiga prefectural police did not accept it, saying it was difficult to determine whether this was a criminal case. The police should be criticized for their hesitancy in uncovering the truth behind the suicide.

The prefectural police finally set up a special team and searched the education board’s offices and the middle school on Wednesday.”

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Bullying back in focus, answers far off (Japan Times, Aug 17, 2012)  Excerpted below:

“…. The number of reported cases of bullying in elementary, junior high and high schools fell from 124,898 in fiscal 2006 to 77,630 in 2010, a decline of some 62 percent, according to the education ministry. Yet deaths like the one in Otsu continue year after year.

Analysts say bullying is present in all societies and can’t be completely eradicated. But they add that an escalation can be prevented by a more drastic approach to fundamentally alter classroom environments.

Asao Naito, an associate professor at Meiji University who has researched the issue for decades, said the current school system, under which 30 to 40 students are jammed into a single homeroom for the entire day, is behind the problem.

Unlike secondary schools in the United States and Britain, where students move from classroom to classroom every period for different subjects, teachers in Japan’s junior high schools are the ones who are constantly on the go, based on the daily schedule.

By abolishing this system at junior high and some high schools and reporting cases of abuse to police, the incidence of abuse could be greatly reduced, according to Naito, who has interviewed many alleged bullies since the early 1990s during his research.

“Students are put into a homeroom and forced to spend most of the day with the same classmates in a confined space. In an environment where students are forced to spend almost all their time together, they live under their own set of rules that aren’t always acceptable in society,” he said.

Students tend to simply go along with the general atmosphere in the classroom and follow their classmates’ lead to avoid standing out, Naito said, and if bullying is prevalent, then that is perceived as the normal course of action.

Even teachers are susceptible to the general mood of a class and can lose their usual sense of perspective, as was the case in a well-known tragedy that took place in 1986 at a junior high school in Tokyo.

In that incident, the bullying of Hirofumi Shikagawa, 13, escalated from being ordered to run errands to physical abuse and so-called funeral play, in which his classmates treated him as dead and placed flowers along with his portrait on the boy’s desk. As part of the funeral play, even teachers wrote messages in a tribute “commemorating” his death, along with the students. Shikagawa hanged himself later that year, leaving a note describing his torment.

“The important thing is to teach your children that they are placed in a restricted space” and need to understand societal rules outside the school’s boundaries, Naito argued.

He said physical abuse can be significantly cut by reporting incidents to the police, adding that both teachers and students have traditionally refrained from notifying the authorities because they consider their school a sacred community.

But without intervention by the police, students will obey whichever student calls the shots, often resulting in bullying of a classmate escalating, according to Naito.

“They should let students understand that if they engage in violence at school, they will be punished just like they would be on the outside, including being arrested or standing trial,” he said.

When it comes to emotional and mental bullying, including ignoring or mocking the victims, Naito said that unless the homeroom system is replaced with a credit-based system that gives students the choice to move to different classrooms, like at universities, the problem won’t be eradicated.
A response to a poll conducted among the students reads “funeral play,” backing claims the victim was made to “practice” killing himself.
“There would be little chance for emotional abuse if there were no longer any fixed classrooms. . . . Think of a university: Even if you want to mentally abuse someone by ignoring them, it doesn’t work and you simply end up not being friends with that person,” Naito said.

“But at schools where students have no option but to try to get along with everyone, they lose the ability to control their emotional distance from their classmates. . . . When this ability is lost, mean words and giggling can hurt students by 100, 200 or even 1,000 times more than when the victims are in a normal mental state.”

Read related article: Free schools a haven for kids who don’t fit in

Education board slammed over student’s suicide (Jul 12, Yomiuri)
An Otsu middle school and the city’s education board have come under scathing criticism for not preventing or properly investigating the death of a 13-year-old student who leaped to his death after he was routinely bullied–and reportedly even forced to practice killing himself.

The city of Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, reversed its stance Tuesday and said bullying was behind the suicide last year of a junior high school student.
“At this point, the city is (prepared) to admit a causal link between the bullying and the suicide,” an attorney of the municipal government told the Otsu District Court at the second session of the lawsuit filed by the parents of the 13-year-old victim against the city and the alleged bullies, a case that put the boy’s school under the national spotlight.
“We intend to proceed with negotiations for an amicable settlement,” the lawyer said.

Related article links: In  Otsu now admits bullying led student to kill himself (Japan Times, Jul 18)  the city of Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, reversed its stance Tuesday and said bullying was behind the suicide last year of a junior high school student. ;   Shiga cops stop rebuffing suicide victim’s father (Japan Times, Jul 12);  Otsu junior high teachers discussed possible bullying shortly before boy killed himself Shiga police search school, city office over suicide of bullied boy (Asahi);  The Otsu school principal apologizes for not taking action over bullying (Japan Today)  The principal of the school in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, where a 13-year-old boy was repeatedly bullied before killing himself, on Saturday apologized for not taking action over bullying;  Youth tries to murder Otsu head of schools (Japan Times);  Otsu school principal apologizes for not taking action over bullying (Jul 15, Japan Today) The principal of the school in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, where a 13-year-old boy was repeatedly bullied before killing himself, on Saturday apologized for not taking action over bullying. ..The principal said that the school failed in its responsibility to protect students and that teachers should have followed up on the first report of bullying, Fuji TV reported.

Report: Middle school students biggest bullies (Yomiuri, Aug 10, 2012)

Middle school pupils accounted for about 80 percent of all students charged with bullying at schools in the first half of 2012, a National Police Agency survey showed Thursday.

The number of middle school students arrested, taken into custody or given warnings by police for bullying from January to June totaled 103, compared to 13 for high school students and nine for elementary school pupils.

The total of 125 was up 38 from a year before, according to the report.

Of the students involved, 118 were categorized as bullies, while seven were classified as victims taking revenge. The report showed 61 students, or 51.7 percent, were charged on suspicion of inflicting injury. Nineteen students were charged with extortion or blackmail, 16 with assault and seven with forced sexual contact.

School bullies need to take responsibility for their actions (Japan Times) examines the fixation with suicide, role of responsibility, remorse and hansei for bullies and their families in bullying incidents: “Shukan Shincho is surprised to see no sign of hansei (反省, repentance) in the three alleged ringleaders. Quite the contrary, their families seem to be on the offensive. ”

Bullying inquiries increase sharply (Japan Times)

Kyodo OTSU, Shiga Pref. — Phone inquiries to a government contact number for victims of bullying have increased sharply since it was reported earlier this month that bullying may have been behind a boy’s suicide last year in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, officials said Thursday.

There were 1,191 calls to the education ministry hotline in the 13 days from July 4, against the usual monthly figure of around 1,000, the officials said.

The ministry set up the contact number for inquiries about bullying in 2007 in response to the suicide of a junior high school student the previous year in Fukuoka Prefecture that was linked to bullying. Calls to the contact number — 0570-0-78310 — are transferred to local boards of education, with board officials or psychotherapists on standby 24 hours a day….

Monster parents make matters worse for their children and teachers (Japan Times, Aug 19)

In the West they hover and swoop. In Japan they stalk and are known to strike. We all have them and some of us have been them. And in recent years the media, both social and antisocial, have put them under the magnifying glass of criticism. They — or we — are parents. To be specific, helicopter parents in the English-speaking world; monsutā pearento, or monster parents, to the Japanese. These are the mothers and fathers of CWKs (Closely Watched Kids). The Chinese call them monster parents too. Leave it to them to have their own website: monsterparent.com. …Read the rest of the article here.

Govt team to help schools to fight bullying problems (Yomiuri, Jul 24)
A series of suicides related to bullying has prompted the education ministry to form a new team tasked with helping schools combat the problem, which shows no signs of ending.
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday that the envisaged team will provide schools and boards of education nationwide with professional advice and guidelines on how to deal with bullying. The team will be set up as early as August.
The team will be the ministry’s first specialized body to deal with problems associated with bullying. The ministry is concerned that there seems to be no end to bullying-related suicides, and plans to strengthen efforts to prevent and combat bullying.

Kindergarten teachers to get easier exam to obtain nursery license (Japan Times, Jul 18)

The welfare ministry plans to help kindergarten teachers get a nursery teacher license by allowing them to take an easier certification exam, as a new type of merged child-care facility is expected to increase and having both certificates will be necessary.
The preferential treatment for kindergarten teachers will start no later than fiscal 2015, according to government sources.
Under a draft plan for new child-rearing support system to be introduced possibly the same year, the government aims to increase the number of the new facilities that integrate the functions of kindergartens and day care centers to cope with the serious shortage of nurseries.

On the university scene …moves to internationalize, produce more bilingual, more multicultural graduates coming from newly formed universities, but foiled by resistance to change faculty and administrators of older established institutions  Japanese universities go global but slowly (NYTimes, Jul 29)

Speaking of reforming Japanese universities(Daily Yomiuri Online, 7/5/2012)
“A survey of Japanese university presidents has confirmed what many of us have long known, “the puny amount of hours studied by students and their minimal achievements at university [needs] to be addressed urgently.”  Admitting a problem is the first step toward solving it.

What makes teaching college here so difficult for many of us foreigners is that we know the system is fatally flawed but we aren’t able to do anything about it. I never could understand why a form-over-substance college experience could possibly be good for the students or the country. Nor could I grasp the logic in the oft repeated excuse that Japanese companies do extensive on-the-job training, so college isn’t important. Training to be a bank teller, for example, is not the equivalent of a real college education. And why not have both good college education and good OTJ training programs? Do they need to be mutually exclusive?”

University of Tokyo plans ‘elite ‘ linguistic education (Yomiuri, Jul. 13, 2012)

The University of Tokyo will establish a new course for the 2013 academic year to cultivate students with advanced linguistic skills, with the aim of nurturing future Asian leaders.

After selecting students through gauges including Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which measures the English skills needed for study abroad, the university will provide an “elite” linguistic education, including lectures in English and dispatching students to summer schools at universities overseas.

The new course, “Global Leadership Program,” will select about 300 students from the annual intake of 3,000. During freshmen and sophomore years, when students are required to take liberal arts courses, the 300 selected students will take intensive courses in a foreign language in addition to English class. About 50 of them will be dispatched to summer schools in the United States, China and other countries.

In their junior year or later, about 100 students will have the opportunity to study at universities or experience internships at companies overseas.

Classes at the University of Tokyo for all departments, such as philosophy and environment, will be held in English in principle.

The university’s aim is to equip students with the problem-solving ability and global mind-set required of leaders.

Besides nurturing students with linguistic skills, the university is considering utilizing TOEFL as part of its second round of entrance exams or to reform the entrance exam system to take the experience of studying abroad into consideration.

Most teachers against fall enrollment (Japan Times)

Around 60 percent of high school teachers remain negative about a proposal for universities to switch undergraduate enrollment from spring to autumn, a survey by an education-related information provider showed Thursday.

While several universities are studying the proposal, made by the University of Tokyo, to shift the start of the academic year to conform with the international norm, the survey by Sanpou showed a cautious view among high schools.

The survey collected responses from guidance counselors at 223 high schools in the Tohoku, Kanto and Kinki regions.

Among the respondents, 60 percent expressed opposition to autumn enrollment, while 14 percent were in favor of a complete shift to autumn. The remaining 26 percent said they were in favor of mixed spring and fall enrollment.

Some teachers said it would be problematic to switch to autumn enrollment without changing spring enrollment and graduation for elementary, junior high and high schools, while others warned that a six-month window between high school graduation and college entrance could lower students’ enthusiasm for learning.

High schoolers win intl math medals   (Yomiuri, Jul 17) Four Japanese high school students won silver medals and one won a bronze medal at the 53rd International Mathematical Olympiad held in Argentina, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said Monday.  By country, South Korea was first and Japan came 17th. …

The Japanese students who won silver medals were: Takuma Kitamura, 17, a third-year student at Nada High School in Hyogo Prefecture; Hiroki Komatsu, 17, a third-year student at Eiko Gakuen High School in Kanagawa Prefecture; Kento Nomura, 15, a first-year student at High School at Komaba, University of Tsukuba in Tokyo and Shogo Murai, 17, a third-year student at Kaisei Academy in Tokyo.

6-year education system effectively sharpens students’ English skills (Yomiuri, Aug. 21, 2012) Spotlight on Gunma Prefectural Chuo Secondary School, a Gunma prefectural secondary school that strives to improve its students’ English communication skills under a curriculum that combines 6 years of middle and high school studies

Use achievement tests to improve school instruction urges a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial

6 university cuties to face off at Miss Science beauty pageant (JapanToday, Aug 14)

At Japanese universities, female science and engineering majors are definitely in the minority. Even in Tokyo, it’s not uncommon for ladies to make up less than 10% of enrollment for science departments. But the elusive “rikei joshi,” or “science girl,” does exist and Japanese student organization CURIE is holding a pageant called “Miss Rekei Contest” to give them a chance to prove they’ve got beauty as well as brains.

The pageant will be held on Sept 12 at the Kitazawa Town Hall located about 10 minutes from Shimokitazawa station in Tokyo.

Does certification really set you apart by William Reed (Daijob)

Japanese firms are waking up to the merits of hiring globe-trotting recruits  (The Economist, Aug 27th 2011)  vs. Companies hire more of the same in Japan (Straits Times)

Foreign students of Japanese hold Tokyo summit (Japan Times, Aug 6)

At a symposium in Tokyo on Sunday, 12 people between the ages of 17 and 25 from a dozen different countries exchanged views about their cultures and the things they experienced during a one-month stay in Japan.

The symposium was the final event of the 2012 Nihongo Summit (Japanese language summit), which brought young Japanese-language students from overseas to learn about and experience the country first-hand.

The young envoys arrived in early July and traveled to Oita and Miyazaki prefectures in Kyushu, where they held symposiums and engaged in home stays to learn about the Japanese lifestyle and indulged in sightseeing.

The nonprofit organization Japan Return Program has organized the annual Nihongo Summit since 1999 to help youths overseas who want to use the language for their careers. …

A Tokyo high school adopts Task-based Language Teaching method focusing on mastery, over of the conventional method of translating passages into Japanese, read more in EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Task-based teaching focuses on mastery

NPOs send tutors for children in Iwate town (Japan Times)

Miyagi university program fostering future leaders for quake recovery (Japan Times)

The next two links are for the kids, “How to play kendama” and Possible imprint of dinosaur skin found (Yomiuri, Aug 2):

FUKUI (Jiji Press)–A possible imprint of dinosaur skin has been discovered in 98-million-year-old geological layers in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture. The imprint, if proved genuine, would be the second such discovery in Japan, following a similar print found in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture. However, the Kumamoto discovery reveals greater skin texture. The print is believed to have been created through the fossilization of skin imprinted on wet soil. It shows scales two millimeters in length.

The imprint is part of an 18-centimeter-long, 11-centimeter-wide fossil discovered in Amakusa in 2001 by a fossil hunter. The Goshoura Cretaceous Museum in Amakusa has asked the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum to examine the fossil.”This is the first fossil in Japan that shows scales quite clearly,” said Kazunori Miyata, chief researcher at the Fukui dinosaur museum. The imprint was possibly made by a member of the hadrosaur or choristodera families, although identification is difficult, according to the dinosaur museum.

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Kids’ health and safety issues:

The Child Development Index (CDI) released by NGO Save the Children may show that Japan is the best place in the world to be a child (an index based on child health, education and nutrition) see “Japan best place to be a child, India ranking poor” (firstpost.com), and yet … the number of child abuse cases handled by child consultation centers nationwide reached a record high of 59,862 in fiscal 2011, up 3,478 from the previous year, according to a report by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry released Thursday. See Child abuse reports increasing/ Most fatalities involve children aged 3 or younger  (Yomiuri, Jul 27); Baby dies in car as mum plays pachinko

In Japan, child-abusing parents retain parental rights (japandailypress.com, Aug 7)

Several facts stood out to me from the recent report on the record-high number of child abuse cases in Japan in 2010. One was that in the previous three months, only seven petitions to temporarily suspend parental rights were presented to the court. And of those, only one was granted.

Realize that these were not petitions to end parental rights, just to suspend them for up to two years.
It is extremely difficult to terminate parental rights against the will of the parents in Japan. For example, in 2007, out of 40,639 cases of child abuse handled by Child Welfare, staff members appealed to the family court for termination of parental rights in only four cases, and only one case was approved.1 This is the norm. As a college professor said ironically, “It is easier for judges to give someone the death penalty than for them to forcibly sever parental rights in Japan.”

Secondly, over 84% of the 51 children who died due to child abuse were age three or under; most were under age one.

Hong Kong faults more Japanese baby formula deficient in iodine (Japan Times,   Aug. 12, 2012)

Why breast-feeding won’t make kids smarter (Bloomberg,  Jul 3, 2012) This report investigates the claims “that breast-feeding increases a child’s IQ. Even many mothers who return to work believe their breast milk to be essential to their babies’ future intellect. Research shows that this is a myth. Although it is true that children who were breast-fed as babies have higher intelligence than bottle-fed children, the reason for the correlation is in the mother’s brain, not her breast. A U.S. mother whose IQ is 15 points higher than her neighbor’s is more than twice as likely to breast-feed.” The article underscores “data from more than 5,000 children, the IQ differences associated with breast-feeding were eliminated when the mothers’ characteristics were taken into account. Among 332 pairs of siblings in which one was breast-fed and the other bottle-fed, researchers also found no difference in IQ.” and asserting that “mothers who are unable to breast-feed need not worry that they are harming their baby’s intellectual development. Indeed, adopted children, many of whom are not breast-fed, have higher IQs, on average, than their siblings who remain in the birth family, presumably because their adoptive families provide an environment better suited to cognitive development.”

Understanding what is on infants’ minds (NY Times, May 13)

A Japanese schoolgirl was in intensive care Tuesday after being speared in the head by a javelin while taking part in track and field training, an official said. See  Japan schoolgirl speared in head by javelin (Jul 17, Newsonjapan.com)

Ensure children’s safety in school PE activities urges a Yomiuri paper editorial

Missing school party found in Nara mountains (Mainichi, Aug 14)
Police located a school group Tuesday that had gone missing a day earlier while on a camping trip in a mountainous area of Nara Prefecture in western Japan. All 12 members of the group from Uenomiya Junior High School in Osaka, including 10 students, were found around 11:05 a.m. about 3.5 kilometers southwest of Myojindaira, a 1,323-meter-tall mountain in the Higashiyoshino village in the prefecture … The students reportedly got lost because some roads were demolished by last year’s typhoon.

Japanese student killed in Romania(Aug.22)

Romanian authorities on Monday identified the woman,  a victim of rape, as Yurika Masuno from Tokyo, reportedly a sophomore at the University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo. She was found dead in a Bucharest suburb last week as a 20-year-old Japanese university student who came to the country to teach Japanese.

85% of Japan’s schools can survive upper-6 temblor, leaving 3,545 that can’t: survey (Aug 3, Japan Times)

A total of 3,545 public elementary and junior high school buildings nationwide might collapse if an earthquake measuring an upper-6 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale to 7 strikes, the government said Thursday.
While the number out of the 122,069 buildings surveyed fell from 4,614 a year earlier, the speed of ongoing work to make such structures quake-resistant varies significantly from one region to another, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said.

See also:  Upgrade earthquake research to protect lives and property (Yomuiri, Aug 1)   This article alleges that “almost none of the existing research results could be utilized in the case of the March 11, 2011, disaster. This is because the occurrence of a mega-earthquake and a huge tsunami was not assumed. The basic policy was shaken to its foundations due to the occurrence of events that were totally “beyond assumptions.” It is essential to utilize research results to bolster earthquake and tsunami countermeasures. The Central Disaster Prevention Council, which serves as the government’s control tower for disaster prevention measures, must cooperate closely with the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion…” and that there is “A shortage of experts. The proposals worked out this time for revision of the basic policy incorporate new initiatives, such as conducting research of the past tsunami traces along the coasts in various parts of the country. The fact remains, however, that there are almost no experts available to carry out such research. No effort should be spared in fostering human resources and improving the research system…..” Read more

Record cesium found in fish off Fukushima (Yomiuri, Aug. 23, 2012)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has said that 38,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram have been detected in a fish caught for sampling about 20 kilometers offshore from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The amount is the highest detected in seafood caught off Fukushima Prefecture since the nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake, and drastically higher than the government limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram for food.

The number translates into about 0.4 millisievert of estimated internal radiation exposure when eating one kilogram of the fish.

Test fishing off Fukushima Prefecture for octopus and a type of shellfish resumed in June and sales of the seafood have begun in local markets.

As a shipment ban has been issued on the fish (greenlings) and fishing for them has not resumed, they are not distributed in markets.

TEPCO said there may be a hot spot in the ocean and the fish may have eaten there.

Fukushima Record cesium level detected in fish around Fukushima nuclear plant  Kyodo
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday it detected a record-high 25,800 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in fish sampled within 20 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The figure is 258 times the level of cesium the government deems safe for consumption, indicating that radioactive contamination in the area remains serious more than a year after the nuclear crisis started.

According to the Fisheries Agency, the previous high for radioactivity density in fish was 18,700 becquerels per kilogram detected in cherry salmon.

Tepco said two greenlings caught Aug. 1 at a depth of 15 meters were used for the sampling. The Fisheries Agency also checked the fish and detected the same density level.

Related news: Record radiation levels found in fish caught off (Japan Today Aug. 22, 2012)

A pair of rock trout have shown the highest level of radioactive cesium detected in fish and shellfish caught in waters off Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, its operator said Tuesday.

The fish, caught 20 kilometers offshore from the plant on Aug 1, registered 25,800 becquerels of cesium per kilo, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said—258 times the level the government deems safe for consumption.

The previous record in fish and shellfish off Fukushima was 18,700 becquerels per kilo detected in cherry salmon, according to the government’s Fisheries Agency.

TEPCO said the trout might have fed in radioactive hotspots and that it would sample more of the fish, their feed and the seabed soil in the area in the coming weeks to determine the cause of the high radiation.

Fishermen have been allowed since June to catch—on an experimental basis—two kinds of fish and shellfish, but only in areas more than 50 kilometers off the plant.

Those catches have shown only small amounts of radioactivity.

Rock trout have not been caught by fishermen off Fukushima since the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 triggered meltdowns in reactors at the plant

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Cesium-laden fish may point to ocean hot spots (Japan Times)
A record-high 25,800 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium has been detected in fish caught within 20 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., indicating there may be hot spots under the sea that need further investigation. Read more

Rice cesium levels to go online (Jiji, Aug. 23, 2012)
The Fukushima Prefectural Government plans to launch an online system that allows consumers to check the radioactivity of raw rice, it was learned Wednesday.
The prefecture is scheduled to begin conducting radiation checks this week on all shipments of raw rice produced in Fukushima.
Only bags that exhibit less than 100 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, the government-set limit, are allowed to be shipped.

Plutonium traces detected at 10 locations in Fukushima  (Japan Times)

Fukushima ’caused mutant butterflies’ (AFP News – Tue, Aug 14, 2012)

Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies from near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, scientists said Tuesday, raising fears radiation could affect other species.
Around 12 percent of pale grass blue butterflies that were exposed to nuclear fallout as larvae immediately after the tsunami-sparked disaster had abnormalities, including smaller wings and damaged eyes, researchers said.
The insects were mated in a laboratory well outside the fallout zone and 18 percent of their offspring displayed similar problems, said Joji Otaki, associate professor at Ryukyu University in Okinawa, southwestern Japan.
That figure rose to 34 percent in the third generation of butterflies, he said, even though one parent from each coupling was from an unaffected population.
The researchers also collected another 240 butterflies in Fukushima in September last year, six months after the disaster. Abnormalities were recorded in 52 percent of their offspring, which was “a dominantly high ratio”, Otaki told AFP.
Otaki said the high ratio could result from both external and internal exposure to radiation, from the atmosphere and in contaminated foodstuffs.
The results of the study were published in Scientific Reports, an online research journal from the publishers of Nature.
Otaki later carried out a comparison test in Okinawa exposing unaffected butterflies to low levels of radiation, with the results showing similar rates of abnormality, he said.
“We have reached the firm conclusion that radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi plant damaged the genes of the butterflies,” Otaki said.
The quake-sparked tsunami of March 2011 knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to go into meltdown in the world’s worst atomic disaster for 25 years.
The findings will raise fears over the long-term effects of the leaks on people who were exposed in the days and weeks after the accident, as radiation spread over a large area and forced thousands to evacuate.
There are claims that the effects of nuclear exposure have been observed on successive generations of descendants of people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the US dropped atomic bombs in the final days of World War II.
But Otaki warned it was too soon to jump to conclusions, saying his team’s results on the Fukushima butterflies could not be directly applied to other species, including humans.
He added he and his colleagues would conduct follow-up studies including similar tests on other animals.
Kunikazu Noguchi, associate professor in radiological protection at Nihon University School of Dentistry, also said more data was needed to determine the impact of the Fukushima accident on animals in general.
“This is just one study,” Noguchi said. “We need more studies to verify the entire picture of the impact on animals.”
Researchers and medical doctors have so far denied that the accident at Fukushima would cause an elevated incidence of cancer or leukaemia, diseases that are often associated with radiation exposure.
But they also noted that long-term medical examination is needed especially due to concerns over thyroid cancer among young people — a particular problem for people following the Chernobyl catastrophe.
“There are a number of unknown factors surrounding the genetic impact of radiation,” said Makoto Yamada, a medical doctor who examines Fukushima residents. “We still cannot 100 percent deny that the impact may come out in the future.”
Associate professor Noguchi said: “The case of Fukushima plant workers is a different story. Some of them have already topped exposure limits. It is necessary to strictly monitor them to see if there is any impact.”
No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the Fukushima disaster, but many who fled the area and those who remain, including workers decommissioning the crippled plant, worry about the long-term effects.
Scientists have warned it could be decades before it is safe for some people to return to their homes.
“Even if there is no impact now, we have to live with fear,” said Sachiko Sato, a mother of two, who temporarily fled from Fukushima. “And concerns will be handed down to my children and grandchildren.”

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Japanese kids get a taste of farming down under (ABC Rural, 9 August 2012)

16 ecstatic 12 to 15-year-old Japanese school students, from the Fukushima region are on a tour  are visiting  the south west of Western Australia.   It has been almost 18 months since a terrifying tsunami devastated the Pacific coast of Japan, triggered by a massive earthquake. Cattle farms were inundated by seawater and left with dangerous levels of radiation, forcing farmers to abandon properties. Motivated by their dire situation, Meat and Livestock Australia arranged for these Japanese school students to visit beef cattle farms in Western Australia to reinspire their interest in agriculture….read more here

Village emptied by nuke crisis holds coming-of-age day (Japan Times, Aug 15, 2012)  Excerpt follows below:

“The village of Kawauchi, Fukushima Prefecture, on Tuesday held its first coming-of-age day ceremony since it was removed from the radiation no-go zone in January and the mayor urged its evacuated citizens to return home. Kawauchi, located just 20 km southwest of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, was one of nine municipalities designated by the central government as being within the no-go zone. … In January, Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo called on villagers to return home and the administrative office reopened in March. The ceremony this year was held in the village’s community center for around 30 new adults. They are among 40 from the village who came of age in the year through March 3. …”

Agency claims Monju reactor can withstand monster quake (Japan Times)

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency believes its Monju fast-breeder reactor would be safe even if peak ground acceleration amid a huge quake exceeded original estimates by more than 1.86 times.

The agency provided the figure Tuesday at a meeting of experts assessing its proposal to check the reactor’s safety in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, in light of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The unit, if not idled, would use highly enriched plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

The assessment assumed that the unit’s cooling functions would be maintained and that its liquid sodium would continue to circulate normally even if all alternating current power sources were knocked out by a giant temblor.

The agency concluded that it could maintain the reactor core in a cool and stable state if the facility is rocked far more violently than the maximum 760 gals estimated during design.

Monju also would be able to withstand tsunami of up to 21 meters, the height at which the complex was constructed above sea level.

ENERGY |Fukushima Cancer Fears Are Absurd (Forbes.com 7/20/2012) and “Risk vs Fear” from Fukushima: Rare Rationality in Today’s LA Times Op/Ed Pages (Nov 3, 2012); see comment on radiation levels here.

Japan and the atom | Nuclearphobia (Aug 6th 2012, Economist blog)

“… issue of deep controversy. Many anti-nuclear accidents argue that there are not enough studies of low-level radiation to judge the risks accurately. But Shunichi Yamashita, son of a hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivor, and vice-president of Fukushima Medical University, is adamant. Recently returned from a trip to Chernobyl, he insists the fallout in Fukushima is far less severe than the Soviet Union’s nuclear accident of 1986, despite having reached the same technical status (Level 7) because a majority of the radioisotopes were blown out to sea. Also the government quickly stopped consumption of contaminated food and milk, which reduced the potential of thyroid problems, such as those suffered by children around Chernobyl.

Several studies bear out his views. A fortnight after the disaster, the authorities screened the thyroids of 1,149 children exposed to radiation and found that the maximum equivalent thyroid dose was 35 millisieverts (mSv). This is much less than at Chernobyl. Researchers from Japan’s HirosakiUniversity followed up the study a few weeks later. Their findings, published recently, showed iodine-131 active in the thyroids of 46 out of 62 evacuees. The average dose was about 3.5mSv in adults and the equivalent of 4.2mSv in children—which is better than 100 times less than the average for Chernobyl evacuees, 490mSv.

According to a draft report of the Fukushima Health Management Survey Group, which is canvassing the prefecture’s 2m residents on their health problems, ultrasound examinations of 38,114 children in Fukushima have so far revealed no evidence of thyroid problems. However, because thyroid cancer takes time to appear, the survey will continue for three years.

Dr Yamashita says a questionnaire answered by 15,000 villagers (of the 30,000 who were evacuated from near the nuclear power plant) showed that in the four months after the disaster, almost all had an accumulated exposure of less than 10mSv. This suggests a rate far below the rate of 100mSv per year at which health problems are proven to emerge, he says.

His views on the relative safety of radiation exposure below 100mSv are controversial, especially in Fukushima. But it is supported by the Hiroshima-based Radiation Effects Research Council, an American-Japanese scientific body whose studies date back to 1947. At times, the government, media and scientists have issued a bewildering mixture of messages, some of which suggest that much lower levels could be dangerous—especially to children. Dr Yamashita has been given the disparaging moniker “Dr 100 millisievierts” for sticking to his guns, and he remains unrepentant. He notes that while nobody in Fukushima has died as a result of radiation, there were 761 victims of “disaster-related death”, especially old people uprooted from homes and hospital because of forced evacuation and other nuclear-related measures.

As in Chernobyl, he argues, the psychological trauma of evacuation, overlaid by the fear of radiation, poses the biggest health risk. According to the Fukushima health survey, 14.6% of almost 9,000 pregnant women who replied indicated some feelings of depression. As in Chernobyl, the empty bottles of sake outside temporary housing complexes are an indication that more such trouble may lie ahead. Yet Dr Yamashita says too little attention is being paid to the post-disaster trauma ….” Read more here.

In a complete direction, you will find rather disturbing a German video production “Lies of Fukushima” Part1/3 with English subtitles(福島の嘘1/3 英語字幕) You can also watch Lies of Fukushima with Japanese subs here.

Tsunami traces point to triple-quake hitting long stretch of Tokai in 684 (Japan Times report):  Triple-whammy: Traces of ground liquefaction that occurred in the late seventh century indicate three temblors simultaneously hit the Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai regions.  Excerpted below:

“Researchers have found sediment of tsunami that hit what is now Shizuoka Prefecture at the same time as the Hakuho earthquake of 684, the oldest recorded major temblor to hit the Nankai region on the Pacific coast of western Japan.

The new findings in the Tokai region by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology raise the possibility that three temblors occurred simultaneously at that time in wide areas in the Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai regions, which are considered to be at particularly high risk of major seismic activity.

Evidence of tsunami sedimentation at the time of the quake in the late seventh century had so far been found in the Tonankai and Nankai regions. Until now, the Hoei quake of 1707 had been considered the oldest such triple disaster. …

Smartphone apps like LINE a potential hotbed of high school girl hooking  Junior high and high school girls using smartphone services for enjo kosai
Highly popular smartphone networking services like LINE are proving to be a breeding ground for prostitution, reports Spa! (Aug. 7). The smartphone application allows text messages to be sent or calls to be made between users. Each user of LINE is required to have a unique phone number. Line checks which names in a user’s address book are also using the service and puts them in contact. There are 50 million users of the service, which started in July of last year.

Spa! says that the problem is related to third-party applications, or apps, some of which are designed to function as anonymous classified ad services. These apps allow users of LINE to openly make anonymous connections with other users by sharing their identification numbers on the message boards.
About thirty such applications have been confirmed as of July this year, and they are helping facilitate enjo kosai, or compensated dating, and other equivalent activities.
“It was last summer that we saw the sudden rise in the number of LINE apps,” says an operator of online dating sites. “We have also seen an increase in the number of female middle school and high school users who indicate that they are looking for sponsors.” Read the rest of the article here...

Related: Parents beware! Are your daughters into Enjo Kosai (date-style prostitution)?

Baby dead ‘for a day’ as Japan mother chats on net (smh, June 29, 2012)

In “the Diet Debacle” Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics addresses the root causes for toddler obesity, malfunctioning metabolisms and fatty livers, insulin resistance and metabolic disease.

Myopia in kids: Spend more time outdoors (Straits Times, 5 May 2012) | East Asian Children Most At Risk From Myopia (iBTimes, May 4) | Massive rise in Asian eye damage (BBC)

Parents and teachers — the source of students’ fear of failure … says educational excellence coach

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Book reviews on parenting:

Infant minds at work  Lise Eliot’s review for AmSci on the “The Infant’s World” by Philippe Rochat.

Why rich kids hate their parents  is Canadian wealth advisor, Robert Frank’s book review of the book, “The Great White Elephant: Why Rich Kids Hate Their Parents,” authored by Franco Lombardo  who says that the anger between kids and their parents is especially strong in wealthier families.

NY TImes Book review:  OPINION Raising Successful Children by MADELINE LEVINE author of  “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” , August 4, 2012 and  The Ego in ‘Raising Successful Children’ August 6, 2012

The Bible of Parent Blame: Your Kids Are Your Own Fault by Larry Winget – a blog post with a blurb about the book, by phD in Parenting

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Elsewhere in the world, the educational news:

America’s Best High Schools 2012 (Newsweek, May 21, 2012) – This year’s list of America’s best high schools rewards the institutions leading the way in getting their students ready for college and beyond. Those highest-ranking schools share a heavy emphasis on challenging students with college-level academics. At the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, in Bowling Green, Ky.—which came in first place—nearly all courses are university-level: in 2011, the school averaged almost five AP exams per student. Overall, the 6,514 students at the top 10 schools averaged 2.5 AP and similar International Baccalaureate exams per student…read more

David Brooks in The Campus Tsunami  on the future of online learning, and in the Opportunity Gap where he notes: “Putnam’s data verifies what many of us have seen anecdotally, that the children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities. Decades ago, college-graduate parents and high-school-graduate parents invested similarly in their children. Recently, more affluent parents have invested much more in their children’s futures while less affluent parents have not.” and Helaine Olen’s commentary.

Report: K12 online students lag in math, reading(East Valley Tribune, Jul 19)

“A new report takes aim at the nation’s largest for-profit online education provider and finds students taking K12 Inc. classes in Idaho and four other states are falling more behind in math and reading than their traditional school counterparts.
The study was released Wednesday by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. Along with lagging test scores, the report says the rate at which K12 students graduate on time is far lower than in regular schools.
The study “into K12 Inc. raises enormous red flags,” said center director Kevin Welner.
The group has previously issued reports critical of online learning. A study released by the center in October said school-choice advocates are pushing states to rush headlong into virtual education despite limited data on these programs.
The latest report looked at schools managed by Virginia-based K12 in Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania and found that on average, they had a consistently lower proportion of their students meeting or exceeding state standards in reading, according to 2010-2011 test scores.
The report also said math scores were lower compared to the state average. The on-time graduation rate for K12 students was about 49 percent for that year, compared to about 79 percent for the states, according to the study.
K12 has managed online schools in 29 states with mixed academic success.
The company contends that the report is flawed and fails to show the academic progress of students over time. The report finds K12 students are falling further behind in math and reading than students in regular schools, but doesn’t provide evidence to back up that claim, the company said….” Read the rest here

Out of Singapore … Preschool education should be free: Study

A study on early childhood education reveals concerns about the difference in programmes offered by public and private preschool providers. (AFP file photo)
Singapore could consider providing free preschool education, up to kindergarten 1 and 2, for children, a recent study done on the sector suggested.

Commissioned by the Lien Foundation, the study was led by a panel of 27 early childhood professionals and included suggestions to improve preschool education here.

Among others, the panel said the image of preschool teachers can be raised by developing a more formal pay structure and by setting a salary scale comparable to those of mainstream school teachers.

A coordinating ministry could also be formed to oversee and regulate the early childhood sector, the panel proposed.

In addition, the study highlighted challenges present in the early childhood education sector.

These include uneven quality, equity and affordability of education; difficulties faced by the preschool profession such as the high turnover rate of teaching staff; and the need for improved participation from parents as well as the Government.

The study added that one way to get more parents involved is to equip them with the right skills and information to care of their children, through conducting parental outreach programmes.

Such programmes can help parents to improve their children’s potential. This, in turn, will boost the overall quality of Singapore’s preschool education.

On the issue of quality and affordability of preschool education, the panel was concerned about the difference in programmes offered by public and private preschool providers. In particular, they feared children from lower-income families could be at a disadvantage, as school fees can range from S$100 to S$2,000.

To even out any inequality, the panelists called for the Government to recognise early childhood services as a necessary public good, and provide free preschool education for all children.

“The study provided compelling rationales for increased government investment and funding of the sector, in order to ensure that underlying causes such as the high attrition rate of the workforce, pay disparities, and inequities of the sector are addressed, said lead investigator Lynn Ang, who is a senior lecturer of early childhood from the University of East London.

The chief executive officer of the Lien Foundation, Lee Poh Wah said a child’s preschool education should always remain the responsibility of his or her parents.

He added, “The early years of a child’s life are so vital that preschool education should be a shared responsibility of both parents and the government. Any efforts by the government to step up its role in this area should be balanced by active parental involvement.”

An earlier study by the Economist Intelligent Unit, also commissioned by the Lien Foundation, saw Singapore’s early childhood education environment ranked 29th out of 45 countries across the globe….

Stamford American International School in Singapore is slated to be The most advanced international school in the world ever built  Excerpted below:

“Stamford will be the perfect environment for preparing children for entry into the world’s most prestigious universities.
“The new Singapore school will be a flagship in Cognita’s portfolio of schools. When completed, Stamford will be the most advanced international school ever built. Its features and facilities will be second to none.”
“Stamford will be the school the rest of the world visits, to see the future of education today.”

Key features of the school include:

  • Singapore’s first Interactive Learning Environment – where guest lecturers and teachers from around the world can interact with students. Teachers will be able to give lectures on site – e.g. teaching about Ancient Egypt from the base of the Great Pyramid
  • Singapore’s first 1 to 1 iPad program for K2 to Grade 5. Older students will have their own MacBook
  • A 21st century Media Resource Centre – beyond the traditional library, this centre is up to date with the latest traditional as well as technological resources
  • State of the art science wing and computer laboratories
  • Comprehensive art facilities – Dedicated spaces for art, theatre, dance and music, including areas for exhibiting of fine arts and hosting of performances
  • World-class sporting facilities – Two swimming pools with ionized water and a ‘learn to swim’ wading pool, basketball courts, and an outdoor field for various sports including American Football plus two indoor gyms, including a commercial standard fitness centre
  • Specially designed Early Years/Nursery facilities, with its own enclosed secure playground
  • Indoor and outdoor meeting spaces, including student breakout areas
  • Electronic security system for each child and Singapore’s first fully computerized vehicle drop off and pick up facility

Related:  See White Paper on Building the Next Generation School: Overcoming Challenges to Implement Online Education: K¹² partnered with Project Tomorrow to examine the challenges faced in implementing online learning, and how ”online visionary” administrators are overcoming these challenges. See the types of programs they are implementing, and the five measurements of quality that will make your online learning program successful.

Also out of Singapore is the invention of a “green loo” by researchers at the Nanyang Technological University … Nothing goes to waste when visiting this toilet … now if only somebody would also invent a toilet that will clean itself!

Building a community of learning at Yale-NUS on the peer effect of mutual learning and growth fostered by the residential college model

On Why Harvard and MIT put its course online for free (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Higher Education: The college-cost calamity(The Economist, Aug 4th 2012)  reports that many American universities are in financial trouble and that “A crisis in higher education has been brewing for years.” Excerpts follow below:

“Long-term debt at not-for-profit universities in America has been growing at 12% a year, estimate Bain & Company, a consultancy, and Sterling Partners, a private-equity firm (see chart 1). A new report looked at the balance-sheets and cashflow statements of 1,692 universities and colleges between 2006 and 2010, and found that one-third were significantly weaker than they had been several years previously.

Universities have been spending like students in a bar who think a Rockefeller will pick up the tab. In the past two years the University of Chicago has built a spiffy new library (where the books are cleverly retrieved by robots), a new arts centre and a ten-storey hospital building. It has also opened a new campus in Beijing.
And it is not alone. Universities hope that vast investments will help them attract the best staff and students, draw in research grants and donations, and ultimately boost their ranking in league tables, drawing in yet more talent and money. They have also increased the proportion of outlays gobbled up by administrators (see chart 2).

To pay for all this, universities have been enrolling more students and jacking up their fees. The average cost of college per student has risen by three times the rate of inflation since 1983. The cost of tuition alone has soared from 23% of median annual earnings in 2001 to 38% in 2010. Such increases plainly cannot continue.

Student debt has reportedly reached a record $1 trillion …” Read more here.

In a rare swimming-against-the-stream sort of speech, David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School, Ma. gives a graduation speech that beings with “None of you is special. You are not special. None of you is exceptional …” read about it here (NY Daily, Jun 8)

To increase learning time, some schools add days to academic year (NYTimes, Aug 5)

While other children around the country readied for beach vacations or the last weeks of summer camp, Bethany, 11, and Garvin, 9, were preparing for the first day of the new school year at Griffith Elementary, just six weeks after the start of their summer vacation.

Griffith, one of five schools in the Balsz Elementary School District here, is one of a handful of public schools across the country that has lengthened the school year in an effort to increase learning time.

A typical public school calendar is 180 days, but the Balsz district, where 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, is in session for 200 days, adding about a month to the academic year.

According to the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit research group in Boston, about 170 schools — more than 140 of them charter schools — across the country have extended their calendars in recent years to 190 days or longer.  Read the rest of the article here.

Some pressure ‘not necessarily a bad thing‘ (TodayOnline, Jun 26)

“Having established himself as one of the leading academics on the teaching of mathematics here, Professor Fan Lianghuo, 50, decided two years ago to uproot himself and move to the United Kingdom, taking up an offer to head the Mathematics and Science Education Research Centre in Southhampton University …

Prof Fan told the Daily Telegraph: “I never heard a child in China or Singapore say that they don’t like maths … without a sense of embarrassment.”

Among other things, he also noted that in both Asian countries, there is strong emphasis on the subject in the schools. He also cited how math teachers in Singapore’s secondary schools are specialised in the subject and there is sufficient professional development. …

Prof Fan told TODAY that the Republic’s mathematics education is “undoubtedly among the best in the world … but there are still many areas for further improvement” – including his observation that Singapore students’ written communication skills to explain maths solutions are “quite weak”.

He said: “Their logical reasoning skills in mathematics are also a concern to me. Many students lack interest in mathematics. Even in the fundamental knowledge and skills, my personal experiences in both China and Singapore suggest that China students are generally better than their Singaporean peers, although both of them are among the best (I am not saying Chinese mathematics education is perfect, of course).”

He added: “There is much room for improvement in school mathematics curriculum, textbooks, and their use in classroom. The list can go longer. So there is reason for Singapore mathematics educators to feel proud but definitely no reason to be complacent.”

And while many parents here feel the maths syllabus is too difficult, Prof Fan disagreed that this is the case when compared to “many other countries”.

Said Prof Fan: “The stress comes more from elsewhere, for example, peer pressure, high expectation from teachers and parents … a ‘kiasu’ culture, high-stake tests and the streaming policy.”

Prof Fan also felt that a large number of students have “too many” co-curricular activities (CCAs). “The amount of CCAs should be reduced and controlled at both the school and national levels,” he said.

He added: ” Of course, I must also say that having some pressure is not necessarily a bad thing – many UK students probably don’t have enough pressure in maths – but having too much pressure definitely is.””

Algebra and the Pointlessness of The Whole Damn Thing

SAT Prep for the Ultra-Rich, And Everyone Else By educationrealist

After Vs. Before: Education in Finland (The Observer)

Raising bilingual kids: benefits and techniques (phD in parenting blog)

Test That Can Determine the Course of Life in China Gets a Closer Examination (NYTimes, Jun 30)

Students in China hiring ghostwriters to finish holiday homework (Straits Times)

British children unhappiest in the world, say academics (The Telegraph, Jun 12) “… Growing numbers of children are failing to develop properly at a young age because of the toxic pressures of modern life, it was claimed.

Michael Gove: ‘School must challenge children to do better’ (Telegraph, Jun 21)
As plans are unveiled to scrap GCSEs and bring back O-levels, the Education Secretary says that the Government wants a state school system “where there is no excuse for failure”.

Ministers will remove the qualifications from official league tables as part of a radical move to boost standards among 14 to 16 year-olds in England.
Pupils starting GCSEs in September next year will be the last to sit the exams, which will be scrapped due to fears that they are too easy and fail to prepare teenagers for the demands of sixth form and university.
In their place, the Government is to introduce a range of tough new qualifications modelled on the old O-level to stretch pupils further, particularly in the core subjects of English, maths and science. The new exams will “meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group”, it was claimed.

The powerful lobby of childcare experts said that many “commercially vulnerable” under-16s were spending too much time sat unsupervised in front of televisions, games consoles and the internet in their bedroom instead of playing outdoors.
Children are also among the most tested in the Western world after being pushed into formal schooling at an increasingly young age and more likely to be exposed to junk food and poor diets than elsewhere, they said….”   See also: UK debates S’pore education system (Today!)

See related:

Education expert: I don’t want to see GCSEs go, or ‘elitist’ O Levels return: Michael Gove’s plans to bring back O Levels would cause uproar amongst teachers and fail to recognise the good done by the GCSEs, according to Dr Tina Isaacs

It’s the ‘S’ word for better education Letter from London (Straits Times, Jun 30, 2012) in which a Singaporean mother living in London compares her “free” Singaporean public school education to her children’s expensive UK private school education.[NB: private and public school education mean opposite thing in the UK vs. elsewhere in the world]

Robots spur pupils to solve problems creatively (Straits Times, June 19 2012)

ROBOTS have yet to displace human teachers in the classroom, but they are an integral part of lessons in one suburban primary school.

Since 2008, Chua Chu Kang Primary School has been infusing subjects such as science, mathematics and art with robotics.

For instance, it comes into play in the Primary 5 maths lesson on ratios. Pupils measure the distance over which the robots move and compare it with the number of rotations their wheels make.

During art lessons, Primary 1 and 2 pupils construct and design houses, imaginary animals and ships using Lego sets. This helps to get them interested in building robots later on.

Madam Fauziah Othman, the school’s subject head for robotics, said that apart from making learning more fun, robotics also forces pupils to ‘exercise their creativity through engagement in basic design problems’.

The school in Choa Chu Kang Avenue 2 was awarded the Programme for School-Based Excellence in Robotics in 2008. This win earned it funds from the Education Ministry that have been ploughed into improving and expanding its robotics programme.

School principal Lee Wai Ling said the programme develops her pupils’ critical thinking and information gathering skills.

10 smart things I’ve learned from people who never went to college (Forbes.com)

The best place in the world to be creative, by Frederik Haren, author of “The Developing World” | William Reed’s The Nation of Imagination also makes for interesting reading

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Tech talk and online offerings:

Turning mere thoughts into communication and With clicker no hands are raised (NY Times, May 20,  2012)

The 50 Best Smartphone Apps for Back to School: The Student Edition (Onlinecolleges.net) surveys the range of smartphone apps available to help students better organize classes, events, activities, and basic needs as well as supplement classroom lessons.

With Coursera, Daphne Koller and co-founder Andrew Ng are bringing courses from top colleges online, free, for anyone who wants to take them. Full bio » “https://www.coursera.org/

“Daphne Koller is enticing top universities to put their most intriguing courses online for free — not just as a service, but as a way to research how people learn. With Coursera (cofounded by Andrew Ng), each keystroke, quiz, peer-to-peer discussion and self-graded assignment builds an unprecedented pool of data on how knowledge is processed. Find out more at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education.html

For free world history resources from www.homeschoolfreestuff.wordpress.com click here.

Free printable Olympics coloring pages here.

www.MasterMath.info offers free middle grades math help: 110 video math lessons covering Common Core State Math Standard for 6th – 8th grades. Each lesson also offers a worksheet, and answer sheet, and a self-grading online quiz.

Nagoya University, Fujitsu start trials of technology to detect phone scams Japan Today AUG. 06, 2012

Nagoya University and Fujitsu will begin the world’s first field trials of technology for detecting phone scams at households. These trials, commencing later this month in Okayama Prefecture, will be in collaboration with the Okayama Prefectural Police, the Okayama Prefectural Information Communications unit of the National Police Agency’s Chugoku Regional Police Bureau and Chugoku Bank.

During the trials, when the technology detects a call suspected of being a phone scam targeting a monitored household, it will first warn the participant with a synthesized voice message. Next, the system will send an e-mail alarm to the person’s family members, as well as the police, banks and other relevant institutions.

After receiving an alert, each party can take steps to prevent the fraud from occurring. For example, police can visit the participant’s household, while banks can temporarily freeze the person’s bank account and be on alert.

The new field trials will help to improve the accuracy of phone scam detection technology, in addition to testing the ability of groups such as families, police and banks to prevent fraud. Nagoya University and Fujitsu said they hope to explore how to prevent phone fraud before it actually occurs.

Research into this area was conducted as part of “Modeling and Detecting Overtrust from Behavior Signals,” a study led by Kazuya Takeda. This took place within the “Creation of Human-Harmonized Information Technology for Convivial Society” project under the direction of Yoichi Tokura, Research Supervisor, in the Core Research of Evolutional Science and Technology (CREST) program of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), announced in November 2009.

Nagoya University and Fujitsu have previously developed technology for detecting situations of “overtrust” that focuses on an individual’s tone of voice, as well as basic technology for detecting phone scams that employs detection technology capable of picking up on keywords characteristic of such scams. The new field trials were planned after confirming in simulation test calls that the detection accuracy of the technology had reached a sufficient level.

Overview of trials

Detection devices will be equipped on landlines in the households of over 100 Okayama Prefecture residents. Their telephone calls will be analyzed, and when a call suspected to be a phone scam is detected, the following steps will be taken:

Once the equipment detects a phone scam, alarm messages will be sent to the relevant parties (selected family members, the police, the bank, Fujitsu). Upon receiving an alarm message, family members will contact the participant and inquire about what went on to determine whether or not it was an attempted fraud. The police will also immediately visit the household to ascertain the situation; and the bank will temporarily halt payment transactions from the account that has been pre-designated by the participant for this purpose, thereby helping to prevent the scam.

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Community announcements:

Tokyo Junior Playhouse – Tokyo’s community theater group for & by children, is now accepting sign-ups from drama enthusiasts of age 5 – 15 yrs. for our September drama meets in Setagaya. We plan to have weekly or more “Drama Meets” every month. You can sign up for as many dates as you wish to come.
September has 6 meeting dates. Monthly membership fee is 9000yen. We are planning to have our first show on November 17, 2012. Auditions and casting will begin in October, with rehearsals starting soon after. September will serve as a nice “runway” before the October take off.  Join us and have fun!! Details & forms are here: http://tokyojuniorplayhouse.weebly.com/index.html

I’d like to end today’s EDU WATCH blogpost with two excerpts. The first is “Let the Children be Children” (Todayonline, May 15) by Amanda Tan Pheck Choo, a former primary school teacher and a homeschooling mother…which cautions against an education that is standards-oriented but lacking in creativity and full of artificial busy homework.

“As a former teacher, I was berated by senior teachers for not using “flowery, pretentious sentences”, as described in the letter “It’s a strong foundation that counts” (May 9), in creative writing.

I was accused of wanting my pupils to fail their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Recently, my eight-year-old came home with a “creative” writing assignment. She produced a list of “useful words and phrases that her teacher copied from a creative writing book” for the pupils to transfer onto the whiteboard.

The instructions were to write these down in complete sentences. I paused for a second, then asked: “Which of these words are yours?” “None,” came the innocent reply. After doing what the teacher ordered, my little girl asked: “Now, can I write my story?”

In writing, we are told what to write, what title to give it, what words to use and avoid, to discard the unbelievable and play safe.

We are given picture compositions about a day at the beach, a bad fall, an incident on a bus – hardly fodder for interesting discussion.

My spouse, a college teacher, laments the lack of disciplined training in clear, logical thinking and the lack of ideas, persuasive argument and communication skills in his pre-university students. I wonder where we went wrong, when all this started.

When children are in primary school, why are they not asked for solutions to train disruptions, how to get women to have more babies, how to stop people from smoking? These are just as relatable, if not more fascinating, topics for discussion.

In learning, we are made to learn what the system deems important at this period, for how long, how much, how deep. Mathematics and science are in; free reading, non-examinable topics are out.

But boundaries have to change, to adapt, to involve the child. This is his education, not ours.

This obsession with what to learn and how to present acceptable answers is ultimately a fear of not doing well in the PSLE. Ex-Nominated Member of Parliament Paulin Straughan’s proposal to abolish it is a step in the right direction.

Do we need to “accredit” 12-year-olds? Granted, there will always be parents who want their children to stay ahead of the competition and, hence, send them to tuition centres.

There will be those, free of the shackles of exam stress, who would give their children the time and freedom to explore, dream and love learning.

The hope is that schools would then have the courage to ditch homework, to give pupils more curriculum time to read and explore the world around them.

If they do not read, they cannot write. If they cannot write, those famous “flowery, pretentious sentences” will present themselves year after year in PSLE exam scripts.”

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The second excerpt taken from Japan Watching’s “Are Japanese Intelligent ?” which both parodies the Japanese as well as the Japanese educational system.

“A good friend of mine is convinced that the Japanese are fundamentally stupid. He believes that the only reason why they achieve anything at all is by perspiration and perserverance. Quite frankly, when I look at my fellow country men, I have to agree with him.

In fact, intelligence is neither valued or rewarded in Japan. On the contrary, we must be modest and humble, and not shine out above everyone else. Our higher education system helps us in this regard. Although we are force fed with information at secondary school, basically rote learning, once we get to university, we learn virtually nothing. Importantly, the IQ and PISA tests occur while we are still young and learning.

It is only if we join a large enterprise, that we actually receive serious training. And since we are always working in groups, it is our group that teaches what to do. This means that we keep doing the same thing over and over again, with only some tiny improvements – innovations which will not be punished for excessive initiative.

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on the survival of the fittest. However, in Japan, it is not the fittest who survive, but the most cautious and risk averse, and sometimes the most stupid!””

That’s all folks … for now.

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe.