Current concerns (2)

11. School violence.

From a Kyodo News report “Violence hits record high at primary schools”

– The number of reported cases of violnce by primary school students at public schools increased by 128 from a year earlier to 2,018 in the 2005 academic year, marking a record high for the third consecutive year, according to research by MEXT.

– Assaults on teaching staff showed a 38% rise to 464, the “Research on Problematic Behavior” report showed. Statistically, one violent student is assaulting an average of 1.8 teachers.

– School violence totaled about 21,115 cases at middle schools, compared to 23,110 the previous year (almost unchanged). The total at primary and middle schools was about 30,000, almost unchanged.

– Cases at high schools edged up to 5,150 from 5,022.

– Violence by students outside school totaled 3,735 cases, falling for the fifth straight year.

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An editorial from the Yomiuri Shimbun Sep. 28, 2005 entitled “Steps needed to control violent school children” see this made the following points and observations:

– Statistics indicate that there has been a sharp increase in school violence at primary schools nationwide, accompanied by a decline in violence at middle and high schools;

– According to MEXT statistics , there were 1,890 cases of violence at primary schools in the 2004 academic year, an increase of 290 from the previous year. This means the figure has hit record highs for two consecutive years, the worst sets of results since 1997, when the ministry conducted its first survey on school violence.

that the growing tendency among young people to use violence on others without a second thought is affecting even primary school students.

– In one reported case, a fifth-grade student jumped on and kicked a teacher who was teaching him the proper way of greeting people. In another case, a sixth-grade student started a fight with a classmate over a trivial matter and kneed him in the face. Another sixth-grade student suddenly lost his temper during a break between classes and smashed windowpanes at a school building.

– that the number of cases in which primary school students assaulted teachers in the 2004 school year increased by 30 percent from 2003.

– Teachers are dismayed that an increasing number of students are making them the targets of violence and are finding it difficult to deal with violent students because of the ban on physical punishment.”
17. Education Reforms in 2007 focus on improving academic ability of Japanese students. The key new stance is to revise “education with latitude”. Source: Education panel report deserves full marks By Editorial Desk, The Daily Yomiuri, 1/25/2007 Read more here.

– In many reported cases, primary school students physically attacked others on the spur of the moment. The education ministry has said those children lack patience and do not know how to build good relations with others. The ministry has concluded these students find it difficult to control their emotions. The ministry has said that the lack of cooperation among teachers in dealing with problem students could encourage such children to use violence against others, the ministry said.

– The increase in primary school violence is not unrelated to the recent decline in the age of juvenile delinquents. An increasing number of primary school students appear to be willing to resort to violence. A sixth-grade girl was slashed to death by a classmate in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in June last year.

– In one prefecture, for instance, there were no reported cases of school violence, compared with more than 120 in an adjacent prefecture. The figure stood at more than 300 in Osaka and Kanagawa prefectures, contrasted with only 43 in Tokyo. However, given that prefectural governments apply different criteria in determining the seriousness of each case to be reported to the ministry, the ministry says the statistics on school violence may be the tip of the iceberg.

– The ministry has said it will do all it can to encourage teachers and administrators in each school to cooperate in dealing with problem students to halt school violence.

– Parents’ role is seen as crucial – to prevent their children from enjoying video games, television shows and comics filled with violent content.

The editorial suggests that parents who abuse their children will perpetuate the cycle of violence and that parents should rethink how they spend their time with their children at home.

Educators Try to Tame Japan’s Blackboard Jungles, September 23, 2002 by HOWARD W. FRENCH

YOKOHAMA, Japan – Across Japan these days, by the first or
second grade, elementary school students commonly talk out
of turn and wrestle with one another in class.

By fourth grade, they are using obscene language, often
directed at the teacher or written on the blackboard. And
by sixth grade, a growing generation of preteenage rebels
has begun walking in and out of classrooms at will, mocking
the authority of adults and even attacking teachers who try
to restrain them.

“When I was posted to this school in April last year, the
sixth graders were so disorderly that teachers couldn’t
start classes,” said Masakuni Kaneshima, 57, the principal
of an elementary school in Kunitachi, a Tokyo suburb.
“About a third of the students, that is, about a dozen from
each class, wouldn’t even enter the classroom. Together
with the head teacher, my job became bringing these
children to their classroom.”

A plague of similar troubles have many Japanese asking
whatever happened to their country’s school system, not
long ago the envy of much of the world for its reputation
for producing not just wave after wave of high-achieving
children, but of conspicuously well-behaved children, as

The spreading disorder in Japan’s schools may pale compared
with the woes of underprivileged schools in American
cities. But coming on top of Japan’s economic stagnation,
the crisis known here as “classroom collapse” is the latest
insult to the pride of a society that a little more than a
decade ago thought it had pretty much everything figured

According to a report released last October by the National
Institute for Educational Policy Research, about 32.4
percent of 6,614 elementary school teachers surveyed said
their schools had at least one classroom that had
experienced collapse. Similar problems show up in higher
grades, too, with nearly half of all high schools reporting
violence, higher dropout rates and problems like student

Such data have stirred an anguish-filled debate over
education in Japan that has found causes in everything from
the country’s seemingly endless economic morass to a
continuing but awkward shift toward greater individuality.

Predictably, the discussion has also broken down sometimes
into a blame game, with angry parents accusing schools of
abdicating their responsibilities and many educators
replying that the spread of classroom disorder is a result
of negligent or overly indulgent child-rearing by parents.

“Up until now, Japan was a society in which children
obeyed adults, but this relationship between children and
adults is no longer workable, because the system was built
around the idea that by doing well in school you could
enter a good company, and having lifetime security,” said
Naoki Ogi, an education expert. “Over the last 10 years,
however, Japan hasn’t found a way out of its economic
depression, and from the children’s viewpoint, the academic
record-oriented system has collapsed. Moral values are
collapsing, too.

“So children feel they have no one they can trust, no adult
society they can look up to.”

At the Idogaya Elementary School in Yokohama, a four-story
building with a large, open sandlot that looks from the
outside like the very prototype of the Japanese elementary
school, officials said that bits and pieces of all those
factors had played a role in a classroom breakdown problem
the school said it had brought under control last year.

In a reflection of the shame that attaches to social
problems in Japan, among dozens of schools that were
approached, Idogaya was the only one that would both
acknowledge it had experienced classroom collapse and allow
itself to be identified.

A tour of several classrooms, however, showed no traces of
the problem. In a sixth-grade music class, students
practiced Beethoven’s “Marmotte” on their recorders,
following the teacher’s cues almost to perfection.
Likewise, in a fourth-grade calligraphy class, there was
nary a hint of giggling as students practiced writing

Despite the scenes of wrinkle-free order, the principal,
Chuji Yamada, said he had been sent to the school because
of his reputation as a problem solver. There had been
disorder in a second-grade class, he said, in which “three
or four kids would run out of the classroom and ignore the
teacher’s instructions.”

Mr. Yamada said Japan’s elementary schools, starting with
his own, shared plenty of the blame for the spread of
increasingly unruly behavior. Schools are understaffed, he
said, and most teachers never receive any continuing
education to refresh their methods, or examine how to deal
with new problems.

The lion’s share of the blame, however, he reserved for
today’s parents, who he said were spoiling their children
with money, cellphones and other gifts, while spending less
time with them. Instead, parents expect the school to take
the major responsibility for imparting manners and other
social skills.

“More and more, I get the impression that people are
becoming egotistical, only thinking about themselves,” Mr.
Yamada said. “They don’t fulfill their responsibilities,
but they claim their rights, both as parents and citizens.”

One of Mr. Yamada’s teachers, Kazuyuki Nakagawa, a 21-year
veteran of elementary schools who acknowledged experiencing
breakdowns in his own classrooms, said the lonelier, more
materialistic upbringing of today’s children was
transforming their personalities before his eyes.

“Today’s children will cry in a heartbeat, and they give up
so quickly,” Mr. Nakagawa said. “The reason is that they
don’t play with other children of various ages anymore.
They’ve become impatient, and at the slightest little
problem, their mothers will call the school to complain.”

Most of all, however, Mr. Ogi, the education expert said,
today’s children are victims of high expectations, which
typically begin with over-demanding parents in what are
very often single-child households.

