First up, the movie buzz … have you watched the new Japanese trailer for the Hunger Games movie sequel that everyone has been waiting with baited breath for… check out Hunger Games2 goes on the roadshow on Dec 27

Other upcoming books-to-movies  for with the holidays ahead include:

‘THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG’ In the Middle of Middle-earth NY Times review by Manohla Dargis: Part 2 of Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the one-part “Hobbit,” “The Desolation of Smaug,” has lots of battles, an original character and Orlando Bloom.

And here’s our wrap and roundup of the news on 2013’s educational scene in Japan:

See also English education set to get serious

Junior high school English teachers should conduct classes exclusively in English and be periodically tested on their skills, and formal English instruction should start … more at Japan Times 12/13/2013

The following linked articles show contrasting sentiments on rote learning of kanji:

OECD education report: Japanese students cram for success as recall is key to the system   (The Telegraph )

Japanese students’ success is built on the imperative of recalling a minimum of 2,000 Chinese characters used in everyday Japanese – known as “kanji”.

The war on katakana starts at school (Japan Times)

Eliminating katakana’s use as a pronunciation aide would benefit Japanese students’ ability to communicate, but that clearly can’t be achieved overnight. More here

An interesting take at Japan Times on grappling with the perverseness of being stuck in the katakana-English rut —  “The war on katakana starts at school“:

Teachers face tests: strict regime from fifth grade

Junior high school English teachers should conduct classes exclusively in English and be periodically tested on their skills in the language using a third-party proficiency test, and formal English instruction should start in the fifth grade of elementary school from 2020, according to a blueprint for education reform unveiled Friday.As part of the plan for elementary to high school English education, more assistant language teachers also will be hired, education minister Hakubun Shimomura said.“We want to raise the standards for English education at the junior high and high school levels by having teachers conduct classes in English in junior high school, and focusing on the presentation and debate aspects of English usage in high school,” he said.The proposals are part of the “Execution Plan for the Reform of English Education in Response to Globalization,” the ministry’s blueprint for strengthening English-language education from elementary to high school.

Among other factors, the education ministry is hoping to take advantage of heightened interest in the language ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which will draw large numbers of visitors to Japan.

“I think this is a welcome development,” said Takaaki Matsuoka, principal of Musashino Dai-Ichi Junior High School in western Tokyo. “I have the impression that we will finally be able to catch up with South Korea” in English education.

Matsuoka, who himself used to teach English, said English-language teachers at the junior high level have already grown somewhat accustomed to teaching in English thanks to working alongside assistant language teachers.

“In addition, classes are more focused on sound (verbal and listening), which should also help,” Matsuoka said.

The blueprint aims to set consistent achievement goals for each level of English education.

Under the blueprint, English teaching would start in the third grade of elementary school in “activities-style” classes conducted one or two times a week, mainly by homeroom teachers, with a focus on laying the foundation for communications skills.

In the fifth and sixth grades, more formal “classroom-style” instruction in three classes per week would focus on elementary communicative skills both by homeroom teachers and specialized English teachers.

The junior high school goal would be achieving the “ability to understand and exchange information on familiar topics, and express thoughts,” with classes “basically” taught in English.

This would be taken over by high school education that aims to bring students to levels at which they can “understand abstract concepts on a broad range of topics” and “converse with English speakers at a viable level of proficiency.”

Record 206 teachers dismissed in Japan in FY 2012 (Jiji Press — Dec 17 Via newsonjapan.com)

A record 206 public school teachers in Japan were dismissed in fiscal 2012, up from 180 in the previous year, an education ministry survey revealed Tuesday.
Of them, 119, an all-time high, were dismissed for sexual offences in the year through March 2013, while 46 were fired for causing traffic accidents.Including the 206, a total of 10,827 teachers were disciplined, up by 6,508 from the previous year, with the number of teachers who were slapped with penalties for exercising corporal punishments jumping 7.5-fold to 2,077

Bullying at Japan schools jumps 2.8-fold in FY 2012  (Jiji Press)  A total of 198,108 cases of bullying were recognized at schools in Japan in fiscal 2012 that ended in March, up 2.8-fold from the previous year and the highest figure since the survey began in 1985, the education ministry said Tuesday.

Board of education reform could lead to abuse of power by local govt heads (The Japan News, Dec 15)

In a move that could lead to far-reaching changes in education administration by local entities, the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel, has submitted recommendations to Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura.

The most conspicuous among the recommendations is that the panel favors transferring final authority on educational matters to local government heads from boards of education, while redefining the status of school superintendents, to be appointed by municipal heads to serve as their subordinates, as chief officials in charge of administrative work.

The proposed revamping of education administration comes in the wake of increasing criticism that the existing board of education system, under which decision-making is made through mutual consent among board members—part-time officials selected from among experts in local entities—fails to determine where the responsibility for decisions lies.

It also has been claimed that boards of education often fail to act swiftly when confronted by a serious situation, such as the case of a middle school boy in Otsu who committed suicide in 2011 because of bullying.

The panel’s recommendations are timely as they are intended to improve the ability of local entities to cope with various problems occurring at schools by giving municipality heads and full-time school superintendents both the authority and responsibility.

If the recommendations are put into practice, boards of education, which are currently independent, will be placed under the direction of local government heads, so board members can engage in discussions about broad education policies laid down by those local government heads.

At present, boards of education are spending far too much time doing perfunctory jobs such as dealing with education personnel affairs by holding meetings two or more times a month.

Advisories nonbinding

If the subjects of discussion are narrowed down to such key matters as leading education principles, boards of education will be able to hold in-depth deliberations about what local entities should pursue.

However, there is a danger that the powers wielded by municipal heads could become too strong, jeopardizing the principle of political neutrality of education administration.

During discussions by the advisory panel, a number of members warned of this risk.

To prevent municipal heads from acting arbitrarily on their own authority, the council’s recommendations have limited the scope of directions from local government heads to school superintendents to special circumstances requiring urgent action, such as dealing with serious cases of bullying.

Boards of education to be created in line with the recommendations would be in charge of checking and evaluating the enforcement of education administration by local government heads and school superintendents, and issue advisories when necessary.

The panel’s recommendations, however, fall short of giving the advisories any binding power. For example, in the event of a local government head arbitrarily setting education measures that have not been scrupulously studied, in an irresponsible attempt to secure reelection, it is questionable whether a board of education would be able to stop this.

Should educational goals and a policy of adopting certain school textbooks be changed every time a new local government head is elected, there is a risk of school education being plunged into total confusion.

Having received the panel’s recommendations, the education ministry is scheduled to submit a bill for the revision of the Local Education Administration Law to the ordinary Diet session to be convened next month.

New Komeito, the coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is wary of strengthening the powers of local government heads.

Many tasks need further study, such as how to create a new framework to ensure stability and continuity of education administration.

Schools strain at seams due to Tokyo condo development  December 10, 2013, Yomiuri Shimbun

Primary schools in waterfront areas of Tokyo’s Koto Ward are overcrowded as a result of a sharp population increase due to local redevelopment efforts that included the construction of many condominiums.

Especially in the Toyosu district, the surge in primary school students has had such effects on school operations as the cancellation of a school play and the consolidation of multiple physical education classes into one. As the number of students there is expected to rise by 150 percent from the current figure to about 3,000 over the next six years, Koto Ward is busy building a new school and expanding its educational institutions.

On Nov. 25, a morning assembly was held at Toyosu Kita Elementary School with 1,140 students, and the school grounds were packed.

The school was founded in 2007 when Toyosu Elementary School was no longer able to accommodate the growing number of students in the area. But at Toyosu Kita, the student body has increased from 293 in the first year to more than 1,000 this year with 32 classes in six grades. Since the school has only 30 general classrooms, special-purpose classrooms must be used to accommodate the remaining students.

Three physical education classes must share the grounds at the same time. Last year, a school play was canceled because it was too difficult to have all the students perform on stage, as some grades had more than 200 students each, and the gymnasium could not accommodate the parents. In May, parents watched Sports Day festivities from the balconies of the school building due to a shortage of space on the ground. Principal Kimiko Irino, 60, said: “It’s difficult to have students use workshops or music rooms. We need more space for all the students to gather.”

The ward has about 21,000 primary school students this year, up about 5,000 over 10 years. Especially in Toyosu, where about 10,000 new condominium units appeared in the same period, the number of students at its two schools has nearly quadrupled from 502 in 15 classes in 2004 to 1,969 in 56 classes this year. Until 2002, the figure in the district had been declining in line with the low birthrate nationwide, but the construction boom of high-rise apartments after the closure of a shipyard led to a dramatic local population boom. The ward estimates the population will increase at a minimum annual pace of 140 to 230 in the next six years.

In 2015, the ward will found a new school, tentatively called Toyosu Nishi Elementary School, and build 24 classrooms, up from the original plan of 18. Meanwhile, Toyosu Kita will add a third building with 10 general classrooms, a small gymnasium, and a third science laboratory and music room in 2015. It also plans to create playgrounds by covering the rooftops of the second and third buildings with rubber chips and grass. “Our learning environment will be improved,” Irino said.

Neighboring Ariake will also construct an additional building at Ariake Elementary School by spring of 2016 and found a new primary school in 2018. Toshio Asaoka, a member of the ward’s board of education, said, “We’ll keep on making efforts to improve the learning environment.”

News sources: KyodoANNnewsCH

Fumihiko Ito / The Yomiuri ShimbunYuko Tanaka achieved an unexpected and overwhelming victory in Hosei University’s presidential election on Nov. 22, setting her up to be the first female president of one of the so-called Tokyo Big 6 universities.

Tanaka, 61, is also an active commentator on TV, and expectations are high for her tenure as Hosei president.

“If I attract attention as ‘the first woman,’ it might encourage younger women researchers,” Takana said. “I’d like to increase opportunities to connect with people in and outside the university and share the university’s achievements with the rest of the world.”

Tanaka studied the culture of the Edo period (1603-1867) at Hosei University’s Faculty of Letters, in which she enrolled with the dream of becoming an author.

“People in the Edo period were multitalented, able to draw pictures as well as write haiku poems,” she said. “I was fascinated with Edo culture because it was created by people who stimulated each other and formed connections across different fields.”

Tanaka is researching various aspects of the Edo period without restrictions, after questioning scholastic research that is confined within specialized domains…

Tanaka will assume the university’s top post in April. Her goal is to create a university that develops young people into adults capable of living and working anywhere in the world.

Next up, much earlier news, but still good to know:

The Japan News 2013-10-27:

The Yomiuri Shimbun More than 80 universities, mainly private institutions, are expected to adopt an online application system for their entrance examinations for the 2014 academic year, part of a rising trend in the use of technology. Online applications significantly reduce the amount of clerical work for university admissions offices and offer greater convenience for test-takers. At some universities, the adoption of such systems has helped boost the number of applicants, and in a recent wave of digital migration, other universities have moved their entire application process online. Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Unprecedented business-student collaboration! Development of a new app in his Internship placement – Ken Sakurai (The Japan News)

“When you enter a time, this app identifies available time slots in the schedules of individual users, and proposes dates on which the largest number of users can join a gathering with fellow users. Besides this, it can also be used as an SNS, offering communication and image-sharing functions.” This is the outline of the scheduler app DAYMORE, which Recruit Lifestyle Co., Ltd. released this spring. The commercialization of this service has been carried out in a way unprecedented for the company; the framework of the project was developed by a project-oriented internship program that was implemented in 2012, and four students were selected from among the participants of the internship program to join the project members working on the development of the service….

Six years following bankruptcy, Nova boosts the brand

November 3, 2013 – 23:38
In September, Tokyo-based Jibun Mirai Associe Co. (JMA) announced it would adopt Nova as its official corporate name – 19 months after it acquired the eikaiwa (English conversation) school chain from its previous operators, and almost six years after its well-publicized downfall. (Japan Times)

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Child health and safety matters:

Ministry survey finds more food allergies among children Jiji Press, December 16, 2013 via The-japan-news.com

About 4.5 percent of schoolchildren in Japan had food allergies as of August this year, up from 2.6 percent nine years ago, a survey by the education ministry showed Monday.

Elementary, middle school and high schools across Japan were aware that a combined total of about 454,000 students had food allergies, rising by about 120,000 over the past nine years.

“While food allergies may indeed be on the rise, it is also true that more allergy cases were discovered as a result of increased attention among parents,” said an expert on children’s food allergies.

The ministry conducted the latest survey after a fifth-grade girl in Tokyo died in December last year from anaphylactic shock caused by a school meal.

It collected responses from about 29,000 schools across the country, or 85 percent of the total, covering 10.15 million students.

There were nearly 50,000 children with a history of anaphylactic shock. About 27,000 children were carrying EpiPen self-injection treatments with them to prevent fatal allergic reactions, and EpiPens had been used in schools in a total of 408 cases since April 2008.

A sample survey on 579 elementary and middle schools that offer school meals showed that 96 percent were taking care of children with food allergies based on the 2007 government guidelines. But about a quarter said not all teachers and school staff members were well informed of the guidelines.

In fiscal 2012, there were 40 cases at 34 schools in which children mistakenly ate food they were allergic to. In 29 cases, schools prepared alternative meals for children with food allergies, but failed to offer them.

“Even small mistakes need to be prevented as much as possible,” a ministry official said.

The outcome of the latest survey was reported to an experts’ panel on Monday. The panel will work out measures for preventing deaths from food allergies and announce them in a report to be released in March next year.

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Related:  Only 61 % of students with food allergies getting allergenic-free lunches (Kyodo Dec 17)

Only 61.1 percent of school children with food allergies are provided with school lunches that exclude allergenic substances, with 28.1 percent removing such substances themselves, a survey by the education ministry showed Monday.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has urged schools to exclude allergenic substances before providing lunches to children with allergies.The survey was conducted following the death in Tokyo last December of a fifth grade girl allergic to dairy products after she ate a school lunch that included cheese.
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One fourth of jr high school girls don’t exercise NHK World News

An Education Ministry survey shows that one of every four girls in Japanese junior high school does not exercise at all except in physical education classes.

The survey sampled more than 2 million children in 5th grade at elementary school and the 2nd year at junior high school across the country.

9 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls at elementary school said they exercise less than 60 minutes per week.

The figure for girls in junior high school was 30 percent. And 80 percent of those girls said they do not exercise at all.

When given a multiple-answer question about what would help them exercise more, 77 percent chose their favorite sport or easy sports. 54 percent wished to exercise with their friends and 44 percent said if they could do so on their own terms.

Professor Takahiko Nishijima at University of Tsukuba analyzed the survey results. He says girls are likely to take part in non-competitive sports like hiking and jump rope. He adds it is necessary to teach them the joy of sports in PE classes.

UNESCO’s decision to include washoku, or Japanese-style food, on its intangible cultural heritage list has given school administrators and cooking specialists hope that Japanese will become more interested in passing their traditional food culture on to future generations.
Traditionally, rice, soup, one main dish and two side dishes are the basics of washoku. The city of Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, is providing local students with lunches consisting of such food.As Niigata Prefecture is a rice-producing region, the city’s policy of serving rice as a daily part of school lunches also aims at expanding the consumption of rice. The city said students can acquire a well-balanced and nutritious diet by eating rice served as part of their school lunch. The rate of obesity among children in the city is said to have declined.
A good piece to read by Patricia Pringle about the Japanese cultural “strategy” and the art of waiting  is: Hurry up and Wait … read together with Geert Hofsteade’s theories of Japan being a Long-term oriented culture (actually LTO was an addition to Hofstede’s cultural value orientations by a group of Chinese researchers). See  The Hofstede Center’s page on Japan
Despite multiple cases of infants dying in their sleep at child care facilities, a full investigation into the incidents has not taken place, a recent inquiry by The Yomiuri Shimbun has discovered. Although the HealthLabor and Welfare Ministry has asked local governments to report infant fatalities, such requests are not legally enforced, and thus the ministry does not analyze the circumstances of reported cases. Some have called for the establishment of a system requiring child care facility operators to report such cases and launch a formal…

University student arrested for kicking stroller with baby in it (Japan Today DEC. 19, 2013)  OSAKA —

A 20-year-old male university student has been arrested in Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, for violently kicking a stroller which had a baby inside, police said Wednesday.

According to police, the incident occurred on Nov 18. TV Asahi reported that the suspect, Daiki Sugimoto, approached a 36-year-old woman pushing her four-month-old baby along in a carriage on a sidewalk, and proceeded to violently kick the stroller without saying anything.

Police said they are questioning Sugimoto in connection with a recent series of assaults on young women with baby strollers in the vicinity of the Nov 18 attack.

Teenagers warned of mental health risk from social media (The Times via Schools Improvement)

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Police take 13 teen girls into custody for offering men ‘stroll’ services in Tokyo

US agency plans tougher rules after research shows there is no evidence antibacterial cleaning products help to prevent infections – and could even pose dangers to health…

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Next, elsewhere in the world :.. here are the links to some articles that provoke some work on your grey cells:

The word “best practice” is bandied about a great deal by policy-makers and educators, find out what it really means in …

What does “best practice” in education mean? SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

The term “best practice” is used often in education, David Penberg, an urban and international educational leader, writes in this blog post, suggesting that teachers be critical when the term is mentioned. “‘Best practice’ connotes white coats and flawless data,” he writes. “Emerging practice signals something iterative, evolving and, like our students, in a time zone of constant adaptation.”

How many times have you heard the term “best practice” uttered during a board meeting, a workshop or a conference presentation? Too many, I am afraid. In a profession enamored with buzz words, this one gets used with the frequency of “awesome” and shares the same shallowness.

The term “best practice” is used like a master key. You just need to invoke it, and the draw bridge comes down, and everything opens. But “best” according to whom and in relation to what? How can anything be a best practice when it is void of social, cultural and historical context? Is best practice in a Baltimore middle school the same as one for an American school in Barcelona? Can a best practice ever become a bad practice or a mediocre one? It’s not that I doubt that there are many unique and effective practices out there, it is just the use of the superlative that makes me squirm.

“Best practice” has a way of designating itself as superior by virtue of being a best practice. The logic is circular. The problem with “best” is that it comes off as imperial. It leaves no room for alternatives. It eschews variety, gradations and plurality. Why not call these emerging practices? We never talk about the change of seasons or a savory meal as best. Isn’t all effective education something that is fluid, protean and evolving?

Like our omnipresent ear phones and head phones, we should have our critical antennas up whenever the word is uttered. The superlative is a tense that does not belong in education. Rather, let’s take the work or program in process, the draft and the evolving idea. It feels more authentic, resembling the messy and often improvisational nature of life in school. “Best practice” connotes white coats and flawless data. Emerging practice signals something iterative, evolving and, like our students, in a time zone of constant adaptation.

We should care as much about language and how that shapes our perceptions as we do our test results.

View Full Article in: SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

Does higher education make you think? Guardian article excerpted in parts below:

Higher education is a noble and longstanding enterprise. And yet, curiously, it has not been a particularly self-reflective one. Especially in times of economic or political difficulty, the academic community has been more ready to analyse and campaign about what is being done to it than what it does to itself and to its most important members – its students.

All too often we can focus on issues like funding, economic returns on investment, relative institutional prestige and the like, and ignore what tutors and researchers working directly with students frequently hear in interviews: “it changed my life”.

Looking at the long sweep of university history, it is possible to extract several distinct claims about what higher education does to and for students: in existential terms (how students come to be); in epistemological terms (how they think and appraise information); in behavioural terms (how they learn to conduct themselves); and in positional terms (both through competition and collaboration) …

They can be structured around five sets of questions, part-ethical (what higher education should be seeking to inspire or inculcate in terms of habits of thinking) and part-epistemological (how it validates certain types of knowledge). Most were there in one way or another at the beginning of the European university enterprise, the model now widely imitated around the world. Since then they have waxed, waned and combined in various ways in response to both external and internal stimuli.

 The first set is around conscience especially through religious foundations; the second around character as formed through ‘liberal’ higher education; the third combines calling, competence, and craft as in the zones of professional and vocational higher education; the fourth involves citizenship as in respective obligations to civil society, the state and global responsibilities; and the final set introduces capability, or the role of higher education in inculcating life-skills, including employability.

Most of the claims about the purposes and achievements of higher education relate to the individual: it will change your life, through conversion or confirmation of faith, by improving your character, by giving you marketable abilities, by making you a better member of the community, or simply by being capable of operating more effectively in the contemporary world. All of these qualities scale up, but in differing ways.

There is one over-arching question linked to the claim that “it changed my life.” Is higher education likely to make you better, to improve your capacity to make sound moral as well as technical judgements, in other words to take part in what Amartya Sen calls “public reasoning”?

As you study at this level you try to answer some hard questions, some hypothetical, some not. You learn how to work with other people, dead and alive, directly or indirectly through their work, present or remote. You meet deadlines. You ask yourself why you are doing this, and what difference doing it well will make for yourself and for others. You get a certificate (as a whole, or in stages). You take out a membership.

In this way, higher education’s purposes come together in terms of self-creation and the authentic life, the habit of thinking deeply, and the capacity to connect with others empathically.

At the end of the day everyone makes sense of his or her own higher education, not necessarily immediately, and in some cases not for a considerable time. You don’t have to buy the full proposition if you don’t want to – there is a definite escape clause (away from doctrinal study) that says no one can make you take away what you don’t want to take away from the experience.

You are, however, compelled by an authentic higher education experience to practise answering difficult questions. You are given a safe place in which to do so. Depending on your subject or discipline (or combination of these), you will gain a powerful evaluative toolkit. You will be required to communicate what you have learned. This is hard work but for centuries students have found it to be immensely satisfying…

PISA results cause for worry, not panic (The-japan-news.com December 13, 2013)

Fareed Zakaria / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON—The latest international student evaluations, the PISA test results, are out and one thing is clear: the United States has not done well. Beyond that, the exams have become, professor Jay Greene points out, a Rorschach test. People read into them pretty much whatever they want. So Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers announced that “None of the top-tier countries … has a fixation on testing like the United States does.” It’s difficult to see how one could come to this conclusion. The top four slots in all three categories—math, reading and science—are taken by Shanghai (China), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Japan. They probably have the most test-centric systems in the world.

What’s more worrying is that this particular test, PISA, is not focused on rote memorization but rather on the ability to use skills to solve real world problems. (I tried the sample test; you can too at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/test.) In fact, American school children do better in the other major international comparison, the TIMSS, which is a more traditional test of the academic curriculum. Does this mean we’re teaching more by rote than do South Korea and Japan?

If one can put ideology and vested interests aside, I think a fair-minded review of this survey, as well as others, suggests that the United States has reason to be worried, though not panicked.

Let’s be clear, general educational excellence is not the only ingredient to national success. Diane Ravitch, a critic of educational reform, has pointed out that the United States has never done very well on international tests, and yet, the American economy has done better than many higher scoring countries. Why? Well, America benefits from an amazingly flexible free market economy, a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship, a dynamic society, talented immigrants, and a strong work ethic. Those strengths might outweigh poor test scores, on average.

In addition, there’s increasing evidence that it takes a small number of high achievers to generate a great deal of economic vitality. Scholars Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson have found that the performance of the top 5 percent (measured by IQ) in a country correlates strongly with economic growth. Duke University’s Jonathan Wai argues that, because of its size, America’s top 1 percent have a huge impact on the country’s trajectory.

The United States has done very well in harnessing the talents of its top 1 percent and in attracting the top 1 percent from the rest of the world to live and work here. These are the engines of innovation, growth and dynamism. But the country’s vast middle class—and below—has seen its wages stagnate for three decades. And this is getting worse as technology and globalization depress job prospects for people in the middle.

The real story of these tests has been “the rise of the rest.” The United States has muddled along over the last few decades, showing little improvement or decline. Meanwhile countries like South Korea and Singapore have skyrocketed to the top and now China, Vietnam and Poland are doing astonishingly well. These countries have workers whose productivity levels have been rising in tandem with their educational achievements. There are many reasons, but to put it simply, many of these countries are playing to win. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gap in math between Shanghai and Massachusetts (the top performing U.S. state) translates into two years of schooling. No surprise; as it turns out, because of the longer school year, by the time the average Shanghai kid gets to be 15, she has spent about two years more in school than the average 15-year-old American.

President Obama said this week that America’s greatest problem is its declining social mobility. Americans are now less likely to move out of their income level than Canadians or Europeans. Education is the single best way to rebuild that ladder of opportunity.

Almost all the research suggests that how much you spend does not predict your performance. America spends a lot; many Asian countries spend much less. However, America has an unusually large gap between its best and worst students. And it is unusual in that it devotes less money, attention and energy on its most disadvantaged students. Most countries, certainly most high performing countries, devote greater resources and attention to poor children. Because education in America is funded by local property taxes, the opposite dynamic is at work, which reinforces and exacerbates problems of mobility.

It’s possible that the top 1 percent will be able to continue generating enough growth to keep the country moving but it’s more likely that the weight of a stagnant middle class will eventually slow the economy down. More importantly, the politics of a country with a tiny productive elite and a massive underclass with low skills, depressed wages and no prospects will not look pretty.

On the Australian news, Don’t panic about PISA ; UK (Wales) – PISA Don’t panic; NZ – Business community calls for education improvementPISA post-mortem-and-the-PISA shock effect

You may also find the following links worth reading:

In an interview for a university course, it’s important to show that you’re well-rounded and that you know your subject. In focusing on higher education’s systems, says David Watson, are we overlooking whether (and how) it works on its students?

Editorial: Why Other Countries Teach Better: Why students do better overseas… Dec 17, 2013

Millions of laid-off American factory workers were the first to realize that they were competing against job seekers around the globe with comparable skills but far smaller paychecks. But a similar fate also awaits workers who aspire to high-skilled, high-paying jobs in engineering and technical fields unless this country learns to prepare them to compete for the challenging work that the new global economy requires.
economy requires.

Are Chinese students smarter or is testing system rigged in their favour?

The results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) again reveal Shanghai’s 15-year-old students as the smartest in the world in reading, maths and science, coming…

How should universities respond to student protests? – 10 views

As students stage a nationwide protest against police on campus, we hear from a range of voices across the sector who say there’s been a breakdown in university management

The next three links are from Huffington Post, in the same vein as the article above-  Racing to the Top & Leaving Behind the Love of Learning Accurate information is one thing, but testing in overdrive is quite another; it is a lousy strategy for nurturing anyone’s brilliance

Missing from Education: Time to Think?  Teachers need time to figure out how to teach thinking. Right now many complain that teaching thinking would take too much time away from the busy schedule that mandates they cover the curriculum in order to be ready for the test. It seems no one in school these days has time to think

Just Half Of College Students Finish Their Degrees‘A job may be better than going to university’ (The Times)

The Promising Future of Virtual spEd More and more, parents whose kids don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of their neighborhood school are increasingly interested in the option of high-quality education online — even if it means missing teacher-led instruction

University spy software to catch slackers (The Times); Other tech-related stories from Times’: Tablet computer for every pupil boosts motivation;  Lazy pupils ‘can hide’ behind desktop technologySmartphone app reveals pitfalls of multiplicationThe internet ‘creates instant-expert pushy parents’

Innovations that changed Japan: It’s all in the details  (Dec 16  Japan Times)

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In books, courtesy of Bilingual Monkeys:

**Annika Bourgogne’s fine book “Be Bilingual” is now available in a print
edition. Annika is a parent, teacher, and researcher in Finland and I highly
recommend her helpful and well-crafted guide. I reviewed the e-version
previously at this link. (You can also read my interview with her.)
http://bit.ly/Wlr6Q4

Also check out School reform is the focus of Sarah Reckhow’s, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics (Oxford University Press, 2013). Her book probes significant questions about the role of philanthropic foundations in education reform. Through in-depth case studies of NYC and LA, Reckhow demonstrates how a particular view of school reform has been funded by major foundations such as Gates and Eli Broad. Emphasizing new types of schools, particularly charter schools, and reforms focused around a business-oriented view of school management, foundations have reshaped education in these two cities

Events:

Activities and Events at Temple University, Japan Campus

Last but not least, in the holiday spirit, I leave you with the Dec 19th Telegraph’s “Trifle with traditions at your peril:

It’s vital to maintain family customs and traditions … says Allison Pearson… Christmas customs are the leftovers of the sacred, which is why they are so important to maintain…
Happy holidays ahead!
Digitally yours,
Aileen Kawagoe