Japanese elementary pupils set melodica world record (NHK — Mar 05) for the largest number of children ( 712 pupils from 13 schools in Hamamatsu, central Japan) collectively playing melodicas, also known as keyboard harmonicas.

Quote of the day:

Despite what our accelerating culture seems to think, great work is not always done with a gun held to your head. On the contrary, good thinking often takes time. The SAT, like most standardized tests, simply gets this wrong and unfortunately, one particular type of intelligence is thereby unfairly rewarded.” — Bill, SAT is getting a redesign

Dear Readers,

In about a week’s time, most schools will be thronging with parents and students attending their sotsugyoshiki graduating ceremonies, with many busy cameras clicking away against a backdrop of sakura blossoms.

As a wrap to the schoolyear, we bring you this edition of EDU WATCH, summarizing the key news and goings-on in the educational scene in Japan… as well as elsewhere around the globe.

Here’s what’s happening on the local educational scene:

Prime Minister Abe appears to be doing something about his stated priority to stamp out bullying in schools … see A government panel on education proposes that schools enforce suspensions of bullies more strictly (Japan Times, Feb 27), and Education panel wants 3rd-party to deal with bullying, physical punishment in schools (Japan Daily Press, Feb 27) Excerpt below:

“The Education Rebuilding Implementation Council led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the government yesterday to create a third-party council that would specifically tackle bullying in schools and that would formulate guidelines that would effectively implement measures against physical punishment. This first recommendation of the panel was submitted by its chairperson, Waseda University President Kaoru Kamata, to Abe at the Prime Minister’s Office”

In the meantime, school bullying cases hit record in 2012 (Jiji Press Mar 4) with procedures having been launched in 3,988 cases to rescue victims of school bullying in 2012, up 20.6 pct from the previous year…the worst on record. (See also related: Bullying cases swamp legal bureaus (Japan Ties, Mar 2)

Bullying reports double in 2012 (Jiji Press, Feb.22) Article excerpted  below:

Police handled 260 school bullying-related cases in 2012, 2.3 times as many as the previous year, following the story of a bullying victim who committed suicide in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The number skyrocketed after the suicide attracted nationwide attention in July. Of the cases, 65 were reported in January through June and 195 were reported from July through December.

The result does not necessarily indicate an increase in bullying, but suggests the suicide in Otsu triggered an increase of bullying reports to police, the NPA said.

The total number for 2012 was the fourth-largest since records were first kept in 1984. Of the total, 122 cases were categorized as injury cases, up 65 from a year before. Assault accounted for 74 cases, up 56, and blackmail for 20 cases, up 12. …


The article Solution to bullying lies in ‘resetting’ culprits (Japan Times) excerpted below discusses some new philosophical thinking that’s underpinning a new experimental approach called “resetting” a child’s character. It has allegedly shown proven results…

“The biggest problem in Japanese education is the idea that you can eliminate bullying by reforming the system.”

That provocative statement opens an article in Shukan Gendai by the eminent Catholic novelist and conservative thinker Ayako Sono. It is provocative because the prevailing view is that bullying, not the effort to eliminate it, is the problem. Bullying, Sono maintains, is a fact of life — school life, professional life, social life. It arises in turn from another fact — that the human heart is not and never will be purely good; that evil is an ineradicable part of our nature. Her solution, imperfect but realistic, would be to strengthen individuals to cope with adversity rather than to struggle against the grain to build an adversity-free society.

The suicide in December of an Osaka high school basketball player physically abused by his coach is the latest evidence of something rotten beneath the polite and considerate surface of Japanese life. No doubt every society has its own variety of rottenness beneath, if not actually on, the surface. One point substantiating Sono’s position is that the flurry of hand-wringing and reform talk attendant on the Osaka incident will seem as repetitious and predictable to a long-term observer as will the incident itself. To go back no more than 27 years, in May 1985 a 16-year-old high school boy from Gifu Prefecture was beaten to death by his teacher while on a school trip. The boy had been using an electric hair dryer. That was against school rules. The teacher beat him as a disciplinary measure. The boy went into shock and died. There was talk then too of reform. Twenty-seven years is a long time. Maybe Sono is right. Maybe the problem is simply eternal.

Sono refers to the Osaka suicide, but in an unexpected way. She says it reminded her of something she witnessed among the Inuit. A lot of transportation in the Arctic is by dogsled. Among the dogs attached to the sled is one whose sole purpose is to be whipped. Its barking spurs the others on. Such, she says, metaphorically speaking, was the boy’s role on the basketball team. Inuit or Japanese, she implies, primitive or hyper-civilized, humans are human and the variations among them count for less than their similarities.

To what extent is the world subject to change, and to what extent must it be simply accepted as given? It’s an ancient question. Broadly speaking, Asian culture stresses acceptance, Western culture change. One Christian answer through the ages has been that only divine grace can change sinful human nature. Sono writes, “Humans, unlike animals, can exercise self-control through reason. The training to do so is called education.”

But is education — especially mass, standardized, career-oriented education — always sufficient? Bullying is not the only evidence that many children are going astray. Some children turn violent and destructive at home. Others experience eating disorders. Hikikomori — complete withdrawal from society — is widespread; so is the condition known as NEET — not in education, employment or training; doing nothing, in short. Sono’s “strength to cope” and “self-control through reason” are obviously not universal. She rejects the notion of systemic failure, but the evidence of failure at some level is hard to ignore.

The weekly Shukan Post raises an issue it calls “resetting children’s characters.” Conscientious parents of growing children are beset by doubts at the best of times. At worst, the doubts turn to anguish: “I was a bad parent, I did it all wrong, if only I could raise my child over again!”

You actually can, claim some specialists.

The expert Shukan Post speaks to is Aichi Gakusen University early childhood education specialist Harutaka Kadota. From infancy to age 9, he explains, is “the period of direct experience” — youngsters soak up whatever happens to them without much brooding over what it all means. This is when they learn — or fail to learn — to trust the adult world. It depends on the unconditional love and attention received from parents and teachers. Failure here — sometimes the parents’ fault, sometimes society’s, sometimes nobody’s — can warp the adolescent character-building that follows.

That’s where “resetting” comes in.

Kadota cites a boy who’d been a “quiet type” until his final year of junior high school, when suddenly he began physically attacking his mother and kicking in the walls at home. What had gone wrong? What could be done? Kadota’s advice: “Never mind that he’s 15; treat him like a 1-year-old; indulge him, make excuses for him.” To his violent outbursts his mother would respond, “You’re doing this because there’s something you don’t like, is that it? Go ahead, just do as you please.” The effect was dramatic; within a week the boy calmed down and “began trying to put his feelings into words.” Pity the story doesn’t tell us what those feelings were.” — End of excerpt. Read more here.

An even more spectacular illustration is the famous case of “Youth A,” who at age 14 in Kobe in 1994 killed and beheaded a 10-year-old. Sentenced non-punitively to rehabilitation because of his age, he was given treatment that included a “counterfeit family” — the head of the treatment institution was “grandpa,” a male psychiatrist was “dad,” a female psychiatrist was “mom.” This “family,” in effect, reared him all over again, from infancy on, with results considered successful enough to allow his release into society under a totally new identity.”

PM Abe’s gov. began to focus on educational reforms starting in January, see Abe brings back education reform panel from 2006 (KYODO, Jan 25) Excerpts of his gov.’s discussions on education reform below:

“To re-create a strong Japan, it is essential to revive the education of the children who will be responsible for the country’s future,” Abe said during the first meeting of a 15-member panel on education reform. “The revival of education is a top priority, just as much as economic revival.”

The meeting marked the restart of the Education Rebuilding Council, which was created in 2006 under the first Abe administration. The panel will meet twice a month.

During his previous stint, Abe, known as an advocate of education reform, engineered changes to the Basic Act on Education, putting more emphasis on instilling a sense of patriotism in students.

The panel, consisting of scholars, business leaders and education-related Cabinet members, discussed measures to prevent school bullying, among other issues, at its first meeting.

Based on the panel’s discussions, the government and the ruling parties will aim to enact legislation to deal with bullying during the next Diet session.

The panel will also seek to reform boards of education across Japan after the Osaka board drew criticism recently for its slow response to a case in which a high school basketball captain committed suicide as a result of being beaten by his coach.

The council is tasked with recommending whether to change the nation’s 6-3-3-4 education system as well, which refers to six years in elementary school, three in junior high school, three in high school and four in college.

Japan Times reported that University of Tokyo maintains reputation as top institution in Asia: survey (Mar 6, 2013), according to a study released Tuesday, but the editor of the study said Japan is slipping in relative academic prominence and some action is needed to fight competition. The institution came in ninth in this year’s Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings (slipping one place from 2012), an annual survey of academic opinion, beaten only by American and British universities. The University of Tokyo’s nearest rival in Asia was the National University of Singapore, which climbed one place to 22nd. Most of the East Asian universities in the top 100 improved their ranking on 2012. Other Japanese universities that made it into the top 100 were: Kyoto University (23rd, down three places from 2012), Osaka University, (ranked between 51st and 60th, no change), Tohoku University and Tokyo Institute of Technology, (ranked in the 61st to 70th group, down from last year’s rankings, which put them in a cluster between 51st and 60th.

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings, was quoted saying,

“The country’s government has acknowledged that Japan step up its efforts to attract more overseas academics and students and internationalize its research, but the latest ranking shows that more needs to be done.

Japan’s showing in the reputation rankings is much better than its record in the overall World University Rankings, (coming 27th in 2012) based on 13 largely objective indicators, so there is a concern that the country has for too long been resting on its laurels and historical reputation. Strong action is needed to protect Japan from falling behind Asian rivals.”

Parents sent college students less money in 2012  (Yomiuri Feb 16) …  according to a nationwide survey on student living conditions conducted in October and November at 30 public and private universities, falling in 2012 for the sixth straight year.  The Yomiuri reported that “Results showed that 4,256 students living away from home–excluding those who live in dormitories–received an average of 69,610 yen per month from their parents, down 170 yen from last year. About 10 percent of the students said they did not receive any money from their parents”. 

Read Louise George Kittaka’s balanced look at an ever current issue for parents in Japan: Juku: an unnecessary evil or vital steppingstone to success? (Mar 5, 2013 Japan Times) 

Parents ‘turn stricter eyes’ on middle schools (Yomiuri, February 9)

Private middle schools are taken drastic reform measures, including shifting to more intensive studies aimed at getting into high school, to attract students.  The 220 private middle schools in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture that began their entrance examinations Feb. 1 showed fewer exam takers than last year. 
“According to a cram school chain, the number of entrance exam takers at private middle schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area has been declining since last year. This is apparently due to the nation’s economic slump and because the reputation of public middle schools has improved due to the government’s move away from a cram-free education policy.
In the other hand, the cram school chain said the number of exam takers has been rising at highly competitive schools, schools affiliated with universities and so-called renewal schools….”
More than 150 Japanese companies turned up at a Job fair held for international students studying in Japan (NHKMar 03) the largest turnout since the fair, organized by a vocational school association, began 7 years ago. Watch video newsclip here.

Gov. eyes tuition aid increase (Mar 4, Yomiuri)

The government is considering increasing financial aid to low-income families with children attending private high schools to cover their tuition. MEXT is to set a household income ceiling to ensure it can obtain the necessary fiscal resources by reviewing the current tuition aid program for high schools, and the ministry plans to decide on the details of the program by summer when it makes a budgetary request for fiscal 2014. …

Tuition-free education plan eyed (Yomiuri, Feb. 19, 2013)

The government will establish a panel to study a plan to eliminate tuition fees for children aged 3 to 5 in a bid to improve preschool education and stem the declining birthrate by easing the burdens of child-rearing households, according to sources.

The government aims to flesh out the details of the plan before the House of Councillors election this summer, and implement the new system from as early as fiscal 2014. …

The panel will be led by three Cabinet ministers–Mori, education minister Hakubun Shimomura and welfare minister Norihisa Tamura….

A rough “preschool education outline” will be compiled by around June, the sources said.

Among the facilities the panel will consider making tuition-free are kindergartens, day care centers and so-called authorized kodomo-en facilities, a hybrid between kindergarten and day care.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has estimated about 790 billion yen would be needed annually to finance the measure.

While the consumption tax rate is scheduled to be raised to 10 percent in October 2015, increased tax revenues will be unavailable for the tuition-free plan. The government therefore needs to allocate other funding for the plan when compiling the fiscal 2014 budget or later.

Some within the ruling parties have proposed a plan to gradually introduce tuition-free preschool education by first targeting 5-year-olds. Other lawmakers have suggested reviewing the way increased tax revenues from the planned consumption hike would be utilized.

However, such a review would likely be met with opposition from the Democratic Party of Japan and groups of day care facility operators, among others. As a result, observers say the government will likely have a hard time securing the necessary funds to implement the plan. …

According to the Mar 4 Japan Today report Identity of Osaka elementary school bandit discovered , they’ve finally nabbed the thief who had been stolen up to 235,000 yen in 16 different incidents, from the wallets of teachers who had been working at the Nozato Elementary School in Osaka City … it was the vice principal!

98 windows smashed, staff room flooded at Odawara school (Japan Today, Feb 24) Police said they were alerted by an alarm just after 4 a.m. at Johoku Junior High School. TBS reported that police found 98 window panes smashed. A hose had been placed through a hole in the window of the staff room and left turned on.

Saga colleges to train development disorder experts (Japan Times, Feb 7)

Five colleges in Saga Prefecture will introduce a joint program in April to educate nursery teachers about developmental disorders to support such children at an early stage … Those who earn the required number of credits for courses, including child health, support for children’s families and practical work, will be designated as “teachers to support child development” and will be expected to lead approaches to the issue.

Turning the page on history books (KYODO via Japan Times, Jan 29)

“Ministry to discuss revising guideline giving ‘special consideration’ to invaded Asian neighbors

Publishers of school textbooks may one day no longer have to give so-called special consideration to neighboring parts of Asia when describing historical events.

The education ministry will start discussing revising this guideline, which publishers of textbooks used from elementary to high school must follow, sources close to the ministry said.

Stricter vetting of social studies textbooks began in 1982 after China and South Korea objected strongly to Japanese high school history textbooks the previous year that began referring to Japan’s past “invasions” in Asia as “advancements.”

To counter anticipated criticism of the revision by the two countries, both of which Japan occupied, the scope of “giving consideration” may be expanded from Asian neighbors to the “global community,” according to the sources.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is expected to start a detailed study of the issue, the sources said.

Many Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers believe the current guidelines result in “masochistic” or “self-condemning” views of history in textbooks.

During the campaign for the general election in December, the LDP pledged to revise the guidelines so students can use textbooks that “allow them to be proud of traditional culture.”

Although education minister Hirofumi Shimomura has said it is “not a subject that we should work on immediately,” officials at the ministry say discussions on the possible revision could start soon after the Upper House election in July, in time for the fiscal 2014 textbook screening.

Even after the 1982 guideline, China and South Korea repeatedly criticized the wording of some history textbooks in the screening process, claiming they were glorifying past aggression. In 2001, a junior high school textbook written by a group of Japanese nationalists invited strong criticism from the two countries.”

Assemblyman’s rebuke of moms seeking day care draws outrage …

Here’s a useful educational video for the classroom to get students thinking: A War Between China and Japan: What It Could Cost You .. in view of the recent escalation in the Japan-China conflict over the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands issue may be accessed by clicking on the link below:

Created by: OnlineMBA.com

On the impact of N. Korean nuclear tests, find out what happens when support for Korean schools in Japan is withdrawn here.

Entrance exam tutors go digital / Cash-strapped university hopefuls flock to free online lecture service (Yomiuri Feb 27)
Good news for university hopefuls who cannot afford prep schools: A popular website is now offering free video lectures given by successful entrants of prestigious universities.  The site, “manavee,” was launched two years ago by a University of Tokyo student to support those who may not be able to attend cram or prep schools for financial or other reasons. Currently, about 170 students from 15 universities nationwide are participating in the initiative to help teach over 10,000 users. Student teachers film their lectures using their own video cameras and upload them onto the website as a free learning service.

American teacher’s spin on Japan’s racism riles Internet nationalists (Washington Post via Japan Times)


Spotlighting educational issues elsewhere in the world:

BBC news reported that East Asia universities ‘gain ground’ in world rankings (Mar 4) that universities in East Asia have gained ground on western institutions in the latest university reputation rankings, East Asian institutions were quietly gaining ground although the table was dominated by western universities. The University of Tokyo is now in ninth place, Japan has five institutions in the top 100, Singapore and Hong Kong three each, China and Korea two each and Taiwan one. Cambridge came third and Oxford fourth in the rankings, behind Harvard in first place and Massachusetts Institute of Technology  in second. Oxford and Cambridge remain in “an elite top six of Anglo-American super-brands”, according to Times Higher Education magazine’s 2013 rankings. The report noted that “three UK universities have fallen out of the top 100 since 2011” and that some “UK institutions are losing stature”, urging that to stay competitive, there was a need to increase university funding with a view to “protecting the research budget, making UK research more accessible and delivering a better student experience.” Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, was quoted saying: “It is unlikely that recent negative headlines around the world about the UK threatening to deport students, coupled with changes to how students are classified for migration figures, will have done much to enhance our reputation on the international stage.

According to The Economist article, “Democracy in America: The freedom to teach” producing more creative and innovative teaching requires improving teaching as a profession … read on

In FEATURE: Tsunami images displayed at U.N.’s “Journeys to School” exhibit (Kyodo, Mar 6) Called “Journeys to School”, an ongoing photo exhibit at U.N. headquarters that runs through March 26 features photos of children on their way to school, including students in the coastal city of Higashimatsushima, where most schools were destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan two years ago. The photos show how a natural disaster can really affect the way children go to school even in a country where things are pretty well organized as well as other challenges brought on by natural disasters, conflicts, extreme poverty or discrimination that the students have to overcome.

SAT is getting a redesign (NY Times Feb 28, 2013) Excerpted below:

The College Board is planning to redesign the SAT, less than a decade since its last revision, which introduced a writing section, eliminated analogies and raised the value of a perfect score.

It’s too early to tell how or when the SAT will change, said Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, which administers the exam. But David Coleman, the College Board’s new president, has criticized the SAT before, in part for the vocabulary words on the exam and for failing to provide source material to analyze and cite in the written portion that requires students to construct an argument.

Mr. Coleman did not address those issues in a letter to College Board members this week, but he did identify some broad goals for the redesign.

“We will develop an assessment that mirrors the work that students will do in college so that they will practice the work they need to do to complete college,” Mr. Coleman wrote. “An improved SAT will strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills that evidence shows are most important to prepare students for the rigors of college and career.”

Mr. Coleman, who became president of the College Board last October after having served as an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards, praised the SAT for being “aligned to the Common Core as well as or better than any assessment that has been developed for college admission and placement.”

He called the SAT “the best standardized measure of college and career readiness currently available” but added that “the College Board has a responsibility to the millions of students we serve each year to ensure that our programs are continuously evaluated and enhanced, and most importantly respond to the emerging needs of those we serve.

Some education professionals interpreted the announcement as the College Board’s response to increased competition with the ACT, Inside Higher Ed reported.”

See related article: Getting In Without the SAT (NY Times Blog, Mar 1) shows students two alternatives to relying on SAT scores: “you can withhold your scores from test-optional institutions, or you can apply exclusively to schools on this growing list, dropping out of the testing process entirely”…  Read more here.

NY Times reported that the reopening of the newly refurbished and expanded Yale University Art Gallery with its added fourth-four gallery at a cost of $135 million is now where Classroom Meets Gallery (NY Times, Feb 1), allowing Yale professors to choose pieces from Yale’s vast collection “to serve as teaching tools. The unorthodox space, open to the public as well as students, serves as a potent visual metaphor for what is happening throughout the institution, the nation’s oldest university art museum, and in a broader movement to embed campus art collections much more deeply into university curriculums.”

A $1 million bet on students without teachers (CNN)

“What if everything you thought you knew about education was wrong?

What if students learn more quickly on their own, working in teams, than in a classroom with a teacher?

What if tests and discipline get in the way of the learning process rather than accelerate it?

Those are the questions Sugata Mitra has been asking since the late 1990s, and for which he was awarded the $1 million TED Prize on Tuesday, the first day of the TED 2013 conference….

Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, won the prize for his concept of “self organizing learning environments,” an alternative to traditional schooling that relies on empowering students to work together on computers with broadband access to solve their own problems, with adults intervening to provide encouragement and admiration, rather than top-down instruction…

He [Mitra] argues that today’s world needs a new system in which the role of computers in aiding learning is paramount.

To help speed learning, Mitra has recruited hundreds of “grannies,” volunteers from the United Kingdom, many of them retired teachers, who function more in the role of “grandparents” than teachers, skypeing into learning environments around the world, encouraging students to do their best and praising their achievements….

With the TED Prize money, Mitra intends to build a laboratory, most likely in India, where he can test his theories through experiments that supplement schoolwork. He likens it to a “safe cybercafe for children” where they can strengthen their English skills, which can be a route to economic advancement.

Mitra said he doesn’t think teachers are obsolete but suggests their roles may be changing as students increasingly have access to self-learning through computers. And he argues that his self-organized teams may be an alternative to regular schools in places where teachers may not be available. …”

‘Dokdo’ island classes to become mandatory for S Korean children (Japan Today, Feb 27) Article excerpt below:

“Beginning this year, all schools will be required to provide a minimum of 10 hours of classes annually on “the importance of Dokdo”, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

The South Korea-controlled islets in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) are known as Takeshima in Japan and are the subject of a bitter and decades-old territorial dispute…

The education ministry said the new Dokdo classes were aimed at countering what it sees as a growing disinformation campaign by Tokyo.

“Some schools have already offered such Dokdo-related classes, but we viewed it necessary to set specific hours,” the spokesman said.

On Thursday, a state-funded education center, known as the “Dokdo School” will be officially dedicated in the midwestern city of Cheonan, providing families and schoolchildren with historical background on the islets…

The territorial row deepened last year following a surprise visit by then South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak to the island chain.”

Another historical link to visit:  Analects: Let’s not forget  Re-examining the cultural Revolution (The Economist, Mar 7)

Daniel Wong in Is it a terrible mistake to send your children for tuition classes? (Yahoo! news, Feb 28) addresses the fears that lead parents to send children to tuition classes and suggests antidotes and alternatives to a life that over-emphasizes academics…

Having shut most same-sex schools after the Communist Party came to power in 1949, China’s only all-boys junior high schools in the country are now privately run. Now Shanghai tries out all-boys classes as girls leap forward (Japan Times, Feb 27)

“SHANGHAI – Teenage boys in a Shanghai school are on the front line of teaching reform after the world’s top-scoring education system introduced male-only classes over worries they are lagging behind girls.

Rows of white-shirted boys are put through their paces as they are called up individually to complete a chemical formula by teacher Shen Huimin, who hopes that a switch to male-only classes will help them overcome their reticence. …

The Shanghai school system topped the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) worldwide assessment tests of 15-year-olds in 2009, the most recent available, ahead of South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore.

But even so officials are concerned that some male students may be slower than their female counterparts in development and certain academic areas, such as language, and the shift toward single-sex classes aims to boost boys’ confidence.

A prominent Chinese educator, Sun Yunxiao, found the proportion of boys classed among the top scholars in the country’s “gaokao” university entrance exams plunged from 66.2 percent to 39.7 percent between 1999 and 2008. …

Shanghai’s elite No. 8 High School is halfway through the initial year of an experiment, putting 60 boys into two classes of their own — a quarter of its first-year students — and teaching them with a special curriculum.

“This is a big breakthrough,” said school principal Lu Qi- sheng. “There’s lots of hope — hope that boys will grow up better.

“Boys when they are young do not spend enough time studying,” he explained. “Boys’ maturity, especially for language and showing self-control, lags behind girls.”…

The scheme was launched after China’s government called for more “diversification” in educational choices within the state system….

A Peking University professor has called for an even bolder reform, suggesting in September that boys should start school one or two years later than girls.”

Number of homeschoolers growing nationwide (Educationnews.org) Researchers are expecting a surge in the number of students educated at home by their parents over…Read more here

Next up, we take a look at educational issues brewing in the UK:

The school with 20 spoken languages (Guardian, Feb 28) Not one pupil at Gladstone primary in Peterborough speaks English as a first language. But, despite the challenges, it has received a glowing Ofsted report. This is a good story about multiculturalism and bilingualism from the UK … about “the 450-pupil school has made the national news. Gladstone Primary is believed to be the only school in the country where none of its children speak English as their first language. This fact fascinates and repels media commentators. “If you wonder what’s gone wrong with Britain look no further than Gladstone Primary School, Peterborough, where not one pupil speaks English as a first language,” thundered Peter Hill in The Express, without actually explaining why. Is Gladstone Primary a vision of a dystopian future or a triumph of multiculturalism? And what is it like to be a pupil and a teacher there?…Where does a school begin when faced with so many foreign languages? … “Bilingualism isn’t a learning difficulty. A positive view of the bilingual child is the key…”

Guardian takes a look at The Oxford race gap: exploring the data (Guardian, 26 Feb 2013)

“New findings published in the Guardian reveal that 25.7% of white applicants received an offer to attend Oxford, versus 17.2% of students from ethnic minorities in 2010/11. …

White students were more than twice as likely to receive an offer to study medicine than those from ethnic minorities. The effect persisted for the most able students: 43% of white students who went on to receive three or more A* grades at A-level got offers, compared with just 22.1% of minority students.

For economics and management, the university’s most competitive course, 19.1% of white applicants received offers, compared with 9.3% for ethnic minorities. Among the most able, these success rates increased to 44.4% and 29.5% respectively….

The overall application gaps between different ethnic groups are stark, whether for all applicants or even just for those who go on to get the top grades (A*A*A* or better at A-level)…

More than half of white students achieving three A*s at A level and applying to Oxford in 2010 and 2011 were awarded a place, compared to one in three Chinese or Asian students, and less than one in four black applicants. These ethnic disparities were higher than those between all applicants regardless of grade …”

In her blog post, We’re so well educated – but we’re useless (Guardian Blog, Feb 25) Leonie Veerman lampoons her generation for being internet-savvy but hopelessly bankrupt in terms of life skills…  somewhat in the same vein, we have Mari-Jane Willia’s articleshe urges that beyond skills in academic area, we

Teach your teens basic life skills.

Eton headmaster Tony Little: ‘I don’t feel defensive about what we do’  Feb 2013:

Eton College is a school that occupies a very particular place in the country’s psychology – and its influence is spreading. Is this where Michael Gove is getting his education idea …

Why Gove’s type of education is not the way forward (Guardian, Feb 25) “There is plenty of rigour in education already – even in arts and humanities. We don’t need to go back to the past to find it” … writes Estelle Morris

The creative curriculum is alive and kicking in primary schools, but it is in danger of being dead and buried in secondary education, says Adam Webster…

English Students Lag International Peers by Nearly 2 Years (Educationnews.org, Feb 26) Not even the brightest students in England are performing as well in academics as their similarly talented peers in the Far East, according to a study from the University of London’s Institute of Education. Although at age 10 the academic outcomes are similar, as children get older England begins to lose ground, with the gap widening to as much as 2 years by the time they turn 16.

I’m setting up a free school – and I know the system isn’t working with implications we can’t control, Toby Blume tells us why leaving things to market forces won’t work… in a Guardian commentary (excerpted below):

“Leaving things to the market clearly won’t work. In fact I’m deeply uncomfortable about even describing education as a market: it’s children’s education we’re talking about. But neither do I believe that the alternative is to call for a return to a post-1945 model. Rather than rejecting outright the idea of free schools, I would encourage consideration of how the policy can be adapted to deliver the education provision we want.

Two things need to happen if free schools are to become a force for social good. First, the government needs to play a more directive role in determining where the current provision is inadequate. Support could be targeted at areas that are currently poorly served – not just by the quality of provision, but also the type of provision. Outstanding selective schools that take just a tiny proportion of local children, or high-performing single-sex schools offer no choice for parents.

Second, we need to support parents and local communities in areas that are poorly served by current schools, to believe that there is an alternative and then help them to realise their ambitions. This will require educational experts and community development practitioners to work together to encourage local parents to develop their own solutions to the problems they face and bring these ambitions to fruition. Until those two things happen, it’s my belief that we will see increasing evidence of market failure accompanying state failure in our education system …”

More article links on reforms to UK education:

Computing in schools: teaching the next generation of computer scientists (Guardian, Feb 13) and the related Computer science added to English Baccalaureate: ICT teachers react

Not even the brightest students in England are performing as well in academics as their similarly… according to this Telegraph article English Students Lag International Peers by Nearly 2 Years

Online Learning May Not Help Those Who Need Help Most (Educationnews.org)

A study by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University finds that students perform worse in online courses than they do in traditional ones. This is one of the first comprehensive research efforts aimed at figuring out how such courses compare to the ones taught. The authors looked at the results of more than 40,000 students and their results in nearly 500,000 courses and found that those enrolled in online courses were more likely to drop out or fail compared to their peers taking classes face-to-face with the instructor. The likelihood of failure was also determined to be inconsistent across all subjects and across groups studied, such as for humanities, like English and Social Studies (which the article surmised required peer support). Males, Black students, younger kids and those who already had lower grade-point-average had the widest gap between their performance in online courses and those taught in a typical classroom.  Read the article here

Study: College Students Resist Idea of Switching to E-Books (educationnews.org, Feb 25)  The march towards the total replacement of traditional textbooks with e-book counterparts has hit a snag in the form of a new study released by researchers from Canada’s Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The findings show that students think that they learn better from traditional texts and would feel that their studies would suffer if they were forced to make the switch to electronic versions…

UK Study: Parents, not teachers, key to education (educationnews.org, Mar 27): A new study finds that pupil attainment and ability is affected five times more by parental… Read more  


Spotlight on books:

Read Japan Times review of the Law reference title: The Compendium of Basic Laws of Japan, by Ted Toku Morita

The Art of Changing the Brain by James E. Zull (2002, Stylus Publishing), it is subtitled “Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of the Brain” (Read this review by Rebecca Reid)

 I found an article by James Zull himself “The Art of Changing the Brain” http://www.dekampanje.org/NL/Artikelen/includes/el200409_zull.pdf where he informs us of his teaching practices, and I found the sections “Don’t Explain” and “Build on Errors” to be very helpful, especially where he shows us how he practises it in the classroom.


On kids’ health, growth, safety and parenting matters:

Rubella at 5-yr-high … health ministry calling for the families of pregnant women to request rubella vaccinations a.s.a.p.

Cesium levels still exceed standards in wild mushrooms, seafood, game (AJW, Mar 6)

Nearly a year after the government set tougher safety standards for radioactive materials in food and drink, roughly 2,000 samples–mostly from wild mushrooms, seafood and game–were found to exceed the new limit.

Most of the food products showing cesium levels higher than the safety standards were not for commercial distribution and were collected only for the test.

Marine products such as flatfish, boar and other wild meat and mushrooms accounted for 80 percent of the contaminated items seen in tests from April 2012 to January 2013. The vegetables that exceeded the standards were mostly gathered from the wild.

All drinking water, infant formula and baby milk tested showed lower cesium levels than the standards.

Under the standards that took effect on April 1, 2012, the limit for general food items is 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The limit for milk and infant formula is 50 becquerels per kilogram. The new standards are much tougher than the tentative ones decided on immediately after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.

“After a round of the seasons with the new standards, we have gone through almost all of the food items that could contain radioactivity,” a health ministry official said.

Experts say radiation levels will be affected for a long time. Cesium 137, for instance, has a half-life of 30 years, and radioactive contamination in mountainous areas can reach seawater through river flow.

Yasuyuki Muramatsu, a chemistry professor at Gakushuin University who has been studying the radioactive content in mushrooms, said some types of fungi may absorb higher radioactivity levels.

“It depends upon the variety,” he said. “But wild mushrooms need to be tested for at least 10 years.”

Muramatsu has tested wild mushrooms growing in Fukushima Prefecture.

He said there was no sign of cesium levels having decreased in the second year after the accident.

While cesium has no longer been detected in rivers and seawater, it can cling to organic substances such as clay and fallen leaves.

“Bottom fish, which consume marine organisms that eat accumulated leaves in the sea bottom, are likely to remain contaminated,” said Tatsuo Aono, an expert in marine radioecology at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the central and local governments carried out about 230,000 tests for cesium between April 2012 and January 2013.

Of those tests, about 2,000, or 0.9 percent, had cesium levels that exceeded government standards. Cesium levels are diminishing, the ministry said.

Fifty-five percent of the samples with higher cesium levels were detected in Fukushima Prefecture, while Iwate, Tochigi, Miyagi, Ibaraki and Gunma prefectures each had more than 100 samples that exceeded the government limit.

The central government asked 17 prefectural governments mainly in eastern Japan to test food and drink for cesium. When high levels are detected in a food item, its distribution is stopped either voluntarily by the producer or by a government ban.

While the government focused its testing on foods and areas that showed high levels of radioactivity in the past, the results painted a different picture.

More than 60 percent of the food samples tested were beef, as radioactive cesium had been detected in cows that were fed rice straw immediately following the Fukushima No. 1 accident. But none of the roughly 17,000 tests conducted on beef in January exceeded the government limit.

On the other hand, only 1,493 commercially distributed food items, including vegetables and fruits, were tested. Of those, only one item, dried mushrooms, were found to have had radioactive levels exceeding the government standards.

While the risk of radiation-contaminated food escaping the tests and appearing on store shelves has been sharply reduced, it is still not zero.

Since April 2012, the government has introduced new shipping bans on more than 130 food items in 14 prefectures.

On the other hand, shipping bans on many other items have been lifted after their radiation levels dropped below the government standards.

The government plans to review food items to be tested from fiscal 2013, which starts in April.

(This article was written by Senior Staff Writer Fumikazu Asai and Akiyoshi Abe.)


Related news: New way to remove cesium from rice fields (Yomiuri, Feb.23)

A team of researchers has announced positive results with an experimental new method using clay to remove radioactive cesium from rice paddies, without scraping off surface soil…but as the method involves draining the paddy water and separating the clay from the soil (and thereby the nutrients), the resultant yield was also lower.

WHO says only slightly higher cancer risk for Fukushima residents

A global team of experts says residents zapped by the most radiation from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns face an increased cancer risk so small it probably won’t be detectable.
LONDON – Two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, an international team of experts said Thursday that residents of areas hit by the highest doses of radiation face an increased cancer risk so small it probably won’t be detectable.

In fact, experts calculated the increase at about 1 extra percentage point added to a Japanese infant’s lifetime cancer risk.

“The additional risk is quite small and will probably be hidden by the noise of other (cancer) risks like people’s lifestyle choices and statistical fluctuations,” said Richard Wakeford of the University of Manchester, one of the authors of the report. “It’s more important not to start smoking than having been in Fukushima.”

The report was issued by the World Health Organization, which asked scientists to study the health effects of the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.

The most exposed populations were directly under the plumes of radiation after three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant suffered meltdown and spewed radiation into the surrounding air, soil and water.

In the report, the highest increases in risk are for people exposed as babies to radiation in the most heavily affected areas. Normally in Japan, the lifetime risk of developing cancer of an organ is about 41 percent for men and 29 percent for women.

The new report says that for infants in the most heavily exposed areas, the radiation from the nuclear plant would add about 1 percentage point to those numbers.

Experts had been particularly worried about a spike in thyroid cancer, because radioactive iodine released in nuclear accidents is absorbed by the thyroid, especially in children. After the Chernobyl disaster, about 6,000 children exposed to radiation later developed thyroid cancer because many drank contaminated milk after the accident.

After Fukushima, dairy radiation levels were closely monitored, but children in Japan generally are not big milk drinkers.

The WHO report estimates that women exposed as infants to the most radiation after the Fukushima accident would have a 70 percent higher chance of getting thyroid cancer in their lifetimes. But thyroid cancer is extremely rare and one of the most treatable cancers when caught early. A woman’s normal lifetime risk of developing it is about 0.75 percent. That number would rise by 0.5 under the calculated increase for women who got the highest radiation doses as infants.

Wakeford said the increase may be so small it will probably not be observable.

For people beyond the most directly affected areas of Fukushima, Wakeford said the projected cancer risk from the radiation dropped dramatically. “The risks to everyone else were just infinitesimal.”

David Brenner of Columbia University in New York, an expert on radiation-induced cancers, said that although the risk to individuals is tiny outside the most contaminated areas, some cancers might still result, at least in theory. But they’d be too rare to be detectable in overall cancer rates, he said.

Brenner said the numerical risk estimates in the WHO report were not surprising. He also said they should be considered imprecise because of the difficulty in determining risk from low doses of radiation. He was not connected with the WHO report. …”

High radiation in fish caught off No. 1 plant (KYODO, Mar 2)

“A greenling caught in the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s small harbor contained 510,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, 5,100 times above the state-set safety limit, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

If someone were to eat 1 kg of fish with this level, they would be exposed to about 7.7 millisieverts of internal radiation. Also caught during efforts by Tepco to rid the harbor of all fish was a spotbelly rockfish containing 277,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. …

The highest level of radioactive cesium found in fish had been 254,000 becquerels per kilogram, also in a spotbelly rockfish caught in the harbor …” Read more here

Radiation levels fall 40 pct in 80 km of Fukushima Plant last year Article excerpt below:

“Tokyo, March 1 (Jiji Press)–Radiation levels in areas within 80 kilometers of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant fell about 40 pct last year, according to aircraft monitoring data released by the science ministry on Friday.
The decrease was much sharper than the expected annual fall of about 21 pct from natural radioactive decay of cesium-134 and cesium-137, due possibly to the effects of rain and other factors, the ministry said.
The recent aircraft survey was conducted in the 80-kilometer-radius zone from last October through November.”
Watch this BBC documentary ‘Inside the Meltdown‘ which recently won the best international current affairs documentary at the RTS Television Journalism Awards.
How do you view yourself as an educator? That’s right. You are an educator, even if your classroom is your living room or your kitchen. I was a public school teacher for five years, and I considered myself an educator. Now I am an educator of my own children in our home. I just happen to be Mom, too! My most important and precious role is as Mom, but I do enjoy teaching and learning with my children, too. … read more in “Facilitator of Learning.

Child porn cases up 10% in ’12 / Record-high 1,596 cases found due to increased awareness, efforts (Yomiuri, Mar.8)

Student program with China cut due to smog (Yomiuri, Feb.23).  The Awara municipal government in Fukui Prefecture decided to cancel an annual exchange program for middle and high school students with its Chinese sister city due to strong parental concerns over the potential health hazard caused by the PM2.5 pollutant problem in China.

Eighteen middle and high school students were scheduled to visit a middle school in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, for six days from March 13.

However, the Awara municipal government decided to skip the event  city officials said.

Some topics of interest by the BBC:

Babies ‘hear syllables’ in womb

Many parents can’t help but try to shape their children’s taste in music. But is it an effort doomed to failure, or worse, will it make children hate the music their parents love, and love the music their parents hate?

Katherine Lee has a few pointers on Table Manners for Kids

Distracted smartphone ‘addicts’ at greater risk of mishaps (Japan Today, Feb 24) Article excerpt below:

“…  such public nuisances appear to be on the increase.

Katsumi Tokuda, a professor at Tsukuba University medical school, conducted a survey of 300 people in January. The survey compiled cases in which the respondents said they had experienced collisions with smartphone users on station platforms or steps.

One of the most frequent type, so-called “mixed accidents,” involve people who utilize more than one device simultaneously, such as those who listen to iPods while operating their smartphones, while crossing the street against the traffic light.

“Smartphones can handle larger amounts of data than do regular cell phones, so users devote more time to looking at them, and use them for longer durations,” observes Tokuda. “Users will suddenly stop whatever they’re doing while operating. Under such circumstances, it’s natural for collisions to occur.”

Tokuda’s survey found that phone owners used their devices to access visual data 83% of the time, as opposed to 11% for voice communications.

“Visually handicapped people tend to compensate by becoming more sensitive to sounds,” observes Takao Yanagihara, a lecturer at Kinki University Faculty of Engineering. “But people with normal vision who gaze at their smart phones while walking are not receptive to sounds. And by simply screening out visual data, it’s extremely dangerous.”

To be clear, the article is not referring to people who glance at their phone screen to check arrival of incoming mails, but those who feel the urge to access them constantly—whether walking or cycling or even, yes, driving their cars.

“Many smartphone addicts are actually SNS addicts,” says Kobayashi. An Internet survey of 556 people between the ages of 25 to 59 conducted last summer by Mobile Marketing Data Labo found that about 40% of respondents said they periodically accessed an SNS via their smartphones. Broken down by age segment, it’s apparent that usage by younger people is particularly heavy: 52.7% in their 20s and 42.2% in their 30s gave positive replies, as opposed to 37.8% in their 40s and 26.5% in their 50s.”…

Parents if you want to boost your child’s writing skills, you might find this service useful: Online Writing Enrichment Classes for Homeschoolers — San Diego Scribblers now offers online classes for students everywhere– visit their website www.sandiegoscribblers.com and click on Online Classes


Last but not least, just because it’s cool to pass the following along…

Hideki Watanabe, a 45-year-old dentist from Tobe invents a Self-stirring saucepan that has foodies in a spin

Soba noodles spin in a whirlpool induced by the self-stirring pot. (Daisuke Hatano)

Microsoft unveils self-sketching whiteboard prototype (BBC news, technology), an interactive whiteboard that aims to interpret users’ sketches to complete the diagrams they were drawing.

Kagoshima’s 1st Japanese ceratopsian fossil found (Yomiuri, Feb.27)

KAGOSHIMA–The Satsumasendai municipal board of education in Kagoshima Prefecture has announced the discovery of the fossilized tooth of a ceratopsian dinosaur in an 80-million-year-old stratum on Shimokoshiki Island.

Ceratopsians were a group of plant-eating, horned dinosaurs that originated in East Asia in the early Cretaceous period. They migrated to North America, where they flourished in the late Cretaceous period.

According to the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, there had been a previous discovery of neoceratops, a more primitive dinosaur, in Hyogo Prefecture. This is the second discovery of fossils belonging to horned dinosaurs and the first discovery of a ceratopsian fossil in the country. There have only been two other discoveries of ceratops fossils in Asia, in China and Uzbekistan. This finding will be reported at a meeting of the Paleontological Society of Japan in Kumamoto Prefecture in June.

The tooth fossil constitutes a joint of a dental root measuring 12.1 millimeters long, 8.6 millimeters high and 3.7 millimeters thick. It was discovered during a survey conducted by the board of education in November 2011.

As ceratopsians were believed to bite off vegetation using their mouth like a pair of scissors, they were the only dinosaurs to have two dental roots. The discovery’s shape helped its identification as pertaining to ceratopsians. In particular, it nearly matched triceratops fossils, which have been discovered mainly in North America. Experts judged the length of the dinosaur’s body to be two to three meters or more, based on the size of the dental root.

That’s all folks till the next schoolyear, enjoy your springbreak!

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe