Hi to all our regular readers of EDU WATCH,

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be one of the most decisive leaders Japan has had in a long while, moving forward on a number of reforms and measures, with particularly visible action on the education front.

In this edition, we cover the key policy reforms and educational issues featured in the news  through summaries and excerpts. In focus today are measures to reduce childcare waiting lists, reforms to higher education and moves to boost English education in schools.

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‘Yokohama method’ gains steam / Can others zap day-care waiting lists? (May 22, 2013 Yomiuri)

“After reducing the nation’s largest number of children on day care center waiting lists to zero after just three years, the “Yokohama method”–with an endorsement from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe–has caught the attention of municipalities nationwide.

Under the Yokohama method, funds from a limited budget are concentrated to encourage corporations to enter the day care business. Following Yokohama’s success, other municipalities have since adopted the method.

However, … funding and how far the initiative will actually spread is unclear…Now at the forefront of the movement, Yokohama faces the challenge of maintaining the quality of its child care facilities.” … Read the rest of the article here.

Related: Yokohama clears out nursery waiting lists (May 21, 2013 Japan Times)

YOKOHAMA – Officials at Yokohama City Hall said Monday the city has reduced the number of children on nursery school waiting lists to zero from 179 as of April 1, meeting its 2010 target of doing so in three years.

City officials credited the reduction of the lists, which at one stage were the longest of any municipality in Japan, mainly to efforts to increase the number of nursery schools by aggressively encouraging private companies to enter the business.

The city also promoted nonregistered day-care facilities that met the city’s standards, which are somewhat more relaxed than the national standard.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, similar problems exist in urban areas across the nation because an increasing number of households have both parents working, and most local governments are facing difficulty addressing the problem.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is willing to learn from Yokohama’s success and intends to address the problem as part of its growth strategy because it has become a major obstacle to women returning to the workforce after childbirth. He has proposed increasing maternity leave.

But some experts say the rapid increase in nursery schools could eventually lead to a shortage of qualified teachers and a deterioration in services, as well as increased pressure on local finances.

In Yokohama, children below the age of 5 on nursery waiting lists rose to a record 1,190 in 2004, the highest in Japan. In 2010, it broke that record with a figure of 1,552, prompting Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, former president of BMW Tokyo Corp. and chairwoman of Daiei Inc., to make solving the problem a priority.

As the city used the private sector to boost the availability of day-care services for children, the number of privately operated nursery schools in Yokohama doubled from its level in April 2010, and now accounts for about a quarter of the total.

The city also deployed special consultants at ward offices to advise parents searching for schools and the availability of convenient facilities in their neighborhood or on their way to work.

The city has spent some ¥49 billion since 2010 on setting up nursery schools and has allocated over ¥76 billion for the operation of such schools for fiscal 2013 through March 31 next year, it said, adding that it has hired about 2,000 new nursery teachers since 2010.

Abe vowed last month to increase the capacity of nursery schools by 400,000 in five years from now through 2017 and also reduce the number of children on waiting lists nationwide to zero.

According to the labor ministry, there were about 46,000 children on waiting lists nationwide as of last October, although the number of potentially eligible children who do not have places at nursery school places could even be as high as 850,000.

Common stroller rules on trains, buses eyed (May 21, 2013 Jiji Press) reported:

The transport ministry is considering drawing up universal rules for the use of baby strollers on buses and trains, ministry officials said Monday.

At present, rules for the use of baby strollers vary significantly among public transport operators across the country.

The ministry plans to set up a committee of representatives from relevant ministries, public transport operators and support groups for child-rearing families to discuss ways to unify the rules, the officials said. They are also expected to adopt a universal sign to indicate priority spaces for baby buggies on buses and trains.”. …

A common sign to indicate priority spaces for baby buggies on buses and trains is also expected to be adopted. The move is aimed at making it easier for parents to go out with their children by clarifying where and how strollers should be positioned on commuter trains and buses.”

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will move up a plan to encourage businesses to develop authorized child-care services to reduce the number of children on day-care center waiting lists, a government regulatory reform panel has said.
The ministry is expected to notify prefectural governments by the end of May to treat businesses as equal to bodies such as social welfare corporations when providing authorization for the running of nursery schools that meet national standards, the panel said.

The move effectively brings forward a plan to increase the number of authorized nurseries under a new childcare system set to be introduced in April 2015.

IB classes to be given in Japanese … from 2015 (May 18, 2013, Yomiuri Shimbun)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, which culminates in a high school diploma recognized by many prestigious universities around the world, will be partially taught in Japanese starting in April 2015.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry recently reached an agreement with the International Baccalaureate Organization, which is based in Switzerland, that will allow IB course instruction in Japanese.

About 20 national, public and private high schools in Hokkaido, Aichi, Fukui and other prefectures, and Tokyo Gakugei University International Secondary School in Tokyo plan to introduce the program and will start preparing to gain ministry approval from October.

About two-thirds of the classes, including biology, chemistry, world history and politics, and economics, will be taught in Japanese. English, math and art classes will be given in English to improve students’ language skills. In line with the introduction of IB classes in Japanese, final exams for the program will also be given in Japanese starting in November 2017.

Launched in 1968, the IB curriculum is known for its role in developing students’ problem-solving skills through classroom discussions. IB certifications are currently recognized by about 2,000 universities, including Harvard University, as qualification for taking collegiate entrance exams. Furthermore, many universities exempt students with high IB scores from taking such exams altogether.

IB certifications are given after students complete a two-year program and score 24 or higher out of a possible 45 points on oral and paper tests.

According to the ministry, 2,367 high schools across the globe offered IB programs as of January, 16 of which are in Japan. The domestic figure includes some international schools.

The government has set a goal of having 200 schools introduce the IB program by 2018 as part of its strategy to develop human resources who are capable of playing an active role on the global stage.

Widespread implementation of the program has been difficult until now because of the requirement that classes be taught in English.

Now that permission has been obtained to give a majority of classes in Japanese, the ministry hopes to expand the number of schools offering the IB program.  (See older related story)

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Better English education sought in Japanese elementary schools (Japan Daily Press, May 16, 2013)

As Japan moves into an increasingly global stance – in terms of trade and international relations, as well as its culture opening up to foreign concepts and perspectives – a governmental panel on education is looking to propose major reforms in the way English is taught in elementary school classrooms. The panel is set to pass proposals for major educational reforms, centered on English-language education as an official subject for fifth- and sixth-graders.

Government to encourage more Japanese college students to study abroad (Japan Daily Press, May 7, 2013)

The Education Ministry said it will be doubling its study scholarships for the 2014 academic year to encourage more college students to pursue studies abroad. The reason for this is so that more workers and employees in Japan will have had international experience due to their studies.

Related story: Ambivalent Japan turns on its ‘insular’ youth | 21 May, 2013 The Japan Times (Excerpted below)

“… Behind criticism of uchimuki youth lies the fear that Japan is being overtaken by its closest neighbors. Media reports often highlight the rapid rise of Chinese and South Korean students studying in the U.S., the implication being that Japan is being left behind in the race to develop global human resources. “In a Japan that is showing signs of being pushed aside by China and South Korea’s focus on the economic sphere,” lamented the Yomiuri Shimbun in a front-page August 2012 article, “it is said that the youngsters who have to shoulder the burden of the next generation are uchimuki.”

The question is, however, whether an “inward-looking orientation” (uchimuki shikō) among young people is the main reason behind the fall in Japanese studying abroad. A 2010 survey by the British Council found that the majority of Japanese high school and university students were actually interested in studying overseas, and if anything had become more interested over the past five years. The survey highlighted worries over safety, expenses and negative influences on school/work as reasons why youngsters ultimately didn’t go abroad.

A 2010 Sanno Institute of Management survey on the “global consciousness” of new employees produced similar findings. While 49 percent replied that they didn’t want to work overseas at all (up from 29.2 percent in 2001), the most common reason given was the “risk” involved. Although “risk” was not specified, the deterioration of the economic situation from 2008 — a period that saw the number adverse to going abroad jump from a third to almost a half of respondents — suggests financial risk, echoing the British Council survey.

What is interesting here is how the uchimuki mentality is offered as the reason for falling numbers when a closer look at the data suggests social and economic conditions may offer a better explanation. Perhaps the problem is less about young people — who are typically blamed for all sorts of social ills — and more about society and the companies that hire youngsters. In particular, Japan’s rigid and inflexible job-hunting system — currently in the middle of a “super ice age” — has been picked out as particularly problematic.

Although a number of high-profile Japanese companies — such as Rakuten and Fast Retailing — have taken concrete measures to cultivate global human resources, not all Japanese companies seem eager to move away from traditional employment models. Indeed, there is evidence that Japanese hierarchical corporate culture is not necessarily comfortable with confident and outspoken returnee students.   A long article in The New York Times last year described the experiences of a number of Japanese with study-abroad experience who found Japanese companies unenthusiastic and even reluctant to hire them. The article cites a survey of 1,000 Japanese companies on their recruitment plans in which less than a quarter said in fiscal 2012 they planned to hire Japanese applicants who had studied abroad.

Japanese companies’ lack of global awareness has been criticized both in and outside Japan. The trade ministry’s Global Human Resource Development Committee described top management’s inaction as the same as sitting idly by, literally “waiting to die” (zashite shi o matsu). Jennifer Stout, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, offered similar criticism. Talking about the drop in Japanese students studying in the U.S., Stout rejected stereotypical discussions of uchimuki youth, suggesting that Japanese corporate culture doesn’t always rate overseas experience and English ability. Indeed, overseas experience can even be a disadvantage for job-hunters.

In its recent proposal to lower the grade when elementary school students start studying English, the government’s Education Rebuilding Implementation Council noted that students in many Asian countries begin much earlier than in Japan. Writing about the relationship between Japan and the English language — particularly Japan’s slowness, compared to its Asian neighbors, in introducing English as a regular subject in elementary schools — Nobuyuki Honna, a professor emeritus at Aoyama Gakuin University, suggests that there is a deep-seated notion in Japan of English not as a global language but as something that belongs to someone else — to Britain and the United States.

This attitude epitomizes Japan’s ambivalent attitude towards globalization. On the one hand, the country is aware that in order to remain economically competitive it must open up, instigate reforms and embrace globalization in all its aspects; on the other, there remains a strong tendency to close in, reject global norms and standards, and retreat inwards. The discussions over global human resources capture the dilemma of a country caught in two minds, a quandary that explains Abe’s ultra-cautious approach to entering even negotiations over TPP.

One of the biggest ironies in these discussions on global human resources is how young people have been made scapegoats for Japan’s failure to resolve this dilemma. Thus, Japan’s problems in attracting and securing such resources are typically explained not by the rigid job-hunting system, parochial immigration policies or conservative corporate culture, but by inward-looking uchimuki youth.

In sum, it may be more accurate to talk of an uchimuki government or even society, one that remains rooted in an insular world view that sees globalization as an external process, something owned by somebody else. Just how far Japan is prepared to emerge from its global hibernation will become clear in October when the 12 TPP countries meet at the sidelines of APEC to hammer out a basic agreement.”  Read the entire article here.

Govt links acts of bullying to criminal charges (Yomiuri, May 20, 2013) Excerpted below:

“The education ministry has compiled a list of bullying acts that should be reported promptly to police, and has communicated this list to prefectures and boards of education of large cities through an official notification … as many schools have expressed confusion over what type of behavior could be considered a criminal act, the ministry stepped in to provide concrete examples that should be reported to police, to encourage schools to respond quickly to dangerous behavior.

For example, “hitting and kicking” is equivalent to an assault charge in the penal code, according to the notification. “Putting fecal matter in a person’s mouth and threatening to inflict harm if he or she tries to spit it out” is considered extortion and “intentionally wrecking a bicycle” is property damage.

The notification also gives specific examples of cyberbullying, which has become conspicuous among young people, that could be subject to criminal charges.

Examples of such online behavior include “sending an e-mail threatening harm if a student comes to school,” which is blackmail, and “calling a classmate a ‘shoplifter,’ ‘creep’ or ‘annoying person,’” which is subject to defamation charges.

With the notification, the ministry requested that boards of education conduct a fact-finding survey on bullying in the 2012 school year.”

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Phone app ‘Line’ under fire from school after incidents of bullying (May 22, 2013 Japan Today)

What started as a simple school memo sent out to parents last Friday has mushroomed into a nationwide discussion the issues of censorship and bullying in schools and online.

The issue was triggered by a tweet which was sent out on Friday by a now disabled account showing a photo of the letter along with the caption “my school wants to ban Line and stuff lolololol.”

Line has become a highly popular app in Japan for its variety of functions including instant messaging, image sharing, and free voice calls over the internet.

According to the photo that accompanied the original tweet, the memo read:

25/5/17

Regarding Line Ban

“We hope all families are enjoying a healthy and prosperous spring season. Also we would like to thank you for your continuing support and cooperation in the educational activities of our school.

So, regarding the subject of this letter; in this school in April, various incidents occurred which had involved Line. This school feels that aside from contacting parents there is really no need for mobile phones. We especially feel that there is no place for Line in a child’s daily life.

From now on this school would like to ban any and all use of Line. Thank you very much.

We would also like to advise parents to, even at home, check your children’s mobile phones. If the Line application is present then we ask you to delete it.

Also starting now, students who are found using Line in or around the school will be notified of the ban. In order to prevent future trouble regarding Line, we ask for your cooperation in this matter.”

This original message triggered a lot of discussion surrounding the “various incidents” that caused this school to outlaw the application on Twitter and other online forums. Many netizens came out saying that it must have been cases of bullying.

This theory had been supported by many who claimed they were victims of bullying through Line. Some had cited incidents where mass snubs had occurred in group chats in which one person’s comment would cause all other participants to quit the session simultaneously.

The Huffington Post Japan had also reported on cases where Line had been used to harass students, with cases of repeated messages of “die”, along with “sticker shakedowns.”

Stickers are photos or drawings that can be used like emoticons when posting messages. Those are purchased from Naver (the developer of Line) but can also be bought as gifts for other users.

According to reports, bullies would intimidate classmates into gifting them with stickers. This theory is strengthened by an announcement made a week earlier by Naver which said that they would be discontinuing the sticker gift function on iPhone versions of Line at the request of Apple.

1-year training proposal for principals-to-be (Yomiuri — May 13, 2013)

Teachers aspiring to be principals or deputy heads of public schools will have to undergo a yearlong training program at a teachers graduate school to qualify as administrators, according to a set of proposals compiled by a task force.
The proposals, drafted by the Liberal Democratic Party’s education revitalization headquarters, also make it mandatory for would-be teachers to undertake an internship for a year or two upon graduation from college.
During the internship, they will receive a provisional license as a teacher, while their aptitude for the profession will be studied. If all goes well, they will receive a full teaching license after completing the internship.

100 schools to teach math, science in English  (The Yomiuri Shimbun,

May 22, 2013)

To help foster Japanese capable of successfully competing globally, the education ministry plans to designate about 100 high schools across the country that will teach some science and math in English, ministry sources said Tuesday.

The planned project also hopes to encourage students to attend excellent universities overseas.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to start the project as early as next fiscal year and designate about 100 schools, temporarily dubbed “super global high schools,” in all prefectures over the next five years.

Under the project, the ministry plans to include in its budget request for next fiscal year funds to hire foreign teachers and Japanese teachers proficient in English as well as for developing English curricula.

The ministry is to ask schools through prefectural boards of education to submit applications. It hopes to initially select at least one school from each prefecture, or about 50 schools in total, and gradually increase their number.

The designated schools will be exempt from following ministry-set teaching guidelines and allowed to offer their own curricula, the sources said.

Currently, most high schoolers are grouped into liberal arts- or science-focused classes. Under the new project, however, students will be required to take liberal arts and science subjects across the board.

In a forward-looking move, sections of science and math classes will be taught in English and students will be encouraged to debate and make presentations in English.

The designated high schools would help students study abroad while in high school and prepare to attend universities overseas. They would offer classes to better prepare students for TOEFL, an English proficiency test accepted by universities around the world to assess foreign students’ English, as well as the internationally recognized test offered by International Baccalaureate.

In addition, the special high schools would accept students returning from abroad in the middle of the school year.

At private schools offering six-year middle and high school education in metropolitan areas, many students are opting to enter top-notch universities in foreign countries, instead of the University of Tokyo or other excellent national universities.

Kyoto mayor petitions for permanent resident status for overseas students (Japan Daily Press) ON APR 15 2013

In an effort to get more overseas students to enroll in Kyoto University and to revive the economy of the town, Kyoto Mayor Keiji Yamada is proposing the “Kyoto University Special Ward”. Part of the proposal is granting permanent residence status to overseas students who will be graduating from the university as well as other supportive measures…

Japan takes No. 1 spot in Asian University Rankings (Japan Daily Press, Apr 16)

A new top 100 university ranking has been published for 2013, focusing on just schools in Asia. Put together by Times Higher Education (THE), the same organization that publishes the World University Rankings, the top 100 list found schools from Japan taking the most honors, and in more ways than one.

Earlier: University of Tokyo maintains reputation as top institution in Asia: survey (Japan Times Mar 6, 2013) Excerpt follows:

The University of Tokyo remains the most prestigious institution of higher education in Asia, 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, an annual survey of academic opinion, beaten only by American and British universities.

This year’s global index of university brands saw Harvard University once again come on top, with the University of Tokyo, also known as Todai, slipping one place from 2012.

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.

But China’s two flagship universities have slipped: Tsinghua University, from 30th to 35th, and Peking University from 38th to 45th.

Other Japanese universities to make 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).

In terms of representation in the top 100, the United States and Britain are followed by Australia, which has moved ahead of Japan and the Netherlands and now has six institutions (up from four last year) … Read the rest here.

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A sign that democracy and free speech is alive and well in Japan, is the establishment of a group of Japanese intellectuals and their vocal rallies and protests against the Japanese government’s territorial claim to Dokdo…see Japanese scholars slam Tokyo on history (AsiaOne News, May 22, 2013) Excerpt follows below:

“A group of Japanese intellectuals on Tuesday rebutted their government’s territorial claim to Dokdo and urged Japan to have a correct understanding of history.

During a press conference in Busan, they called on Shimane prefecture to rethink its annual observance of Takeshima (Dokdo in Japanese) Day, designated in 2005 to underline its sovereignty claim to the Dokdo islets in the East Sea.

“We perceive the Dokdo issue as a historical issue rather than a territorial one,” said Kuboi Norimo, former history professor at Momoyama Gakuin University.

“Japan occupied Dokdo to lead the (1904-05) Russo-Japanese War more advantageously, and Tokyo has since recognised it as its territory. Regarding it as a territorial issue is like glorifying its invasion into Korea rather than repenting for it.” …

Established last month, the group consisting of Japanese from academia, the religious sector and civil society has staged a series of rallies against the rightward political shift that has triggered concerns about the reemergence of Japan’s past militarism.

The group also used the news conference to criticise provocative remarks by ultraconservative Japanese politicians including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that underlined their unwillingness to atone for the country’s wartime aggression.

“The political leaders are using citizens politically to prolong their rule,” the group said in a statement. “It is tantamount to returning to its past militarism, we will stage a civil society campaign to strongly protest it.”

To back up their claim that Dokdo is Korea’s territory, the group revealed a series of historical records and photographs. They included a copy of a Japanese map drawn in the 18th century.

“By next March, we will develop a secondary history textbook to correct the distorted parts of history in Japan’s government textbooks,” the group said.”  Read the rest of the article here.

“The 15-year-old son of a U.S. contractor assigned to Camp Zama will spend time in a Japanese juvenile detention facility for setting fire to a historic shrine.  The teen, who was not identified, confessed to setting fire to a shed and the shrine on March 7, only a week after he arrived in Japan. Police said he told them he was trying to release stress caused by the language barrier and the close proximity of Japanese homes.The fire at the Kurihara Shrine spread to two adjacent homes, burning one to the ground and partially damaging the other” … according to the police spokesman.  Watch the video news clip here.
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New university grads’ job rate up 2 yrs in row (Yomiuri May 18)

“The rate of new university graduates who secured jobs has improved for the second consecutive year, reaching 93.9 percent, the labor and education ministries announced Friday.

As of April 1, the employment rate of those who graduated from universities this spring rose 0.3 percentage point from the same period last year, according to the latest data. The data also revealed more female graduates were successful in their job searches than male students.

Many companies that suspended recruitment following the so-called Lehman shock hired new young workers, which positively affected the labor statistics, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry judged.

The ministries also highlighted that the preference among university students for jobs at large companies has gradually waned.

An estimated 370,000 new graduates found jobs, while 24,000 could not find work despite their desire to do so.

The rate for male graduates was 93.2 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from the same period last year. The figure for female graduates was 94.7 percent, up 2.1 percentage points from a year earlier. This is the first time since fiscal 2007 the rate for female recruits has been higher than that for men.

The employment environment for female job hunters, particularly in the field of medical and nursing care, was strong, and the labor ministry believes this had a favorable effect on hiring.

Hiring figures improved in all regions except Kyushu, which saw the employment rate contract by 2.6 percentage points from the previous year to 90.6 percent.

In Hokkaido and Tohoku, the rate was 91.4 percent, up 1.4 percentage points; Kanto was at 95.8 percent, up 0.7 percentage point; Chubu was at 95 percent, up 0.1 percentage point; Kinki was at 93.2 percent, up 0.2 percentage point; and the Chugoku and Shikoku regions were at 93.8 percent, up 2.1 percentage points.

The two ministries concluded the latest figures reflect many students’ tenacious efforts to find a job.

Additionally, the employment rate of new two-year college graduates rose 5.2 percentage points, reaching 94.7 percent, the highest level since fiscal 1996 when the survey was first taken.

Some individuals in the employment assistance industry linked the positive results to Abenomics, the economic policies of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Due to an improvement in business sentiment brought about by Abenomics, some small and midsize companies decided to hire new workers in the final phase of the recruiting period,” said Takashi Mikami, editor at Mynavi Corp”.   Read the rest of the article here.

Universities’ efforts boost job placement for new grads (May 18, 2013 Yomiuri)

A second straight year of improvement in the employment rate of newly graduated university students appears to to reflect not only the positive effects of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, but also thorough help given to students by management at four-year colleges.

Universities were the chief contributors for bringing a real “spring” to students, aiming at showcasing themselves with high job placement rates and supporting students who have been facing a gloomy employment situation since the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008.  …

Meiji University in March held a one-day “internal recruitment exam and interview” that allowed students to go through the first round of a job interview with invited companies and take a written test.

With 10 percent of the participants receiving job offers, a university official said proudly, “I believe we provide more generous support than other colleges.”

Senshu University also held biweekly employment explanation meetings at the university until early March. Ten to 15 companies participated in each session.

Rissho University tied up with an employment agency to find jobs for students who graduated this spring. The agency selected companies and introduced students to them on the basis of the firms’ human resource requirement.

Companies pay fees to the agency for each placement. The system thus allowed companies to reduce recruitment costs and meant students could do interviews without taking a written test or being eliminated based on documents.”     Read more here

Japan to allow families on welfare to save for university fees (May 15, Jiji Press, via NewsonJapan)

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare decided Tuesday to allow families on welfare to save for university admission fees for their children. (Jiji Press)

A trend comes and goes in Japan. It is not restricted to fashion but includes many areas that should be neither trendy nor passing. A recent phenomenon of the interest in Kyoyo(教養) might be another trend that comes and goes.

1st year intern learns life lessons on the job (Yomiuri, May 18, 2013) Excerpted below:

The following story is based on a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun of about 750 public and private universities….

An increasing number of universities have started implementing internship programs as part of their regular curriculum.

A Yomiuri Shimbun survey last year showed that 480 of 642 universities, or 75 percent, had done so.

Although an increasing number of universities have also begun offering credits for studying abroad and engaging in volunteer activities, far more students chose to enroll in internship programs last year.

About 45,000 chose internships for credits, while only 22,000 chose studying abroad and just 9,400 volunteering, according to the survey.

More universities are also inviting business leaders to give lectures and promoting on-the-job training at popular companies.

In the past, many such programs were designed to increase the students’ chances of being hired by the companies they were assigned to. In recent years, however, more universities are creating internship programs to raise awareness about the significance of actual jobs in society.

Tokyo Metropolitan University has placed a high priority on its internship program for first-year students. The university dispatches about 400 students, 30 percent of the total, to government offices, businesses and elsewhere for a week or so during summer vacation.

Programs in which an internship lasts six months, such as the one at Kochi University, are quite rare.

Prof. Hiromi Ikeda, 56, who leads Kochi University’s internship program, said: “By having students do an internship for half a year, we hope they’ll give plenty of thought to what they want to learn [during their time here]. Many university students today need a strong helping hand [to take charge of their education].”

Those who wish to apply for the program are required to attend classes in preparation for beginning work immediately after enrollment, “to help them consider what they’re going to learn on the job,” Ikeda said.

The university tells the applicants which companies they are assigned to once they are about to complete their first year, after they clarify their reasons for participating in the internship program, according to the professor.

Firms accepting the students are currently limited to the Tokyo metropolitan area, far from Kochi Prefecture, and the cost of securing housing and other expenses are a heavy financial burden on students.

If they are not careful about managing their coursework at the university, students may have to repeat a school year, the professor said.

Only about 1 percent of the university’s enrollees participate in the program … Read the rest here.

Gap-year system starts (May 19, 2013 Japan Times)

Gap year students share ‘real world’ plans (Yomiuri, May 13, 2013)  Excerpt follows below:

The first batch of University of Tokyo students under the new “gap year” program has unveiled their plans to travel abroad or engage in other activities, indicating their high hopes to gain real-world experience before hitting the books.

The 11 students, who recently secured their enrollment, attended a meeting Friday to share and discuss their plans to visit foreign countries or areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake during the special leave-of-absence year.

The university introduced the system for students newly enrolled in the 2013 academic year. It allows students to take a year off prior to their studies to do volunteer work, study abroad or take up other activities to help broaden their perspectives.

The system is modeled on the gap year at universities in the United States and Europe, in which young students who are accepted by a school can postpone enrollment for a year to expand their horizons by immersing themselves in society.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun

The university recruited applicants from a pool of about 3,000 new students. Of the 24 initial applicants, 12 withdrew their applications and one student’s application was rejected.” Read the rest of the article here.

Let’s hear it from the girls / University cheering squads open up to female students (May 17. 2013)

… A  typical university cheering squad comprises a group of leaders, cheerleaders and a brass band.

Traditionally, these cheering squads bring to mind the image of wild boys. But recently, more and more female students have joined their ranks, with some even occupying leadership roles.

The leaders’ group stands in front of an audience during sporting and other events while cheering loudly. Clad in student uniform or hakama and haori, they are the face of the squad, as well as the university.

Honjo is the only female among the squad’s 11-member leaders’ group, and is the second to head the squad since it was founded in 1946. The first headed the squad last year.

While it is rare for female students to occupy the top spot at the university level for two consecutive years, Honjo said, “Whether you’re male or female is irrelevant.” Even so, she maintains a strict running and workout regimen to keep up physically with her male squad members.

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Kyoto, Kyushu schools to hire more foreign nationals in bid to boost graduates’ competitiveness … see Universities to boost classes in English (Japan Times, Mar 14, 2013)

In an effort to accelerate the internationalization of their institutions, Kyoto University and Kyushu University are looking to drastically boost the number of classes taught in English and educators who are foreign nationals over the next few years.

Kyoto University plans to hire about 100 foreign instructors to teach a half of its liberal arts classes in English. Currently, only about 5 percent of roughly 1,100 liberal arts classes are taught in English.

About 5 percent of classes at Kyushu University are also presently taught in English, but the institution, located in Fukuoka Prefecture, aims to raise that to 25 percent over the next few years by increasing the number of foreign teachers and Japanese instructors who have overseas teaching experience by about 30.

The two national universities both have received five-year subsidies from the education ministry to achieve their goals.

The effort is observed as part of the education ministry’s Global 30 project, which aims to promote the globalization of higher education institutions. Under the project, 13 public and private institutions, including Kyoto and Kyushu universities, have been urged to create an international academic environment for both Japanese and international students. … Read more here.

Only full national achievement test will help improve teaching in school (Yomiuri, May 14, 2013 )

The national achievement test was conducted recently with all students in the sixth year of primary school and in the third year of middle school participating, the first in four years to be held with all children in these grades taking part.

About 2.28 million students from about 30,000 primary and middle schools took part in the test, with the sixth graders tested on Japanese and arithmetic and the middle schoolers on Japanese and mathematics.

Thanks to the revival of the nationwide achievement test with all primary and middle schools taking part, boards of education and schools will be able to correctly assess students’ academic abilities. By finding out what needs to be done to enhance students’ abilities, they need to make use of the results to improve teaching methods.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry introduced the national achievement test in fiscal 2007 as part of efforts to enhance children’s scholastic abilities. For three years to fiscal 2009, the exam was given to all children in these two grades.

Test change had adverse effects

The then Democratic Party of Japan-led administration switched from full-scale exams to sample exams held at about 30 percent of schools from fiscal 2010, justifying this in the name of budget cuts. The DPJ-led administration paid too much attention to criticism from the Japan Teachers’ Union, a large supporter of the party, saying that the test could “fan excessive competition.”

The adverse effect of the switch was enormous.

The result was that only the average rate of questions answered correctly by each prefecture was available. Relevant data comparing schools or different municipalities was no longer available.

Although those schools not designated by the ministry to take part in the sample tests could choose to take part in the exams, they had to score the tests on their own. Despite being the same tests, there were inequalities between the designated schools and the others. This should not be overlooked, either.

Following the change of government late last year, the administration under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appropriately decided to hold the national exam every year, with all children in these classes taking part. It was an appropriate decision.

The important thing from now is analyzing the enormous amount of data obtained from the tests from various angles and utilizing it to enhance children’s scholastic abilities.

The education ministry will compare the results of those schools with reduced class size with those schools with the number of students not reduced and examine the correlation between class size and academic abilities of students.

By empirically showing the approximate size of classes, the ministry will need to secure the necessary number of teachers.

A problem with the implementation of the full participation test is how to make the test results public.

Data should be shared

The education ministry, in its implementation procedure of the tests, forbids prefectural boards of education to publicize the test results between schools and those between different municipalities. It also forbids municipal boards of education to publicize test results comparing schools.

The bans are to avoid spawning excessive competition and grading among municipalities and among schools.

Yet some local governments hope to publicize the test results, as part of their responsibility for explaining the appropriateness of school lessons to students’ parents.

There were cases whereby relevant data, including the average rate of correct answers by municipality was made public, in response to freedom-of-information requests made by local citizens.

Implementing the test cost the government 5.5 billion yen. By sharing the valuable data with parents and local citizens, rather than having local boards of education monopolize it, public understanding of–and their cooperation with–school management can be won.

The ministry plans to discuss ways to publicize the test results for fiscal 2014 and after, by gathering opinions from local governments. The ministry should review its public-disclosure restriction.

Survey shows 840 Japanese teachers used corporal punishment on students (Apr 29)

The Ministry of Education conducted a survey spanning 10 months starting April 2012 to March 2013, and it showed that 840 teachers used some sort of corporal punishment on their students. This is more than twice the 404 cases from the whole fiscal year of 2011.

img313School roads get brighter visuals to boost safety (Yomiuri — Apr 27 via NewsonJapan)
Work continues nationwide to mark school roads in green and other colors, in the wake of a fatal car accident on a road leading to a school in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, last April.
Three people were killed and seven injured by a runaway car driven by an 18-year-old boy who had never obtained a driver’s license. After the accident, the central government inspected roads in primary school zones across the nation and found 74,483 dangerous locations.
As a result, municipalities and other entities have been working to change school routes, better safeguard children and repair roads.

‘Chocolate project’ teaches kids volunteerism (Japan Times, May 2, 2013)

Most Japanese teens have little exposure to issues of worldwide poverty or the volunteerism that seeks to end it. Unlike in the United States and Europe

May 10, 2012, Yomiuri Shimbun

May 10, 2012, Yomiuri Shimbun

Left:  Activities to help improve  balance and physical coordination of children, include giving them handmade geta sandals

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This next segment brings you news summaries on educational matters and happenings elsewhere in the world:

Jenna Johnson’s commentary for the Washington Post on College Rankings tells us the methodology behind the college rankings system “has become complicated and controversial — and sometimes the results are inaccurate”, that there ” is no way such lists help students properly pick a college”…and that we should be scrutinizing and caring more about higher ed  institutions with “abysmal graduation rates, sky-high student debt loads, teetering accreditation and serious financial problems”  Read more here.

Coding boot camps promise to launch tech careers (AP, via Yahoo! news, Apr 12, 2013) A new breed of computer-programming schools, is proliferating in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs, focused upon “extreme employability” and offering real-world skills, and attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds, from college dropouts to middle-aged career changers. The “coding academies are helping meet the seemingly insatiable demand for computer programmers in the U.S. tech industry”, and “are launching at a time when many recent college graduates are struggling to find jobs that pay enough to chip away at their hefty student loan debts. One San Francisco school called App Academy doesn’t charge tuition. Instead, it asks for a 15 percent cut of the student’s first-year salary”…

Diverse figures including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Bill Gates have coalesced around a new idea: why not increase class sizes for the best teachers and use the resulting budgetary savings to pay these best teachers more and to help train educators who need improvement? Yes, each class might be bigger on average but at least each child would stand a better chance of having a great teacher, which would-be reformers say is more important.

The proposal is intriguing, and some teachers may be on board. Matthew Chingos, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, has cited a national survey by the journal Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance that found that 42 percent of teachers would gladly accept a $10,000 raise to forgo a three-student reduction in class size. Yet perhaps more striking, 47 percent of teachers said they would turn down this substantial pay increase to have just three students fewer in class

Read more here.

Does Class Size Count? (NY Times, Opinionator blog) To many educators, the answer seems obvious: Teachers who have fewer students can give each child more attention and tailored instruction. And parents agree. For years, annual surveys conducted by the New York City Department of Education have shown that the top priority of school parents is reducing class size, far outpacing “more effective leadership,” “more teacher training,” “more or better art programs,” “more challenging courses” and both “more preparation for state tests” and “less preparation for state tests.”

But the data on class size is not conclusive, if only because, in the last quarter-century, there’s been just one proper randomized, controlled study in the United States to measure, at sufficient scale, the effect of smaller and larger classes on student achievement. Known as Project STAR, it found that smaller classes do produce lasting gains, especially for economically disadvantaged and minority-group students.

Hiring more teachers, however, is expensive, and some researchers and policy makers insist that reducing class size is not cost-effective, compared with other possible reforms, and has been oversold to schools. They point to states like California and Florida that have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to reduce pupil-to-teacher ratios without, they argue, a commensurate increase in student performance.

40% Of Fortune 500 Companies Were Founded By Immigrants Or Their Children (PolicyMic) 

Related story: College Essay Nods to Immigrant Parents

Regis High School student Lyle Li reads from his college application essay about the hard work of his immigrant parents to secure a better education and a better life for him  Watch the video clip here.

Search for Cuts Puts Portugal’s Schools on Chopping Block (NY Times)

A court ruling and continuing budgetary difficulties have left Portugal’s government to reduce spending where it can – including in its education system, already one of the weakest in Europe.

Philippines extends schooling to 13 years(Global Post), one of the key reforms said to be aimed at lifting the country out of poverty.

Govt unveils tech, science vision (May 18, 2013)

The government is set to promote the commercialization of advanced technologies in five fields related to people’s livelihood, … and with a focus on energy development and fisheries culturing fields.

Teens Are Turning Away from Facebook Because Tumblr Is Real, and Parent-Free (news.yahoo.com)

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Parenting Matters:

Upper House Panel OKs Hague Treaty on Child Custody May 21 (Jiji Press)

“A House of Councillors committee approved Tuesday Japan’s entry into the Hague treaty on parental custody of children from failed international marriages. …

Signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction are required in principle to return any child abducted abroad by a parent to the child’s original country if the other parent requests the return. The parents are to determine the custody before court in the original country.”  Read more here.

Related:  Diet approves Japan joining child custody pact (Japan Times)

Parenting Secrets – Good Life Skills For Kids 5-12 from Raiseyourkidsright.com

Getting more fathers involved in raising kids can change society (Yomiuri Shimbun, May 5, 2013) Excerpted below

By affectionately raising children, parents also can grow. Some data indicate the more time a husband spends caring for a child, the higher the probability the couple will have a second child. It is important for Japan to produce more fathers dubbed “ikumen” (men actively involved in child rearing) like Nakamura.

Abe for longer care leave

“… A growing number of local governments are arranging courses on daily household chores for fathers, such as cooking and ironing lessons. Nonprofit organizations have been hosting more gatherings at which fathers can talk with each other about the joys and difficulties of rearing children.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for the business world to voluntarily extend child care leave, which under current law can be taken for a maximum of 1-1/2 years, up until a child becomes 3 years old, both for male and female employees.

Some companies allow male workers to take paid child care leave for about two weeks. We think every company should make further efforts to encourage male employees to get more involved in child rearing.

Beef up community ties

The ties between parents of small children and communities that look warmly after child-rearing couples are also important.

There have been cases in which parents playing with their kids at a park have been told by neighbors they are “noisy.” So what are they supposed to do?

A Children’s Future Foundation survey found 34 percent of mothers felt “alone and isolated from society” while raising children.

Japan should set up more places where parents and kids can casually get together. Parents can chat and let their kids play at local facilities that support child rearing, such as community centers and children’s centers. We hope people whose children have left the nest will help run these facilities.

Having communities lending a hand and providing more support to mothers with children will greatly help people going through parenthood.”

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This and That:

Me, Myself and Math  A six-part series that looks at us through the lens of math.

A Team Approach to Get Students College Ready (May 15, 2013 NY Times)

A group called Blue Engine that places recent college graduates as full-time teaching assistants in a few public high schools is showing promising results.

6 lessons learned during my internship and more in the same vein at the InternView website

Coursera to offer new MOOC options for teachers (AP, May 1, 2013)

Related:

Two Cheers for Web U (NY Times,  Apr 20, 2013 ) Excerpted below:

When it comes to Massive Open Online Courses, like those offered by CourseraUdacity and edX, you can forget about the Socratic method.

The professor is, in most cases, out of students’ reach, only slightly more accessible than the pope or Thomas Pynchon. Several of my Coursera courses begin by warning students not to e-mail the professor. ..

The MOOC classrooms are growing at Big Bang rates: more than five million students worldwide have registered for classes in topics ranging from physics to history to aboriginal worldviews.

It creates a strange paradox: these professors are simultaneously the most and least accessible teachers in history. And it’s not the only tension inherent in MOOCs.

MOOC boosters tend to speak of these global online classes as if they are the greatest educational advancement since the Athenian agora, highlighting their potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. Skeptics — including the blogger and University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student Aaron Bady — worry that MOOCs will offer a watered-down education, give politicians an excuse to gut state school budgets, and harm less prestigious colleges and universities. … Read the rest here.

Online College, Beyond the Hoopla

Where Private School Is Not a Privilege (NY Times)

How does BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, educate more than 1.25 million of the world’s poorest children for free — and do a better job than government?

Invitation to a Dialogue: The Art of Teaching

8 college tips for handing in a high-quality term paper 

The Role of a Dictionary by David Skinner

Good writing may exceed the boundaries suggested, if not intended, by dictionary definitions. More on this

Low blood-lead levels can affect a child’s reading ability (Pediatrics.DailyRx.com (May 12, 2013)

Kindergartners with blood-lead levels between 5 and 9 µg/dL scored an average 4.5 points lower in reading tests and were 21% less likely to meet benchmarks for reading readiness than those with levels below 5 µg/dL, U.S. researchers found. The children with lead levels of 10 µg/dL and higher were 56% more likely to fail to meet reading readiness benchmarks compared with children with less than 5 µg/dL, according to the study…

High cesium levels discovered in Tokyo river eels, local governments make belated study (Japan Daily Press)

 A worrying phenomenon has been discovered in Tokyo river eels that have been caught by local residents living near the Edogawa River – the eels that they have been catching, and may have eaten at one time or another, have very high cesium levels, in most cases higher than the safe levels required by the Japanese government. Read more of this post

…One of the most influential psychological studies regarding race was done by Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife, Dr. Mamie Clark. The Clark’s research became one of the pillarsof the 1953 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Kenneth and his wife are most famous for “The Clark Doll Experiment.”

The experiment involves giving dolls which are identical in every way apart from hair and skin color to young school children. The only differences with the dolls is that one doll is white with yellow hair while the other is brown with black hair. Each child is then asked a series of questions, including which doll is the nice doll. The study showed that all children favored the white doll.

This same study was replicated in 2005 by Kiri Davis. Now this means it was pre-post-racial America, so that’s probably why the 2005 study showed exactly the same results as the one conducted in 1939. I bet if that study were conducted today it would be very different because like Stephen Colbert most of us don’t even see race since the election of President Barack Obama. Oh wait, never mind it looks like Anderson Cooper studied this again in 2012, turns out kids still internalize racism, even in “post-racial” America.

The truth is, racism is still very much alive and children begin to internalize it from a very young age. It manifests in the experiment we see…

Why French kids don’t have ADHD (Psychology Today)

Related news:

President of the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics criticized the use of ADHD drug Ritalin as amounting to interference in the child’s freedom and personal rights, because pharmacological agents induced behavioral changes but failed to educate the child on how to achieve these behavioral changes independently. The child was thus deprived of an essential learning experience to act autonomously and emphatically which “considerably curtails children’s freedom and impairs their personality development” the commission said.

What’s behind the 53% rise in ADHD cases? (Psychology Today);  

An Extreme Approach to Ending Temper Tantrums

Shockingly, children are being prescribed potent anti-psychotic drugs.

In books:

Autism diagnosis at age 2. College student at 11. …  They Said He Wouldn’t Learn the ABCs (A review by the  Washington Post of the book “THE SPARK A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius” by Kristine Barnett)

“A few years ago, a friend, whose child attends a school for kids with learning disabilities, tried to start a book club for parents at the school. Her motivation was simple: If the parents got together once a month and talked about a book they’d read on…however, when she requested a meeting room for the proposed book club, she was turned down flat. The school, it seemed, didn’t want the parents second-guessing its teaching strategies….”The Spark is compulsive reading, and not simply of Jake’s “savant almost obliterated by the system” story,  … she also beats down every other obstacle that life hurls at her and her family….those obstacles are extraordinarily severe. The Barnetts’ second child, Wesley is diagnosed with a reflex disorder soon after he is born. It causes him to have seizures, up to nine a day, and to choke on simple liquids”….  and many more terrible personal setbacks. “Why is it all about what these kids can’t do? Why isn’t anyone looking more closely at what they can do? in “The Spark” — Kristine Barnett  This is the inspiring story of a mother’s persistence in defying the experts and proving them wrong and to unearth her son’s personality and potential despite terrible developmental challenges …

We also recommend Christine Gross-Loh’s new book, “Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us”  see her interview with Christiane Amanpour etc.  “What American Parents Need to Do Better: Lessons from the Rest of the World” (via news.yahoo.com) and the book reviews by Huffington Post “Have American parents got it all backwards?”  and  Judy Bolton-Fasman (The Judy Chronicles)

Last but not least, if you want to know what’s happening on the international school circuit, check in on the website run by Caroline Plover at Japan School News.

That’s all folks, until the next edition …

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe