Welcome to our regular wrap on the news on the educational scene, both local and global.

First up, we’ll take the pulse of the educational scene here in Japan:

12-year-old becomes youngest to pass weather forecaster test in Japan (News On Japan via Mainichi – Oct 07, 2012)
“A 12-year-old junior high school student from Aichi Prefecture has become the youngest person ever to pass the test for certified weather forecasters in Japan, the examiner said Friday.

Tomoki Kai, a first-year student at Aichi Kyoikudai Fuzoku Nagoya Junior High School in Nagoya who is 12 years and 11 months old, broke the previous record of 13 years and 7 months set in March 2009, according to the Japan Meteorological Business Support Center.

Tomoki said he developed an interest in weather-related phenomena around the time he was in kindergarten, adding, “(They’re) interesting as they change moment to moment as seen in the rapid development of cumulonimbus clouds.”

He said he would like to become a Japan Meteorological Agency official or a university researcher in the future… Out of 3,986 applicants, 167 passed the exam held Aug. 26.”

Yamanaka, Gurdon win Nobel prize in medicine for work on iPS cells (Japan times, Oct 9, 2012) Kyodo, AP

“STOCKHOLM — Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and John Gurdon of Britain have jointly won this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for development of a multipurpose stem cell that has the potential to grow into any type of body tissue, the award-giving body said Monday.

Yamanaka and Gurdon discovered that mature and specialized cells “can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said.

“Their findings have revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop,” it said. The iPS cells are believed to have great potential for regenerative medicine and development of new drugs.

Gurdon, 79, head of the Gurdon Institute of Cambridge University, discovered in 1962 that the specialization of cells is reversible — the initial step for the discovery by the two scientists that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.

More than 40 years later Yamanaka, a professor at Kyoto University, successfully produced induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, from mice in 2006 and from human skin cells in 2007.

Yamanaka, 50, is the first Japanese winner of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine since Susumu Tonegawa won in 1987 for his discovery of the genetic principle for the generation of antibody diversity.

Yamanaka was given the coveted prize only six years after the announcement of his development of the iPS cells.

“From now on, I’d like to make a contribution to society in a real sense. I feel a great sense of responsibility,” Yamanaka said at a news conference in Kyoto. “I want to use our medical breakthrough for medical purposes.”

A native of Osaka Prefecture and a graduate of Kobe University, Yamanaka has received a number of awards for his achievements, most recently this year’s Millennium Technology Prize given by a Finnish academy.

He currently heads Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, and the International Society for Stem Cell Research. …” Read the rest of the article here.

Japanese mathematician offers solution to important number theory  (Mainichi, Sep 19, 2012)

“Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki at Kyoto University has released a document on the Internet that claims to provide proof for the abc conjecture in number theory, said to be the most important unresolved problem in modern mathematics, causing a stir among peers.
The abc conjecture provides immediate proofs for other theorems including even Fermat’s famous last theorem, a vexing issue in number theory that took roughly 350 years to be demonstrated, and Mochizuki’s 500-page document, if it withstands scrutiny, will represent “one of the most astounding achievements of mathematics of the 21st Century,” Dorian Goldfeld, a mathematician at Columbia University in New York, was quoted as saying by Nature magazine in its Sept. 10 online edition.
The abc conjecture, proposed by European mathematicians in 1985, is about a simple equation of three integers — described as mathematical variables a, b and c, where a + b = c, and considers each number’s prime factors, which can be divided by 1 or themselves. …”  — End of excerpt, read the rest of the article here

Univ. of Tokyo ranked Asia’s No. 1, other Japanese schools (Mainichi, Oct 04)

The University of Tokyo was once again crowned Asia’s best university in an annual global league table released Wednesday, while other Japanese institutions slipped down the rankings.
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings places the university in 27th place — up from 30th last year — in a table of the world’s top 200 establishments.
However, the four other Japanese universities in the top 200 fell behind on last year. Kyoto University dropped from 52nd to 54th, the Tokyo Institute of Technology moved from 108th to 128th, Tohoku University went down from 120th to 137th, and Osaka University fell from 119th to 147th. That said, Japan has more universities in the top 200 than any other Asian nation.

Phil Baty, the report’s editor, told Kyodo News the declines are due to several factors including the rise of other Asian nations, particularly China and Taiwan, and also the failure of Japanese universities to adopt a more international outlook

A Tokyo University Looks to Foreign Students to Raise Its Profile (NY Times, Oct 8, 2012) Excerpted below:
As Japan becomes less of a player on the world stage, the University of Tokyo is trying to strengthen its reputation as a globally relevant institute of higher learning.
Prospective students have long needed strong Japanese-language skills to do well at the university, which was founded 135 years ago, but that is beginning to change with the introduction of an undergraduate degree program taught in English.

The program, PEAK, for Programs in English at Komaba (Komaba being the name of the campus in Tokyo), is the university’s first four-year undergraduate curriculum where all courses required for graduation can be taken in English.

“We wanted to remove the language barrier so we can tap the pool of top talent out there in the world,” said Yujin Yaguchi, associate professor of American studies and the chairman of PEAK.

Driving such a move, which Mr. Yaguchi said was “unthinkable” 10 to 15 years ago, is the sense that Todai, as the university is commonly called in Japan, might be falling in international rankings, particularly behind top counterparts in Asia.

“There are problems with the way the ranking is done, but the university’s leadership is not ignorant of the ranking, either,” Dr. Yaguchi said.

The new degree program in English, Mr. Yaguchi said, raises Todai’s visibility in the international education marketplace and plugs the university into the stream of top talent looking for opportunities worldwide.

“I visit university fairs around the world, and there are great talents emerging from high schools around the world,” Mr. Yaguchi said.

Those students tend to be drawn to top colleges and universities, he said, adding, “We want them to include University of Tokyo as a possible choice.”

Many high school graduates from South Korea and China, proficient in Japanese, are bound for Todai, but the talent pool is limited to a few Asian countries.

“We wanted to diversify our international student body” to include people from other regions, Mr. Yaguchi said.

The 27 incoming PEAK students, who finished their entrance ceremony on Oct. 1, arrived from 11 countries including Australia, Britain, Finland, Poland, the United States and Vietnam.

Bryan Kuek, a Singaporean, said he never imagined that he would attend Todai because “I thought they teach only in Japanese.” But he was browsing the Todai’s Web site and noticed information that said the university was introducing a program entirely in English. “I got interested in the chance of becoming the pioneering batch,” he said. “And this university is very prestigious, so that is a plus point.”

The new group of international students adds less than 1 percent to the freshman class of 3,000. But expectations are high among top officials at the university.

Increasing the flow of international students and researchers and “enhancing diversity in our student body is high on the agenda for the university,” said Masako Egawa, executive vice president for international affairs. PEAK will add to the dynamism of student flow, both in and out, she said. …

Students who speak English will be able to take an array of classes during their first two years, including physics, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics and economics. They will then proceed to a major in one of two fields during their third and fourth years: environmental science or East Asian studies, with a particular focus on Japan.

About three-quarters of the students are eligible for a full-tuition waiver and a monthly living allowance. Tuition is ¥535,800 annually, or about $6,800, plus a one-time admission fee of ¥282,000.”

Related news:

Autumn school yr kicks off at Todai (Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 5, 2012)

A total of 515 undergraduate and postgraduate students, including 374 foreigners, attended an entrance ceremony at the University of Tokyo on Thursday in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, as their enrollment period started this month.

The fresh batch of students included 27 participants in PEAK (Programs in English at Komaba), which the university started offering this autumn. The program, classes for which are given in English, mainly targets foreign students.

However, 11 students, or about 30 percent of those admitted to the program, chose to go to top-tier European or U.S. schools instead.

