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Even though many women nowadays continue working after becoming mothers, and sewing machines are no longer a must-have item in households, there remains social pressure for them to make a variety of items for their children, based on a strong belief that loving mothers do things by hand. Fathers, meanwhile, are generally not expected to do needlework.
“I did needlework many nights. I found myself truly driven into (a) corner,” a 40-year-old working mother in Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture, said, recalling how she had to make six items a year ago just so her son could enter elementary school.
The items included a bag for his gym clothes, one for his toothbrush and cup, and a bag for his scissors and glue.
Many Japanese kindergartens, day care centers and elementary schools require parents to prepare a number of bags or other items for their children to use at the institutions.
And in many cases, these bags must meet certain conditions that are often surprisingly detailed, making it difficult to purchase from stores.
Conditions pertaining to size, type of textile, or even how a string, zip fastener or button should be sewed on, worry women who are not good at sewing or simply don’t have the time.
However, many mothers, no matter how busy or clumsy they are, accept the springtime needlework just because they want to please their children.
Nami Uchiyama, a 39-year-old graphic designer in Tokyo, just made a handbag and a bag for indoor shoes for her son entering elementary school this month.
She said the key to successfully completing the work was breaking it up into parts. “I did the work little by little every day after my son went to bed. I told myself, ‘Today, I will just cut out the fabric. Tomorrow, I will sew,’ ” Uchiyama said.
But some women simply cannot find time for the work or find themselves too exhausted to do it.
“I would have loved to make them by myself for my sons, but I didn’t have a sewing machine or time,” said a 34-year-old full-time office worker in Tokyo who was asked to prepare a futon cover and other items when her sons entered day care for two consecutive years.
She starts work early in the morning so she can leave early and take care of her children. When she puts them to sleep, she often falls asleep with them because of exhaustion.
Unable to find the time to make the items herself, she used an online service that found a sewer for her and helped her get the job done, she said.
In fact, many women are now seeking solutions outside the household.
Nutte, an online service that began last year, connects people in need of needlework with sewers from across Japan. In Japanese, nutte can mean “please sew.”
In January, the number of requests Nutte received doubled from last year’s monthly average, boosted by special demand related to children starting school in April.
Yuzawaya, a nationwide chain of handicraft stores, expanded services related to this demand several years ago. It now offers 10 types of made-to-order fabric bags and other school-use items and accepts orders for single items.
“Orders have especially grown from mothers in their 20s and 30s in recent years. It seems they are busy and don’t have anyone in their family who will make the bags instead,” a Yuzawaya official said.
Because of the strong social belief that children with good mothers have hand-made goods, some moms say they feel guilty using online sewing services or professionals to make the bags.
Aki Fukoin, head of the civic group Parents Concerned with Nursery Schools, said society needs to understand that “making something by hand is not the only way a parent can show affection to child.”
“If you listen carefully to your child, whose environment has drastically changed after entering school, and if you keep in close contact with your child’s nursery school or elementary school, you are showing (wonderful) love to your child . . .,” she said.
The article below highlights the plight of working parents seeking quality childcare. Setagaya ward’s available childcare spots was oversubscribed by more than double. Some of Tokyo’s wards are seeing sharp population growth. To cope, some wards like Minato ward have been “operating 12 “urgent provisional nursery facilities” for the last 10 years, utilizing unused primary schools and other places.” A unique measure called “Hoiku Mama” (Child-care mothers) has been used to meet the rising demand for nursery care. Under the system, women with a lot of experience in raising children take care of one to two infants under 1 year old. The system is, however, not registered as a certified child-care service. There are about 200 Hoiku Mamas under the system. More details in the excerpt below…
Childcare seekers exceed spots in Tokyo The Yomiuri Shimbun April 27, 2016
The number of children whose parents or guardians want to enroll them in certified nurseries, including municipal nursery facilities and “nintei kodomoen,” which integrate the functions of kindergartens and nursery schools, in Tokyo’s 23 wards for fiscal 2016 exceeded the admission capacity by about 22,000 children in the first round of applications, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. The number of applicants is 1.52 times the capacity.
If parents cannot enroll their children after the initial round of applications, they have to apply for a second or later one, choose uncertified nursery facilities, or extend their child-care leave. The survey result indicates that the government’s measures for children on waiting lists do not meet the needs of child-raising families.
Central govt needs to respond
The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed the number of applicants aged from 0 to 5 by age, and the admission capacity in Tokyo’s 23 wards by questionnaire beginning on March 14. There was a total of 65,063 applications for the 42,897 total places.
By age, the number of applications for 1-year-old children was the largest with 25,672 in total. The number of applications for children aged 4 and 5 did not exceed the capacity.
There were 1,182 children on waiting lists last year in Setagaya Ward, the largest figure of any municipality across the nation for the third consecutive year. The number of applicants this year exceeded the capacity by 3,157 in the first round of applications.
The Setagaya Ward government increased its nursery placement capacity by 1,250 children to 15,925 from the previous year by measures such as opening new nursery facilities. The ward government provides rent subsidies to private operators to secure sites for nursery centers, and also makes efforts to secure nursery workers by hiring them from rural areas and giving them rent subsidies. However, the ward official in charge said, “The ward cannot handle the situation on its own, and it won’t be solved unless the central government becomes serious.”
Ward govts’ efforts
In Meguro Ward, the ratio of applications for children up to the age of 5 to the admission capacity grew to over 200 percent. A project to build two new nursery facilities was opposed by local residents in two districts. Though one is set to open this June — more than a year behind schedule — there is no prospect for the other one.
The ward government paid attention to utilization of public land. New nursery facilities are scheduled to open in April next year in what is now the ward office’s parking area and classrooms at unused middle and primary schools.
In Katsushika Ward, the capacity to accept babies less than a year old exceeded the number of applicants. There is increasing number of households moving into the ward with small children. The ward has a plan to increase the admission quota by 1,245 from fiscal 2015 through fiscal 2017 by setting up more nursery schools.
Minato Ward is experiencing sharp growth in population. Though the ratio of applications for 1-year-olds to the admission capacity is 2.78-to-1, it has been operating 12 “urgent provisional nursery facilities” for the last 10 years, utilizing unused primary schools and other places.
As these facilities are not treated as certified nursery schools, the questionnaire survey did not cover them. However, the ward government said that the total capacity including such facilities meets the needs of ward residents.
The Edogawa Ward government has a unique measure called “Hoiku Mama” (Child-care mothers). Under the system, women with a lot of experience in raising children take care of infants under 1 year old. The system is not registered as a certified child-care service.
There are about 200 Hoiku Mamas under the system, and each one looks after one or two infants. As the system is not counted in the total capacity, the capacity to accept babies under 1 year old appears to be less than 40 percent of the number of applicants. An official of the ward said: “The Hoiku Mama measure partly covers the shortage of nursery workers. The system contributes to a substantial sufficiency.”
Goal: 40,000 more spots
The Tokyo metropolitan government has set a goal of increasing the capacity of nursery services by 40,000 more children by the end of fiscal 2017 as its long-term vision. … Read more here.
Hello to our readers regular and new, after an unusually long hiatus (it has been quieter on the education scene than usual, perhaps because of the turnover of the Financial Year), we return with our regular roundup of news about educational issues and matters. Below you will find news briefs, headlines and excerpts of recent reports, discussions taking place here in Japan as well as globally.
First up, the news lineup on education in Japan:
Efforts are being made by the government to internationalise higher education as well as to attract women to pursue studies in science and engineering in Japan… see
EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Sparking interest in science among female students (Yomiuri, May 3) |
Dispatches from Japan: Thinking beyond international student mobililty(Guardian)
Globalisation has not only changed Japanese business, it’s also changing higher education policy. Hiroshi Ota looks at how Japan is preparing for the ‘ever-intensifying global talent war
Will Japan soon be celebrating victory in the ‘ever-intensifying global talent war?’ The Guardian looks at current initiatives on internationalisation of higher education in Japan …
In Japan, the internationalisation of higher education has traditionally focused on international student mobility, particularly inbound-flows such as the 100,000 International Students Plan and 300,000 International Students Plan.
Through these endeavours, the government has played a central role with strong initiatives, for instance, government scholarship programs, funds for tuition reductions and exemptions, subsidies for the construction of student accommodations, and relaxing immigration regulations, supporting host institutions of international students. However, both the country’s prolonged, demographic decline of 18-year-olds and a rapidly growing global economy have reshaped Japan’s rationale and approaches to international education.
New policies such as the “skilled migration approach” which promotes the post-graduation employment of international students in Japan (“brain gain” from overseas), have emerged, and lower-tiered, private institutions are partnering with commission-paid agents to aggressively recruit international students mainly from China (revenue-generating approach) to fill their classrooms. Both approaches are currently prevalent within international education in Japan, weakening the traditional, “co-operation and mutual understanding approach”.
Furthermore, international university rankings, which prospective international students often use as a guide to identify universities to which they should apply, have become part of internationalisation since they are now considered in the discussion of how Japanese universities can increase their international competitiveness so as to attract high-quality students from overseas.
Under these circumstances, internationalisation of higher education in Japan has encompassed many new cross-border movements and thereby broadened its original concept, rationalising and basing these new efforts on commercialisation and competition in order to cope with serious global issues within higher education, such as the decrease in public funding and an ever-intensifying global talent war. Recently, the term “international” is being replaced by “global” in Japanese higher education, for example from international education to global education, in line with advances in an era of globalisation. Accordingly, in order to meet the increasing demand for global-minded graduates (workforce) at rapidly globalising Japanese companies, the Japanese government has embarked on new initiatives of globalising higher education, such as supporting universities to expand their English-taught courses and study abroad programs.
Beyond student mobility, however, internationalisation has been less developed in Japan, especially in terms of curriculum reform. The government and universities have historically typified the approach of importing knowledge and technology from overseas, modifying them for Japan’s use with the main purpose of advancing the country’s modernisation (internationalisation for modernisation).
Since the vast majority of course content originally came from the West, this model has prevented Japanese universities from internationalising their curricula for a long time. However, as a new trend, there are a growing number of international liberal arts institutions offering international learning experiences, incorporating a high percentage of English-taught courses, a highly diversified student population and faculty, and a variety of study abroad programs. Beyond just adding so-called international programs to the traditional curricula, these institutions have thus made the internationalisation of education and learning the first priority within their missions and efforts.
Internationalisation has increased in importance in both education and research, taking a more mainstream role in Japanese higher education. Concurrently, however, as the country’s public debt has reached 200% of its GDP under a prolonged period of economic stagnation, there is a growing expectation of society, coupled with the concern of taxpayers, that universities be able to clarify both the added value of their international dimensions and the impact of internationalisation on their specific institutions.
Currently, one of the crucial challenges for Japanese universities is to develop an effective evaluation process of their internationalisation efforts. This challenge lies in balancing the needs between trusted quality control, which creates a bottom line in terms of accountability, transparency, and resource management, and quantitative expansion. In addition, such an approach requires a creative assessment structure and its related evaluation methods (for example peer review and benchmarking), which can account for and encourage overall internationalisation initiatives and adds a strategic dimension to further university internationalisation.
Lastly, the Japanese government is expected to continue to support the strategic initiatives of university internationalisation in order to provide a catalyst for the functional transformation of Japanese universities towards meeting the demands of the 21st century’s global knowledge-based society. For example, the government should provide not only competitive funds for pioneering internationalisation efforts and innovative, international collaborations of institutions in education, research, and administration, but also implement further deregulations combined with effective quality assurance programs in Japanese higher education as a whole. http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/apr/23/japan-international-student-mobility
Hiroshi Ota is a professor at the Center for Global Education and director of the Hitotsubashi University Global Education Program, Hitotsubashi University, Japan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Schoolboy steals chemicals to make bomb (TBS News, May 2)
A 17-year-old schoolboy has been arrested on suspicion of breaking into his school’s chemistry storage room and stealing Potassium Nitrate multiple times from February until this month, police said Tuesday.
“3 places were locked. He picked the lock, then entered, picked the cabinet locks, and took the highly poisonous substance and left. I think it is quite a shame,” said the principal of the Hidaka district school of Hokkaido.
In regards to the police investigation, the boy said things such as, “I used the stolen chemicals to make a bomb, and blew it up in the mountains,” acknowledging the accusations. It is reported that the police suspect the thefts were aided by 4 male students from the same school.
UNESCO honors kids who created postquake newspaper (Apr 4, Japan Times)
PARIS — UNESCO on Monday honored the children who created a newspaper to encourage evacuees at a shelter in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, after it was hit by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
Four of the 12 children who worked on creating the Fight Shimbun newspaper, a colorful handwritten wall newspaper with illustrations, were invited to the headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris to be honored by Francesco Bandarin, assistant director general for culture.
Bandarin described the children, including 8-year-old Risa Yoshida, as “a light for the future” and praised them for raising the spirits of evacuees struggling in harsh conditions.
“I would like to say thank you to the people who have helped us all this time,” said Yoshida, who served as the first editor-in-chief of the newspaper, expressing gratitude on behalf of the people of Tohoku for the support received from around the globe for victims of the disaster.
At the ceremony to honor the children, Satoko Oyama, 10, who later took over Yoshida’s role as editor-in-chief, said, “I’m so glad that many people have read Fight Shimbun.”
Oyama’s sister, 13-year-old Kanako, who served as a reporter for the newspaper, said, “We will do our best toward recovery and would like you to extend your support.”
During the event, the children handed to Bandarin reproductions of some of the issues of Fight Shimbun, which UNESCO will display at its headquarters.
Bandarin said people around the globe are still concerned about the victims of the disasters and they will always extend their support.
On March 18, 2011, just a week after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit the city, Yoshida, together with her friend Oyama and two other elementary and junior high school students, launched the first edition of the Fight Shimbun. In Japan, urging someone to “fight!” is a way of encouraging them to do their best.
They published the newspaper almost every other day through issue number 50 on July 7, preparing articles under headlines such as “Now Electricity is Back!” as they covered events that brought delight to them and other evacuees at the shelter.
If you have a child in a local school, try not to get caught out by the likely change in scheduling for this day:
Schools consider changing hours on annular eclipse day (Apr.30 The Yomiuri Shimbun)
Many primary and middle schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area plan to change the starting time for classes on May 21, when an annular eclipse will be observed for the first time in 173 years in the area.
An annular eclipse is a phenomenon that occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, covering all but the outer borders and making the sun appear as a ring of light.
Some schools have decided to close for the day to allow students to observe the eclipse safely. The highlight of the astronomical phenomenon, when the sun will most resemble a ring, will occur around 7:30 a.m., the time students usually commute to school.
Schools were asked to help prevent students from being injured in traffic accidents while distractedly observing the eclipse and from damaging their eyes by watching the phenomenon without proper eye protection.
All of the 47 primary and middle schools in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, will move up the starting time of school on May 21 by at least one hour and hold a special viewing event to observe the eclipse. … read more
Related: Use special glasses to view eclipse, experts urge (Apr.28) | Tokyo to be treated to rare annular eclipse, Venus transit (Japan Times)
Japan and the English Language / Interest growing in South Korea’s English program (Yomiuri, Apr.26) Excerpted below…
Japanese educators are becoming increasingly interested in the English-language teaching system adopted by South Korea.
Some Japanese schools, for example, send students to South Korea for English training. South Korea introduced English-language education for primary school students well ahead of Japan.
Ichihara Chuo High School in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, has carried out a four-day, three-night English-training program in South Korea since 2010. Participants are first-year students of its English-language course.
The venue for the training is “English Village,” a public facility that simulates the experience of living in an English-speaking part of the world.
The English Village project was initiated by the South Korean government in hopes of giving its people more exposure to English. Today, more than 20 English Village facilities are run by local governments in the country. These special villages encompass such places as branches of public offices, banks and restaurants. Participants in training programs there are required to speak English all the time.
The advanced level of South Korea’s English-language education has attracted a great deal of attention among the private high school’s educators and administrators…
The city of Paju in South Korea is located about an hour’s drive from Seoul and is home to Paju Camp, an English Village facility. The Paju facility in Gyeonggi Province is represented by Humanic Co., a Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo-based corporation that is responsible for arrangements for Japanese who wish to join a program there.
In recent years, Humanic has received a number of inquiries from Japanese schools, local governments, English-language school operators and others about the English Village scheme.
The popularity of the village stems from its ability to provide trainees with a total English immersion experience. Plus, English Village facilities can be accessed relatively easily and training there is less costly than in English-speaking countries, Humanic said.
Private univs coy on fall enrollment (Apr 26, The Yomiuri Shimbun)
More than 70 percent of private universities and colleges are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether to change undergraduate enrollment from spring to autumn, according to a survey.
The Japan Association of Private Universities and Colleges, to which 20 percent of the nation’s private universities and colleges belong, conducted the survey in February, following a proposal by the University of Tokyo to switch enrollment for its undergraduate students from spring to autumn to bring it more in line with the international norm. The association’s 121 members include famous universities such as Waseda and Doshisha. Ninety-eight gave responses.
According to the survey, 20 institutions supported autumn enrollment, while eight opposed it. Compared with the small number of institutions with a clear position, 70, or 71 percent, said they could not say either way.
Only eight institutions said they had started discussing introducing autumn enrollment for all or some of their departments, and 16 said they did not plan to discuss the matter. Seventy universities said they would consider it in the future.
Among 23 major universities with more than 10,000 students, eight agreed with autumn enrollment because it will be necessary to make them more “international.” None of the universities opposed the change.
Most of these universities are in large cities.
Meanwhile, regional institutions or small and midsize universities tended to be cautious about changing their enrollment season, with some saying, “We need to study the pros and cons of autumn enrollment.”
The association plans to study problems autumn enrollment might generate for private universities and colleges and other issues.
Pretty cool news next…
Kids get official nod for stellar find (Japan Times) Thursday, April 26, 2012
An asteroid discovered in 2009 by two Japanese boys, a fifth-grader and a second-year junior high school student, has been registered with the International Astronomical Union recently.
The boys were given the right to name the asteroid by the Paris-based IAU, which regulates the naming of stars, the Japan Spaceguard Association said.
It is believed to be the first time an asteroid discovered by an elementary or junior high school student has been added to the IAU list, sources said.
On Nov. 22, 2009, Yuto Kanetaka and Yohei Motegi spotted the asteroid at a stargazing event in Ibara, Okayama Prefecture.
Single-sex schools see dramatic decline (Yomiuri, Apr 23)
Reflecting the nation’s declining birthrate, the number of single-sex schools in the country has decreased dramatically, according to a 2011 poll by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
There were 464 schools attended by only male or female students nationwide, according to the survey. Single-gender schools account for less than 10 percent of all schools, and their number is half of what it was 20 years ago.
The decline is mainly due to a shift at many schools to coeducation to attract more students amid the low birthrate.
Despite the decrease, boys schools still rank high in terms of the number of successful applicants to top-notch universities, highlighting an advantage of single-sex education.
At the beginning of the Heisei era (1989 to present), the country had far more boys schools, known as “bankara” (rudeness) schools, and girls schools, poetically called “otome no sono” (maiden’s garden). In 1991, there were 1,002 single-sex high schools, accounting for 18.2 percent of the total.
However, this figure had fallen to below 10 percent in 2008. In 2011, there were 464 single-sex high schools nationwide–130 for boys and 334 for girls, accounting for 9.2 percent.
Formerly an all-male school, Meguro-Gakuin Junior and Senior High School in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, had begun suffering a decline. As the student population failed to recover, the school became coeducational in 2011.
“We had no choice but to become coeducational to boost the number of applicants and students,” Takemi Matsumoto, the school’s executive director, said.
The school had about 390 applicants in 2010. After becoming coed, this number shot up to about 660 in 2011. The number of applicants further increased to 766 in 2012.
Entrance exam fees are an important source of funding for private schools. Becoming coeducational means potentially doubling the number of students qualified to take an entrance exam.
“The number of both female and male students has increased. I think becoming coeducational led to the boost,” Matsumoto said.
According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, at least four private high schools went coed this spring.
“As many parents today went to coeducational schools, they strongly prefer them, with the exception of some top-notch schools,” said an official at Ichishin Gakuin, based in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, which runs cram schools in the Kanto region.
On the other hand, single-sex schools, which are now a minority, have an advantage in terms of the advancement rate to prestigious universities.
Educational consultant Toshimi Nakai held a symposium on single-sex education in Tokyo last year.
“From late primary school to middle school, girls develop faster than boys both physically and mentally,” Nakai, 53, said. “So it’s inefficient for boys and girls to take the same classes together because their mental ages are different.
“Single-sex high schools always rank high in the list of successful applicants to the University of Tokyo,” Nakai added. “It also has been shown that in Britain and South Korea students in single-sex schools tend to perform better academically [than their counterparts in coed schools].”
According to a survey by Daigaku Tsushin, an information magazine on university entrance exams, the top seven high schools among successful University of Tokyo applicants in 2012 were boys schools–including Kaisei, Nada and Azabu high schools. All-girls school Oin Gakuen ranked eighth in the list.
Explaining the advantage of boys schools, Yukio Yanagisawa, principal of Kaisei Junior and Senior High Schools, in Tokyo, said, “Boys can concentrate more on their studies when they aren’t having to compete against female students, who develop faster in middle school.”
Year after year Kaisei high school tops the list of schools whose students who pass the University of Tokyo entrance exams.
“By looking at the example set by older students of the same sex, students can figure out what they want to be in the future at an early stage, which enables them to situate themselves and make efforts toward realizing their vision,” Yanagisawa explains.
“The need for single-sex schools has never been greater than in our time. We’ll continue to remain a boys school even if we become the last one,” he added.
High school students less willing to study overseas (Japan Times, Apr 5)
Japanese high school students are less willing to study abroad than their counterparts in the United States, China and South Korea, according to survey results released Wednesday. The survey conducted by the Japan Youth Research Institute found that 46 percent of Japanese high school students hope to study abroad, compared with 82 percent in South Korea, 58 percent in China and 53 percent in the U.S.
Japanese high school students are less willing to study abroad than their counterparts in the United States, China and South Korea, according to survey results released Wednesday.
The survey conducted by the Japan Youth Research Institute found that 46 percent of Japanese high school students hope to study abroad, compared with 82 percent in South Korea, 58 percent in China and 53 percent in the U.S.
Asked why they don’t want to study abroad, 53 percent of the Japanese students said that Japan is comfortable to live in, while 43 percent of Chinese respondents and 26 percent of South Koreans said the same about their countries.
The Japanese students opting to stay in Japan also said they lack the confidence to live alone and that it would be a hassle to live overseas.
Asked why they want to study abroad, only 17 percent of the students in Japan said they are in search of a better educational environment, far less than 77 percent in China, 39 percent in South Korea and 36 percent in the United States.
An official at the institute said that the attitudes of Japanese students “could change” if Japanese colleges switch the start of the academic year to conform to educational institutions overseas.
Discussion is under way among leading universities on whether to move the start of their academic year from spring to fall.
Nuke majors in decline at universities (Japan Times, Apr 17)
The number of students enrolled as nuclear energy majors at seven universities has fallen by 16 percent this year, a Kyodo News survey said Monday. Among universities offering undergraduate and graduate programs in the nuclear sciences, only 223 students had enrolled for the 2012 academic year, compared with 264 last year.
1.8 million students take unified tests (Japan Times, Apr 18)
Around 1.8 million sixth-grade elementary and third-year junior high school students nationwide took unified achievement tests Tuesday after they were suspended last year in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The examinees were from 25,868 public and private schools.
Subsidy eyed to promote study abroad / 40 universities could receive 5-year grants (Yomiuri)
The education ministry plans to establish a new financial support system for universities encouraging students to study abroad, it has been learned. The ministry aims to promote the idea of studying abroad to Japanese students, who are often regarded as being introverted, to foster human resources who will be motivated to actively participate in the nation’s domestic and international affairs.
Related: A cautionary tale told in an eye-opening JT blogpost about the hardships that can befall you when you fail to repay Japanese government scholarship loans or grants…
Beware of bureaucrats bearing student loans (Japan Times Yen for Living Blog, February 20th, 2012)
Medicine museum opens in Tokyo (Japan Times, April 14, 2012)
A museum that opened recently in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district is offering visitors the chance to learn more about medicine, for free. The Kusuri Museum, run by pharmaceutical firm Daiichi Sankyo Co., uses computer graphics and other visual displays to show visitors how medicines are derived from plants, bacteria and other compounds, work on 3-D puzzles to create medicines, and even play games in which medicines battle viruses and bacteria.
See photos of the museum at this page.
Observatory fills small Gifu town with pride (Chunichi Shimbun May 5)
An official opening ceremony Sunday was held to celebrate the completion of a small astronomical observatory on the grounds of Tara Elementary School in Kamiishizu, Gifu Prefecture.
Reaching for the stars: The Tara Astronomical Observatory is officially opened in the town of Kamiishizu, Gifu Prefecture, on Sunday. CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
The school’s PTA and local residents built the 3-meter-long, 3.6-meter-wide Tara Astronomical Observatory at their own initiative.
“I hope the town’s children will grow to love to it too,” one PTA member said.
The project was conceived after Yasunori Matogawa, professor emeritus at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a member of the Hayabusa asteroid probe project, visited Kamiishizu in May 2010 and gave a lecture on astronomy.
Matogawa was also moved by the children’s enthusiastic response during his stargazing class and donated a telescope to Yoshihisa Otake, a former president of the school’s PTA who helped organize the event, telling him to “show these children the beauty of stars.”
Matogawa also declared the town, which is surrounded by mountains, well-suited for an observatory.
His enthusiasm motivated PTA members to set up the Tara Star Club and start designing the facility, while senior officials from local associations and community centers helped to establish the Tara Observatory Preparatory Committee.
Residents from the entire area became involved in the project and construction on the school grounds commenced last September, after approval was granted by municipal authorities in the city of Ogaki, which has administrative responsibility over the town.
PTA members, guardians of ex-students and the town’s residents gave up their weekends to build the observatory, using mainly local timber. They worked for free, utilizing participants’ expertise in the construction, carpentry, plating and stonework sectors.
The total project cost of about ¥2.4 million was covered by donations from local inhabitants, companies and store owners, as well as from former teachers and students of the school.
Though small in size, the observatory is a proper scientific facility, equipped with two telescopes — including one donated by astronomy enthusiasts in the prefecture — and a retractable roof. Read on…
According to data released by the Chinese government in February, Shenzhen topped the list of Chinese cities in terms of the number of applications for international patents for the eighth consecutive year in 2011. As economic globalization intensifies competition among not only countries, but also cities, an increasing rivalry has sprung up to win talented human resources….
Once criticized for their conformity, a number of Japanese universities are now pursuing innovative efforts to attract competent students and faculty members….
On Feb. 27, a special seminar was held in Bangalore, a southern Indian city known for its focus on information technology, to commemorate the launch of the University of Tokyo’s Indian office.
Until recently, universities in the United States and Britain were the overwhelmingly popular choice among Indian students wishing to participate in long-term study abroad programs.
Nilesh Vasa, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, said the number of IIT Madras students interested in studying in Japan began to increase five years ago as more Japanese companies expanded production in India.
The University of Tokyo opened an office in Bangalore so it would not miss the chance to draw Indian students to study at its facilities in Japan.
Sushant Kumar, a 21-year-old student, said he developed a strong interest in Japan’s advanced technology from how the nation has been recovering from the Great East Japan Earthquake. He also has concerns, however, about studying in Japan, due to his vegetarianism.
“If problems involving foreign students’ special dietary needs are solved, this would largely eliminate obstacles to their desire to study in Japan,” said Vice President Yoshihito Watanabe of Nagoya University, who attended the seminar.
Satisfying foreign students
Watanabe said efforts such as adjusting cafeteria menus at Japanese universities to suit foreign students’ tastes will be a key indicator of whether Japanese schools can draw a larger number of foreign researchers and students.
There are about 2,550 foreign students at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, accounting for 40 percent of the student body, making it one of the leading universities in Japan in terms of foreign enrollment.
The students come from 78 countries and territories, mainly from the Asia-Pacific region, though there are also students from Europe, the Middle East and other regions.
Lectures at the university are conducted in English, and student dormitories are adjacent to the campus to help students feel at ease in daily life. The university has also ensured that students are able to eat meals suited to their regular habits.
Vegetarian food is available at the university’s cafeteria, as is halal food for Muslim students who cannot eat pork or drink liquor. According to university officials, cooking equipment used for dishes with pork is not used for preparing halal food. Cafeteria management also check whether seasonings and condiments, such as soy sauce, contain distilled alcohol.
These efforts have helped the university succeed in satisfying its foreign students, leading to an increasing number of applicants from overseas, the officials said.
They also said the university has prioritized creating close relationships with high schools and administrative agencies in foreign countries through the good offices of university graduates and others.
The school has overseas offices in eight countries and regions, including Taiwan, and sets up booths at college fairs for students wishing to study abroad.
However, Yasuharu Abe, chief of the university’s student recruitment department, said, “We can’t compete with prestigious schools from the United States and Europe by simply setting up our booths at college fairs.
“To generate interest in our university among talented students, we must make efforts rarely seen at prestigious U.S. and European universities,” he added.
In addition to contending with overseas schools in the scramble for students, competition among Japanese universities has also intensified due to the chronically low birthrate.
The number of applicants for entrance exams at state-run and public universities dropped to about 495,000 this year, compared to about 620,000 when the National Center for University Entrance Exams began administering uniform preparatory tests in 1990.
Some universities have already been forced to suspend enrollment activities for new students.
Nearly 50 state-run and other publicly operated universities have merged in the past decade, mainly in areas outside major cities. The mergers were primarily aimed at ensuring the universities continue to play a key role in fostering human resources for their respective regions.
There also have been nationwide moves to form consortiums to jointly undertake tasks such as developing human resources and utilizing the characteristics of each region in research activities.
The Iwate High-Education Consortium, which comprises five universities in Iwate Prefecture, will transmit the schools’ liberal arts programs and other courses to three high schools in the coastal cities of Kuji, Ofunato and Kamaishi via a video-conferencing system from April.
Emphasize Japan’s strengths
Iwate Prefecture is faced with the task of boosting the prefecture’s university enrollment rates, which have been lower than the national average.
The five-university consortium is aimed at helping increase the enrollment rate of high school graduates in coastal area schools within the prefecture, to develop human resources conducive to facilitating reconstruction projects related to the March 11 disaster.
Iwate University Vice President Yoshihito Takahata stressed he wanted to see many high school students and graduates interested in the affairs of disaster-hit areas’ local communities.
In addition to these measures, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda created the Council on Promotion of Human Resources for Globalization Development in February to promote the “development of human resources capable of playing a role on the global stage.” It will conduct studies about what should be done to secure competent, academically talented human resources to address global problems.
Prof. Narasaka of Nanyang Technological University said, “Japan pursues a high level of basic research activities, and we must hammer out a well-defined strategy to draw highly talented people from overseas that uses these basic research projects.”
Success in tackling this challenge will be of crucial significance as Japan carves out its future at the local and national level.
TOEIC’s popularity on the rise (. (Yomiuri Apr. 26, 2012)
The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is becoming popular as English is an essential skill for employees as companies expand overseas. The number of applicants in Japan for the TOEIC test, which measures English language skills necessary for international business, in fiscal 2011 increased by about 30 percent to 2.27 million from the previous fiscal year.
The figure is close to the 2.3 million who applied to take the Test in Practical English Proficiency (Eiken) in fiscal 2011. Eiken is the most popular English proficiency test in Japan, and its Japanese name literally translates to “English skill test.”
It is possible that TOEIC will replace Eiken as Japan’s most popular English language test. TOEIC has become popular partly because companies have increased their international activities and students face difficult job markets.
TOEIC was developed by a U.S. nonprofit test organization and is administered in about 120 countries. In Japan, TOEIC was first available in fiscal 1979.
There is only one difficulty level for the TOEIC exam, and all test takers are evaluated on a scale of 10 to 990 points. Many TOEIC applicants are university students and working adults.
Eiken was introduced in fiscal 1963 and is Japan’s original English proficiency exam. Test takers sit for seven different exam difficulty levels–5, 4, 3, pre-2, 2, pre-1 and 1 with 1 being the most difficult. Many Eiken applicants are middle and high school students.
The Institute for International Business Communication (IIBC), the Tokyo-based organization that administers TOEIC tests in Japan, said the main reason behind the rising number of TOEIC applicants is that more companies are using TOEIC scores as a condition for in-house promotions or hiring requirements for new graduates as they increasingly expand their business overseas.
A step in the right direction (Japan Times, Apr 15)
Junior high school students will be dancing up a storm under new guidelines from the education ministry that require dancing, along with martial arts, as compulsory subjects at schools this year. These new subjects will be required for all Japanese middle school students from this spring.
The changes do not come without controversy. After it was discovered that in 28 years through fiscal 2010, 114 students died and 275 others suffered serious physical injury from judo classes and activities, the introduction of martial arts classes was given scrutiny. Without adequate preparation and the proper training of physical education teachers who teach judo, learning martial arts cannot be done safely. Dance, too, takes preparation, though it is less likely to cause injuries to anything other than pride.
Learning about pride, though, is part of developing self-confidence and body awareness. The new guidelines recognize people have different ways of learning. Reading and listening are essential, but so are moving around and doing things. Not everything fits on a multiple choice exam form. The introduction of dance will give students with natural “kinetic” skills a chance to shine, and those without, a chance to develop.
Learning dance is also a good way to improve social and presentation skills. Working with others and performing in front of others are important life skills. Many older Japanese struggling with salsa lessons or ballroom dance contests surely wish they had been taught how to shake their hips and wiggle their shoulders to the beat, and company employees of all kinds surely wish they felt calm and self-assured when giving speeches or presentations, too.
Interestingly, most schools have chosen the most popular forms of dance: hip-hop, jazz dance or other “street” styles. That may be a concession to students’ obsession with commercial pop music groups, but it is also an awareness that contemporary dance is full of emotion and excitement. Dance involves more than just putting your feet in the right place or following set choreography: Dance is about expressing yourself.
Private junior high schools for girls are teaching the proper ways to bow and other forms of etiquette to prepare for the mandatory introduction of martial arts programs at junior high schools. The students are not yet attacking each other. But they are grappling with the question of why they are being forced to learn martial arts. “It’s in the curriculum guidelines, so there’s nothing we can do about it,” said a male instructor at a private junior high school in Aichi Prefecture. “But still, I don’t feel comfortable with martial arts at a girls’ school.”
The curriculum requirement originates in a 2006 revision of the Basic Education Law that stresses tradition and culture as well as local patriotism as educational goals. Under the education ministry’s curriculum guidelines revised in 2008, first- and second-year junior high school students will study martial arts, such as judo, kendo and sumo, to “develop offense and defense using basic techniques.” But since many schools lack teachers who can properly teach students such techniques; they are taking a hands-off approach in the name of safety.
High school texts bulk up with 12% more pages (Yomiuri)
The average number of pages in high school textbooks to be used from next spring will increase by 11.9 percent compared to those being used now, according to the results of textbook screenings released by the education ministry. The increase results from the government’s new curriculum guidelines, which expand the amount of academic content students must learn while also eliminating a clause that restricted the teaching of higher-level material.
Related: School textbooks feature ‘hip’ topics (Yomiuri, Mar 29)
From pop idol groups to Internet slang, high school textbook makers have tried to stir the interest of students by using topics familiar to them. Casual topics will be used more often in English textbooks to be used from next spring compared with the teaching material in other subjects. Some English textbooks will feature expressions useful for e-mails and blogs.
WWII-era poison gas suit rejected by court (Japan Times, Apr 17, 2012)
The Tokyo District Court rejected a lawsuit Monday filed by two Chinese who sued the government for injuries caused by a poisonous gas shell the Imperial Japanese Army left in China at the end of World War II.
Rejected: Zhou Tong (left) stands outside the Tokyo District Court on Monday after it threw out a damages suit he and another Chinese filed over injuries caused by a gas shell left behind by Japan after World War II. KYODO
While expressing regret over the injuries, the presiding judge, Hisaki Kobayashi, said that even though the Japanese government did not take specific steps to prevent the incident, it does not mean Japan’s response was unreasonable.
Kobayashi said the Chinese government did not recognize the urgency of dealing with abandoned shells in the area of Jilin Province where the incident occurred, and that the Japanese government would have been unable to recognize the danger by specifying the area where the shell was abandoned.
Zhou Tong, 19, and Liu Hao, 15, sued the Japanese government in January 2008, seeking ¥33 million each for injuries they suffered in July 2004 after touching liquid on the shell, which they found at a river in the province. They were hospitalized for nearly two months.
They charged that the Japanese government had recognized the possibility poison gas weapons were abandoned in the area and that it should have informed residents of the danger and conducted a survey to find them.
If you don’t know what the new term “gap term” means, Astro Boy explains it here:
“It’s always referred to in connection with the University of Tokyo’s plans to shift its student enrollment to autumn within five years. ….Even if the university changes its enrollment period from spring to autumn, it will maintain the current timing of its entrance exams and announcement of successful applicants. This means there will be a half-year break between the entrance exams and admission to the university. The University of Tokyo coined “gap term” for the six-month period from April to September. “Gap” means a “break in continuity,” or hiatus, while “term” signifies a “period of time.” The gap term is meant to be a hiatus between the time when applicants pass their entrance exams and when they enroll. During the gap term, they are expected to engage in such activities as volunteer programs and studies abroad, in preparation for studying at the university fruitfully, the school says.”
Next up, focusing the global spotlight on educational matters in other parts of the world:
The growth of the ‘Titan’ schools (Guardian)
23 Apr 2012: It has eight portable classrooms and, within a couple of years, 1,200 pupils. Fran Abrams visits England’s biggest primary – one of a growing breed, thanks to the national shortage of placest
Bob Garton, the headteacher of Gascoigne primary school in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, has a slightly faraway look in his eye. “There used to be playing fields,” he says, “big enough for a proper football pitch.”
Standing at the first-floor window, we can see a graphic illustration of the school’s major problem laid out below us. Those fields are now completely covered by four mobile classrooms, a children’s centre and an early-years block. Where there used to be a playground, there’s now a dining hall for 500 pupils – far too small; it takes nearly two hours for the whole school to eat lunch. There are two more mobiles on the teachers’ car park, and, last year, the library had to be wedged into a windowless temporary building in an alley to make way for yet another extra class. This year, the music room has to go; next year, a few remaining flower beds will make way for four permanent classrooms.
Welcome to what is – according to the latest official statistics – England’s biggest primary school. In a couple of years’ time, when two extra classes finish working their way up through the school, there’ll be more than 1,200 pupils.
Gascoigne was always a big school. When Garton became head of the newly combined junior and infant schools in 1999, there were 700 pupils here – nearly three times the average number for a primary school. It must be hard for its staff to imagine how it could ever have been that small. It now feels like several schools on one site, each with its own fence and its own little playground. Most of the children are taught in single-storey blocks, built in the 1970s to replace an old Victorian school, and their corridors seem to go on for ever.
Growing pupil numbers are not the only issue with which Gascoigne primary has to grapple. There are 60 different languages spoken here … Read on…
Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses (May 2, 2012, NY Times)
In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans — one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.
Harvard’s involvement follows M.I.T.’s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.
But Harvard and M.I.T. have a rival — they are not the only elite universities planning to offer free massively open online courses, or MOOCs, as they are known. This month, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with a new commercial company, Coursera, with $16 million in venture capital.
Academics eye global cooperation (Japan Times, Apr 30)
The presidents and vice presidents of 14 universities in 10 countries and areas around the world gathered in Tokyo on Sunday to discuss how to nurture globally minded citizens in today’s changing world.The academics and others agreed on the necessity of promoting the liberal arts and intercultural communications to produce students that can contribute to their communities and the increasingly globalized society.
In February 2011, Nicole Smolowitz’s son was admitted to the Mandell School on the Upper West Side. She signed a contract and paid the $7,500 deposit.
By late April, the family’s financial situation had changed, and private school was no longer an option. Ms. Smolowitz called the school to say her son would not be able to attend. She did not expect to get her deposit back — but she was told she had to pay the remaining $26,250, as well.
“It’s April,” she said she told them. “I will find someone for you to take my child’s spot.” The school told her that was not how things were done. Then, in September, Mandell sued.
For most parents, getting their child into a private school is a moment of joy, or at least relief. But uncomfortable conversations take place at this time of year, as some parents reconsider.
Sometimes these conversations lead to an amicable parting. Other times, they lead to a bare-knuckled fight in court.
Since 2009, at least five private schools in New York City — Mandell, York Preparatory School, Friends Seminary, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School and the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School — have sued parents for tuition.
The schools’ argument is simple: Parents sign a contract when they accept placement, saying they will send their child to the school the next year and pay the agreed-upon price … read on
Pupil numbers at private schools have risen for the first time since the credit crunch, a survey has revealed. The figures show a north-south divide, with a 1.2% rise in London and the south-east masking a decline in the rest of the UK.
There were falls of 1.6% in the north of England and 1.9% in Wales, according to data gathered by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) from more than 1,200 UK private schools. Overall, the rise in the south-east contributed to a 0.1% national increase in private school pupil numbers to nearly 505,000 children.
An increased proportion of children at fee-paying schools are non-British, the survey finds, up 5.8% to more than 26,000. There has been a sharp increase in Russian pupils, from around 800 five years ago to more than 1,700 this year.
School fees rose by 4.5% last year, the survey shows. The average termly fee is now £3,903 at day schools and £8,780 at boarding schools. Around a third of pupils receive help with their fees.
Independent schools have consistently grown in size over the past 25 years, with the average school a third larger than in 1985, the survey finds. They have also become more diverse.
There is a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils in private schools than in state schools.
Just over a quarter of pupils in private schools are from ethnic minorities. When boarding schools are excluded, this proportion rises to 28.5%. The latest figures for state schools in England show 24.5% of pupils are from ethnic minorities.
The government has urged private schools to back the academies programme, under which state schools become independent of local authorities and are funded directly from Whitehall.
However, relatively few have responded to this call. Currently 19 schools sponsor academies while 14 are co-sponsors.
The survey reveals that fewer than 1,000 private schools had partnerships with state schools, including sporting ties, and links involving music and drama.
Among private school pupils going to university, 2.8% chose to leave the UK.
Some 27% of schools reported an increase in the number of pupils going to overseas universities, while only 8% reported a decrease. The US was the most popular destination, attracting 45% of ISC pupils who went to overseas universities, the next most popular was Hong Kong, attracting 12%.
The survey detects a slight shift away from single-sex education: 13% of the schools that were boys-only and 9% of the schools that were girls-only in 2007 had become co-educational by 2012.
The ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon, a former head of Harrow school, said in a statement: “At a time of recession, when very many parents are struggling financially, it is clear that finding fees for their children’s education remains a priority for very large numbers.”
Related article: Private education: what price excellence? Telegraph, Apr 26 2012
Michael Winerip examines the slippery slope of the subjective school grading system …
University Guide 2012: Cambridge tops the Guardian league table
Cambridge beats arch rival Oxford to take first place in the Guardian ranking of UK universities Jessica Shepherd
guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 May 2011
Cambridge has taken the top spot in this year’s Guardian University Guide league table, breaking its arch rival Oxford’s six-year stint as the UK’s leading institution.
Oxford has come second and St Andrews third, while the London School of Economics has climbed four places from last year to take fourth place.
University College London, Warwick, Lancaster, Durham, Loughborough and Imperial College make up the top 10.
The University Guide, published in full on the Guardian website on Tuesday, is based on data for full-time undergraduates at UK universities. The league table goes live on the website at midnight tonight.
Our analysis shows that universities with low rankings are almost as likely to be planning to charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 in autumn 2012 as those with high rankings.
London Metropolitan University, which comes bottom of the Guardian tables, intends to charge between £4,500 and £9,000 for its degrees. Salford, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester Metropolitan and the University of East London – all of which rank in the bottom 20 – want to charge £9,000 for at least some of their courses.
The government’s access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access, is looking at the fees each university in England wants to charge and will announce in July whether it approves.
All the English universities in our top 20 intend to charge £9,000 fees, apart from London School of Economics, which has not yet decided.
The first university that proposes to charge less than £9,000 for all of its courses is Sunderland, which is ranked 48th.
There are a total of 120 institutions in the tables: 38 in the top half intend to charge £9,000 for at least some of their courses, while 18 in the bottom half propose to do the same.
Universities are ranked according to how much they spend per student; their student/staff ratio; the career prospects of their graduates; what grades applicants need; a value-added score that compares the academic achievements of first-years and their final degree results; and how content final-year students are with their courses, based on the annual National Student Survey.
Birmingham City University has fallen most since last year – 24 places, from 66th to 90th – while Middlesex is the biggest climber, reaching 75th place this year compared with 112th last year. Durham has risen from 17th place to eighth.
While the oldest universities dominate the top positions in the tables, the newest have improved their rankings since last year. Winchester has leapt from 96th place to 69th.
The tables, compiled by an independent consultancy firm, Intelligent Metrix, are weightedin favour of the National Student Survey. As part of the survey, final-year students are asked to score their universities for overall satisfaction, feedback and contact hours. Other league tables concentrate more on research ratings.
The Guardian publishes an overall ranking table, separate tables to show which universities are best – and worst – for each subject and another table for specialist institutions.
The more a university spends on each student, the more likely it is to have a high ranking and the more satisfied its students seem. However, our judges took into account that some universities do not teach expensive courses, such as engineering, and so their spending is lower.
There is huge variation in how much universities spend per student, with an average of £3,428 in 2009-10 (a fall from the £3,495 the year before). At Oxford, average spend per student fell to £11,232 in 2009-10 from £11,410 the year before. The university spends substantially more than other institutions. Cambridge spent £8,612 in 2009-10, a rise from £8,118 the year before.
St Mary’s University College in west London and Leeds Trinity University College spent among the lowest of all institutions per student.
The tables show that Cambridge has overtaken Oxford in philosophy, law, politics, theology, maths, classics, anthropology and modern languages. However, Oxford overtook Cambridge in psychology and also came top in chemistry, business and management, and art and design. Loughborough is best for sports science, while King’s College London is top for dentistry. University College London topped the table for English, while Trinity Laban Conservatoire excelled for drama and dance. Northumbria has shot up the table for modern languages, from 48th last year to third this year.
Universities with high rankings tend to have fewer dropouts, and fewer students per academic. The top 20 institutions have a drop-out rate after the first year of just 4%, compared with almost 12% for the bottom 20.
There are 14.2 students per academic among the top 20, but 21.5 among the bottom 20. The smallest institutions tend to be ranked closer to the bottom.
Professor David Tidmarsh, vice-chancellor of Birmingham City University, says he expects his university’s fall in position to be temporary: “It is caused by student number growth, which has now been curbed, and student satisfaction scores, which we expect to improve significantly as a consequence both of increased investment and of the way in which we are engaging students as partners in their learning experience.”
He says the university is investing £180m in new buildings, facilities and equipment.
Swansea Metropolitan, Wolverhampton and Liverpool Hope did not allow the Guardian to use their data.
Meanwhile, the government has cut the number of places universities can offer on teacher training courses. Cambridge University, which comes top of our table for education courses, will have 49 fewer places on its teacher training course this September, an 11% cut. Altogether, almost 4,000 fewer places will be available on teacher training programmes.
A spokesman from the Department for Education says pupil numbers are falling sharply in secondary schools and so the need for new teachers has gone down.
Not for love or for money — why do a PhD? Guardian 3 May
“…if you want to be really financially prosperous, then PhDs are not for you.
There are other reasons that motivate students to continue their education to PhD level. Harking back to a time when these diplomas were reserved for a minuscule segment of the population, the doctoral degree is a seen as a prestige marker, the recognition of one’s exceptional talents and the certificate of belonging to the intellectual elite. The non-material rewards that a PhD is supposed to bring, at least theoretically, are connected to social standing; PhDs can be used as a vehicle for upwards social mobility, and for the fulfilment of personal and family ambitions.
The prestige power of the PhD is however on the wane. “… Read on
Universities must be research active – and that includes VCs (Guardian 3 May 2012)
Even those institutions that put learning and teaching first would be foolish to turn their backs on research, says University of Northampton
Universities are places where new knowledge is generated. It is what marks them out from other educational establishments and those that excel at it are de facto members of a global elite. Research of quality brings with it kudos, money and, most significantly for practitioners, job satisfaction.
All academic staff (and those with the desire on the support side) should be involved in generating new knowledge in addition to transmitting it…
A-level reform in practice: lessons to be learned from Cambridge Pre-U Guardian 25 April 2012
Michael Gove’s suggestion that universities set A-levels was widely derided, but academics do have a part to play in preparing pupils for university, says Peter Wothers
Dr Peter Wothers: “The idea of involving universities in school exam reform is, in my view, a strong one.”
As the dust settles on the education secretary Michael Gove’s recent plan to reform A-levels, one of the unanswered questions is how universities should be involved. The Russell Group, for example, has already spoken out with concerns over how much time it will take up – and what does this mean for schools, who have just returned from the Easter break to a whole new world?
The idea of involving universities in school exam reform is, in my view, a strong one. Not only are they going to teach some of the students as they progress from A-level but, more importantly, they are in the best position to know what is relevant in their particular disciplines at any given moment. Although there are many courses now run by universities to help update teachers’ knowledge, it is often difficult for teachers to stay on top of the latest developments in their subjects, in addition to preparing and giving lessons (not to mention the great increase in paperwork they are expected to undertake).
The challenge comes in getting the level of involvement right and balancing any involvement from universities with continuing engagement from schools to create a collaboration between universities, schools and examination boards. This three-pronged approach was taken when drawing up the plans for the relatively new qualification, Cambridge Pre-U. The big challenge in developing this post-16 qualification was forging strong, productive, relationships with teachers.
In trying to introduce any new syllabus, or even a new topic into a syllabus, there is always reluctance from the side of the teachers until it is understood why this new approach is being taken and how it will improve their lessons and their students’ understanding. When I was first asked to look at an A-level syllabus, many years ago, and made recommendations, I was told that they could not be implemented since the topics would not be in the existing textbooks. Essentially, we could only remove things from the existing syllabus, not add to it.
Perhaps one of the most worrying changes in the science syllabuses is the gradual exclusion of maths. It is simply not possible to study the physical sciences at university without some understanding of mathematics. We are in danger of giving students the impression that it is not necessary to study maths for the sciences, which can lead to a nasty shock at university. What is needed is a thorough look at what is on the syllabus and why it is there. This is certainly something that the universities could have a valuable hand in.
An example from my own subject, chemistry. The analytical topic of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) had crept into the A-level syllabus. I remember encountering this during my A-levels some 25 years ago and being bewildered by it then. This is a subject that at University of Cambridge we have felt is better left to the second year to teach properly since it rapidly becomes so complicated. However, there are variations that are simpler to grasp, notably carbon-NMR. In designing Cambridge Pre-U, we included carbon NMR because it was easier to understand and was also more interesting to teach. This is because real-life molecules can actually be analysed using it, even by weaker students.
By working hand-in-hand with schools, the course we eventually produced – Cambridge Pre-U – gives the students a great understanding of their subject and certainly prepares them for continued study in their chosen areas. One of my colleagues at Cambridge has commented, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, that if the students all came here knowing the content of this course, we would not have to teach our first year. Of course, this is not true, nor is it what Cambridge Pre-U is about; it is about providing a sound educational course that is still accessible to all students of varying ability but one that gives them the skills to truly understand their chosen subjects and further develop these if they choose to go on to university. This can only be accomplished with the co-operation of all parties involved: teachers, universities and exam boards.
So that’s the lesson for Gove – definitely involve academics but remember we’re one of a number of voices and the real key is get everyone working together to develop qualifications that allow our students to be truly fit for the future. …
Dr Peter Wothers is a fellow and director of studies in Chemistry at St Catharine’s College. He was instrumental in developing the syllabus for the Chemistry Pre-University qualification.
See also interesting discussion: Imagining the University of the future … what will it look like?
In Virginia Tech’s largest classroom Math Emporium, the computer is king and Computers solve math-class problem (Washington Post), this institution works like a digital Kumon method.
Emporium courses include pre-calculus, calculus, trigonometry and geometry, subjects taken mostly by freshmen to satisfy math requirements. The format seems to work best in subjects that stress skill development — such as solving problems over and over. Computer-led lessons show promise for remedial English instruction and perhaps foreign language… instructors are reduced to roving guides. Lessons are self-paced, and help is delivered “on demand” in a vast, windowless lab that is open 24 hours a day because computers never tire. A student in need of human aid plants a red cup atop a monitor.Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000. Students walk to class through a shopping mall, past a health club and a tanning salon, as ambient Muzak plays. Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. The Emporium model has been adopted by 100 schools.
Free Internet lessons challenge textbook market for public schools(Washington Post)
Enterprising teachers have long scoured the Internet for ways to improve on their textbooks or local curricula. Now, though, lessons accessed via the Web are proliferating in the classroom as never before and are challenging the position of the powerful education-publishing industry in public schools.
Fueling the trend, most states in the past two years have embraced national standards for what students should learn in English and math classes. The new standards should make it easier to share curricula across state lines. In addition, budget pressures after the recession have led many schools to scale back or freeze purchases of textbooks and other teaching materials … read on
In this final segment of our EDU WATCH, we focus on Health & Safety Issues:
Pirana alert … this is not a joke! Beware, don’t let your kids play in the Atsugi streams in Kanagawa for the time being …
Kanagawa river yields three piranhas(Japan Times, May 03)
YOKOHAMA — Officials in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, have declared a local stream off-limits to children after three piranhas were caught in a nearby river over the weekend.
The city on Tuesday warned residents, especially children, about the potential danger posed by the voracious meat eaters during the Golden Week holidays, after two were caught Saturday in the Zenmyo River by nearby residents and a third by a man in the area Monday. The fish were about 10 cm long.
3 million middle-aged ‘parasite singles’ in Japan: gov’t statistics (Mainichi, 2 May)
There are about 3 million unmarried people aged between 35 and 44 in Japan who live with their parents, and 11.5 percent of the so-called middle-aged “parasite singles” don’t have jobs, according to data released by the Statistical Research and Training Institute at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Many of the people who were referred to as parasite singles when they were in their 20s and 30s in the 1990s are believed to have continued to remain unmarried and live with their parents. In those days, parasite singles were those who lived with their parents beyond their late 20s in order to enjoy a carefree and comfortable life.
The Statistical Research and Training Institute estimated the number of middle-aged parasite singles based on the labor force survey conducted in September 2010 by the internal affairs ministry. According to the estimates, there are 2.95 million people aged between 35 and 44 who are unmarried and live with their parents. They account for 16.1 percent of the total number of people in the same age bracket.
The number of middle-aged parasite singles has jumped from 1.12 million in 1990 (accounting for 5.7 percent of the total number in the same age bracket) and 1.59 million in 2000 (accounting for 10 percent of the total number in the same age bracket). Their employment status is also unstable, with their unemployment rate at 11.5 percent against 4.8 percent for the total number of people in the same age bracket. Their non-regular employment rate (with the length of a contract less than one year) stood at 11.2 percent.
Analysis made by experts, including Masahiro Yamada, professor at Chuo University, who coined the term parasite singles, shows that the average annual income for unmarried people aged 35 or older who live with their parents dropped to 1.38 million yen in 2004 from 2.04 million yen in 1994. The real picture of parasite singles that used to represent youths who were leading easy lives in those days has changed. Fumihiko Nishi, an advisor at the Statistical Research and Training Institute, said that they tended to live with their parents longer apparently because they could not afford to do otherwise financially.
There are also 10.64 million unmarried people aged between 20 and 34 who live with their parents. Professor Yamada said, “If the number of people who cannot care for themselves increases, the birthrate could decline further and the number of people who live on welfare could rise.”
‘Can you compete under pressure?’ (BBC Lab, 2012) aims to be the biggest ever study of the psychology of pressure. By analysing the data from those who take part, the scientists who designed it aim to shine unprecedented light on what affects performance under pressure. In doing so, they’ll discover something new about pressure in sport and in everyday life.
Critical moments – what makes the difference between success and failure? When top sprinters line up for a major final, psychological rather than physical differences could decide who takes gold. In contests won or lost by hundredths of second, athletes need every advantage they can get. So being able to handle pressure and manage the accompanying emotions is critical.
We all experience moments where the stakes are high and there’s a pressure to succeed.
But it’s not just top athletes who face moments of intense pressure. We all experience moments where the stakes are high and there’s a pressure to succeed.
In fact, the same psychological factors influence us whether we are giving a speech, taking a driving test, or just lining up a key shot in a casual game of pool.
So the big question is; can the psychological skills used by top sportspeople be used to prepare us for other moments of intense pressure? And if so – which ones are most effective?
These are just two of the questions we are hoping to answer with the data generated by ‘Can you compete under pressure?
The BBC Lab experiment s intended to explore and undersand the connection between controlling emotions and the reaction to performing poorly or very well.
Because the ability to regulate emotions has been shown to be important in areas of life from family and work relationships, to how we deal with risk; the data from ‘Can you compete under pressure?’ should have application well beyond the world of sport.
Being bilingual’ boosts brain power’ BBC, 1 May 2012) Learning a second language can boost brain power, scientists believe.
A new earthquake-proof desk has been designed, read about it at Earthquake-proof school desk provides cover for natural disasters (Gizmag, Apr 25)
[Ed. note: This is a terrific life-saving innovation invaluable for countries like quakeprone Japan …two designers have developed an “earthquake-proof” desk that can absorb the impact of up to a ton of weight and even provide emergency routes for rescue crews to reach trapped students…but I can’t see local public schools using the product unless it becomes affordable, with school institutions, a lot has to do with cost.]
60% of big municipalities test school meals’ cesium (Mar 29, Japan Times)
A recent nationwide survey of 74 major municipalities has found that 44 are testing school meals for radioactive cesium from the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The 44 municipal governments said they are conducting a variety of tests on school meals, while another six municipalities, including the city of Akita and Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, plan to start tests in the near future.
But the survey found wide divergences based on geographical proximity to the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Of 42 local governments in 17 eastern prefectures ordered to test produce for radioactive fallout before shipment, 34 were found to be conducting tests on school meals. In the remaining 32 municipalities in other parts of the country, only 10 were.
Deciding whether to test school lunches for contamination is left to the discretion of local governments.
Kyodo News conducted the poll between March 16 and 22 and quizzed municipal boards of education, including in prefectural capitals and Tokyo’s 23 wards.
Some of the 24 municipalities that do not test school lunches said food safety was confirmed via tests before goods hit the market and other data.
The survey also found that seven local governments have adopted lower cesium thresholds for food products than the 100 becquerels per kilogram the central government will introduce Sunday, including Sapporo at 4 becquerels, Yamagata at 10, Fukui and Tokyo’s Adachi and Sumida wards at 40, and Kyoto at 50.
[Ed. note: A good page to look up on current and updated data about radiation in food grown in contaminated zones is the Chuo U Professor’s website TAKEDANET.com, see for eg. his latest update on Chiba Prefecture’s food products]
Jiji Press (Apr. 28, 2012)
The government on Friday adopted a basic policy on safety education at schools for the next five years, with the goal of minimizing harm to children in the event of natural disasters and other situations.
The move was prompted by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region last year.
The basic policy urged schools to make time to teach children how to protect themselves in the event of a disaster. It also called for a study on the possibility of creating a new school subject focusing on safety education.
The basic policy underlined the necessity of safety education at schools, pointing out that students who had received thorough education on tsunami at their schools evacuated to safety on their own in the March 2011 disaster.
As the current safety education offered during gym classes is insufficient, a systematic method of training should be considered, it said.
In addition, it urged local governments to devise measures to minimize radiation exposure at schools in the event of nuclear accidents, following the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was damaged in the March 2011 disaster.
The plan also called on schools, parents and businesses to take measures to protect children from crimes related to Internet use.
More Japanese shunning traditional diet, table manners ( Yomiuri, May. 3, 2012)
“Washoku, or traditional dietary culture, which includes how food is served and table manners, may be disappearing from Japanese tables,” said Nobuko Iwamura, an official at Asatsu-DK Inc., an advertising firm that has been conducting studies on Japanese eating habits since 1998.
The studies covered families raising children with mothers born in 1960 and after. Participants were asked to keep track of their meals by taking pictures or keeping a diary for one week.
Traditionally in Japan, family members sit together to eat a meal consisting of rice as a staple, three dishes and a bowl of soup. However, the studies revealed that reality is far from this ideal.
For example, some respondents ate only snacks or cookies for breakfast, while others said they prepared dinners consisting primarily of carbohydrates, such as sandwiches and fried yakisoba noodles served together.
In other cases, aluminum foil was used instead of dishes, and some children could not use chopsticks properly. Instead of eating together, family members ate what they wanted and at different times.
In an effort to preserve traditional Japanese food culture, some schools and local communities have started promoting dietary education and encouraging people to eat locally produced food.
New flu bill clears Diet (Apr.28)
A bill on special measures concerning preparations for an outbreak of a highly virulent new strain of influenza passed the House of Councillors on Friday and became a law, thanks to the support of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, New Komeito and others.
Members of the Liberal Democratic Party, which approved the bill in the House of the Representatives, did not attend Friday’s upper house vote as the party is boycotting voting on bills submitted by the government because of its Diet affairs policy.
The aim of the law is to have permanent regulations in place to deal with a nationwide outbreak of a highly virulent strain of the flu, if such an outbreak is recognized as affecting people’s daily lives or the economy.
According to the law, when a serious outbreak is predicted, the prime minister would establish and head up a countermeasures headquarters within the cabinet. The prime minister would then issue an emergency situation declaration, enabling prefectural governors to urge people to refrain from going out and demand the cancellation of various events.
Furthermore, the governors can urge retailers and pharmaceutical makers to sell drugs to their prefectures. If they refuse to sell them, the governors will be empowered to forcibly expropriate the medicine from them. The central government will also compile a program to vaccinate all everyone in the nation.
(Apr. 28, 2012)
Another thermometer breaks at Fukushima (April 16, 2012, Japan Times)
One of the two remaining thermometers at the bottom of the pressure vessel of reactor No. 2 at the Fukushima power plant is broken, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday.
The finding follows the discovery of a broken thermometer in the same unit in February and means only 18 of its 36 temperature sensors are working, magnifying concerns about the utility’s long-term ability to monitor the crippled facility.
Tepco said that the sensor’s reading instantaneously jumped 6 degrees to hit 60 around 9 p.m. Saturday.
After checking the equipment, engineers found that the electric resistance of the device had greatly increased and concluded it was broken.
As of 11 a.m. Sunday, the reading of the only operational thermometer at the bottom of the reactor read 46.7 degrees, which is well below the “cold shutdown” threshold of 100 degrees, when water starts boiling and radioactive materials are released.
“We are able to check the temperatures at the vessel’s bottom with the remaining one and assess whether a cold shutdown was being maintained by monitoring all the thermometers, including those at other locations,” a Tepco spokesman said.
A hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 plant last March sent a 35-ton machine plunging into the spent-fuel pool of reactor 3, which uses highly dangerous mixed oxide fuel, Tokyo Electric has reported.
“We believe the machine fell into the pool when the (hydrogen) explosion occurred, but we have not found any indication it damaged the pool’s walls and caused any leaks, or that it damaged the spent fuel,” Junichi Matsumoto, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., told a news conference Friday.
The utility said engineers placed an underwater camera in the pool earlier Friday to prepare for the removal of its spent fuel rods. The No. 3 reactor is the only one at the crippled power station that was powered by the plutonium-uranium MOX.
Tepco released a photograph that appears to show part of the machine, which used to hang directly above the 11.8-meter-deep pool and was used to insert and remove fuel rods, resting on storage racks for the fuel rods.
Tepco also said that shortly after 1 a.m. Friday it was forced to stop injecting nitrogen into the containment vessels of the three reactors hit by meltdowns. The injections resumed around 10 a.m. via a backup system and no change in their hydrogen concentrations was detected, the utility said.
Tepco said it was the fourth time since March that it has been forced to suspend nitrogen injections, which are vital to prevent further hydrogen blasts.
Meanwhile, another image released by Tepco shows what looks like the building’s iron frame — all that remains after the hydrogen explosion ripped through it last year
North Korea’s botched “satellite” launch (Economist, Apr 13th 2012) http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/04/north-koreas-botched-satellite-launch?fsrc=nlw|newe|4-13-2012|1376807|38815726|
Admission of failure
IT WAS not necessarily a surprise that North Korea’s missile failed on April 13th to put a satellite into orbit; it has fluffed two previous attempts. But it is intriguing that, for the first time, Pyongyang appears to be admitting it.
Is this its own version of perestroika? Or just an unavoidable piece of damage control?
Probably the latter. The regime over-confidently broke with precedent to invite in the world’s TV cameras to film what was supposed to be the centerpiece of its centenary celebrations for its late founder, Kim Il Sung. Instead, his insecure grandson, Kim Jong Un, suddenly finds himself in the midst of a huge public-relations disaster, with unruly TV commentators all over the place.
Perhaps the regime realised that if it continued to deny the obvious, it would only stoke more international mockery. And as Peter Beck of the Asia Foundation says, at home there was anyway a risk that “anyone with a $5 Chinese shortwave radio could pick up the BBC and find out what’s going on in the world.” It hasn’t yet given an explanation for why the rocket failed. Pyongyang could still blame it on foreign interference, or use it as an excuse to punish enemies of the revolution, perhaps including some poor rocket scientists.
On balance, the missile debacle looks laughable, but isn’t. It appears likely to increase the regime’s international isolation, which tends to make it more threatening. It is also likely to increase the young Mr Kim’s credibility gap at home, which may make him more repressive.
Internationally, having launched the missile, North Korea faces possible rebuke, if not further sanctions, after a proposed meeting of the UN Security Council on April 13th. Before it took place, the Group of Eight, which rejects Pyongyang’s claim that it was merely an innocuous satellite launch, said it represented a “serious violation” of a UN ban on ballistic-missile tests by the North. Meanwhile, the United States is set to suspend a food-aid deal that was agreed with the North on February 29th. Some experts even suggest America should freeze North Korean bank accounts abroad, as it did in Macau in 2005. That really annoyed the Kim family.
The last time North Korea sought to launch a satellite in 2009, it never admitted that it had failed. Shortly afterwards, however, it carried out a nuclear-weapons test. This week South Korean intelligence reported activity near another potential underground blast spot, which some experts reckon could suggest is it aiming to test another bomb—possibly one using enriched uranium.
The fact that today’s rocket failed may make it more likely that North Korea tries to pull off another centenary stunt—possibly an atomic one—in the near future, both to reassure the hungry folks at home that it is a “great and prosperous nation”, and to remind everyone else that its rulers remain inherently evil. Don’t expect the world’s media to be invited to that party piece, however.
Fukushima damage leaves spent fuel at risk, says U.S. lawmaker (Japan Today, APR. 17, 2012)
Japan, with assistance from the U.S. government, needs to do more to move spent fuel rods out of harm’s way at the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, said U.S. Senator Ron Wyden on Monday.
Wyden, a senior Democratic senator on the Senate Energy committee, toured the ruined Fukushima plant on April 6, and said the damage was far worse than he expected.
“Seeing the extent of the disaster first-hand during my visit conveyed the magnitude of this tragedy and the continuing risks and challenges in a way that news accounts cannot,” said Wyden in a letter to Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the United States.
Last March, an earthquake followed by a tsunami wrecked the Fukushima plant, causing the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years and prompting global scrutiny of the safety of nuclear power plants.
Wyden said he was most worried about spent fuel rods stored in damaged pools adjacent to the ocean, and urged the Japanese government to accept international help to prevent further release of the radioactive material if another earthquake should happen.
In a statement on his website, Wyden said the only protection for the pools from another tsunami appeared to be “a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock.”
Wyden said the spent fuel should be moved to safer storage sooner than anticipated under a 10-year clean-up plan from TEPCO, the owner of the nuclear plant.
The lawmaker also wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and top U.S. nuclear regulator Gregory Jaczko to ask them to find ways to help Japan address the problem.
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012.r
New underwater images show damage at Fukushima reactor (Japan Today APR. 16, 2012)
A spent fuel pool at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has been littered with debris including a 35-tonne crane
Tokyo Electric Power Co has released dramatic images taken by an underwater camera showing major damage at a spent fuel storage pool at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Photos show a 35-ton crane, set to straddle over the pool, which may have dropped due to a hydrogen explosion three days after the tsunami and earthquake on March 11 last year, TEPCO said when it released the images on Friday.
Twisted fragments from iron frames of the No. 3 reactor building were also seen in the 11.8-meter-deep pool.
It was the second time TEPCO released underwater images from inside the reactor building.
There are six reactors at the plant and the No. 3 unit is among three which have suffered meltdowns after the quake-tsunami disaster.
© 2012 AFP
IITATE, Fukushima — Radioactive cesium far exceeding the allowable limit and way higher than previously detected contamination levels in fish has been found in river trout here, the prefectural government said on March 28.
The yamame, or landlocked masu salmon, caught in the Niida River in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, measured 18,700 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, a reading over 37 times more than the government-imposed provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram.
The radiation dose detected this time exceeds the 14,400 becquerels per kilogram detected in sand eels in waters off Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, in April 2011, becoming the highest radiation dose found in sea and freshwater fish since the outbreak of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March last year.
The prefectural government has requested related fishery cooperatives to refrain from catching and eating yamame fish from the Niida River’s main current and tributaries.
The contaminated fish was caught for sampling prior to the opening of the fishing season in April this year and has not been circulated in markets.
Onagawa nuke plant saved from tsunami by one man’s strength, determination (Mainichi) http://mdn.mainichi.jp/perspectives/pulse/news/20120319p2a00m0na020000c.html
While the town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, was hit hard by the March 2011 tsunami, the nuclear plant it shares with the equally devastated city of Ishinomaki survived. The reason it did so, I discovered in a March 7 article in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, is mostly down to the personal strength and tenacity of one Yanosuke Hirai, who passed away in 1986.
There is a lot for us to learn from one episode involving Hirai, especially now as “stress tests” on idled nuclear reactors are conducted in a general atmosphere of public distrust. To help us understand Hirai’s contribution, I turned to 82-year-old Tatsuji Oshima, who worked under Hirai at Onagawa plant operator Tohoku Electric Power Co.
According to Oshima, Hirai’s true value as a person was in his sense of duty that made him “take responsibility for the results of his decisions.” He wasn’t the sort to believe that everything would be all right “as long as people keep to set standards.” Rather, though he paid careful attention to regulations, compliance was never his goal. Hirai was the kind of manager and engineer to exceed regulations and do the checks needed to get to the heart of a problem.
The breakwater that proved so inadequate to the task of protecting the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant from the ocean was 10 meters high. The one defending the Onagawa nuclear plant is 14.8 meters tall, and it turns out Hirai had to fight a one-man war to get it built. The reason he was so determined was his careful study of the past, which revealed that in the year 869 a massive tsunami had hit the spot where the Onagawa plant now stands.
Hirai was born in 1902 in the town of Funaoka (now Shibata), southern Miyagi Prefecture. He studied civil engineering at Tokyo Imperial University (the present-day University of Tokyo), and afterward got a job at the Toho Denryoku power company, owned by the then “king of electric power” Yasuzaemon Matsunaga. He went on to work for Japan Electric Generation & Transmission Co. and, after World War II, Tohoku Electric, where he eventually became vice president.
After leaving the firm in 1962, Hirai became head of technology research at the Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI), founded by his mentor Matsunaga. In 1968, he joined the coastal facilities planning committee for the construction of the Onagawa nuclear plant, and he poured his efforts into protecting the new reactors from tsunami damage.
Hirai was apparently the only person on the entire project to push for the 14.8-meter breakwater, while many of his colleagues said that 12 meters would be sufficient and derided Hirai’s proposal as excessive. Hirai’s authority and drive, however, eventually prevailed, and Tohoku Electric spent the extra money to build the 14.8-meter-tall shield. Some 40 years later, on March 11, 2011, a 13-meter-high tsunami slammed into the coast at Onagawa.
Another of Hirai’s proposals also helped save the plant during the disaster. Expecting the sea to draw back before a tsunami, he made sure the plant’s cooling system was designed so it could still draw water for the reactors.
The tsunami that Hirai anticipated came 25 years after his death, and we can say that he was absolutely right. What made him so implacable and gave him such a strong sense of responsibility?
“Corporate ethics and compliance may be similar, but their cores are different,” says Oshima from his home in Sendai. “From the perspective of corporate social responsibility, we cannot say that there is no need to question a company’s actions just because they are not a crime under the law.” …
Fault under nuclear plant feared active / Doubt cast on reactivation of Tsuruga plant (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Apr 25)
A panel of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has suggested that faults beneath the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, may be active–potentially putting the plant in violation of the government’s criterion that prohibits building nuclear reactors above active faults.
NISA, which is examining earthquake-resistance capabilities of nuclear power plants, released Tuesday the results of the hearing panel’s inspection of the plant of the Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC)
The burden is now on JAPC to prove the faults are not active. The hurdle for reactivating the reactors at the Tsuruga plant has thus become extremely high.
What the NISA panel sees as problematic are faults in zones of crushed rock left fragile by past earthquakes.
There are about 160 such crushed-rock zones on the plant’s premises, including spots just below its Nos. 1 and 2 reactors.
Though JAPC knew of the crushed-rock zones when it applied for permission to construct the plant in 1965, the company’s geological research apparently led it to believe the zones showed no significant signs of seismic activity.
However, the Great East Japan Earthquake changed the stress patterns applied to the layers of rock beneath Japan, and it may now be easier for earthquakes to be triggered by different mechanisms from past ones. Therefore, reexamination of past research on faults has become necessary.
The latest research found a possibility that the crushed-rock zones beneath the nuclear plant may move together with a nearby active fault, known as the Urasoko fault.
JAPC has conducted research on the possibility since February.
On Tuesday, four experts inspected four locations, including places where parts of the crushed-rock zones are visible on the surface of the ground, and confirmed clear signs of the existence of faults.
Shinji Toda, associate professor of Kyoto University’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute, who conducted the inspection, said, “It’s highly likely that they have moved, being pulled by the Urasoko fault, within the past several hundred thousand years.”
The other three experts concurred.
Based on the new research, NISA asked JAPC to conduct additional drilling research and more detailed analysis of components of the geological layers near the Urasoko fault.
JAPC has already submitted first-stage results of stress tests on the Tsuruga plant’s No. 2 reactor as a precondition to reactivating the reactor.
But before evaluating the stress test results, a prerequisite to restarting the reactor, JAPC now must prove with detailed geological research that faults under the reactor buildings are not active and will not move together with the Urasoko fault.
Thus it has become extremely uncertain whether the plant’s reactors will be able to be reactivated.
Experts have also voiced doubts about interlocking active faults beneath Monju, a fast breeder reactor of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Tsuruga; Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant; Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture; and Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane nuclear power plant in Matsue.
Detailed research on those nuclear plants is also under way.
The Tsuruga plant is the nation’s oldest commercial nuclear power plant. Its No. 1 reactor, with an output capacity of 357,000 kilowatts, began operation in 1970. The No. 2 reactor, with an output capacity of 1.16 million kilowatts, started operation in 1987.
Both reactors have been idled since their most recent regular inspections. There are plans to build two more reactors at the plant, but the government’s pre-construction safety checks have been suspended because of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Active faults are those with a record of repeated activity that also exhibit the potential to move in the future.
The Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission revised in 2006 its safety guideline on nuclear power plants’ abilities to withstand earthquakes.
The revised guideline stipulates that faults believed to have moved since the Late Pleistocene age–120,000 to 130,000 years ago–are called active faults.
Fear of radiation creeping south (Japan Times, Mar 23)
Lingering concerns about radiation a year into the Fukushima nuclear crisis have prompted people even as far away as the Tokyo area, some 100 to 250 km from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, to move away. Mamiko Joosten, who has lived for seven years in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, has now decided to move to Okinawa with her 6-year-old daughter out of fear of radiation, leaving her husband behind.
15-year-old girl jumps to death from Yokohama school building (Apr 12 )
Police said Wednesday that a 15-year-old girl jumped to her death from the 5th floor of a school building in Yokohama. According to police, the incident occurred at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday at Tamagawa Gakuen, TBS reported. A teacher witnessed the girl climb over the railing and jump. The girl was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead. (Japan Today)
Allowances to private college students fall (Yomiuri, Apr 11)
Monthly allowances given by parents to students who entered private colleges in the Tokyo metropolitan area last spring fell for the 11th consecutive year, a survey has shown. The average monthly allowance for freshmen attending school away from home was 91,300 yen, down 300 yen from the previous year, according to the survey released Monday by the Tokyo Federation of Private University Faculty and Staff Unions. (Yomiuri)
Underwater eruption suspected near Iwoto (Yomiuri, May 1 2012)
The Maritime Self-Defense Force confirmed a change in the color of the water northeast of Iwoto–about 1,250 kilometers south of Tokyo–at about 3:40 p.m. on Sunday after volcanic tremors–lasting about half an hour–were observed in the early morning on the island, according to the agency
See also Fault near Shiga nuclear power plant said probably active(Japan Times) |
Last reactor halts Saturday (Japan Times)
Tracking Fukushima’s radioactive dust (Environmentalresearchweb.org’s blog)
As the first big nuclear accident in the vicinity of a good measurement network, the events at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in March 2011 enabled scientists to find out more about the spread of radioactive dust and its associated health risks. That’s according to Masatoshi Yamauchi of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, speaking to the press at the EGU 2012 meeting in Vienna … read his report here
This Old Washington Post piece below is still good reading …
Study shows wide varieties in discipline methods among very similar schools This study unmasks myths about school discipline. Those in charge, not students, have more effect on punishment severity levels. The report, released Tuesday, challenges a common misperception that the only way schools can manage behavior is through suspension, said Michael D. Thompson, a co-author of the report, done by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. “The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies,” he said. “School administrators and school superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact.”
With that last newsline, we come to the end of today’s EDU WATCH post.