“Even if only a few kids in the class rebel, the others
enjoy watching, and they love bullying the teacher,” Mr.
Ogi said. “We call it ‘yoiko’ stress, or good-child stress,
which is widely seen among first graders. At home, they
have to play the role of the perfect child, or else they
don’t get affection from their mothers. So when their
mother is not present, in school, they tend to look for a
release.” NY Times 2002/09/23/


EDITORIAL/Rising student violence


Schoolchildren are becoming more aggressive, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for fiscal 2005. The annual study, which tracks public elementary, junior and senior high schools nationwide, reports the first rise in school violence in two years. The acts committed included hitting and kicking homeroom teachers, attacking classmates, breaking school windows, destroying equipment and other troublesome behavior.

This increased violence is particularly alarming because it has occurred in the face of the steady decline in the number of children being born in recent years. The disturbing trend is particularly conspicuous at the elementary school level, where pupils committed more than 2,000 acts of violence in fiscal 2005. Assaults against elementary school teachers jumped by at least 30 percent for the third consecutive year.

The use of terms such as “disgusted” or “snapping” to describe the frustrations and emotions of the children is also rising.

Many children who have not crossed the line to violence nonetheless say they identify with many of the acts committed. There is a very real concern that unruly elementary school children will sink to even lower depths when they reach junior high. It is vital to nip the problem in the bud while students are still young.

Two common traits have been pointed out among children prone to resort to hostility. One is the buildup of stress and frustration. The other is weak self-control in preventing the stress from boiling over. What types of frustrations do children experience, and why are they so powerless in keeping their moods under control? We can never probe the true causes without exploring the inner moods and lifestyles of these young people.

Studying the schools alone is not sufficient. Greater teamwork that also focuses on the pupils’ home life is critical for progress.

Parents shoulder a heavy responsibility for this situation. We can only conclude that family problems lead to mounting frustrations that children eventually find unable to suppress. In many cases, blowups by children are most certainly a reflection of the failure of adults to keep their own sentiments under control.

A growing number of households are sending their children off to school without breakfast. Kids who arrive in class hungry can hardly be expected to be physically or mentally ready to learn. The only feasible solution is for schools and families to join hands and cooperate in improving the conditions on their respective fronts.

During the past fiscal year, one elementary school child guilty of violence was suspended from classes. This was the first such action taken in the public school system in seven years. Such a measure was most likely unavoidable from the perspective of having the pupil reflect on the nature of the conduct. Here again, though, collaboration with the family is a critical key in pinpointing the cause of the violence and getting the child back on the right track.

The education ministry should thoroughly analyze the issue of juvenile violence and convey information on case studies of successful guidance to the individual schools.

Regarding the environments in which children are raised, we are far removed from the times of our parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. Videogame machines have become common and fewer children are playing outdoors. Also in decline are methods of play that involve jostling or other physical contact.

These and other changes appear to be amplifying the stress in children’s lives and sapping their capacity to exercise self-control.

Against this backdrop, we must closely appreciate the fact that elementary school violence is not a problem resolvable by the schools alone. Simply stated, adults need to use this pending crisis as an opportunity to take a good hard look at the society.

Take harsh measures against violent studentsThe Yomiuri Shimbun

When a female teacher confiscated a comic book from a sixth-grade boy during class, he lost his temper and kicked her in the stomach.

At another school, a fourth-grade boy yelled at a male teacher, “Why are you interfering?” when the teacher tried to stop a fight. The boy then hurled himself at the teacher, scratching his arm.

Schoolteachers have increasingly become victims of school violence. But they may not physically restrain children when they are assaulted by students.

“If we use corporal punishment to discipline students, we’ll be fired. How are we supposed to deal with school violence?” This commonly voiced complaint probably reflects the feelings of most teachers.

There seems to be no end in sight to violent acts by primary school students. In the school year ended in March, a record-high 2,018 cases of school violence at public primary schools were reported, for the third straight year of increase.

The figure is up about 50 percent from that for fiscal 1997, the year the education ministry started to compile the statistics on school violence, when it stood at 1,304 cases.

Acts of violence against teachers rose particularly steeply, with 464 cases reported in the 2005 school year, up a whopping 38.1 percent from the 336 cases recorded the previous year.

Violence between students, at 951 cases, and vandalism, at 582 cases, also remained high.

The ministry notes that the same students tend to repeatedly act violently. Many such students seem incapable of accepting a scolding from teachers and unwilling to change their ways.

These problem students lose their temper when they are told off by teachers for misbehaving or when they are asked to abide by school rules.

Parents must fulfill duties

The issue of student violence should be addressed by schools in a comprehensive manner. But the reality is that at many schools, the matter is left up to individual homeroom teachers.

What is most important is to gain understanding and cooperation from parents.

At one school, for example, parents, including those of problem students, took it in turn to observe lessons. With continued efforts, order returned to the “collapsed class.”

But some parents of troubled students lash out at schools when they are asked to attend meetings to discuss their children’s behavior, saying the schools are singling their children out unfairly.

But it is the obligation of parents to teach their children that violence is not a permissible way to express one’s feelings.

Light punishments a problem

Schools, meanwhile, should take firm measures against students whose behavior is beyond the pale.

In the last school year, police took into custody just 11 primary school students who acted violently.

Just one student–a fifth-grade boy in the Chugoku region–was suspended from school under the School Education Law. He repeatedly damaged supplies at his school and tried to take his classmates out of the classroom during lessons. The school took the tough measure since the boy had misbehaved in this manner for five months after joining the school from another school.

The largest number of punishments issued under the law was light admonishment to 20 primary school students in the last school year. Including those cases, punitive measures were meted out to only 27 students under the law. Other violent cases ended up with the misbehaving students merely being verbally scolded or warned.

How can such light punishments be expected to bring about a change of heart in problem students? Students may be encouraged to misbehave repeatedly because they know they are unlikely to be strictly punished.

Excessively violent behavior and other acts that infringe on other students’ right to receive an education may have to be punished with the perpetrators’ forcible ejection from class.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 15, 2006)



12. Current measures to to deal with the problem of bullying:

– The 2007 national budget contains an allocation of 9.3 billion yen to enable all children to be counselled each for an average of 20 minutes a year.

– The Gentle Heart Project, by a non-profit organisation based in Kawasaki city, Tokyo has made it its mission to rid schools of bullying. It organises talks and exhibitions around the country (that are in great demand) to emphasise the “preciousness of heart and life”. The group is headed by Mr Shinichiro Komori who lost his only 16 year-old daughter 8 years ago after being bullied in school.

– Japan’s Education Minister, Mr Bunmei Ibuki, has now called for drastic reform. A government council studying the rebuilding of Japan’s education system has issued an urgent apppeal calling on schools to teach children that bullying is unacceptable anti-social behavior. It urged that not only those who should be punished as aggressors should also include children who are aware of bullying but do nothing to stop it, and not just the bullies alone.

– The government’s actions have been prompted by a sudden increase in the number of teen suicides over recent mnths – at least half a dozen bullying -related suicdes involving children aged between 12 and 16 across Japan, after a 12 year old reportedly took his life in August and left a note saying he had been bullied. From 1999 to 2005 the number of bullying incidents had been officially zero but after a review by the Education Ministry of 16 suicides from that period, it found that in many of the cases, there was evidence that the children had been bullied.

– Education Ministry has also found that schools and teachers have been inclined to ignore or conceal bullying cases for fear of bad publicity or fear of looking bad or out of the fear of ruining their careers. Even local boards of education are afraid of tarnishing their records.

From Japan acts to put bullies in their place, Straits Times Jan 3, 2007

– MEXT has compiled a set of case studies of successful approaches to bullying -related issues in schools and plans to distribute the information to ever primary, middle and high school in the country by the end of March. 37 case studies were selected out of 180 examples (of successes in stamping out bullying through the effort of teachers, students and schools) received from boards of education and schools across the country from for the approaches that have all worked well and can be used as a reference. Yomiuri Shimbun

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The ERC ( Education REbuilding Council) has said in its report “Bullying is an anti-social act that should not be tolerated,” panel ‘s proposals urged local education boards to punish teachers who had encouraged bullying or failed to stop it and take steps to separate bullies from a classroom and place tem in community service. It also called for closer cooperation with parents, community groups and experts to takle the problem. – Associated Press


Bringing an end to bullying Japan Times EDITORIAL Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006

The Education Resuscitation Council’s call for efforts to stamp out bullying at school and measures to cope with bullying-related problems shows that the government is serious about the problem. But both the government and the public must realize that bullying is so difficult a problem that it will not be solved just by creating some systems as suggested by the advisory council for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Conspicuous in the council’s suggestions is a call on school authorities to adopt a “resolute attitude” toward students who bully others. Measures include requiring community service and teaching student bullies in a segregated classroom. Some council members called for suspending such students. This idea was not included in the council’s proposal.

But teaching bullies in a segregated class is not very different from suspension. It would be too simplistic if one thinks that segregating such students or stopping them from coming to school will eradicate the root cause of bullying, although strong action should be taken against serious acts such as physical attacks and blackmailing. The difficult thing about bullying is that it is often done in a way that is not easily detected by teachers or other classmates and is not necessarily accompanied by physical actions.

The council says that teachers must cooperate with parents and members of the community, have deeper communication with children and not fail to notice any sign of bullying. It also calls on parents, communities, schools and boards of education to unite to do away with bullying. But these are truisms. The council should consider what has been making it difficult for those things to happen. It should consider the possibility that the present education-related administration has made it difficult for teachers to have enough time to deal with the problems of all their students. It needs to consider concrete ways to help teachers solve bullying problems and to create an environment in which students will be free from alienation and frustration and do not have to resort to bullying others to fill their own void. The Japan Times

Japan: Parents who lost bullied daughter to suicide sue central and local governments

“Parents of bullied suicide girl sue for 20 mil. yen” The Yomiuri Shimbun (02/08/07)

Parents sue state for bullied girl’s suicide: Japan’s Education Ministry failed to prevent bullying, says lawsuit. the Straits Times, Feb 8 2007

The parents of a schoolgirl who killed herself two years ago are seeking 20 million yen in damages from the state for allegedly failing to prevent herfrom being bullied by her classmates.

The parents of Yumi Nakai who was 12 at the time of her death, filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday against the Ministry of Education and also against Kitamoto city in Saitama prefecture, where the dead child’s school is located.

According to media reports quoting the lawyer for the parents, the suit is the first of its kind to question the responsibility of the state in bullying-related deaths of school children.

Mr Shinji Nakai, the dead girls’ father, told reporters: “We want to know why our daughter died. We decided to go to court because we hope no one else will have to experience the same suffering as us.”

Reports said several of the gril’s classmates had repeatedly insulted her, using words like “annoying” and “kill youself”.

In October 2005, she took her own life by jumping from an apartment building in another city.

Reports quoted the city government as saying that it had not found any evidence of bullying of the sort htat could have led to the child’s death.

However, the parents of the dead girl suspect that the cit tried to conceal the case because the Education Ministry had a policy of not recognising bullying-related suicides at the time.

A spate of bullying-related suicides last year involving schoolchildren so shocked the nation that the Education Ministry was obliged to conduct a review of suicde cases invovling children over the past several years.

Last month, the ministry annoucned the results of its probe, saying htat it had found 14 cases of suicide between March 1999 and October 2006 in which bullying had been a possible factor.

In three of these cases, bullying was the direct cause of the deaths, based on suicide notes and other evidence left behid by the victims.

In Saitama prefecture where Yumi Nakai went to school, a survey by the prefectural board last found that 4.2% of primary and junior high school students who were polled said they were still being bullied in school.

About 40% of the respondents said they had experienced bullying at some time.

Despite the bullying problem having come to national attnetion last year, the authorities have not been able to curb bullying-related deaths.

A recent case invovled a 14-year-old schoolboy who committed suicide on Feb 1 in Matsudo city near Tokyo.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has put educational reform, including tackling the bullying issue, at the top of his political agenda.

In a key policy speech last month at the opening of the current session of Parliament he pledged to “eradicate bullying”.

But a solution ot the problem still seems elusive.

Last month, the Education Rebuilding Countil, which reports to the Prime Ministrer recommended suspension of children who were found to be guilty of repeatedly bullying their classmates.

But the Education Ministry and the public schools themselves –which ware obliged under the law to provide education for all cildren — questioned the effectiveness of such a measure.





13. The arrest of a Chinese woman in Friday’s fatal stabbing of two children she routinely drove to kindergarten in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, has cast a light on the problems foreigners face in trying to fit into Japanese society.

Zheng Yongshan, 34, whose 5-year-old daughter attended kindergarten with the two victims, reportedly told investigators her daughter did not fit in well with other children. Media reports also quoted an acquaintance who said Zheng felt left out by the mothers of the other children. Experts have been quick to attribute Zheng’s actions to paranoia stemming from insecurity about not being able to make friends.

But citizens’ groups that offer support to foreign mothers say the tragedy shows how important it is to communicate with such mothers and to help them fit into society.

“I think (Zheng) was influenced by the notion that she was being left out, and projected that onto her child,” said Akira Sakuta, a visiting professor at Seigakuin University who specializes in criminal psychology.

Sakuta said mothers tend to have a sense of oneness with their children, and Zheng must have thought her daughter, like her, was also not getting along well with others.

Poor communications between non-Japanese and Japanese can exacerbate feelings of isolation.

Zheng could not join a group of mothers who had exchanged e-mail messages on their cell phones, though she had wished to do so, Kyodo News agency reported Monday, quoting police sources.

Cell phones have become an indispensable communications tool for Japanese mothers. Many of them exchange e-mails to arrange everything from dinner menus to where their kids play after they return from kindergarten.

“Many foreign mothers (in Japan) raise their children with a sense of isolation and anxiety,” said Midori Ito, who heads Kansai Lifeline, a group in Osaka that provides telephone counseling, mainly for people from Taiwan and China.

The overwhelming majority of foreign residents living in Shiga Prefecture are from South America. There were 3,969 registered foreign residents living in Nagahama, for example, at the end of December, with 80 percent hailing from South America — 2,580 from Brazil and 604 from Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. There were 211 Chinese residents, according to prefectural statistics.

Source: Child killings cast light on isolated foreign moms, Feb 21, 2006, Japan Times

14. Foreign Kids face barriers in Tokyo, Feb 22, 2007 Daily Yomuiri

The article highlights some of the barriers include difficulties building sufficient skills to take school entrance exams, getting good scores in Japanese and social studies and the lack of support by education authorities and high schools – the article notes that unions of public shcool teachers and citizens’ groups in Tokyo have filed a petition with the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education urging preferential treatment to non-Japanese in high school entrance exams.

Fundamental flaw remains in education law, Asahi Shimbun, 02,12, 2007

The writer’s daughter was once denied entrance to a public junior high school in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, when trying to transfer from a school in Brazil at the age 15 in the ninth grade. The writer decided not to fight the decision but went to live in another city whether their child was accepted by another school there. The article brought up the point that a foreign kids’ right to education in Japan is guaranteed neither by the education law nor the constitution of Japan. The offending law reads as follows, “The people shall all be given equal opportunities of receiving education according to their ability, and they shall not be subject to educational discrimination on account of race, creed, sex, social status, economic position, or family origin. Thus, the Fundamental Law of Education guarantees the equal opportunity of education to all people of Japan.” However, it is necessary to note that the word “people” is the translation of the word “kokumin,” which literally means “nationals.” Currently, the most important law on education in Japan, as well as the very Constitution, does not guarantee the right to education for children with foreign nationalities. However, the prime minister and the education minister clarified in the Diet last spring that while the proposed revision of the Fundamental Law of Education does not refer specifically to foreigners, those who wish so will continue to be treated in the same way as Japanese concerning the right to obligatory education.

From Free School to High School, Daily Yomiuri, 2006, 03, 30

Features the Tabunka (Multicultural) Free School in Arakawa ward which offers a place to support foreign children who have already graduated from middle school in their home countries but wish to pass entrance exams for high school despite their lack of Japanese-language skills.

Evening High School Builds Intl Bridges, Daily Yomiuri. Feb 22, 2007

About Omori High School a evening high school that works hand in hand with the NPO OCNet that offers Japanese-language classes and multilingual counseling series for local foreign residents as well as organizes events to build bridges between Japanese and foreign residents, toward the goal of promoting international understanding in Japan.

15. What’s wrong with Patriotism?

Japanese Education. The Wrong Answer, The Economist, Dec 19th, 2006 The full article can also be read online here.

“Instilling love of country is not the main challenge for Japan’s schools

SOMETHING has gone terribly wrong with Japanese education—or so say the Japanese. They fret that Japan has slipped down the international rankings for high-school literacy, mathematics and science. In the OECD’s last assessment of 15-year-olds in 41 countries, Japan remained a healthy second in science, but had fallen from first to sixth in maths and from eighth to fourteenth in reading ability.

Parents are also worried about the resurgence of bullying and suicides among schoolchildren. Facing probable defeat in next summer’s upper-house election, the fledgling government of Shinzo Abe has been casting around desperately for something—anything—to prove that it really is listening to people’s concerns. Education is seen as a handy distraction.

The kind of reforms the government has in mind, however, are not designed to help young people make critical judgments in a fast-changing, information-driven, global environment. Instead, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the New Komeito, have rewritten Japan’s post-war education law with the aim of boosting patriotism among the young.

Bunmei Ibuki, the education minister, also believes elementary schools have no place teaching foreign languages such as English. The first requirement, he insists, is that pupils acquire what he calls a “Japanese passport”—ie, a thorough grasp of the country’s history and culture, and perfection in their own language.

Parliament’s lower house has approved legislation which, besides stressing the importance of parental guidance, requires schools to instil “a love of one’s country” in children. The opposition parties boycotted the recent lower-house vote, but the ruling coalition’s majority in the upper chamber has allowed the bill to scrape through and become law.

Because it was used in the past to fan the flames of militarism, teaching patriotism has long been taboo in Japan. With its heavy emphasis on morality and nationalism, the new legislation bears some resemblance to the Imperial Rescript on Education of 1890. In the decades up to the end of the second world war, children were forced to memorise the rescript and recite it, word for word, before a portrait of the emperor. Following Japan’s surrender, the allied occupiers ended the practice, appalled by its demands for juvenile self-sacrifice in the name of the emperor.”

FEW SCHOOLS COMPLY ‘Love of country’ curriculum hit, The Associated Press
The Japan Times: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

“Few schools in Japan are complying with government guidelines suggesting that students be graded on how patriotic they are — and those that have face opposition from teachers, parents and citizens’ groups.

“Fostering love of country” was added as a curriculum goal for sixth-grade social studies classes under guidelines first approved by the education ministry for the school year that ended last month.

Patriotism here is often associated with the jingoism trumpeted by Japan’s militarist government and forced upon students in the decades leading up to this country’s defeat in World War II.

The nonmandatory guidelines suggested that teaching patriotism would encourage children to take pride in their history and culture.

But according to a recent survey by a Japanese newspaper, less than 200 of Japan’s 24,000 public elementary schools are complying. Parents and citizens’ groups are protesting, and a spokesman for the nation’s largest teachers union said in an interview that he questioned the constitutionality of the guidelines.

“The freedom of belief is guaranteed by the Constitution and applies to children as well,” said Shinji Furukawa, a spokesman for the Japan Teachers’ Union. “We think it is very serious that this language has been included in the guidelines before the matter was debated by the Diet.”

Japan’s Asian neighbors, which bore the brunt of its past military adventures, have frequently criticized Tokyo for allowing wartime atrocities to be whitewashed in officially sanctioned textbooks.

Officials have defended the patriotism guidelines.

“The advisory council’s view was that it was important in international society for students to develop a sense of identity as Japanese,” education ministry official Yuiichi Sakashita said. “The idea is to teach kids to understand and appreciate their country and its history and traditions.”

The old curriculum for sixth graders called on teachers to foster a “love of Japan’s history and traditions.” The new version adds “love of country” to that list, Sakashita said.

A board of education official in the city of Fukuoka, where 51 elementary schools started giving grades for “love of country” in the last school year, said the decision had “nothing to do with nationalism.”

The issue is particularly sticky for minorities, particularly for Koreans…

“How is a Japanese teacher supposed to grade a Korean on love for country?” said Lee Han Eun, 32, who runs a Korean citizens’ group. “We’re worried that this is part of a broader trend toward nationalism — not just a question of report cards.”

This is the New Japan: Immigrants are Transforming a Once Insular Society, Newsweek International(Japan), Nov 8, 2006. JapanFocus

“And there’s no law that compels them to send their children to Japanese public schools, where they might have the chance to gain the know-how that would give them social mobility. Most foreign children attend schools, but their Japanese language skills tend to be weak, and the government has virtually no provisions for teaching Japanese as a foreign language to students entering the system. As a result, the dropout rate is high. Needless to say, the creation of large groups of unemployable young people is a recipe for social problems in the future.” This article appeared in Newsweek International (Japan) on September 11, 2006. This slightly revised version is posted at Japan Focus on November 8, 2006



Saturday, March 31, 2007 Japan Times News Update: Cabinet approved two bills Friday to add patriotism as a goal of compulsory school education and reinforce the direct power of the education minister over public schools.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has placed top priority on education reform this Diet session. In addition to the patriotism provision for the School Education Law and the increased powers for the local education administrative law, the Cabinet also approved a bill Tuesday that would strip teachers of tenure and require them to renew their licenses every 10 years.

The bill to revise the School Education Law follows along the same lines as the changes to the Basic Education Law in December. The bill says that developing “the attitude of loving one’s country and hometown” and “the attitude of participating in society based on social norms and public spirit” are goals in education.

The other bill would give the education minister the power to order that action be taken “when there is an urgent need to protect the life of a student.”

16. Education ministry survey shows about 30 percent of buildings at public elementary and junior high schools nationwide do not meet earthquake safety standards, according to an survey released this week. Of the 130,867 school buildings, including gyms, 39,531, or 30.2 percent do not meet current quake-proof standardsstandards that require buildings to withstand an earthquake of upper 6 in the Japanese intensify scale to 7. (74,335 schools do.) The findings show that municipal governments, which run those schools, are lagging in their efforts to retrofit buildings against quakes due to financial difficulties. However, 17,001 buildings, or 13.0 percent, have not even been examined, meaning more substandard buildings may be found. Source: Japan Times , Saturday, March 31, 20077


18. In the Special “Science education in need of rejuvenation” to Daily Yomiuri, Masaharu Asaba wrote “interest in science and technology–particularly among young people–appears to be waning. Looking ahead to the next 50 years, the country must rise to meet many new challenges if it wants to secure the necessary manpower to expand the boundaries of science and technology.

According to a series of surveys conducted by the then Prime Minister’s Office–now the Cabinet Office–on society’s perception of science and technology, 52 percent of respondents, in the latest poll in 2004, said they were interested in topics related to science and technology–a decline of 10 percentage points from the inaugural survey conducted in 1976. The downturn was particularly conspicuous among those in their 20s and 30s.

In the early 1980s, there was a science magazine boom, in which new science publications were launched in quick succession. At the time, the country had about 300,000 natural science researchers. The number of natural science researchers has since more than doubled to 640,000. However, the readership of science magazines has shrunk by two thirds during the last two decades. In contrast, computer-related magazines have gained in popularity.

Observers attribute the low turnover of science magazines to the fact that many researchers concentrate on narrow fields and pay little attention to events not directly connected with their particular discipline.

In a 2001 Education, Science and Technology Ministry survey, 14 percent of those polled thought the average research ability of young researchers had improved compared to 10 years earlier, while 30 percent of them answered otherwise. The majority of respondents acknowledged improvements in specialized knowledge, international views and planning skills among younger people. But they pointed out a decline in the ability of younger scientists to pick research subjects, solve problems, create new ideas, compete with others, work in new fields, and to persevere.


19. In the FPCJ Briefing Report “Yutori Kyoiku and the Problems Involved” April 19, 2006, psychiatrist Hideki Wada notes with supporting statistics that academic abilities of Japanese students rank at the lowest levels in Asia now, and explodes the myth that Japanese children study hard, saying that between 40% to 50% of Japanese children do no work at all outside of school. He points to other factors for the trend: the fact the motivation to study to pass entrance exams has collapsed since students can gain access to higher learning institutions easily (reduced competitiveness at entrance exam stage) due to the decreasing population, Japanese public spending on education is lower than that of developed nations, decreased spending on education by parents at lower echelons of society. He advocates turning to a more hands on style education such as in the US that will encourage a new incentive for learning.

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