A farmer's field bordered with sunflowers, and peppered over with signboards of cheer and encouragement

Here’s an idea for your schoolgardens: A farmer’s field bordered with sunflowers, and peppered over with signboards of cheer and encouragement

Hello readers,

Here’s our regular roundup on the educational scene in Japan:

Sasebo girl says she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone (JapanToday, Jul. 29, 2014)
A 16-year-old high school girl who was arrested Sunday for the grisly murder of her 15-year-old classmate in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, told police on Monday that she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone.

The suspect was sent to prosecutors as police, educators and psychologists tried to determine her motive for killing Aiwa Matsuo.

Officials at the school that the two girls attended expressed shock Monday and said there was no indication of any trouble between the two, Sankei Shimbun reported.

Police said the suspect told them that she and Matsuo went shopping on Saturday afternoon and when they returned to her apartment, she killed her. Police said the girl admitted striking Matsuo on the back of the head at least 10 times with a hammer. She then strangled her with a cord, before hacking her head off with a saw. Matsuo’s left hand was also severed, police said.

After Matsuo failed to return home on Saturday night, her parents called police who came to the suspect’s apartment to look for her. They found the suspect with Matsuo’s body.

The suspect also told police that she bought the tools she used to kill Matsuo a few days prior to the attack. … more here

More university students prefer repeating senior year over working (The Japan News — Jul 21, 2014)
A total of 102,810 students did not graduate from colleges and universities nationwide this spring, with many choosing to repeat a year because they had decided to decline job offers they were reluctant to take, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
This means one in every six students in their final year will repeat that year, exceeding the 100,000 mark for the first time in two years. According to university officials, an increasing number of students are apparently inclined to repeat a year if they are displeased with the job offers they receive, and they try to find jobs they will find satisfactory instead.
Eighty-nine percent of colleges and universities across the nation responded to the Yomiuri survey.

According to the results, 102,810 university students who were in their final school year as of May 2013 did not graduate this spring. This figure represented 16.3 percent of the total and was up 3,445 from last year.

According to university officials in charge of assisting with student job hunting, many of the repeaters had been unable to secure the credits necessary for graduation or chose not to graduate because they had not gained job offers from companies.

But there was also a conspicuous number of students this spring who chose to repeat their final year after turning down job offers, the university officials said

Meanwhile, heavy-handedness and wrongful eviction are issues coming to bear upon the decision by the Tohoku U. to evict all 105 dormitory residents regardless of whether they were proven guilty of infringing the no-drinking rules of the school…

Tohoku University evicts entire dormitory for rampant drinking (National Jul. 28, 2014)

TOKYO — On July 15, Tohoku University sent eviction notices to all 105 residents of Meizenryo, a student-governed dormitory in Sendai. The school claims that the students violated their “promise to abstain from alcohol.”

Although asking a building full of college students not to drink is like asking a building full of tigers not to scratch the furniture, the school is taking a hardline stance of incredulousness at their behavior. Nevertheless, students are appealing saying that not everyone in the dorm drinks and some should be allowed to stay.

According to Professor Odanaka, a representative of Tohoku University, the problem began back in April when a large number of empty beer cans were found in the dorm and there had been reports of intoxicated vomiting in the common areas. He says that since then the situation has shown “no improvement” leading to the current eviction notices.

The dormitory houses first and second year students most of whom are under the legal drinking age. However, the school feels that there is a longstanding atmosphere of “this is a place to drink” in Meizenryo which is placing peer pressure on students who wouldn’t normally want alcohol.

Meanwhile, Meizenryo committee chairman Shunto Kaneko flatly denies the university’s claims and says that the situation has gotten better. “The university is trying to wipe out an outdated image of widespread drinking with brute force,” he said.

Kaneko requested to discuss the issue with the university further and try to prevent students who didn’t drink from getting kicked out, but Odanaka declined saying, “The decision has been made. It will not be overturned.” The students have until 30 September to move out and the school has offered to help by mediating with other dorms in the city. … more here.

Trimester system makes a comeback (Japan News, Jul. 27, 2014)

At the end of June at Ushioda Middle School in Yokohama, Japanese language teacher Miyoko Baba returned the graded final exams to students in her third-year classroom, speaking to each student in turn.

Under the two-semester system that was used here until last school year, the final test of the first semester was carried out in mid-September, after summer vacation, and report cards were given to students in October. Under the recently reintroduced trimester system, however, the first term’s final test comes at the end of June and students get report cards before summer vacation.

“I can talk with students and their parents in a private interview before summer vacation, based on a firm evaluation of the student’s academic performance and their daily behavior,” said Baba, 56.

Student Daisuke Tsukayama, 14, said that thanks to the trimester system, “I can determine my weak points earlier and rethink my way of studying for the high school entrance exam.”

The middle school adopted the two-semester system in the 2004 school year and increased its classroom hours by about 20 hours. Ten years later, however, it has reverted to a trimester system. According to the school, classroom hours will not decrease due to such measures as offering lessons on the same days as closing ceremonies.

More and more schools are reverting to the trimester system from the recently popular two-semester system, whose adoption has been promoted at primary and middle schools across the nation since about 10 years ago.

The aim of adopting the two-semester system was to increase classroom hours by reducing the number of opening and closing ceremony days and regular test periods. However, an increasing number of schools have coped with the required classroom hours by shortening long vacations and offering Saturday classes.

The trimester system revival also likely reflects complaints from parents who are dissatisfied with the fact that they receive fewer report cards under the two-semester system.

According to the Yokohama municipal board of education, the majority of municipal primary and middle schools shifted their school system to the two-semester system after the five-day school week system was fully introduced in the 2002 school year. However, an increasing number of schools began to shift back to the trimester system from about 2010.

During this school year, 23 primary schools out of 342, or 6.7 percent, and 58 middle schools out of 148 middle schools, or 39.1 percent, have adopted the trimester system.

A national survey conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry also shows a decreasing trend regarding the two-semester system. Public primary schools that adopted the two-semester system in the 2013 school year accounted for 20.9 percent—a 1 percentage point decrease from the 2011 school year—and public middle schools accounted for 20 percent—a 1.9 percentage point decrease—according to the ministry.

In the 2013 school year, municipalities that returned all of their public primary and middle schools to the trimester include Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, and Takamatsu. This school year, municipalities including Kanazawa and Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture returned to the trimester system at all of their public primary and middle schools.

In Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, where about 40 percent of primary and middle schools adopted the two-semester system, all of its public primary and middle schools have adopted the trimester system this school year. According to a questionnaire for parents, which was conducted in advance of the change, 47 percent favored the trimester system, triple the number who preferred the two-semester system. One reason given was that they received fewer report cards from the school under the two-semester system.

An official at the Kuki municipal board of education said: “Many parents may think their children will be able to concentrate on studying more under the trimester system, as there are more chances to improve if their performance is evaluated in shorter increments.”

The education board plans to secure classroom hours by such measures as shortening winter vacation by two days.

Meanwhile, the Sendai municipal board of education said it has no plans to review the current two-semester system. One official said: “Under the two-semester system, it’s easier to secure classroom hours. We have to provide detailed information to parents regarding their children’s study and daily life habits during interviews with parents before long vacations.”

Bunkyo University Prof. Masaaki Hayo, an expert on school curriculums, said, “If schools change their term system, it’s important to fully explain the intent of the change so that students and parents are not left confused.”

Nursery schools add services to survive (The Japan News Jul 27, 2014)

With the number of privately run nursery schools increasing in Japan, many such facilities are working to come up with novel services in order to survive, including original educational materials and English conversation classes.

With the number of privately run nursery schools increasing in Japan, many such facilities are working to come up with novel services in order to survive, including original educational materials and English conversation classes.
While the number of children on nursery waiting lists remains high, nursery school operators are keen to find ways to differentiate themselves in order to stay in business as Japan’s birthrate continues to fall.
Major nursery service provider JP Holdings Inc. started using new educational materials for children aged 1 to 3 at its nursing schools in June. The new workbooks are linked with picture books and are designed to develop social skills and language ability.

Japanese education minister Hakubun Shimomura said Tuesday that the government plans to introduce an income limit for free preschool education for five-year-old children.

Families with an annual income of less than 3.6 million yen are expected to be eligible for the free schooling from fiscal 2015, Shimomura said at a press conference.The measure requires a state budget of some 30 billion yen per year. The proposed income ceiling may change as a result of talks between the education ministry, the Finance Ministry and the welfare ministry expected to begin next week, government officials said.

Japanese high school students shine at Intl Science Olympiads (The Yomiuri Shimbun, jul 19, 2014)

Japanese high school students racked up a number of medals at this year’s International Science Olympiads (ISO), a group of worldwide competitions in such scientific disciplines as math, biology and geography.

This year, Japanese students brought home 10 medals—five gold medals, four silver and one bronze—in the ISO’s mathematical and biological divisions. Other categories include physics and chemistry.

Medals are normally given to the top 60 percent of all participants. Of that 60 percent, those in the top 10 percent receive gold medals, silver medals are awarded to the next highest 20 percent and those in the bottom 30 percent are given bronze medals.

Medalists tend to have a strongly inquisitive nature. Naoki Konno, a second-year student at Komaba High School in Tokyo, an affiliated high school of the University of Tsukuba, won a silver medal in the International Biology Olympiad. He has been fascinated by such animals as snakes ever since he was a primary school student, when he thought they were cool because of their poison.


    The Yomiuri Shimbun


“When I first looked through a microscope, I was surprised at the sight of so many creatures. That changed my world,” Konno said.

Another silver medalist was Nobuhiro Kurata, a third-year student at Hiroshima Gakuin High School in Hiroshima Prefecture who wants to be a psychiatrist.

“The thoughts and emotions of humans are incredibly complex,” Kurata said. “I want to find mental happiness, which can’t be measured in terms of lifespan or material wealth, for each individual.”

As highly qualified students from all over the world compete as rivals, extensive preparations are required. This year, 560 participants from more than 100 countries and regions took part in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Takahiro Ueoro, a third-year student of Waseda High School in Tokyo, picked up a gold medal in the fierce competition.

“Last year, I ended up with a silver medal, so I started gearing up in February,” Ueoro said with a smile….Read more here.


School’s Out and small and big kids everywhere will want to know that …

Harry Potter world [has] come to Osaka The Japan News, July 28, 2014

OSAKA (Jiji Press)—)—A new area of the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka focusing on the Harry Potter series opened Tuesday.

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” area includes a carefully reproduced Hogwarts Castle, home to the school of magic where Harry Potter and other characters from the series study, as well as the wizard village of Hogsmeade.

Visitors there can enjoy attractions incorporating 4K ultra high-definition video technology and drink Butterbeer, a favorite beverage within the fictional world … more here



Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the OECD defends the usefulness and role of PISA (Excerpt follows) in “PISA’s Promise” (The Japan News, Jul 24, 2014):

” … By exposing weaknesses in a particular country’s system, PISA assessments help to ensure that policymakers recognize – and, it is hoped, address – remaining deficiencies.
The sense of accountability that PISA fosters among governments and education ministers has helped to spur them into action. They increasingly turn to one another to learn how to apply innovations in curricula, pedagogy, and digital resources; how to offer personalized learning experiences that maximize every student’s chances of success; and how to cope with diversity in the classroom.
The OECD established PISA as a global assessment, because in today’s globalized world students must be able to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds and appreciate different ideas, perspectives, and values. To give students the best possible chance to succeed, education must prepare them to handle issues that transcend national boundaries.
But PISA’s most important outcomes lie at the national level, because it inspires innovation and broadens educational perspectives within countries. Education systems as diverse as those in Finland, Japan, China, and Canada – which seldom registered on policymakers’ radars before – have become global reference points for excellence in education, helping other countries to design effective reforms.
When Brazil emerged as the lowest-performing education system in the first PISA assessment, released in 2000, many people rightly questioned the fairness of comparing an emerging economy to advanced countries like Finland and Japan. But Brazil rose to the challenge, making massive investments in improving the quality of teaching. The country now boasts one of the world’s most rapidly improving education systems.
Germany also featured in PISA 2000, recording below-average performance and large social inequalities in education – an outcome that stunned Germans and initiated a months-long public debate. Spurred into action, the government launched initiatives to support disadvantaged and immigrant students, and made the notion of early childhood education a driving force in German education policy. Today, PISA reports confirm that the quality and fairness of Germany’s education system have improved considerably.
Even in the world’s best-performing education systems, PISA helps to pinpoint areas for improvement. For example, PISA assessments have revealed that, while Japanese students excel at reproducing what they have learned, they often struggle when asked to extrapolate from that knowledge and apply it creatively. The effort that this has inspired to create more innovative learning environments was apparent last April, during a visit to the Tohoku schools destroyed by the 2011 tsunami.
This experience offers yet another lesson: even in cases where social and cultural factors seem to be the main force shaping a country’s education style, improvements are possible. Countries like Japan do not have to change their cultures to address their educational shortcomings; they simply have to adjust their policies and practices.
Creating a global platform for collaboration in education research and innovation has been the PISA initiative’s aspiration from its conception in the late 1990s. Since then, policymakers, researchers, and experts have built the world’s largest professional network dedicated to the development of robust, reliable, and internationally comparable information on student learning outcomes.
At the same time, PISA measures students’ social and emotional skills and attitudes toward learning, as well as educational equity and parental support – all of which provides indispensable context for understanding scores on international assessments.
Of course, assessments do not cover every important skill or attitude. But there is convincing evidence that the knowledge and skills that the PISA system assesses are essential to students’ future success, and the OECD works continuously to broaden the range of cognitive and social skills that PISA measures … Read more here.


That’s it from folks,  stay cool..


Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe