Updates: 7 high school students face charges over suicide of classmate (Japan Today, Mar 8)
High schools to focus on global mobility (Yomiuri Shimbun)

Panel on English education holds 1st meeting (Jiji Press, Mar 8)

The education ministry’s panel of experts on improving English education for primary to high school students has held its first meeting. The panel will meet every month to discuss steps such as starting English education earlier at primary schools and how to  strengthen teaching skills. …Rakuten Inc. President and Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani said, “A simple and powerful initial step would be to raise university exam levels to the global standard,” calling on the government to introduce external exams, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, as part of university exams.

7 youths reported to prosecutors over bullied classmate’s suicide (Mainichi, Mar 6, 2014)

Seven youths aged 17 to 18 have been accused of illegal acts of violence in conjunction with the November 2013 suicide of their classmate in Fukuoka Prefecture, it has been learned.

Papers accusing the seven students were sent to the Fukuoka District Public Prosecutors Office on March 6.

Prior to committing suicide, the boy — who was an 18-year-old third-year student at a private high school in Fukuoka Prefecture at the time — left behind written text indicating that he had been bullied.

“Although it is not clear that there is a causal relationship between the suicide (and the bullying), the actions in this case are consistent with bullying based upon the definition provided by the bullying prevention law,” commented a prefectural police department representative.

The seven youths are accused of teaming up to assault the victim on five separate occasions between Oct. 1 and Nov. 6 in locations including the school’s classrooms and cooking room, including hitting and kicking him, as well as pressing a burning-hot ladle against his mouth.

The youth killed himself before dawn on Nov. 14 by jumping off an apartment building in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kasuga.

He had written the names of the other students on his portable terminal device, along with messages such as “I will never forgive you.”

The boy’s family filed an official claim regarding the incident in February of this year.

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Earlier: Bullying suspected as cause of 16-year-old boy’s suicide

Japanese police handled 410 school bullying-related cases in 2013, increasing 58 pct from the previous year and exceeding 400 for the first time since 1985, the National Police Agency said Thursday. (Jiji Press, Feb 28)

The Osaka High Court on Thursday ordered the founder of English language school chain Nova Corp. and three others to pay 19 million yen in damages to former Nova students, reversing a lower court ruling.

The 27 former plaintiffs in western Japan became Nova students from 2002 to the chain’s bankruptcy in 2007 and cancelled their contracts without prepaid tuition fees being refunded.

Bullying-related cases in Japan surge 58 percent to 28-year high (Feb 27, Jiji Press )

Tokyo, Feb. 27 (Jiji Press)–Japanese police handled 410 school bullying-related cases in 2013, increasing 58 pct from the previous year and exceeding 400 for the first time since 1985, the National Police Agency said Thursday.
A total of 724 school children and students were found or taken into custody in violence and personal injury cases related to bullying in the year, up 213 and topping 700 for the first time in 27 years, the agency said.
The rises resulted from closer cooperation between police and schools and an increase in consultations with police amid growing public attention following a bullying-related suicide of a junior high school boy in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, western Japan, an NPA official said.
As another factor, the official said that the definition of bullying has been broadened in 2013 after the law on measures to prevent bullying came into force.
In 2013, the number of minors held on suspicion of involvement in “furikome” bank transfer frauds came to 262, accounting for 21 pct of the total such suspects including adults, the NPA also said. The figure rose 102 from the previous year and grew eightfold in the past five years.

Nova founder and former President Nozomu Sahashi, 62, convicted of embezzlement, is responsible for paying the damages including prepaid tuition fees as he engaged in illegal practices that led Nova to fail, Presiding Judge Ikuo Yamashita said.

The ruling by the Osaka District Court in June 2012 had rejected the 21 million yen damages suit filed by the former students.

Smartphones account for over 55 pct in Japan youth mobile phones (Feb 20, 2014)

The rate of smartphone users among students owning mobile phones at elementary, junior high and high schools in Japan stood at 56.8 pct in late 2013, up 20.8 percentage points from a year earlier, a Cabinet Office survey showed Wednesday.

The rate stood at 82.8 pct for high school students, up 26.9 points, 47.4 pct for junior high students, up 22.1 pct, and 13.6 pct for elementary school children, up 6.0 points.

Earlier: An editorial in Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper looks at how the government is proposing to change education administration locally by granting the local government greater influence and rights and powers, see below:

Education board reform must lead to clarification of responsibilities

February 28, 2014, Yomiuri Shimbun

To ensure that education board reform will result in a rebuilt system that can adequately deal with the mounting problems that it faces, discussions must be further deepened.

Having drawn up a set of reform proposals on the board of education system, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in consultation with ruling coalition partner New Komeito.

Based on the outcome of discussions within the ruling camp, the government plans to submit a bill for revising the law on local education administration in the current Diet session.

The LDP draft focuses on making it easier for the head of a local government to exert his or her influence in the area of education administration, while allowing ultimate authority to be retained by the local entity’s board of education to ensure political neutrality in education.

Specifically, the LDP plan calls for integration of the post of education board chief, who acts as the board representative, and that of the superintendent of education, who serves as the education board’s secretariat chief. It also seeks to give the head of each local government the right to appoint and dismiss the person who will assume the proposed post to be created by merging the two roles.

The plan rightly aims to rectify the current situation in which the locus of responsibility is often blurred due to the simultaneous existence of separate posts for the education board chief and superintendent of education.

The current system utilizes a framework of making decisions through exchanges of views among members of a local education board comprising intellectuals and others from each local entity. With all the board members except the superintendent of education working part-time, the education board system has long been criticized as having become a mere facade. System reform is urgently needed.

The Central Council for Education, an advisory body to the education, culture, sports, science and technology minister, issued a report in December last year proposing that the ultimate authority in local education administration be shifted from education boards to local government heads.

However, there were fears that the council’s proposal, if effected as was, could lead to the danger of local government heads exerting their influence based on personal bias in a bid to assert greater control over educational matters, with no means of reining in their behavior.

Division of roles unclear

If education boards are allowed to retain final authority on education matters as envisaged in the LDP draft, there will be at least a modicum of hope of preventing the abuse of power by local government heads over education administration.

On the other hand, the LDP plan also calls for the creation of what it tentatively calls a “general education policy council.” The envisaged council would be presided over by each local local government head who holds the authority to enforce budgetary appropriations, with a view to having the council tasked with compiling important education administration measures.

The proposal to create the council seems to be designed to ensure local government heads’ chances of demonstrating leadership in the enforcement of education administration. What is of the highest importance, however, is to have the local education administration function properly by maintaining a balance of power between local government heads and education boards.

The LDP-envisioned general education policy council would be in charge of such tasks as the establishment and abolition of publicly operated schools and quotas of schoolteachers, while education boards would engage in such matters as personnel shuffles of schoolteachers and selection of textbooks to be used in the areas under their jurisdiction.

The relationship between the planned council and education boards under the LPD draft, however, appears to be more or less unintelligible. Should public entities implement the envisaged system without clarifying the roles of each, it could result in confusion that would affect day-to-day school education, possibly impeding the smooth implementation of education administration.

Also incorporated into the LDP plan is a proposal that local government heads be authorized to demand that education boards take appropriate steps in response to such emergency situations as the suicide of a student. The proposal came in light of the fact that education boards lacked crisis-management capabilities to take swift action, an issue that was brought to the fore in the case of the bullying-induced suicide of an Otsu middle school student in 2011.

The secretariats of education boards are frequently comprised of former schoolteachers. There is a strong body of opinion that they, due to a sense of camaraderie with problem-stricken schools, often fail to address the task of rigorously probing the causes of serious problems.

In effecting the envisaged system reform, it is very important to take up the attitude of doing away with this tendency of boards of education. (From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2014)

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Publications to check out:

See Mira SONNTAG *
Globalising Japanese History: The Significance of Teaching in English in Japanese Universities bEleanor Robinson-Yamaguchi (Aichi Prefectural University)

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Education ministry revises booklets on radiation (NHK — Mar 03)
Japan’s education ministry has revised its instructional booklets on radiation by adding details on the impact of Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.
The ministry published the original booklets in October of 2011, about 6 months after the disaster. But many teachers complained that the booklets lacked sufficient information on the accident itself.
The new booklets include maps of the areas affected by radiation from the crippled power plant as well as places from which residents were forced to evacuate.

More news:

Elsewhere in the world, the news on education:

Chinese kids beat Western children at math (via gmanetwork, Feb 27)

Paris-(AFP-Jiji) — the children of cleaners in the Chinese city of Shanghai are outperforming the children of U.S. and British professionals such as doctors and lawyers at maths, a recent study found.

British and American children also fared badly against children from similar family backgrounds in other countries worldwide, OECD analysts said.

“In the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries,” they stated.

“Nor do they perform as well as the children in Shanghai, China and Singapore, whose parents work in manual occupations,” they added.

The findings are contained in an analysis of the global Pisa test rankings, an international league table first released by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), a grouping of rich nations, in December 2013.

The study concluded that there was inevitably a strong relationship between parents’ occupations and student performance.

But it said the results show “that it is possible to provide children of factory workers (with) the same high-quality education opportunities that children of lawyers and doctors enjoy”. — Agence France-Presse