Current concerns (10)

Public schools designated as ‘community schools’ surge in 3 years
Jun 1 2008 TOKYO, June 2 (AP) – (Kyodo)—Public primary and secondary schools designated as “community schools” to receive input from community residents in running operations jumped over 20-fold to 343 in the three years after such designations started in academic year 2004, an education ministry survey showed Monday. Schools including kindergartens designated as community schools by school boards, for instance, listen to representatives of parents and local residents in working out curriculums and hiring teachers or appoint coordinators who liaise between school and community, according to the ministry.The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology expects 210 more schools will receive the designation in the current school year that started April 1.The designation system began in September 2004 with the aim of drawing community support in running schools and coping with problems plaguing schools such as truancies and bullying. Only 17 were designated in the first year.While the total has surged, the presence of community schools is not uniform throughout the nation, according to the ministry. They are concentrated in 29 of the 47 prefectures. The largest number of such schools is found in Kyoto City, where a local education board gave the designation to 110 schools.Of the total of 343 schools, about 70 percent, or 243, were elementary schools.

The ministry noted that the system has faced problems such as difficulty with securing people committed to school administration. Proposals of parents and residents in addressing problems such as bullying may not be heard by the school principal if their perceptions differ, the ministry said.






U.K., Japan share notes on ways to curb bullying: The victims and remedies differ but not the concern
LONDON (Kyodo) Bullying differs in British and Japanese schools, but both countries can learn from each other in countering the problem, according to academics and other experts.

News photo
Helen Cowie, director of the U.K. Observatory for the Promotion of Non-Violence at Surrey University, gives a talk on bullying at a recent seminar at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London. KYODO PHOTO

A team of scholars sponsored by the education ministry in Tokyo was in Britain recently looking at how the issue is dealt with by schools using the “peer support” scheme.

Japan is particularly eager to curb bullying at schools given that it has led to suicides, not to mention a high rate of truancy.

Over the last few years, both Britain and Japan have been at the forefront of the “peer support” movement, in which schoolchildren themselves try to assist their fellow students who are being bullied or suffering other social problems. They use a variety of activities, including mentoring, mediating, tutoring and befriending.

Experts realized kids can open up more to their peers, and other children are perhaps better placed to resolve conflicts. This method has proved successful in both countries, according to studies.

Tokuhiro Ikejima, a clinical psychologist from Nara University of Education, who led the Japanese team, has been examining British counterbullying strategies.

Speaking through an interpreter after a seminar at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, he said: “In Japan, bullying tends to happen between very close friends, and the situation is often worsened because bystanders do not try to intervene. The bullying often takes the form of social exclusion rather than violence.

“We therefore need to look at how to improve children’s interrelationships. In England, the bullying differs in that it involves more violence and tends not to be among close friends,” Ikejima said. “We can learn from Britain’s techniques in mediation and befriending.”

“Peer support” is now used in nearly half of all Britain’s schools but is less widespread in Japan.

Helen Cowie, director of the U.K. Observatory for the Promotion of Non-Violence at Surrey University, said many British schools can learn from practices in Japan.

Cowie, who has visited Japan on several occasions, particularly likes the “Q&A” approach, where the victim can reply to a series of questions in writing and the advice from a student counselor is then circulated in a school newsletter.

This method protects the anonymity of the children and allows them to avoid having to actually meet someone to discuss their problems, which can often add to the trauma. It is similar to an “agony aunt” column in a newspaper or magazine, and Cowie believes the “Q&A” approach can be used on the Internet.

She also believes there is a lot Britain can learn from the importance of the group in Japanese society and the way people within those communities help each other.

She said she considers Japan’s “peer support” system to already be well-developed but could perhaps benefit from the “checkpoints” she gives to schools. This is basically a list of tasks that teachers and students should try to complete to create a more harmonious school environment. The “checkpoints” have already been translated into Japanese.

Cowie said that “peer support” has developed over the years from being predominantly one-on-one counseling in a special room to creating friendly and supportive “communities” in school and also on the Internet. This includes student-led bodies that are consulted by teachers on issues affecting the school.

Her only note of caution is that Japan’s traditional tendency toward creating hierarchical systems could make it harder when forming these consultative bodies. Japan Times, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007

Number of Bullying Cases in Japan Rises
Nov 16, 07 12:08 AM CST | AP Online

The number of bullying cases reported in schools across Japan has risen sharply after officials broadened the term’s definition following a series of student suicides linked to bullying, the Education Ministry said Thursday.
A total of 124,898 cases of bullying were reported at elementary, junior high and high schools in the year ending in March 2007, up from 20,143 cases a year earlier, the ministry said.

Read the whole article at here or at the AP source


New cram school blurs public and private line By AKEMI NAKAMURA Japan Times Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008



Cram schools have long played an important complementary role to classroom education, but a new type opening Saturday in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, is causing a stir among educators.

The school, Yoru Supe (Night Special), offers a one-year course designed to help top achievers in their second year at Wada Junior High School better prepare for high school entrance exams. The program is a rarity in that it singles out students with high grades and charges a high fee.

Some experts say the program at Wada Junior High gives an unfair advantage to students with greater financial resources and blurs the line between the public and private spheres.

But outspoken Wada Junior High Principal Kazuhiro Fujihara, a top salesman at major publisher and personnel agency Recruit Co. before becoming an educator in 2003, said public schools need to stimulate gifted students, even if it means collaborating with private companies.

Proposed by the former businessman known for his uncommon ideas on education, Chiiki Honbu (Local Headquarters), a volunteer group based at the school, runs the Night Special classes on the school’s campus. The group is made up of parents whose children graduated from the school and university students planning to become teachers.

Teachers from Sapix, a chain of cram schools operated by Sapience Research Institute Co., teach mathematics and Japanese on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights and English on Saturday afternoons, holding three 45-minute classes a day.

Tuition for the course is ¥18,000 to ¥24,000 monthly or ¥500 per 45-minute study period, depending on the number of subjects students take. So far only 19 out of 127 second-year students at Wada Junior High plan to take part in Night Special.

Earlier this month, the Tokyo metropolitan board of education said that because it charges a high fee, the Night Special course may violate a key principle of public education — that educational opportunities should be equally available regardless of financial means.

The board has also frowned upon Wada’s teachers for helping to create study materials for the Night Special course with Sapix teachers, saying that as civil servants they should not split their duties with private companies. One board official said that because public spaces are intended for nonprofit use, any profit earned by Sapix at the school could be a problem.

However, the Night Special course at Wada Junior High has in fact made access to cram schools more affordable, with rates roughly half those at many cram schools, Fujihara argued, adding that students from families on welfare can get a 50 percent discount. Suginami Ward official Noriyuki Sato said those fees cover only material costs and transportation for Sapix teachers.

Teachers only give advice Sapix to make study materials without being paid and do not work during their school shifts, Sato said.

Tieups between public schools and cram schools are not unusual these days, but many other public schools offering after-school classes taught by cram school teachers ask participating students to pay nothing and open their programs to a wider range of students.

For example, Saturday classes in math, Japanese and English have been held at all 10 public junior high schools in Minato Ward, Tokyo, since 2005, taught by teachers from major cram school chain Waseda Academy Co.

The ward covers the cost of tuition for the Saturday classes, an official at the Minato Ward board of education said.

Participating students there are divided into two groups: those needing to catch up with regular classes and others interested in advanced studies. About 70 percent of all students at the 10 schools take the Saturday classes.

Suginami Ward’s Wada Junior High has offered similar Saturday extracurricular courses to its students since 2003, but Fujihara called the Night Special program a response to the needs of elite students who will benefit from yet greater challenges.

“Not providing programs for upper-level students (at public schools) is a form of reverse discrimination,” Fujihara said.

More than one-third of the approximately 3,000 sixth-graders at Suginami Ward public elementary schools end up attending private junior high schools because of dissatisfaction with public school standards, Fujihara said.

Not offering his brand of advanced classes would cause the “popularity of public schools to drop” even more, he said.

Holding after-school programs may indeed burnish public schools’ image.

Back in 2005, roughly half of sixth-graders at Minato Ward public elementary schools chose private junior high schools, according to ward statistics. But thanks partly to its tuition-free Saturday classes, that figure has dropped several percentage points, the ward official said.

Recently, education boards across Tokyo have taken a page from the business sector, allowing students at public elementary schools and their parents to choose which public junior high schools to attend in the hope that this will prod schools to craft attractive programs.

Wada Junior High is a good example. Under Fujihara’s stewardship, experts in fields such as finance and science are invited as guest speakers for the Saturday tutoring and Yononaka-ka social studies courses.

Both have been heavily covered by the media.

But Naoki Ogi, an education critic and professor of education at Hosei University in Tokyo, opposes cram schools operating within public schools, like that planned at Wada Junior High. Ogi believes they may widen the gap in education programs between Wada Junior High and other public schools in Suginami Ward and create a psychological divide between elite and other students.

“I’ve been impressed by Fujihara’s ideas, such as Yononaka-ka, to motivate students to learn actively, but the cram school is disappointing,” said Ogi, a former junior high school teacher.

With the Night Special course, he said, “It’s possible that students who take Saturday tutoring may develop inferiority complexes.”


Meiji cheer group hazed juniors: One student committed suicide after beatings, humiliation Japan Times, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007
Meiji University may disband its male-only cheer squad in the wake of reported hazing of junior members, including one who subsequently committed suicide, the school’s public relations section said Tuesday.
The Tokyo-based university has not confirmed the reported existence of video footage showing the bullying, but one group member has admitted to a university investigative committee that such images were taken by another member, according to Hisashi Nakaoka, a PR official at Meiji.
The member said the video showed senior members stripping the pants from junior members, including a 21-year-old who committed suicide in July, according to Nakaoka.

The university launched an investigation after the suicide. The name of the student who killed himself is being withheld.

The committee had previously concluded no bullying had taken place.

But after interviewing members of the cheer squad, it withdrew the previous conclusion and admitted there were “violent acts and other acts that are unacceptable to social conventions.”


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)

Sunday, July 8, 2007 Japan Times
Teachers told to ‘help’ during exams
Kyodo News
At least six teachers at a public elementary school in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, have said they were told by their principal to alert students to mistakes when taking achievement tests in April 2006.


3 Kansai schools to establish joint life science faculty in 2010 The Yomiuri Shimbun

OSAKA–Kansai University, Osaka Medical College and Osaka University of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Osaka Prefecture will jointly establish a life science faculty to offer interdisciplinary courses in medical science, engineering and pharmacy in April 2010, it was announced Wednesday.

This will be the first faculty of its kind established jointly by several universities or colleges in the nation.

The three universities decided to collaborate because the Education, Science and Technology Ministry plans to revise its ministerial ordinance by the end of fiscal 2008 so that universities and colleges can cooperate to establish faculties and graduate schools.

The faculty will be based in Osaka Medical College in Takatsuki in the prefecture and will have about 200 students per grade. Departments of life medical science, life pharmacy, medical engineering, life information science, medical business administration and nursing are expected to be established in the faculty. The universities and college will jointly organize an entrance exam for the faculty and issue diplomas.

A council comprising representatives from the three schools will be launched in February to consider the faculty’s organization and personnel and operations.

Kansai University in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, which also has a campus in Takatsuki in the prefecture, and Osaka Medical College and Osaka University of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Takatsuki have collaborated since fiscal 2003 in joint research and graduate student exchanges.

The three schools agreed on the faculty because they shared common interests. Kansai University hopes to strengthen its medical and pharmacy courses while Osaka Medical College aims to make its nursing school a four-year school. Osaka University of Pharmaceutical Sciences, which produces pharmacists, hopes to train its students to be able to work in various fields.


(Jan. 10, 2008) Daily Yomiuri 

High school textbooks to get more difficult from 2009

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Many of the nation’s high school textbooks will get more difficult in the 2009 academic year, in line with the planned scrapping of the cram-free education policy, according to the results of textbook screening released Tuesday.

The latest screening was effectively the last under the current teaching guidelines, which stipulate the cram-free education policy, under which curriculum content for primary and middle schools was cut by 30 percent. That policy is now seen to have failed to achieve its intended results, and the Education, Science and Technology Ministry plans to revise teaching guidelines for public schools to increase class hours in the 2009 academic year.

Levels of difficulty also will be increased in many textbooks for key subjects such as mathematics, Japanese and English.

The latest screening also threw up many detailed objections to expressions or descriptions used in the textbooks. In one case, a poster drawn by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo was replaced due to complaints that it was inconsistent with the healthy development of children.

Included in a textbook for Art III, published by Nihon Bunkyo Shuppan Co., and titled “A La Maison De M. Civecawa,” the poster was accompanied by text that read, “My daughter on sale at an exhibition.” The artist was apparently equating his love for his daughter with the passion he puts into his work.

Such moves likely will prompt questions about the appropriateness of the textbook screening system.

For the screening, 48 textbooks for seven subjects–Japanese, English, mathematics, science, art, technical education and commercial education–were submitted to the ministry by private textbook publishers. Most of them are for third-year high school students for use from the 2009 academic year, which begins in April next year.

The ministry approved 47 of the books, rejecting one for Biology II submitted by Tokyo Shoseki Co., which it said contained numerous errors.

While references to the mass suicides during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa have previously been the subject of discussion in the screening of high school social science textbooks, textbooks mentioning the subject were not among those screened this year.

While textbooks for primary school students also were due to be screened, none were submitted as new teaching guidelines are to be implemented from the 2011 academic year.

Meanwhile, the level of difficulty was increased in many textbooks due to requests from teachers, who have pointed out that while curriculum content was reduced under the cram-free education policy, university entrance examinations were not made any easier.

Among 11 textbooks for Mathematics III, seven dramatically increased content, including material not required under current guidelines.

As for textbooks for English reading, Sanseido Publishing Co. increased the number of new English words by 20 percent to 1,155 in its new textbook, while the number of pages increased by 3.8 percent on average among the 15 newly approved English textbooks.

Meanwhile, problems were found with elements publishers had never expected to pose difficulty, such as the Tadanori poster.

Ministry screeners also voiced concerns over a photographic portrait of a photographer holding a cigarette in a textbook for Art III published by Mitsumura Tosho Publishing Co. As a result, the image of the portrait was modified by deleting the cigarette.

(Mar. 26, 2008)

Govt to set univ. attainment targets

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry has decided to introduce minimum attainment targets that university students should achieve before graduation in humanities, social sciences and natural sciences curriculums, it has been learned.

The ministry’s move will be the first time the government has set such standards and comes in light of a situation in which the number of university applicants is falling below total intake quotas, as well as widening disparities in educational content among universities.

Currently, universities have the discretion to determine the content of bachelor degrees.

The ministry will next month request that the Science Council of Japan hold discussions to have the targets in operation by the 2011 academic year.

The ministry plans to encourage universities to adopt the attainment targets through measures such as offering subsidies.

Universities have been able to include a wide range of subjects in their curriculums since criteria for establishing universities were relaxed in 1991. But with many students seemingly selecting subjects on an ad hoc basis, experts have criticized the system, saying students are unable to study systematically.

The ministry made the decision to introduce the targets because an interim report to be announced Tuesday on bachelor degree program education by a university subcommittee of the Central Council for Education–a ministry panel–included a section that stated, “With universities giving priority to the immediate securement of students, the ability levels guaranteed by universities is not clear.”

The ministry has requested that the science council formulate specific targets, and draw a conclusion by the 2010 academic year.

Specific targets will be set for each subject. Economics graduates will have to “be able to explain the concepts and laws of economics,” and physics graduates will be required to “have the ability to determine the theory and laws of problems.”

Attempts are being made across the world to maintain educational standards among university students.

In Britain, a third-party organization sets nationwide attainment targets in each field, and many countries in Europe have started work to establish common targets.

(Mar. 26, 2008)

10-year-old girl posts death threat on Web site

The Yomiuri Shimbun

SAITAMA–A fourth-grade primary school girl in Chiba Prefecture posted a message on an Internet bulletin board last month announcing she would kill a primary school student in Saitama Prefecture, police said.

The police on Tuesday drew up a report on the girl for a child consultation center.

According to the police, on Feb. 15, the 10-year-old girl used her home computer to post a message on an Internet video hosting site’s bulletin board that said she would kill a primary school girl in Saitama Prefecture at 1 p.m. on Feb. 29.

The police said the Saitama Prefectural Board of Education instructed municipal boards of education to take measures to prevent the crime, including being alert to people acting suspiciously.

The girl, who was quoted by police as saying she posted the message “for fun,” has expressed remorse, the police said.

(Mar. 6, 2008)

Prof designs online-bully detector

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A Gunma University professor has designed a computer system that checks Internet bulletin boards known as “Gakko Ura-sites,” which are run by school students, and detects messages that could incite bullying or abusive behavior.

Prof. Hirotsugu Shimoda of the university’s Faculty of Social and Information Studies is to conduct further experiments into the practicality of the system.

In recent years, problems related to Gakko Ura-sites, informal notice boards bearing the names of affiliated high schools or middle schools, have come to light.

The bulletin boards are run by students to exchange information and make friends. However, they are sometimes misused to anonymously post abusive messages and rumors regarding classmates.

Shimoda noticed that abusive language on such bulletin boards usually contains one or more of 35 particular words, such as “irritating,” “disgusting,” or “kill yourself.” The computer system is designed to flag bulletin boards where such words frequently appear.

At the end of last year, Shimoda and the nonprofit organization Media Study Association investigated 182 informal Internet bulletin boards run by students of schools in Gunma Prefecture.

Shimoda found that very few messages start off with personal attacks. Instead, most begin by discussing general topics, but unexpectedly veer toward insulting a particular individual.

For example, one message began by asking who people thought was the most handsome boy at the school. However, after one person used the word “disgusting” in a inoffensive context, another person responded by saying, “Talking of ‘disgusting’ reminds me of…” and used the real name of the person he or she was referring to.

Shimoda believes these 35 common words are triggering students to head off in a dangerous direction. He said that by checking how often these words appear on bulletin boards and examining their contexts, it is possible to measure the bulletin board’s degree of risk.

In the experiment, Shimoda will use three or four computer systems initially designed to pick up and organize useful information from the Internet.

If Shimoda detects potentially abusive messages, he will contact the school concerned and warn it of the potential danger. He hopes schools will take measures to prevent such bullying.

“Internet bulletin boards such as these are springing up all across the country–many with a high level of anonymity,” Shimoda said. “If society fails to take measures now, the situation will spiral beyond the control of parents and teachers.”

(Mar. 8, 2008)




The school’s average score shot to No. 1 that year among the ward’s 72 schools, up from 44th the year before.

Adachi Ward publishes test score rankings by school, determines school budgets by taking test scores into account and allows parents to select the school they want to send their children to.

The teachers said they pointed to incorrect answers as they walked among the students while they were taking the test.

“By pointing them out with a finger, some pupils got what I meant, while others didn’t,” one teacher said. “I thought it bordered on fraud. If you ask me if there was an instruction from the school principal, my answer is yes.”

Adachi Ward’s elementary schools held the achievement test, which covers Japanese and arithmetic, on April 25, 2006, for students in the second through sixth grades.

The teachers said the principal probably wanted to raise the school’s average score.

The principal also reportedly took note of most of the questions in the 2005 tests and had students go through them the following year repeatedly, even though test contents are supposed to be withheld.

More than 90 percent of the questions in the 2006 tests were identical to those in 2005.

The principal said the questions in 2005 “were so good that I used them as references. I never imagined the same questions would be presented again.”

He also said he thought his school would not make it to the top ranking “unless questions from the past were practiced.”

The ward’s school board said taking note of the 2005 questions was “inappropriate.”


Kanagawa plans compulsory Japanese history The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education has announced plans to make Japanese history mandatory at its 152 prefecture-run high schools as early as the academic year beginning 2012.

Prefectures across the country reportedly have been considering making Japanese history compulsory at high schools, but Kanagawa Prefecture will be the first to do so. Japanese history is currently an elective subject, in line with the government’s teaching guidelines.

The guidelines stipulate that high school students are required to study world history in a geography-history category, with students allowed to choose between Japanese history or geography.

Under a report on new teaching guidelines released in January by the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, world history would be the only compulsory subject.

The Kanagawa education board said it would keep world history compulsory and create two new subjects–“local history” and “modern Japanese and world history”–that meet the Japanese history requirements.

Under the plan, high school students would have the choice of studying both Japanese and world history, or studying world history, geography and the two new subjects.

The education board said it would implement the plan to coincide with the introduction of the new teaching guidelines for high school students to be issued during the next school year.

Starting in April, the education board will discuss how to make its own textbooks for the new subjects as they do not fall under the government’s teaching guidelines.

Students who choose local history and modern Japanese and world history will be required to take one or two credits in each subject. To earn a credit, students have to complete 35 50-minute classes over the course of the year. It was decided to set the minimum requirement at one or two credits so as not to overburden students also studying world history and geography. The education board plans to pilot the two new subjects at some schools in the 2010 school year.

In Kanagawa Prefecture, about 30 percent of students from prefectural-run high schools graduate each year without learning Japanese history.

With such low rates of study, the prefectural education board, along with those in Tokyo, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, in September 2006 urged the Education, Science and Technology Ministry to make Japanese history mandatory. “In this age of rapid globalization, it’s essential that students take subjects that deepen their understanding of their own country’s history and culture,” an official at the Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education said.

The ministry made world history compulsory in teaching guidelines issued for the 1994 school year, saying world history had not been taught adequately at middle schools.

Takaichi Hikichi, head of the education board, said at a press conference: “Some young people don’t even know there was a war between Japan and the United States. I want high school students who are open-minded, and who can contemplate these issues, to take another look at the nation’s history and culture.”

(Feb. 16, 2008) Daily Yomiuri




News photo
Kazuhiro Fujihara, a businessman turned principal, wants gifted students to have access to private exam-prep courses on the premises of Wada Junior High School in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. PHOTO COURTESY KAZUHIRO FUJIHARA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s