This shows that even Todai, which usually enrolls more than 99 percent of admitted students, is vulnerable to international competition for programs starting in autumn.

Students who have received their education in languages other than Japanese for at least 10 out of 12 years through high school are eligible to apply to the PEAK program, which is offered to about 30 people.

The university made considerable efforts to introduce the PEAK program in the liberal arts faculty, sending its teachers and staff members to about 30 countries to publicize it last year. Through a scholarship program, some students in the program can be virtually exempt from tuition.

A total of 238 students applied for the paper screening and interview sessions from January to March. Thirty-eight students from China, South Korea and 12 other countries and regions passed.

However, 11 successful applicants from such countries as Pakistan and New Zealand declined to enroll. They are believed to have gone to Oxford and other leading universities in Europe and the United States.

Associate Prof. Yujin Yaguchi, who spearheaded the PEAK program, said it was taken into account that a certain number of people would not enroll, since the ratio of admitted students to those who decline offers is high even among top-notch U.S. and European schools….

According to Benesse Corp., a leading distance education and publishing company, 527 U.S. and foreign citizens, or 24 percent of those admitted, did not enroll in Harvard University last year, when 1,661 people entered. A total of 758 U.S. and foreign citizens, or 36 percent of the admitted, did not enter Yale University, when 1,351 enrolled.

Only 13, or 0.4 percent, of those admitted to the University of Tokyo in spring through an ordinary entrance exam chose not to enroll, with 3,095 people entering the university.

Benesse’s Masanori Fujii said the commonly held belief in Japan that deviation value–an indicator of the difficulty of a university’s entrance exam–is directly linked to the value of a university is unusual from a global standpoint.

The advantage Todai has over its foreign counterparts is lower tuition.

The university’s average annual tuition for undergraduate studies is about 500,000 yen, while Harvard University charges about 3 million yen.

“Science courses at the University of Tokyo, in particular, are a ‘great deal’ for foreign students. The university will be able to attract more students if it accepts applications through the Internet like U.S. and European universities do,” Fujii said.

Yaguchi said it is important for the school to meet the needs of students by providing world-class education.

Su Xinle of Singapore, 19, was among the 27 participants in the PEAK program who attended a welcome party Monday held at the university’s Komaba campus in Meguro Ward, Tokyo.

“Top students in Singapore usually hope to go to the best schools in Britain and the United States. But I wanted to do something different. I also had an affinity for Japan as I was studying Japanese,” Xinle said fluently in the language.

Regarding Kyushu University, two out of 15 people admitted to the school for autumn enrollment decided not to attend after all. The university said most of those admitted chose to enter the school because younger students learned of its good reputation through word of mouth.

Among private universities who accepted students this autumn, 228 people, or 39 percent, of those admitted declined to enroll at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, in which 355 people enrolled. Waseda University in Tokyo had 249 enrollments, with 120 students, or 33 percent of those admitted, declining to enroll.

Prof. Masahiro Yokota, the director of the International Student Center at Meiji University, said the ratio of students who declined to enroll at Todai to those who did likely reflects the reality that foreign students are able to choose between schools worldwide.

“To attract more foreign students, a university needs to have features that appeal to foreign students, including top-notch education and research systems,” Yokota said.

At the entrance ceremony on Thursday, which was held in English, Tokyo University President Junichi Hamada said the autumn entrance ceremony symbolizes the school’s move toward internationalization.

“We sincerely welcome you as a companion who jointly challenges the future possibilities of education,” Hamada told the new students.”


Exam booklets get plastic covers to stop distribution disasters (Mainichi, Oct 8)
Prospective university students sitting entrance exams this coming January will have to tear through one more barrier to get to their goals, as the geography, history and civics exam papers will for the first time be plunked on their desks enveloped in a plastic wrapper.
The National Center For University Entrance Examinations has made the move to prevent repeats of past exam paper distribution foul-ups.
In the January 2012 round of exams, the three subjects were split into two booklets, one for geography and history — broken into six topic areas — and the other for civics — broken into four areas.

The science of love popular among female students (News on Japan via Yomiuri Sep 27)
It is often said love is not logical. Yet, the “study of love,” which attempts to objectively and scientifically analyze romance and teach it as an academic subject, has recently become a hot topic. The popular new field also aims to improve people’s communication skills with the opposite sex.


Bullies face suspension under new Osaka plan (Oct 03, News on Japan via Yomiuri)

A draft plan for the educational development of Osaka municipal schools includes a provision calling for schools to suspend bullies and have them study at separate educational facilities.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto drew up the basic program, which is expected to be implemented next academic year.
Some bullied students stop attending school because of the bullying. To help them study outside of school, local governments currently run what are called “adaptation and guidance classes.”

But the draft stipulates that bullies–not the victims–should go to such classes, instead of attending regular classes at school. The plan also says special classes for bullying victims who become unable to go to school will be kept separate from those attended by bullies.


How to count combination, taught in Anime (Asiajin.com blog)
Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo waterfront releases an educational video “How to count combinations”. Read the full article here.

What is the role of the school counselor in a Japanese school? Yomiuri Shimbun’s Astro Boy explains

Helene Uchida writes about “The value of an integrated approach” in the special to the Daily Yomiuri

The future of Japan: Part 2 — Indoctrination and the government-run education system (seetell website)

Hackers hit 5 Japan colleges / Todai, Kyoto U. among victims of worldwide attack that stole info (Yomiuri Shimbun,  Oct 5)

An Internet posting by Ghostshell claiming responsibility for the hacking attack on many university servers
Servers at the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and three other Japanese universities were attacked and data including personal information and research lists were stolen in part of a large-scale worldwide raid on academic institutions by an international hacker group.

The hacker group Ghostshell has claimed it stole 120,000 pieces of information from servers at 100 universities around the world, including five Japanese universities, and has posted the information on its website.

The Japanese universities have reported the incident to the police, and an investigation will be launched into possible business interference and violations of the Unauthorized Computer Access Law.

The hacker group said security at university servers is lax and many school servers are infected with viruses. The group published information on the weak points of some university websites. School officials are scrambling to shore up security, saying Ghostshell may hope to incite others to attack their sites.

The group claimed it attacked at least 13 servers of the five Japanese universities.” …read the rest here.

WORKSJAPAN.GLOBAL is holding a Job Fair for foreign students in Tokyo on Sunday, December 9th. Click here for details and access information (in Japanese only) or at Gaijinpot page with some English. Enquiries: jobfair@worksjapan.co.jp  0120-964-303(Freedial)


Elsewhere in the world, here’s the wrap on what’s happening on the global educational scene:

U.S. Falls and Asia Gains in University Rankings  (NY Times, Oct 8, 2012)  An excerpt follows:
“Although the California Institute of Technology held on to its No.1 spot, the world university rankings issued last week by the British publication Times Higher Education make sobering reading for American academics. While the United States still dominates the rankings, taking 7 of the top 10 places, Harvard slipped from second to fourth place, pushed out by Oxford and Stanford. Over all, 51 U.S. universities in the top 200 fell in the rankings.

Asian universities were the biggest gainers, with universities in China, Singapore and Australia moving up the table, as did every university in South Korea, led by Seoul National University, which jumped to 59th place from 124th. “We’ve been talking for years about the rise of Asia,” said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings. “But this is the first solid empirical evidence.” …

Apart from Britain, which had three universities in the top 10 — Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College — the next highest-ranked European institution was the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, which ranked 12th. The Netherlands had 12 universities among the top 200, although its highest-ranked, the University of Leiden, was in 64th place.” — Read the entire article here.

