Current concerns (9)

59. Cover Story: Poor lesson 07/22/2006, Asahi Shimbun highlights the plight of Brazilian kids in Japan and their lack of educational facilities and government funding.

60. 28 universities to get 260 mil. yen grants


61. 9 out of 10 fifth graders in Japan have videogame consoles A total of 92 percent of fifth graders in Japan have videogame consoles attached to televisions or portable devices, with 56 percent having both, a survey by the National Congress of the Parents and Teachers Association of Japan showed. The survey was conducted last November on 2,400 fifth graders and the same number of eighth graders, or second year students of junior high schools, as well as their parents (79% responded) . Kyodo news Kyodo news Wednesday May 16, 10:01 PM

Game consoles go to school The moment the bell rang at 8:50 a.m. at Otokoyama-Higashi Middle School in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture, about 120 second-year students eagerly turned on the Nintendo DS handheld game consoles provided to them by the school–but they were not playing games. Instead they were using the consoles to memorize English vocabulary. // The dual-screen device comes with a stylus that allows users to write on the lower screen. Some students used a self-study mode to copy English terms by writing on the screen in this way, helped by phonetic symbols and definitions displayed on the upper screen. //Other students checked how well they had memorized English words using the test mode, in which they are required to spell part or all of English words.//”I like the test mode because it tells me immediately whether my answer is right or not,” said one second-year student, Haruna Fujimoto. //Another student, Shiho Miyagi, said she liked it because the machine allows her to work at a certain rhythm, and because she was encouraged by the way the DS exclaimed “excellent” or “wow” when she got the right answer. //Some other students said they felt their English vocabulary had increased thanks to the DS, adding that the console had also allowed them to enjoy studying the language for the first time. //It was the Yawata Municipal Board of Education that introduced the DS consoles and the software–“Chugaku Eitango (English Vocabulary for Middle School) Target 1800 DS,” which is based on the popular textbook of the same title used by students preparing for high school entrance examinations. //The software covers the 1,800 basic words that students are required to learn for the high school exam. It was created by Tokyo-based software firm IE Institute Co. at the request of the board of education. //Since May, the software has been used for 10 minutes of a 30-minute class that is held from 8:50 a.m. every day at all four municipal middle schools and all 11 municipal primary schools in the city. //The municipal board of education is a member of the voluntary study group Gakuryoku Kojo Summit, headed by Hideo Kageyama–a professor at Ritsumeikan University with a reputation as a charismatic primary school teacher. The board decided to hold the shorter-than-usual classes in keeping with Kageyama’s belief that they help students to concentrate. //The cost of the DS consoles was covered by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, as part of research expenses provided to the voluntary group. //In the municipal middle schools, including Otokoyama-Higashi, students study English, Mathematics and Japanese on their own, spending 10 minutes on each subject, usually using handouts provided by teachers. Only the second-year students are memorizing English vocabulary using the DS consoles in the 10-minute period that they spend on English. // But is it effective? // Some may doubt the effectiveness of bringing game consoles into the classroom. But the board of education has evidence to show that the average vocabulary of 48 selected students at Otokoyama-Higashi Middle School increased from 1,018 to 1,411 words, or 38.5 percent, in a five-month trial that started in September. // The number of students with vocabularies of more than 1,300 words–enough to pass the third grade of the Eiken test administered by the Society for Testing English Proficiency–increased from 10 to 34 after the trial. //A total of 73.9 percent of the respondents said that using the DS consoles had allowed them to correct their pronunciation. Of the respondents, 23 (54.8 percent) said they could spell more of the words correctly. //Although memorizing vocabulary can be repetitive and tiresome work, 92.8 percent of the students said it was very enjoyable or relatively enjoyable to study with the DS. // Moreover, 90.5 percent of the students answered that it was a very effective or relatively effective way of building vocabulary, according to the board. // “The unexpectedly good results led us to supply the consoles to all second-year students at the municipal middle schools,” said Yukimitsu Hayashi, a member of the Yawata Municipal Board of Education, who first came up with the idea of using the DS device in classrooms. //Hayashi believed that the DS could be a useful tool in the classroom because of its user-friendliness. The console’s compact size and relatively low price also made it attractive to schools. //”Although computers have long been used in schools, many teachers have difficulty operating them,” Hayashi said. “But using the DS does not require special training or complicated instructions.” //According to the board, 80 percent of the students at Otokoyama-Higashi Middle School have their own DS at home, but only a few use it to study in their own time. //”Even if the students have their own DS, if they are not given the time and occasion to concentrate on study, it would be useless,” said Hayashi. //Makoto Ikeda, an associate professor at Sophia University who evaluated the effectiveness of the DS as a learning tool, said it was remarkable that more than 80 percent of the students said they enjoyed doing such a repetitive, boring and time-consuming task as memorizing English vocabulary. //But he added that because the DS was not the only tool they used to work on vocabulary-building, it is difficult to say exactly how much effect it had. //”But it’s easy to believe that this software really helped with memorization because the way it works mimics the natural process of language acquisition,” Ikeda said, referring to the way the machine combined writing, reading and listening. //”The DS may change the way children study English, replacing the paper-based culture that we have now,” he said, adding that using the DS console made tasks such as practicing and checking pronunciation about two to three times faster than paper-based methods. //Referring to the fact that some middle school textbooks designated by the ministry list only 900 words of English, Ikeda said that even 3-year-old children in Britain have an average vocabulary of 1,000 words, and even that is far too little to have any kind of adult conversation. //”If students have a wide vocabulary, they will be able to grasp the meaning of English conversation, and that will eventually reduce the number of students who don’t like studying the language,” he said. //If DS consoles help students self-study English vocabulary, that also means that teachers can concentrate more on teaching writing and other skills. “How teachers can construct class activities to make the best use of these new tools is a question we have to address,” he said. //The prospects for use of the DS thus seem good. But the results of the questionnaire also revealed a weakness–the software may be good at teaching spelling but is weaker when it come to meaning. Only 14 respondents, or 33.3 percent, said they could remember the correct meaning of the words they studied. //Ikeda says this is partly because the software does not offer example sentences that would let students learn the practical usage of each word. //In an attempt to overcome this weakness, the board of education is compiling materials listing example sentences in cooperation with Ikeda and will distribute them to the DS users in September. Daily Yomiuri (Jul. 5, 2007)

62. Education reform for what? The bills will result only in more state control of education, imposition of the government’s own interpretation of the nation’s history and culture on students, and regimentation of teachers leading to deprivation of their autonomy and creativity. //Meddling by a government far removed from the actual education scene will not only be useless in solving real problems but also carry the danger of creating an undemocratic system.//The revised school education law lists “public spirit” and an “attitude of loving the nation” as important education goals. Students also must be led to a “correct understanding” of the nation’s history. The government will easily instill its own ideology related to the nation’s history and culture in the minds of students. This will hamper children’s developing critical minds and unique ways of seeing things. //The law also establishes three managerial positions under the principle at elementary and middle schools. This is likely to lead to the creation of a top-down system, dispiriting teachers and stifling their autonomous efforts to improve education. The law also calls for evaluation of schools under terms set by the education minister. This will impose an excessive uniformity on schools.//The revised teacher’s license law calls for the renewal of licenses every 10 years. Teachers will have to undergo 30 hours of training to renew their licenses. The system will put psychological pressure on teachers and thus deter university students from becoming teachers. In addition, it is not certain how useful the 30-hour training course will be. The education ministry may be able to purge certain types of teachers by manipulating the contents of the training course. License renewals aren’t required for other professions — including medical doctors. One wonders why the government is focusing on teachers.//The revised local education administration law allows the education ministry to demand that local boards of education undertake corrective action when the education minister thinks that the boards are acting with negligence. This is yet another means to strengthen state control. Japan Times

63. Okinawa slams history text rewrite The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly demands that the central government retract its instruction to high school history textbook publishers to
downplay the military’s role in ordering mass civilian suicides during the
Battle of Okinawa. Japan Times

64. Government to apply brain research findings. The Yomiuri Shimbun (Aug. 14, 2007)The Education, Science and Technology Ministry has decided to apply the findings of brain science studies to medical care, welfare and education in fiscal 2008, according to the ministry.

By setting up five research centers under the themes “to protect brains,” “to advance brains” and “to learn,” the ministry aims to develop preventive and therapeutic measures for dementia and depression…

The centers would further provide corrective measures to children who have learning disabilities and other developmental disorders, based on their findings.

The project also includes the creation of an educational curriculum to help children develop their capabilities to the greatest extent, the ministry said.

The government, which started a 10-year major brain science project in fiscal 1997, has provided 30 billion yen for research into how the brain works and determining the cause of brain diseases.

The ministry said the project has reached a stage where the results can be applied to actual medical care, welfare and education, and it decided to start a new project to promote strategic brain science research.

The ministry plans to use a budget totaling between 200 billion yen and 300 billion yen over five years for the project.

It also plans to set up an expert brain science committee at the ministry’s Council for Science and Technology this fiscal year that will decide specific research themes and goals. (Aug. 14, 2007)

65. More than 16,000 buildings and gymnasiums at public primary and middle schools are in danger of collapsing if an earthquake measuring 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 strikes, according to an estimate by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

A ministry panel has said that 11,659 school buildings, or 9 percent of 129,559 such facilities across the nation fail to meet 50 percent of standard quake resistance requirements.

The ministry is treating the findings as serious and will soon lay out a plan to begin a five-year project starting next year to make such dangerous facilities safe, the ministry said Monday.

Observers, however, say it will be difficult to achieve certain goals, as some local governments have said they do not have sufficient funds to reinforce school buildings.

In the wake of scandals over the falsification of earthquake-resistance data, the government has banned any use of condominiums that have a quake-resistance of less than 50 percent.

The ministry conducted the quake-resistance investigation in June and found that about 45,000, or 30 percent, of school facilities were not strong enough to withstand big earthquakes.

Among the 45,000 facilities, the ministry selected 19,300 facilities to check reinforcement levels and conduct detailed examinations, and found that 4,328 facilities are in danger of collapsing in the event of a quake measuring a 6.

Of the remaining 25,700 of the 45,000 facilities, and another 8,600 facilities not subject to quake-resistance investigation, the ministry estimates that 7,331 are in danger of collapsing in a quake measuring a 6, the ministry said.

In response to the survey, the ministry’s panel mapped out the five-year quake-resistance promotion project from fiscal 2008, urging selected local governments to take measures. The ministry also plans to recommend they reinforce such facilities but not to reconstruct them, as that would take more time and money.

It is expected to cost between 2 million yen and 3 million yen to conduct an intense quake-resistance investigation for each facility, from about 60 million yen to 1 billion yen to reinforce a school building, and between about 1 billion yen and 2 billion yen to reconstruct a facility, sources said. Aug. 8, 2007 Daily Yomuiri

66. More geography, history may be taught at primary schools Daily Yomirui

Primary school students may have to rote-learn more key geographical facts and study more history in a proposal expected soon from a special committee of the Central Council for Education as part of revisions to the education ministry’s official curriculum guidelines planned for the next school year, it has been learned.

The current primary school social studies curriculum does not clearly state what should be taught in geography lessons.

However, under the new proposal, students would have to remember the names and locations of all 47 prefectures, major countries, seas, oceans and continents along with other important geographical facts.

Students are currently taught Japanese history from the Yayoi period (ca 300 B.C.-ca A.D. 300) onward, but would study further back to the Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C.-ca 300 B.C.) under the committee’s plan, allowing them to learn about the beginnings of agriculture, which currently is not included.

The proposal is being seen by many as part of the move away from cram-free education policies.

On the other hand, the amount of time devoted to self-study, in which students research a subject and make class presentations, increased.

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry believes some fundamentals are not being taught at schools, with some observers pointing out this could be one reason for a decline in academic abilities.

Even in middle schools, students only learn about two or three countries, and textbooks only include matters such as the culture and industry of select nations such as the United States, France and Australia.

Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 14, 2007)

67. September starts to university year eyed
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Education, Science and Technology Ministry plans to introduce greater flexibility in when students can begin studying at university, paving the way for students to start in September instead of the traditional April, according to ministry sources.
The rule stipulating April starts is based on the School Education Law, and is regarded as a major obstacle for foreign teachers and students who want to work or study at Japanese educational institutions, but who find that the academic year here clashes with the September start that is more common in Europe and North America.
The ministry hopes to attract capable researchers and students from abroad by introducing the September admission system.
Although current regulations state that the school year starts in April and ends in March, the ministry does currently permit universities to take in students or have them graduate in the middle of an academic year in the case of Japanese students returning from abroad or foreign students coming to Japan to study.
However, in the 2005 academic year, 322 university departments nationwide accepted only 1,569 students in months other than April.
Among top universities around the world, there is fierce competition to attract top-notch students. Many Japanese institutions believe the April school year has been one factor prompting the best students to seek enrollment in North American and European universities instead.
The government’s Education Rebuilding Council suggested in its second interim report in June that universities should be allowed to accept students in September. This year’s basic economic and fiscal policies also proposed that the rule be reviewed.
Responding to the proposals, the ministry decided to revise the regulation as a first step. The revision is expected to be made by the end of this year. The new regulations would stipulate that the president of a university is authorized to decide when the university’s academic year starts and ends.
As a result, each university will be permitted as early as April to decide the schedule for ensuing academic years.
However, autumn admission also will require universities to rearrange their schedule for entrance exams. Under the revised rules, it will be possible to hold entrance exams in the summer, but the National Center Test for University Admission is held only in January, meaning it may take some time before autumn admission is widely introduced.
Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 19, 2007)

68. Dolphin meat is ” included in school meals, and though the government knows full well it is toxic — up to 87 times the permitted level of methyl mercury was found in a joint Japanese/New Zealand 2005 academic study of samples bought from shops” (see Japan Times, Nov.1, 2006) Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007
TIME TO KILL Tokyo sanctions an extended cull of Taiji dolphins Source:
Japan Times

69. School tests show students lack ability to apply skills Daily Yomiuri (Oct. 25, 2007)

Primary and middle school students lack the ability to apply academic skills despite having a basic grounding in areas such as reading, writing and calculation, according to the results of a nationwide achievement test conducted by MEXT.While the results, announced Wednesday, did not reveal any pronounced gaps among prefectures–schools in most municipalities scored close to the national average–disparities were found among individual schools.

The tests, the first of their kind in 43 years, were held April 24 for the about 2.22 million sixth-year primary school and third-year middle school pupils who attend the nation’s public and national schools–except for 14 schools in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture–and 60 percent of private schools. The exams aimed to pinpoint problems suffered by municipalities, schools and students, and were an attempt to tackle the drop in scholastic ability.

The tests, which focused on the Japanese language, primary school arithmetic and middle school mathematics, featured two types of questions. The first type quizzed the students on their basic knowledge of each subject, and the second examined their ability to utilize their knowledge to solve problems they might encounter in their daily lives.

At primary schools, an average of 82 percent of students answered the first part of both tests correctly. However, for the second part of the tests, the scores were 63 percent and 64 percent for the language and arithmetic tests, respectively.

In middle schools, 82 percent of students correctly answered the first part of the language test, and 73 percent passed the first part of that for mathematics. For the second sections, 72 percent and 61 percent were successful in language and mathematics, respectively.

The results revealed that many students lack the ability to think independently and express themselves freely–findings similar to those of the Program for International Student Assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The difference in the average scores of primary schools across the prefectures for the first part of the language test was within about 5 percentage points of the national average, indicating a small gap among prefectures. But the gap was more pronounced among middle schools for the first part of the mathematics test. The highest average proportion of correct answers was 80.3 percent in Fukui Prefecture, and the lowest was 57.2 percent in Okinawa Prefecture–a difference of more than 20 percentage points.

70. Schools slow to respond to rise in ‘Net bullying’ Friday, Oct. 26, 2007 Japan Times

OSAKA (Kyodo) There is no sign of a letup in “Net bullying” among children via Internet and cell phone e-mail messages, but countermeasures by authorities and schools are a step behind.

In Kobe in July, an 18-year-old high school student jumped to his death at school after he was threatened by other students who demanded money from him via an Internet bulletin board.

The site has threads devoted to individual schools in which students post anonymously.

The thread for the Kobe school contains messages such as “You are pushing yourself too much, though your face is ugly. You shall be killed” along with topics about club activities and cram schools.

The site manager often deletes items that mention students’ real names, but those with only initials tend to go untouched. The thread also has mobile phone numbers and mail addresses of individuals, as well as links to pornographic images.

The principal and vice principal at a junior high school in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, learned about the bulletin board last year and began monitoring the thread for their school. If they see a message with a personal attack, they ask the site manager to delete it.

Few other schools take any countermeasures.

For example, the thread for a junior high school in the city of Osaka was launched more than five years ago and currently has more than 1,500 posts, but its vice principal said that he wasn’t aware of the site.

“I didn’t know of its existence. It has never been talked about among teachers, either,” he said.

Schools may not be reacting to the problem, but statistics show it is on the rise.

According to the National Police Agency, 8,037 complaints about harassing messages on the Internet were reported to police stations across the country last year, up 39 percent from the year before and 250 percent from five years earlier.

The complaints came chiefly from junior high and high school students, the NPA said.

The National Web Counseling Conference in Tokyo, which takes inquiries via e-mail and telephone, said a third of its 3,000 consultations in the last year were related to the Internet and e-mail. Its chief, Masashi Yasukawa, said Net bullying was on the radar screen before, but never in numbers like that.

Damage from “school behind-the-scenes Web sites” launched by junior high and high school students using mobile phones is also spreading. However, this phenomenon is hard to grasp because negative messages on personal computers and mobile phones are rarely seen by outsiders and the victims themselves have no idea where to turn to for help.

“Not only are the central and local governments as well as schools slow in recognizing the issue, they are out of touch in terms of what’s going on in the world of the Internet,” Yasukawa said. “And our consultations are only the tip of the iceberg.”

Yasuko Ikenobo, senior vice minister of education, also expressed a sense of urgency over the problem during a meeting of an expert panel under the education ministry on Sept. 28, noting, “The Kobe incident is very regrettable. The content and quality of bullying now are far beyond our imagination.”

Starting that day, experts on Net usage joined the panel.

“Japanese children can access the Internet anywhere and anytime. They are under no protection,” said Hirotsugu Shimoda, a professor at Gunma University, one of the panel’s new members.

“Social responsibility rests not only with parents and schools but also with mobile phone companies,” another member said.

Most school computers have restrictions, but it is difficult for teachers to supervise bulletin boards during working hours. Therefore, teachers interested in the Internet have to supervise boards before and after their regular work hours.

Wakio Oyanagi, an associate professor at Nara University of Education who is studying media education for children, said there should be a joint effort to fight the problem.

“Teachers, children and parents should study communications on the Net together in special school activities,” Oyanagi said. “Also required is the creation of a system among prefectural governments to give swift administrative guidance.”

71. Panel says cram-free education a failure

Cram-free education, a main plank of current teaching guidelines, is expected to be declared a failure in an report interim to be released shortly, it has been learned.

The report, which will be released by the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education, science and technology minister, is the first to publicly admit that cram-free education had failed to achieve the intended results.

The council has already decided to advise the minister to increase school hours at primary and middle schools.

Among its main points, the report will say that the cram-free policy led to an excessive reduction in school hours.

Such self-criticism is a rare move, but the council is believed to have concluded that it is necessary to win teachers’ understanding for the policy reversal.

In 1996, the council proposed encouraging children to develop a “zest for living,” including the development of self-expression and care for others.

As a result, the current official curriculum guidelines aim to increase the effectiveness of teaching by focusing on a narrower range of subject material. The content of primary and middle schools’ subjects was reduced by 30 percent, while school hours were cut by 10 percent.

Instead, the council introduced “integrated studies” featuring cross-subject studies to develop students’ thinking skills.

However, when the guidelines were introduced in 2002, the reduced hours and other changes were criticized for reducing children’s basic scholastic abilities. The new teaching guidelines were cited as one factor in the perceived gap among students in their motivation to learn.

The interim report will list five failures related to the guidelines. The first is the failure to tell teachers and parents what “zest for living” means, and why it is required.

The second is that because the development of children’s ability to study and think on their own initiative was mentioned as one of the guidelines’ aims, many teachers have accorded too much respect to students’ initiative, and become hesitant to take a firm line with them.

Third is the failure to explain the importance of integrated studies.

The fourth failure is that the excessive reduction in school hours actually impaired the development of thinking and self-expression among students.

Finally, the report will say the guidelines were drawn up without taking into account the decreasing ability of parents and communities to provide support for children’s education–a trend the council says has forced schools to play a bigger role in cultivating children’s habits and morals.

(Oct. 29, 2007)The Yomiuri Shimbun
72. Education spending renders Japan second to last in OECD
Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007, Japan Times

Kyodo News–The ratio of Japan’s spending on public education to its gross domestic product
came to 3.5 percent in 2004, the second-lowest level among the 30 member states
of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to an
OECD report released Tuesday.
The ratio “the second lowest after Greece’s 3.3 percent “was well below the
OECD average of 5.0 percent and down from 3.7 percent in 2003, according to the
report titled “Education at a Glance 2007.”

73. OECD test rank shows decline / Systemic educational shortcomings blamed; change said difficult (Dec. 6, 2007) Source: Yomiuri ShimbunMasami Murai and Mitsuhiko Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

Japan’s ranking in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international high school student tests has fallen again, exposing numerous shortcomings that the government will have to tackle to improve education in the nation.

In the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests conducted in 2006, Japanese students’ ranking in all three categories–scientific literacy, reading literacy and mathematical literacy–fell from the previous test administered three years prior.

Is it possible for Japanese high school students’ PISA scores to regain their top-level world ranking?

Though education experts have begun efforts to improve students’ critical faculties and capabilities of expression, many hurdles remain.

In the 2006 results, Japan’s ranking among 57 nations and territories fell in not only reading, but also scientific and mathematical literacy.

Keitaro Kamata, 46, senior researcher at the Benesse Educational Research and Development Center, commented: “It’s not correct to say that Japanese academic capabilities have deteriorated. Rather [in this case], Japan may have been overtaken by other countries.”

Soon after the previous PISA was administered in 2003, Kamata visited OECD headquarters in Paris and asked officials there in charge of the tests what student capabilities they aimed to examine.

One of the officials told him it was the capability of students to investigate and resolve questions by themselves. Kamata said he then thought, “Japanese education, which prioritizes rote knowledge [as an end in itself] can never fare well” in the PISA.

In the 2006 tests, the students also were tested on how well they could find answers by using their own acquired knowledge in circumstances they may face in the future as working people.

Since the PISA’s establishment in 2000, European countries that had been ranked lower than Japan, such as Poland and Denmark, shifted education policies to prioritize students’ use of critical faculties. In the latest results, Poland’s ninth-place ranking in reading literacy overtook Japan.

In spring, Benesse Corp., which operates a correspondence study service, started a course for first-year primary school students to train critical faculties.

But Kamata said: “After all, Japanese education won’t change unless high school and university entrance examinations change. If the status quo continues, the nation’s rank [in the PISA] may fall further.”

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry described Japan’s decline in rank in reading literacy from eighth to 14th in the 2003 tests as “PISA shock” and subsequently took various measures to address the situation.

In ongoing revisions of educational curriculum guidelines, the ministry plans a large increase in classroom hours devoted to science and to improve student linguistic capabilities across all subjects, to improve performance on PISA tests.

Nationwide academic achievement tests, which were conducted in spring for the first time in 43 years, included PISA-style questions. The ministry said the questions were models of academic capabilities that the government wants students to acquire.

The moves indicated a trend of questioning how entrance exams should be constructed.

In Kyoto, a class began this fiscal year to foster logical reading capabilities for second-year primary and first-year middle schoolers. The municipal government dispatched teachers to Finland to study educational precepts there.

Goshominami Primary School in the city has modeled classes on the Finnish style, in which small groups of students discuss a variety of topics, such as competition and personal worries.

As a result, teachers at the school said students have been more actively expressing opinions, and student scores in the nationwide tests also improved.

However, many hurdles need to be cleared to conduct this classroom style nationwide, such as increasing the number of teachers and securing the necessary budget for the purpose.

A ministry official voiced a pessimistic view, saying, “It may be no longer possible for Japan to return to the world’s top [PISA] rankings.”


Education an engine for growth


The PISA has been conducted every three years since 2000. The program began with the aim of pushing each country to improve education by competing with other countries and regions.

The root concept is that education is the engine for growth in society and economy. The PISA’s priority is to find what types of academic capabilities are necessary to cope with rapidly changing social circumstances.

That is why PISA test questions do not test basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Most PISA questions test what students are able to do using their own acquired knowledge and cultural experiences.

Measures are employed to ensure that a representative cross-section of students–not only those who excel at academics–participate in the PISA tests. In Japan, high schools from which test-takers are chosen are divided into groups of schools–state-run, public and private–as well as the percentage of students who go on to college.

Then, 185 schools are randomly chosen from those groups, and about 6,000 first-year students are randomly selected from the final selection of schools.

PISA questions are decided upon by the OECD from drafts presented by member countries. English and French versions of questions are sent to participating countries, which translate them into their national languages.

The number of countries and regions participating in the PISA tests steadily increased from 32 in 2000, to 41 in 2003, to 57 in 2006. The test results resulted in many countries undertaking government-led efforts to improve youths’ academic capabilities.

Though Germans are known for their hardworking nature, as are Japanese, Germany ranks lower in all three categories of the PISA tests in 2000 than the OECD member average. Its scientific and mathematical literacy test results ranked among the lowest groups.

Thus, Germany began a series of educational reforms with the aim of assisting students with lower comprehension and improving teacher capabilities.

Finland’s rankings were among the top in all three categories in the 2000 and 2003 tests. The country has received visits from school officials and education experts worldwide who want to know more about its methods of success.

In Finland, each school or teacher can decide which educational methods to employ in the classroom, prioritizing the process of how students reach an answer, rather than regurgitating the information using rote memory.

OECD test sees Japanese kids slip Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004, JapanTimes
Japanese high school students have slipped in the latest international ranking of reading and mathematics skills by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

In the first international student assessment of 15-year-olds conducted by the OECD in 2000, Japanese students came first in mathematics and eighth in reading. In 2003, they tumbled to sixth place for math and 14th for reading.

Paris-based OECD conducts the Program for International Student Assessment test every three years. The results of the test, which measured students’ performance in mathematics, science, problem-solving and reading, were released Tuesday.

“In brief, they don’t study hard these days, do they?” asked Nariaki Nakayama, minister for education, culture, sports, science and technology, in responding to the survey results. “We must clearly recognize that (their skills) are on a declining trend. . . . We must tell them to study harder.”

But an official at the education ministry said the ministry believes Japan still belongs in the top group of countries, because no marked differences exist statistically, except in reading scores.

The official said of Japanese students, “Their learning skills rank high by international standards.”

Japanese students registered the largest decline in scores for reading from the previous test.

They ranked second in performance in science, the same as in 2000, and came fourth in problem-solving, which was included in the test for the first time.

Finland was ranked top in reading, with 543 points, and science, with 548 points, while Hong Kong came first, in math with 550 points. South Korea had 550 points to become the top performer in problem-solving.

The ministry hopes to learn what caused the decline in reading skills. The official said it will establish programs to fix the problem.

The official said the fall might have be linked to television viewing and increased computer use.

About 4,700 freshmen at 143 Japanese public and private high schools took the test out of 276,000 students in 41 economies, mostly OECD member states, who participated.

Britain was excluded from the final tally due to insufficient response rates.

The PISA study sought to establish how well students can develop and apply their knowledge to real-life situations. The PISA scale for each area was devised so that the average score comes to 500 points.

The reading section comprised 28 questions. Japanese students scored 498, down 24 points, to achieve the OECD average.

There were also six questions in the reading test in which the rate of blank answers rose by 5 points from the previous test.

About 7.4 percent of Japanese students were ranked below Level 1, the lowest category, exceeding the OECD average of 6.7 percent.

Japan scored 534 in mathematics, down 23 points from the previous test. In science, it scored 548, down 2 points. Japan scored 547 in problem-solving.

The OECD said the gap widened between the best and poorest performers.

Some low-performing countries showed only small improvements or performed worse than in the previous test, it said.

The state of English education in Japan:

Read it all in full at the Japan Times link:

What parents think:

A nationwide survey by the Japan Public Opinions Survey Society in September about whether English should be made a compulsory subject at elementary schools found that 82 percent of respondents replied in the affirmative, and the percentage among parents having children was 88 percent.

What education minister Takeo Kawamura currently says, “In the near future, I think there should be English classes in all of Japan’s elementary schools.”

What’s going on within his ministry…

“But the reaction of education ministry bureaucrats was cold. A high-ranking bureaucrat said, “Is there any time for English education?”

The council’s past recommendations on the issue were negative, saying, “The priority at the elementary school stage is the fostering of Japanese-language skills.”

At a meeting of the council’s foreign-language special division, which was created in April, proponents insisted that compulsory English education should be introduced at an early date if the training of teachers and other conditions are in place and that inaction would see Japan lagging behind other Asian countries.

On the other hand, those taking a cautious stance insisted that priority should be given to improving lessons at junior high schools and higher educational institutions, and that compulsory studies could increase the number of students who dislike English.”

The dismal reality on the ground at the moment:

“many elementary schools are taking up English, and in fiscal 2003 students at 88 percent of them studied the language in a general study course…But hours devoted to English studies vary from one hour a year to two to three hours a week.” “Although public opinion gave the green light, the effects of the introduction will not appear until several years later,” said a ranking education ministry official.

Related stories: Kids’ English education business thrives: Government push helps to prod parents (Wednesday, April 7, 2004 Japan Times)


Isn’t anyone stumped by what some 13 and 14 year olds are capable of these days? Like they’re taking a leaf out of Hannibal Rising’s page or something.

Students face charges for setting teammate on fire The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 6, 2007)

The Metropolitan Police Department on Tuesday sent papers on two 14-year-old boys and referred a 13-year-old boy to a child consultation office on suspicion of setting fire to a baseball club teammate.

According to the police, the three students of a municipal middle school in Hamura, Tokyo, forced a 13-year-old baseball club teammate to sit on a chair in the clubroom and abused him for about two hours from 11 a.m. on Sept. 9. They then allegedly sprinkled lighter fluid on his body, including his back and legs and set him on fire. They also hit his upper leg with a bat.

The fire was quickly put out, and the boy was not seriously injured.

The three said they were hazing the boy for being late.

According to the school, the incident was discovered when another teammate who was worried about escalating violence told the teacher in charge of the club





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