Teacher tried to dissuade Nobel winner Gurdon from science (AFP-Jiji Japan Times, Oct. 9, 2012)

Making Mandarin Mandatory — in U.S. Kindergartens  (NY Times Blog)

HONG KONG — Bibb County sits smack-dab in the center of Georgia, and 150 years ago it was at the very center of the Confederacy. Its foundries supplied weapons and ammunition to the rebel army, and no county supplied a larger percentage of its men to the cause. Toward the end of the Civil War, the only local men not carrying a musket for the South were elderly, blind or disabled.

Times are still tough in Bibb County. Some 20 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, and its public schools are among the lowest performing in the state. About half the kids don’t graduate from high school.

But the county has just embarked on a bold plan to have all its children fully bilingual — in English and Mandarin — by the time they graduate from high school. In recent weeks, children from pre-kindergarten through third grade began mandatory Mandarin classes, part of a curriculum that in three years will include middle school and high school students.

“Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they’ll be at the pinnacle of their career,” the school superintendent Romain Dallemand said in an interview that aired Saturday on NPR. “They will live in a world where China and India will have 50 percent of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price.”

The new curriculum has had some pushback, to say the least, and the word communism has often been raised. Jane Drennan, a deputy superintendent, told a TV station in Macon, the county seat, that she and other school officials had heard from many parents who said, “I don’t want my kid learning Chinese.”

“I understand there may be some fears involved in moving a different culture into our community,” Ms. Drennan said. “People have concerns we won’t be teaching English as much, which is not true. This is an addition to our curriculum.”

Ms. Drennan said learning another language, whether it’s Chinese or French, “enhances your learning in everything else.”

“Bibb County is not known for producing the highest-achieving graduates,” Dina McDonald, a Macon resident and the mother of a ninth-grader, told NPR. “You’ll see that many of them can’t even speak basic English.”

“Do you want to teach them how to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ in Mandarin?”

A number of parents have asked why Spanish is not the default second language, especially with the increasing number of Hispanic residents in the county.

“My wife is a Latina, and so I fully understand,” said Mr. Dallemand, who was born in Haiti, adding a saying from Arthur C. Clarke: “It is important for communities to educate our children for their future, not our past.”

The new Mandarin teachers, about 25 in all, are being supplied by the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University, north of Atlanta. Hailing from mainland China, the teachers live in the local Bibb County communities, teach and work full-time at the schools and cost the district $16,000 each.

For the past three weeks, Jie Jiang has been teaching second-graders at Burdell-Hunt Elementary School in Macon. She told the Macon Telegraph that the “kids are really nice and they learn fast.” And the newspaper’s story described this classroom scene:

During Wednesday’s class, students practiced saying “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “good evening” aloud as Jiang held flashcards depicting different times of day.

“Now let’s see if you can write some Chinese,” Jiang said after the flashcard exercise. “This is a little difficult, but I think you can do it.”

On the board, Jiang wrote the characters for “good evening,” pronounced “wan shang hao.”

Second-grader Immanuel Hawkins volunteered for the task, writing his characters underneath Jiang’s and beaming when she congratulated him in Mandarin.
The Confucius Institutes, organized and financed by the Chinese government, are now located in about 70 colleges and universities in the United States, and there are a couple hundred more worldwide. Part of Beijing’s soft power efforts abroad, the institutes are often welcomed by host schools as ready-made Chinese-language departments.

The first institute was set up at the University of Maryland, in 2004, and the program there has had “no interference and no pressure at all” from the Beijing government or the sponsoring school, Nankai University, according to the program director, Chuan Sheng Liu, a physics professor at Maryland.

My colleague D.D. Guttenplan reported in March on the controversy that sometimes surrounds the government-run Confucius Institutes:

To proponents, the institutes offer a chance for greater engagement with one of the oldest civilizations in the world — and the fastest-rising power of the new millennium. For cash-strapped university administrators, the institutes can seem like a godsend, bringing not just Beijing-trained and -financed language teachers and textbooks but also money for a director’s salary and a program of public events.

“When you set up a Confucius Institute you get a ready-made partner,” said Nick Byrne, executive director of the Confucius Institute at the London School of Economics, which is paired with Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua sends Chinese language teachers to London; the institute also funds a number of scholarships at Tsinghua for British graduate students.

Critics worry that such largess comes with strings attached.

“There is a whole list of proscribed topics,” said June Teufel Dreyer, who teaches Chinese government and foreign policy at the University of Miami. “You’re told not to discuss the Dalai Lama — or to invite the Dalai Lama to campus. Tibet, Taiwan, China’s military buildup, factional fights inside the Chinese leadership — these are all off limits.”

In a 2010 story in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Dreyer said the institutes “perform a propaganda function.”

“It would be stupid,” she said, “for the Chinese government to spend money on something that did not further its interests.”


China’s brainwashed youth  BY QI GE | SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 Foreign policy

“The protests against Japan didn’t get us our islands back, but they made one thing clear: The people are puppets of the Chinese Communist Party.

SHANGHAI — Ever since the 1970s, I have known that the Chinese people are the freest and most democratic people in the world. Each year at my elementary school in Shanghai, the teachers mentioned this fact repeatedly in ethics and politics classes. Our textbooks, feigning innocence, asked us if freedom and democracy in capitalist countries could really be what they proclaimed it to be. Then there would be all kinds of strange logic and unsourced examples, but because I always counted silently to myself in those classes instead of paying attention, the government’s project was basically wasted on me. By secondary school and college, my mind was unusually hard to brainwash.

Even so, during my college years, I still hated Japan. I felt that the Japanese had killed so many of my countrymen, the vast majority of them civilians, that it wasn’t enough that they had eventually surrendered. It was only after studying Japanese and reading additional historical materials that I gradually understood the true face of history: When the Japanese army invaded China in 1931, Mao Zedong, in those days still a guerrilla fighter, turned and ran. Chiang Kai-shek, China’s nominal president at the time, stayed behind to fight the Japanese in his wartime capital of Chongqing, but Mao’s Communist Party fled to the north to establish a base of anti-Japanese resistance in the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia, where there was no Japanese army at all. …

Now, the Chinese government feels that it’s not enough to smear the enemy through television alone, and the time has come to allow young people to demonstrate, a chance young people welcome because through their patriotic actions they can prove their worth in this world. Many of them are ordinarily very humble, drawing a low salary and struggling in expensive cities. They can’t afford to buy homes, have a family, raise children, or take care of their parents, and no one pays any attention to them. But now, these trampled marionettes have finally made the leap to the center of the political stage, so they willingly allow their strings to be pulled.

But the Chinese government’s brainwashing education is more sophisticated than this. For a red regime to stand so long, to match Western countries in capitalistic indulgence, it needs to surpass the crude Soviet model. And sure enough, after the smashing and burning, the propaganda machine flung out the slogan “rational patriotism”: It’s the same old follow-the-party’s-instructions, but it’s a different era and the party must be hidden, which means that it must emphasize the fashionable word “rational.” The Communist Party and its Propaganda Ministry have always kept pace with the times.

In this delicately authoritarian society, “rational patriotism” means respecting the rules set up by the totalitarians. This sort of rationality, and this sort of patriotism, would be familiar to Joseph Goebbels. Yet the brainwashed patriotic youth of the mainland don’t understand this….”

Read more here

Expats in Singapore arm children for Chinese century (By Simin Wang | AFP News – Sat, Sep 1, 2012)

As far back as 25 years ago, US investor Jim Rogers already believed China would be the next economic superpower and young people the world over should prepare for the future by learning Mandarin.
Now 69, the billionaire had a chance to practise what he preached when he moved in 2007 to Singapore with his wife Paige Parker, 43, after visiting Hong Kong and Shanghai in search of an ideal place to bring up his children.
Their daughters Happy, now nine, and Baby Bee, four, are studying in public schools in Singapore, which promotes mastery of Mandarin as part of its own ethnic Chinese heritage and, more pragmatically, to give its people economic opportunities.
“Singapore has the best education in the world, the best healthcare, the best everything. I think that the best gift that I can give two children born in 2003 and 2008 is to know Asia and to speak Mandarin,” Rogers told AFP.
Rogers, who is also an author and financial commentator, is among the growing ranks of Western parents keen to prepare their children for the “Chinese Century”…

English is the main language of instruction in Singapore, a former British colony, but students in public schools are required to study a second language. Mandarin is mandatory for the ethnic Chinese majority and optional for the rest.
A number of foreign parents who are not on expat packages cannot afford international schools in Singapore and have to send their children to local schools.
But for a wealthy man like Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with legendary investor George Soros and now runs his own firm out of Singapore, sending his children to public schools is a matter of choice.
He and his wife even hired a governess from China to make sure the girls continue speaking Mandarin at home.
French expatriate Emmanuelle Bizard, 32, who moved to Singapore in August 2011, enrolled her four sons in local schools to help them integrate into Singapore society and take advantage of the low school fees.
“Singapore welcomes us, so it is important for us to make an effort to meet Singaporeans and live a ‘Singaporean experience’. It makes our experience more real,” she said.

Read more here


Part of the Culture: Stuyvesant Students Describe the How and the Why of Cheating (NY Times, September 25, 2012)

Former and current students at Stuyvesant High School say lower-level cheating is part of the culture, and students employ several rationales for choosing to be dishonest.
Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. In June, 71 students at the public school were caught exchanging answers on an exam.

The night before one of the “5 to 10” times he has cheated on a test, a senior at Stuyvesant High School said, he copied a table of chemical reactions onto a scrap of paper he would peek at in his chemistry exam. He had decided that memorizing the table was a waste of time — time he could spend completing other assignments or catching up on sleep.

Josina Dunkel, a teacher at Stuyvesant, said the competitive environment was an eye-opener for freshmen.

“It’s like, ‘I’ll keep my integrity and fail this test’ — no. No one wants to fail a test,” he said, explaining how he and others persuaded themselves to cheat. “You could study for two hours and get an 80, or you could take a risk and get a 90.”

A recent alumnus said that by the time he took his French final exam one year, he, along with his classmates, had lost all respect for the teacher. He framed the decision to cheat as a choice between pursuing the computer science and politics projects he loved or studying for a class he believed was a joke. …

These are the sorts of calculations many students at Stuyvesant, New York City’s flagship public school, learn to make by the middle of their freshman year: weighing two classes against each other, the possibility of getting an A against the possibility of getting caught, keeping their integrity against making it to a dream college. By the time they graduate, many have internalized a moral and academic math: Copying homework is fine, but cheating on a test is less so; cheating to get by in a required class is more acceptable than cheating on an Advanced Placement exam; anything less than a grade of 85 is “failing”; achieve anything more than a grade-point average of 95, and you might be bound for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Yale.

In interviews this month, more than three dozen students, alumni and teachers said that large-scale cheating, like an episode in June when 71 juniors were caught exchanging answers to state Regents exams through text messages, was rare at Stuyvesant. But lower-level cheating, they said, occurs every day.

Most often, it takes the form of a few math homework answers copied wholesale from a shared note on Facebook, or the form of tip-offs from classmates who took a history exam a few hours earlier. Some go further, hiding formulas in a sleeve or in a bathroom stall, Googling facts on an iPhone or snapping a photo of test questions to send to a smart friend for help.

Survival at All Costs

At Stuyvesant, the alma mater of four Nobel laureates, students say the social currency is academic achievement.

Although students enter the school knowing they are among the best in the city, they must compete with hundreds just like them. And, they say, the pressures only grow: they are convinced that they are bound for bright futures, yet not all are equipped for the work that entails. They are trained to hand in every assignment without always believing in its value. They described teachers as being relatively sympathetic, discouraging cheating, but not always punishing it as severely as school policy dictates.

All this makes for a culture in which many students band together, sharing homework and test advice in a common understanding that they simply have to survive until they reach their goals: dream colleges and dream jobs.

“I’m sure everybody understood it was wrong to take other people’s work, but they had ways of rationalizing it,” said Karina Moy, a 2010 graduate of the school. “Everyone took it as a necessary evil to get through.”

It is not clear how common academic dishonesty is at Stuyvesant or other large, competitive schools, and several of those interviewed said that they had never cheated. When the school’s newspaper, The Spectator, conducted a survey of 2,045 students in March, 80 percent said they had cheated in one way or another.

Michael Josephson, the president of the Josephson Institute, which researches ethics in society, said a 2010 survey of 40,000 high-school students found that 59 percent had cheated on a test during the previous year, with one in three admitting they had used the Internet to plagiarize — and one in four admitting they had lied on the survey itself….

By the time they reach junior year — when it is not uncommon to have three tests in a week and when May and June bring a cascade of Advanced Placement, Regents and final exams, along with the SAT — many students have become adept at beating the system.
One pair developed a tapping system for multiple-choice tests — once for A, twice for B and so on, recalled Nils Axen, a 2011 graduate now at Cornell. Others wrote formulas on their forearms or on the insides of water bottles.

Elias Weinraub, now a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, said the race for top scores at Stuyvesant was “kind of addictive.”

The New Methods

There are newer methods, too, despite the school’s longstanding ban on using cellphones during the day, students said. (The new interim principal, Jie Zhang, has announced that students will no longer be able to use laptops or iPads during the day, and she has redoubled enforcement of the cellphone ban.)

“Writing on your hand, that’s kiddie stuff,” said Melissa, a senior who, like some current and former students, spoke only on the condition that her full name not be used for fear of repercussions. “The way we do it is to take a picture, and then it’s the domino effect. One person has it, then the whole class has it.”

By junior year, almost everyone has seen the statistics posted on the college office’s Web site listing the grade-point averages and SAT scores of those who were rejected or accepted to dozens of colleges. “It becomes kind of a number game,” said Elias Weinraub, 18, who is now a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. “It was kind of addictive, in a bad way, in a sick way. People will assume, well, I have a 92, most kids who got into that school got a 94, so there’s no way I can get in.”

Although Stuyvesant has a reputation for being cutthroat, students say collaboration, not competition, is the norm. Several framed the collaboration as banding together against a system designed to grind them down. Many classes have private Facebook groups that students use to exchange advice or, sometimes, to post full sets of answers for classmates to copy. Take-home exams are seen as an invitation to work together…

Most common of all, those who take exams in earlier class periods are expected to help their friends who take the same tests in later periods, several students said. And though most appear to understand that they are violating the rules, some students seem unsure about where helping ends and cheating begins…

“It’s seen as helping your friend out,” Daniel Kanovich, 17, a senior, said. “If you ask people, they’d say it’s not cheating. I have your back, you have mine.”

The Regents cheating ring was exposed when the principal, Stanley Teitel, was tipped off about a student who had used his phone to share answers with other students. The student, Nayeem Ahsan, told New York magazine that for the physics Regents exam, one of his strongest subjects, he had finished early and had sent answers to several dozen classmates; in exchange, he got help on the American history Regents exam and a city Spanish exam, two of his weaker subjects.

Nayeem and 11 other students were given 10-day suspensions, and more than 50 others are facing suspension of up to five days, according to the Education Department. Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman, said privacy laws prevented the city from disclosing Nayeem’s status at Stuyvesant, but she said that “no student was involuntarily transferred from the school.”… in general, students said that harsh discipline was not the norm and that many teachers were so understanding of the pressure students faced that they would hand out lighter punishments for cheating. Anticheating measures, like running essays through the antiplagiarism Web site turnitin.com and checking for cellphones, were common, students said. But so were steps like telling students who were copying homework simply to put it away and allowing those cheats to retake tests, despite policies that prescribe a range of punishments, from giving a zero on the assignment up to suspending the student.

A recent graduate said that near the end of her senior year, a teacher caught one of the student’s friends taking a math test with a sheet of formulas held in her lap. But knowing that the girl had been accepted into an Ivy League school, the teacher let the student off with a warning because he did not want to jeopardize her enrollment.

“Everyone is aligned that Stuy is a difficult place, but people are much more forgiving than people think they are,” the alumna said.

… Ms. Zhang has promised to alter Stuyvesant’s culture. She announced that all students would have to review and sign an honor policy that promises punishment for those who fail to turn in cheats, as well as for the cheats themselves, students said. Teachers were directed to talk about the policy on academic honesty at the beginning of every class on the first day of school. English teachers were instructed to discuss the policy in depth, emphasizing that students should work to reclaim Stuyvesant’s formerly sterling reputation…. Read the entire article here.


University Ranking Shows Boom in Global Student Mobility (NY Times Blog)

LONDON — The compilers of a leading league table of the world’s top universities on Tuesday reported an “unstoppable rise” in the numbers of students choosing to travel abroad to study.

“Global student mobility is on a seemingly unstoppable rise, with those seeking an overseas education targeting the leading universities,” wrote John O’Leary, an academic adviser to the consulting and research firm Quacquarelli Symonds in London, which produces the annual QS World Universities Rankings.

“Even after considerable growth in recent years, the latest rankings show an extraordinary rise of almost 10 percent in international student numbers at the top 100 universities,” he wrote.

This year’s listings saw the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) overtake Cambridge University as the top place in the influential league table, which is based on a range of factors that include the opinions of academics and prospective employers.

U.S. and British institutions continued to dominate the QS rankings, which were introduced in 2004, occupying all of the top 10 places.

QS’s methodology factors foreign student and faculty numbers into the rankings and that was reflected in this year’s outcome.

“Cambridge, for example, has seen a significant increase in international students, but has dropped five places in this measure, contributing to its fall from first to second place in the overall ranking,” Mr. O’Leary wrote.

Similarly, a drop in the ranking of the University of California at Berkeley — to 22nd place from 2nd in 2004 — reflected not only a comparatively poor faculty-to-student ratio, but also “low attractiveness for international faculty and students,” according to Martin Ince, also a QS adviser.

QS noted that the most successful universities competed to attract the world’s best students and faculty. “Simple evaluations of the proportion of international students and international faculty serve as indicators of an institution’s diversity and international attractiveness,” it said.

With a growing number of academic rankings being produced to help would-be students make their choice of university, criticism has been voiced about just how objective and scientific they are.

Ben Sowter, QS’s director of research, acknowledged last year that rankings “were designed on an Anglophone model of what a university looks like.”

But D.D. Guttenplan quoted him in the IHT also saying that, with 3.4 million students studying outside their home countries, QS was committed to “helping international students make more informed choices.”

As my Rendezvous colleague Mark McDonald wrote this year, “Many Chinese families hire agents to help them navigate the applications process, and an agent’s fee can range up to $10,000, plus an equally large bonus if the student gets into a school highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the QS rankings and the so-called Shanghai List.”

Traveling abroad to study has obvious attractions for students who want the best education available globally. There is also an economic incentive for the institutions themselves, and the countries that host them, in terms of fees and foreign earnings.

But mobility depends on the readiness of governments to allow access to foreign students. QS’s Ben Sowter told the BBC that tougher British visa rules for international students could deter some from applying to British universities.

Tell us where you stand on the globalization of education. Should student mobility be encouraged or does it just favor a rich minority that can afford a top-ranked university abroad? Do rankings help or are they too unscientific to give a true measure of excellence?


Thousands Rally Against Hong Kong Curriculum (NY Times)
Protests against proposed Chinese national education have included mass demonstrations with tens of thousands of participants, and even hunger strikes.
September 03, 2012, Monday

Thousands of teachers, parents, students and activists demonstrated over the weekend against proposed Chinese national education in Hong Kong schools, just before the academic year was set to begin Monday.

According to The South China Morning Post , three teenagers were told to end a hunger strike for health reasons, though they were replaced by 10 other protesters. Critics of the curriculum have likened it to brainwashing.

Organizers, including Scholarism , a student advocacy group, said that there were 40,000 protesters. The police in the semiautonomous Chinese city reported a vastly different number of more than 8,000 protesters.

The protest against what is being called “patriotic education” followed a larger rally in late July.

S$300m ‘super’ campus in Singapore
Stamford American International School claims to be the “world’s most advanced school ever built”. The S$300 million “super” campus for kids from kindergarten up to secondary school has officially opened in Singapore, with photos giving us an insight into what future schools will look like.

Stamford is also the first school in Singapore to offer students both the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma and the American Advanced Placement (AP) Diploma. Facilities in the school include dedicated spaces for art, theatre, dance and music, and world-class sporting facilities such as two swimming pools, basketball courts and outdoor fields.

And the cost for putting your child in there? It goes from a whopping S$12,620 per year for half day nursery classes to at least S$31,000 for a full year at the secondary school level.

Over 26,000 teachers to benefit from up to 15 per cent pay raise  (Yahoo! news)

In an early Teacher’s Day present, over 26,000 Singapore educators will be granted a salary increase of between 5 to 15 per cent with effect from 1 September 2012.

The Ministry of Education announced this on Friday, giving teachers an additional reason to celebrate Teachers’ Day on Saturday.

Current education officers in various General Education Officer (GEO) and Senior Education Officer (SEO) grades will receive an 8 per cent salary adjustment – which amounts up to a $550 and $830 pay raise respectively in their gross monthly salaries.

Announcing its aim of attracting and developing a “quality school team”, MOE acknowledged that the job scopes of teachers have become “more demanding and complex” in the 21st century.

About 500 allied educators in various grades will also receive salary adjustments between 5 to 15 per cent, which is about up to $700 increment in their salaries.

The ministry said allied educators, who support teachers in the care and development of children in schools, are an “integral” part of the team in managing the counselling and special education needs of children. Read more here

Homeschooling gains traction among US families(AFP September 7, 2012 retr. online from 7 News)

Homeschooling is growing in the United States, as parents who question the ability of conventional teaching to properly educate their children take matters into their own hands — with help from the Internet.

The Department of Education estimates that 1.5 million children aged five through 17, or 2.9 percent of all American youngsters, were homeschooled in 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available.

That’s a 74 percent increase from 1999 when the number stood at 850,000 youngsters.

The National Home Education Research Institute, which conducts ongoing research into homeschooling, puts its own estimate of homeschooled children at 2.2 million in 2010.

Childhood education is mandatory throughout the US, but rules vary between the 50 states — all of which permit homeschooling, but half of which have no regulations over how parents teach their kids.

Sarah Tiller, a scientist and mother of eight who lives in Washington, embraced homeschooling four years ago, starting by helping her eldest child with mathematics….Read more here.


Stuck on the Essay? Try Writing a Letter to an Imaginary College Roommate (NY Times Blog, October 5, 2012)


Use the Learning Network lesson plan, “What Is Art? Considering and Creating Artistic Works,” to go deeper with this topic.
Do contemporary installations challenge student notions of what art is “supposed” to be and do? In this lesson, students experience various works of fine and performance art in the classroom and online as well as consider artists’ and critics’ definitions of art…see handout “What’s Art?” They then create their own definitions and express them in the form of original works for an evening gallery opening.

The ugly Singaporean parent: pushy, unreasonable, self-entitled (Yahoo! News, Sep 18, 2012)

When Parents ‘Too Invested’ in College Admissions Make Their Children Anxious (NY Times Blog,  October 8, 2012)

When several thousand guidance counselors and college admissions officers get together, they swap stories about students’ essays, scores, meltdowns. And, at times, about students’ mothers and fathers…

“Teens face the nagging perception of achievement, often dictated by their parents or their community,” said Judith Widener Muir, another member of the panel, who teaches a course in neuroscience at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Ms. Muir, who also has an independent practice advising college applicants, said new studies suggest teenage depression is three times more common in the suburbs than in inner cities….

Mr. Fitzsimmons said he knows firsthand about over-involved parents of applicants, because he’s been “stalked” and he’s even had credible death threats after rejecting students.

He described a mother who called and berated a Harvard admissions officer several times in an abusive tone after her daughter had been turned down. Harvard even has a protocol for dealing with such parents: The admissions staff is told to say “this conversation is no longer productive,” then end the call.

Mr. Fitzsimmons said he’s increasingly worried about the mental and physical health of high school students who feel their parents exacerbate stress rather than cushion it. On Saturday, a day after the presentation, many guidance counselors at the conference were still talking about the danger signs they see in top high schools, including sleep-deprived teenagers and those with eating disorders.

Here, then, are five tips to help mothers and fathers keep perspective about admissions… ..Read the rest here

TIP SHEET Stuck on the Essay? Try Writing a Letter to an Imaginary College Roommate (NY Times,  October 5, 2012)
You’re a high school senior staring at a blank screen. The weather’s getting colder, the deadline for college applications is nearing, and your best friends have finished their admissions essays (or pretend they have).

You’re befuddled. You haven’t sequenced a human genome or danced in “The Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center. How do you find a topic for the personal statement and supplemental essays?

One way is to write an introductory letter to an imaginary college roommate. Discuss your favorite movies or books or a favorite word. Then split off the section you enjoyed writing the most and build that into an essay.

That’s the suggestion of Rebecca Joseph, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. …Read the rest of the tip here.

Why handwriting matters (The Observer, Oct 7, 2012)
Does handwriting have a value that email and texting can’t replace? In this extract from his new book, The Missing Ink, Philip Hensher laments the slow death of the written word, and explains how putting pen to paper can still occupy a special place in our lives   …

“… the Brown episode shows that, sometimes, we expect people to write well. In certain circumstances, we deplore bad writing: the bad, ugly, illiterate, ill-formed writing of someone who has never practised writing, never considered that it might be a duty to write in ways which people can read and take some pleasure from. If we expect good writing on elevated occasions, is it not reasonable to expect people to write reasonably well all the time? It is not reasonable to think that people can write terribly, illegibly badly almost all the time and then elevate their handwriting for special purposes. Sometimes, it clearly matters a good deal.

I’ve come to the conclusion that handwriting is good for us. It involves us in a relationship with the written word that is sensuous, immediate and individual. It opens our personality out to the world, and gives us a means of reading other people. It gives pleasure when you communicate with it. No one is ever going to recommend that we surrender the convenience and speed of electronic communications to pen and paper. Though it would make no sense to give up the clarity and authority of print which is available to anyone with a keyboard, to continue to diminish the place of the handwritten in our lives is to diminish, in a small but real way, our humanity.”

Read the article here.


Education can replace the loss of hope (Global Viewpoint Nobel Laureates Plus, News Perspectives Quarterly, Vol 29 #3, 10-01-2012)

Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of Great Britain, is the United Nations special envoy for global education writes:

“Extending educational opportunity — an urgent, economic and security imperative….

We do not have to rely on a scientific breakthrough or a transformation in technology — only a revolution in political willpower — to train the 2 million more teachers and build the 4 million extra classrooms that the world needs. No parent I know would consider the $13.50 a year we give an African child in educational aid too generous. Tragically, even that meager amount — just 25 cents for a week’s schooling — is falling. Yet we can persuade both governments and publics that a few dollars more from the citizens of a rich country for the education of a child in a poor country is a worthwhile investment. With support of just a dollar a year from the world’s 1 billion members of the middle class, we could start to honor the Millennium promise we made to every child that they would be at school.” Read the rest here.

Great literature should stay on all reading lists : Hannah Betts: A knowledge of Chaucer, Shakespeare and tales of Greece and Rome is necessary to understand our own culture (Guardian, 7 Oct 2012)

“Human beings have long loved a list, from Homer’s inventory of a thousand ships to the catalogues of feminine beauty modish in the Renaissance. These exercises in cultivated obsessive–compulsive disorder shape and stabilise the world about us. Still, there are lists and lists, and this apparently primal human urge has been usurped by many PR companies and television executives eager to proclaim a top 10 of everything. The phrase “nation’s favourite” has become one to fear, with Four Weddings and a Funeral among best films and the Duchess of Cambridge topping best-dressed lists.

As far as literature is concerned (and one uses this term loosely), the subgenres include: things read when small, things for the small read when big, things bought at airports, things advocated by Richard and Judy, and things that have been on the goggle box. All of which enables the sort of travesty whereby, as in May, The Da Vinci Code can be declared “Scotland’s favourite novel”.

Which is why a list of the perilously prescriptive 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die – published in its second edition this month – becomes all the more culturally valuable. To be sure, its novel focus makes pre-18th century works thin on the ground, while some of the more recent musts seem a tad middlebrow. But it remains a glorious cross-cultural repository, up to speed on the last two years’ output. Every school, if not every home, should have one. …” Read the rest here.


On technology and education:

Teaching Technology as It Changes   (Oct 1, 2012, NY Times)

Jan Muehlfeit, the chairman of Microsoft Europe, says Europe needs better I.T. education, and its young people need to learn to adapt to technological advancements.

Jan Muehlfeit, the chairman of Microsoft Europe, will lead a review of higher education in the European Union as part of a three-year assessment announced by the European Commission in September. He will be its only representative from the business sector.

Q. What kinds of skills can help young people transition into a rapidly changing work force?

A. If you take a classical industry, such as the car industry, 60 percent of all car costs are now software costs. The whole pyramid of skills surrounding this industry, from service people at the bottom to designers at the top, will move up. The essentials are flexibility, the ability to do lifelong learning and soft skills, which are not taught in schools today.
Outside of school, young people are exposed to globalization. They are connected via Skype and other social networks, but school is mainly still about chalk and blackboards. There is a huge difference between what’s learned in schools today and the reality of the jobs students can expect.

Technology is not changing necessarily what will be done or produced, but how things will be made.

This is the first time in human history that young people have a better understanding of how to use technology than the older generation.

Young people today will change jobs an average of 10 times in their life. The new generation really needs to be ready to adapt to changes.

Q. Is there enough information technology, or I.T., education in Europe?

A. In India today, 30 percent of university students are studying software engineering, and 40 percent in China. In Europe this figure is less than 15 percent.

Between now and 2015, Europe can expect to have a deficit of 400,000 I.T. professionals. According to a study done by the European Commission two years ago, 38 percent of people in Europe have no basic e-skills. So there is a huge gap in Europe, while Asian and African countries are very committed to I.T. education.

Q. What is your company doing to help?

A. In primary and secondary schools, we have a program called Partners in Learning, which is a combination of software training and training teachers.

At the university level, we have a program called Students to Business, where we are helping students complete internships at our partner organizations.

We are trying to equip people with everything from basic e-skills up to professional certification. We try to have a program in place for the whole age range and every level of the e-skills pyramid.

Q. What more can governments do?

A. One good example is Denmark’s Flexicurity program. If you lose your job in Denmark, you receive a significant amount of social support, but you must be retrained and “upskilled” and find a new job. So it’s flexible, because you need to be flexible and open to learning new skills, but there is security.

This is a good approach to lifelong learning, and the public sector should be encouraging people to think this way. This is something the majority of Europe is still missing — we still think we should have one job for life.

Q. What are some problems with education in Europe?

A. There is currently no common policy for education in Europe, but we have a common policy for agriculture. That’s something we need to think about.

Is it really possible to do education reform in all of Europe, sharing best practices and so on, if there is a different education policy in every country in Europe?

That’s why we are delaying key decisions on reforms, both on basic and secondary education, and higher education.

Q. How should technology be combined with education?

A. Technology in general can do three things: It can encourage individual learning, can make learning global and can enable global collaboration.

The school system is behind — we are not teaching creativity or measuring emotional intelligence. Ultimately, I believe that 70 percent of education needs to be tailored to the individual talents of the student.

This is where technology can play a key role. We can use technology to locate the strengths and talents of each student, by extension helping them obtain jobs they really like. This will have a huge impact not just socially but economically as well.

If people are doing jobs they enjoy, they will be more productive.

Q. How can cloud computing help?

A. With cloud computing, even small schools can access a huge amount of resources. Today many big universities offer online courses, often for free. This is how the cloud can help education become global

A productivity tool like Microsoft’s Office 365 is a cloud application that we are launching for schools. It will be a huge asset for us in speeding up educational reforms.

Q. If you had to give one piece of advice to a young person entering the work force, what would it be?

A. Be flexible and be ready for a change.


Decline in kanji writing ability disturbing (Oct.1, Yomiuri)

“The findings of a recent Cultural Affairs Agency opinion survey on the Japanese language has brought to the fore that people’s ability to properly write kanji is deteriorating.

The poll was conducted on people aged 16 or older across the country. They were asked about what impacts electronic means of communication such as personal computers and mobile-phone text-messaging have had on their daily lives.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said their ability to write kanji correctly has weakened.

This figure is up as much as 25 percentage points from 10 years ago.

Undoubtedly, people write letters and other documents by hand less often than they used to. The 67 percent figure can be considered a reflection of this.

According to the survey, an increasing number of people find it cumbersome to write by hand, further proof of a growing tendency to eschew handwriting.


Handwriting essential

In the future, children who have yet to acquire sufficient Japanese language proficiency will communicate with other people more often using computers and cell phones. Under the circumstances, we cannot help but be concerned that children’s ability to write kanji may erode further.

On the other hand, the number of kanji taught up until graduation from high schools has increased sharply.

Today, people can generate difficult kanji simply by pressing buttons on a keypad. In response to the changing times, the government revised the list of kanji in common use two years ago.

At that time, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s Cultural Affairs Council, which played a leading role in updating the list, emphasized that handwriting “is indispensable for mastering kanji and formulating operational skills involving the characters.” Attention should be paid anew to the importance of this point.

Repeatedly writing kanji by hand enhances the senses of sight and touch as well as motion perception, which stimulates brain functions, according to experts.

Parents and schools need to drill into children the importance of handwriting.

In addition, it is important that children have opportunities in daily life to get accustomed to kanji by reading literature and other written works. By doing so, children can acquire the skills to correctly use the Japanese language and develop a rich knowledge of expressions” Read more here.

Related news: Computer users say their kanji writing skills are getting rusty (Yomiuri Sep 22);  Japanese losing ability to write ‘kanji’ due to emails (Telegraph.co.uk, Sep 25)

Two thirds of Japanese people admit they are losing the ability to pen the “kanji” characters used in the written language because of their reliance on emails and mobile phone messages. (telegraph.co.uk )
Two thirds of Japanese people admit they are losing the ability to pen the “kanji” characters used in the written language because of their reliance on emails and mobile phone messages.
Of those to replied to a survey by the Cultural Affairs Agency, 66.5 per cent said they feared they were forgetting all the required strokes in some of the characters, up more than 25 percentage points from the last survey, which was conducted 10 years ago.
Even more worrying for purists of the Japanese language, which uses thousands of characters originally from China, is that 42 per cent of the people also said that it was “a bother” to write by hand, up more than 10 percentage points from the last study.

11 Early Online Ed Pioneers Who Paved the Way To Today (Online colleges.com, October 8, 2012)

Edudemic | ‎81 Ways To Use Google Forms In Your Classroom


On parenting, health & safety issues:

Students’ athletic ability up slightly, survey shows (Oct.9, The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Primary, middle and high school students showed a slight improvement in basic athletic skills such as running and throwing, according to a survey conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in fiscal 2011.

But the physical fitness of those who do not do athletic activities regularly declined considerably compared with the peak reached in fiscal 1985.

These findings were included in the survey released Sunday, one day before Health-Sports Day, a national holiday.

The survey was taken from May to October last year. It covered about 66,000 males and females aged 6 to 79.

The highest aggregate scores since fiscal 1998, when the current categories were introduced, were posted by 9-year-old males and females, and 13-year-old males and females.

For primary, middle and high school students, scores were up from the previous year in many categories.

Compared to 1985, however, relatively poor performances were shown in most categories except for 50-meter dash and handball throwing by 13-year-old males, and 50-meter dash by 16-year-old males.

The drop was remarkably evident in 1,500-meter running. The average time posted by 16-year-old males was 6 minutes 8.9 seconds, about 12 seconds slower than that in 1985.

…The survey showed that the percentage of students who do not do physical activity regularly has been soaring–up fivefold in the case of 13-year-old females and 2.3 times for 16-year-old females compared to that in 1985.

Related link: Children, adults over 50 getting stronger: ministry (Japan Times, Oct 9)

Get children into habit of regular physical exercise (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2012)

Today is Health-Sports Day. We think this is a good day for the whole family to go out and get some exercise.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released the results of its fiscal 2011 survey on the physical strength and athletic ability of Japanese. This survey has been conducted every year since 1964, when the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo.

The latest survey found that basic physical ability of primary, middle and high school students to run, throw and jump are showing signs of improvement after years of decline. Nevertheless, their athletic skills remain low compared with the peak results recorded around 1985.

Among 11 year olds, only 34 percent of boys and 27 percent of girls could throw a ball farther than the average scores posted in fiscal 1985. The survey showed that in this activity, the less physical exercise children did, the lower they scored.

Children’s dismal physical abilities are probably the result of changing living environments, such as less time spent playing outdoors due to the spread of cell phones and video game consoles.


Start them young

It is important that children acquire the habit of getting plenty of exercise from their early years.

Some schools provide children with playtime before class, letting them jump rope and play tag. It is desirable that even children who are not fond of physical exercise are given as many fun opportunities as possible to exert themselves and build up a sweat.

The survey analyzed how often people of different age categories usually enjoy sports. The number of men and women taking part in sporting activities tends to decline from the latter half of their 20s, and bottom out in their 30s.

The tendency among many young parents to give up sports may have influenced their children’s daily habits.

The nation needs more facilities where parents and their children can easily take part in sports. More than 3,000 “comprehensive local sports clubs”–membership clubs managed by residents voluntarily and on their own initiative–dot the nation. Utilizing these clubs can be one idea to get more kids up and moving. … Read more here.

Fewer kids on wait list for nursery schools (Jiji Press, Sep. 30, 2012)

The number of children waiting to enter publicly certified nursery schools in Japan as of April 1 fell by 731 from a year before to 24,825, down for the second straight year, according to government data.

The number of children enrolled in nurseries came to 2,176,802, marking a record increase of 53,851, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday.

“Waiting lists grew shorter thanks to local government efforts such as raising enrollment limits,” a ministry official said.

By prefecture, the number of children on waiting lists for nurseries was the highest in Tokyo, at 7,257, followed by 2,305 in Okinawa and 2,050 in Osaka.

The number of certified nurseries increased by 326 to 23,711. The total capacity rose by 35,785 to 2,240,178, short of the targeted annual gain of 50,000, set by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

Of all the children on waiting lists, 79.3 percent were in the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas as well as major regional cities. Children aged 2 or under accounted for 81.4 percent of the total.

Quakes added to eruption risk on Mount Fuji  (Japan Times,  Sep. 7, 2012)

Mount Fuji’s magma chamber came under so much pressure from the Great East Japan Earthquake and one of its aftershocks last year that it could very well erupt, researchers said Thursday. … read the rest here.

Seafloor cesium off Ibaraki drops with distance (Japan times, Sep. 7, 2012)

“The first sequential study of cesium concentrations on the seafloor off Ibaraki Prefecture has found the level of the radioactive element in coastal areas dropped to about a quarter about 13 km offshore.

The study by researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science and others measured the level of radioactive cesium, believed to have leaked from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, in a sequential manner on ocean floors starting from coastal areas off Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures, the researchers said. …”  Read the rest of the article here.

Malicious bullying must be sternly punished (Sep.26, Yomiuri)

Serious bullying cases have been revealed one after another.

To discover bullying early, it is essential for teachers not to overlook signals given by students.

In Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, a male second-year student at a municipal middle school was critically injured in January when he was beaten unconscious by male classmates. He had been bullied frequently since entering the school.

In Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, a male second-year student at a prefectural high school committed suicide this month. It was revealed that he had also been bullied by classmates.

The school authorities failed to detect the signs of bullying in either case. It is truly regrettable that adequate measures could not be taken before the lives of the students were threatened.

According to a survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, 70,231 cases of bullying were acknowledged in fiscal 2011 by primary, middle and high schools and other entities across the country. The figure shows a decrease of 7,399 from the previous fiscal year and represents the lowest since the current survey method was introduced in fiscal 2006.


Findings cannot be trusted

But these survey findings cannot be taken at face value because, as in the Kawagoe and Kawanishi cases, school authorities have been shown to be lax in detecting bullying. A typical example is a case in Otsu in which a second-year student at a municipal middle school killed himself.

In dealing with bullying, bullies must be given persistent guidance. If guidance does not help, school authorities will have to take stern action.

One such action could be suspension.

In the case of pupils and students at public primary and middle schools, suspension is provided for in the School Eduction Law. The Education Rebuilding Council, a government advisory panel, has recommended the active use of suspension to deal with bullying. But there were only 11 cases in the past five years in which suspension was applied to stop bullying. There were none in fiscal 2011.


Respect dignity of victims

On the other hand, as many as 353 primary and middle school victims of bullying transferred to other schools in fiscal 2011. It is problematic that the victims ended up being driven out by the bullies.

Bullying should be reported to police without hesitation. The education ministry, for its part, has incorporated strengthened cooperation with police in the overall anti-bullying measures it compiled this month.

From an educational standpoint, school authorities still tend to take a passive stance toward cooperating with police in dealing with school bullies.

However, bullying is an illegal act that ignores the dignity of its victims. Beating and the extortion of money and goods constitute crimes.

It is vital to teach social rules during class hours so that students can understand why bullying cannot be permitted.

Related news: 2 junior high students arrested for forcibly stripping classmate (Mainichi Oct 3)

At least 3,500 bullying cases seen in Tokyo schools (The Yomiuri Shimbun)

A total of 3,535 cases of bullying were reported from April to July in Tokyo’s 2,184 public schools, according to a survey by the metropolitan board of education. The figure is 75 percent of the total number from fiscal 2011, but in only four months.

The number of suspected cases of bullying was 7,972. However, because survey methods differed among schools, some local governing bodies reported far fewer cases. The board therefore does not see the survey as an accurate reflection of the actual situation, and has asked schools to investigate each case in detail.

The survey took place in July and targeted all public schools in Tokyo–1,304 primary schools, 631 middle schools, 189 high schools and 60 schools for special-needs education. Students were asked to answer a questionnaire and interviews were conducted with parents.

By type of school, 1,864 cases of bullying were reported in primary schools, 1,588 in middle schools, 53 in high schools and 30 in special needs schools.

By municipality, the city of Kodaira had the largest number of bullying cases at primary schools at 261 cases. Itabashi Ward had 181 cases, and Nerima Ward and the city of Akishima each had 132 cases. In middle schools, Ota Ward had the most at 151 cases and Adachi Ward was second with 113 cases.

A board of education official speculated that the recent spate of highly publicized bullying cases caused previously unreported incidents to surface, which was behind the sharp jump in cases observed in the survey.


Fukushima offers free medical care for children under 18 (Japan Today, Oct. 03, 2012)
The Fukushima prefectural government this week started offering free medical care for children under 18. It is the first project of its kind in Japan and is aimed at 36,000 children living in the prefecture, health officials said.

According to a prefectural government spokesman, the project is designed to create a more supportive environment for families living in areas where the population outflow due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is significant, TBS reported. Local governments hope the free medical care will act as an incentive for families to remain.

Since last year’s nuclear disaster, almost 18,000 children under the age of 18 have been evacuated outside the prefecture, officials estimate.


Coastal areas push elevation awareness (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep. 21, 2012)

Schools and local governments near the sea are encouraging children and residents to learn the altitude of their areas, in the belief such awareness will help them evacuate to higher ground in case of tsunami.

The education board of Nyuzen, Toyama Prefecture, along the Sea of Japan, distributed an elevation map of the town at all eight of the city’s primary and middle schools in July. Areas located five meters above sea level were marked with an elevation line drawn in dark blue, while those at 10 meters or higher were drawn with a red elevation line.

The map was handed out in response to parents’ request to know the altitude of the schools’ premises.

In February 2008, the town was hit by waves up to 10 meters high, which washed over the breakwater, leaving 16 people dead or injured and 418 buildings damaged.

The disaster raised residents’ awareness of tsunami and the potential height of waves. The education board believes the map will further help people “deepen their understanding of the distance between the [nearest] area of higher ground and their home or school, as well as know possibly dangerous spots by learning anew about the town’s land features,” an official of the education board said.

At schools, children checked the altitude of their homes on the map, which is also used for evacuation drills.

In Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, students at the public Ogi Middle School drew an elevation map of the district to hand out to households near the school. The students also brought the map to shops in the area and asked them to post it on their walls.

The students drew and distributed the maps because they were concerned about the community’s lack of vigilance against tsunami despite the town’s coastal location, which the students determined through an interview-based survey. “We would like to help raise residents’ awareness [to prevent damage from] tsunami,” an official of the school said.

Meanwhile, signs displaying elevation levels have been installed at various locations in the nation.

The municipal government of Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, is planning to put elevation signs at about 400 locations, including utility poles along the coast and community halls, by the end of the year.

“We would like to heighten people’s awareness of tsunami to prompt swift evacuations,” a municipal official said.

Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, is expected to be hit by a tsunami as high as 10 meters in the event of a potential megaquake in the Nankai Trough. The prefectural government has installed elevation signs at more than 12,000 locations in its municipalities along the sea.

The municipal government of Oga, Akita Prefecture, has placed such signs not only on utility poles, but also on the walls of banks and convenience stores, at a total of 677 locations. The signs placed lower than 10 meters were colored in red to make them easily recognizable.

“By doing their own research, children will check for possible dangerous spots around them, which should raise their awareness of tsunami,” said Kenji Harada, an associate professor at Shizuoka University specializing in tsunami disaster prevention.

“Knowing about elevation levels in a neighborhood will also help people in the community think twice about measures to counter tsunami,” Harada said.


Pediatricians warn families against trampolines (Fox news, Sept 24, 2012)

Kids should stay off trampolines at home and at the playground, U.S. pediatricians urged Monday, saying emergency departments across the country see nearly 100,000 injuries from the bouncy mats each year.
The new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updates recommendations from 1999, which caused manufacturers to add safety features to the products in an attempt to mitigate the risks…. Read more here.

And that’s it folks …

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe