Current concerns (12) Edu ministry proposes cell phone ban

OSAKA–The Osaka Prefectural Board of Education will dispatch cram school tutors and other instructors to public primary and middle schools in the prefecture for after-school lessons in cooperation with three private firms, including cram school operators, it has been learned.

In response to Gov. Toru Hashimoto’s stated aim to improve the basic academic achievement of local students, the prefectural board of education will begin dispatching the tutors to several schools from mid-January, and it plans to increase the number of those schools in the future.

According to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, boards of education or schools in some municipalities have concluded tie-ups with cram schools. However, it is extremely unusual for a prefectural board of education to cooperate with cram schools.

The three firms are two cram chain operators–Sapix in Tokyo and Daiichi Seminar in Osaka–and an Osaka-based private tutor provider, Trygroup Inc.

For after-school lessons that began in September in the prefecture, former teachers or university students are dispatched to schools, where they provide academic support to students for two hours twice a week free of charge.

Additionally, two tutors will be dispatched to a classroom and provide individual tutoring to students according to their level.

Tutors will be paid 1,500 yen for two hours, equivalent to the fee given to former teachers and university students in the existing program. If their normal hourly tutoring wages exceed the 1,500 yen, the firms will make up the difference.

Makoto Kamata, assistant manager of Daiichi Seminar’s planning and information department, said the firm would contribute to society through the nonprofit project.

The prefectural board of education hopes to help students improve academically in cooperation with the private firms in addition to the support from former teachers and university students.

(Jan. 8, 2009) Daily Yomiuri

 Panel eyes school phone ban / Government body suggests students leave mobiles at home Dec 17, 2008 Yomiuri Shimbun

Following the ban recently announced by the Osaka prefectural government, a government educational panel has proposed a similar cell phone ban on elementary to middle school students. Due to concerns over the negative effects associated with use of cell phones by children (outlined the draft proposal), the panel recommends that parents establish domestic rules regarding cell phone use and that schools set out concrete measures, including a ban on taking cell phones onto school premises. The panel however concedes there are positive aspects to cell phone ownership by children, such as the Global Positioning System and email service for emergency use. The panel aso called for the development of limited-function cell phones for student use. 

According to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, 31 percent of primary school students, 58 percent of middle school students and 96 percent of high school students presently use cell phones or handy phones.

The number of bullying incidents in which cell phones have been used for malicious purposes increased to 5,899 in fiscal 2007, a rise of 1,016 from the previous fiscal year, according to a study by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

According to the National Police Agency, 98.3 percent of the 356 victims, who were 17 years old or younger and were victimized in the January-June period this year after accessing dating and other Web sites, used their cell phones to access these sites.

The draft proposal is to be submitted to Prime Minister Taro Aso next month.  Source: Panel eyes school phone ban / Government body suggests students leave mobiles at home Dec 17, 2008 Yomiuri Shimbun

Punished teachers lose appeal over ‘Kimigayo’

Textbook move to usher in new education chapter

Now that a policy to increase the content of school textbooks is certain to be adopted, we hope this will enhance the academic abilities of schoolchildren and arouse in them a greater interest in learning.

The government’s Education Rebuilding Council on Thursday issued a second report calling on the government to improve textbooks used in schools. The Textbook Authorization and Research Council, an advisory panel to the education, science and technology minister, plans to issue a similar report shortly.

The main point of the Education Rebuilding Council’s report is the elimination of the upper limits on advanced materials in textbooks–a move that is in line with changes made this year to teaching guidelines that will be implemented gradually from the 2009 academic year.

Currently, about 10 percent of the content of primary and middle school books, and 20 percent of high school books, is permitted to be of an advanced nature. These limits are checked when textbooks are screened by the education ministry.

The council also called on the education ministry to review the stipulation in textbook screening criteria that states textbooks should not contain material deemed “too rudimentary” for each grade. This proposal aims at providing supplementary material for students who tend to fall behind.


Cram-free classes to end


Under the current teaching guidelines, which stress cram-free education, learning materials have been reduced by about 30 percent compared with the previous guidelines.

As it has become clear that the academic abilities of Japanese students has fallen in international achievement scores and other tests, the ministry–under the new teaching guidelines–will increase class hours for major subjects at primary and middle schools by more than 10 percent, and reinstate some learning materials dropped in the current guidelines. Total class hours for mathematics and science will be increased by about 15 percent during the nine years of primary and middle school education.

The new teaching guidelines will be fully implemented in the 2011 academic year for primary schools and in the 2012 academic year for middle schools. However, the new guidelines will be applied to science subjects from the next academic year.

The latest report aims to bid farewell to cram-free education also by changing textbook content. The textbooks should not only have more content, but better content.


Teachers need to hone skills


In particular, as the report pointed out, it is essential for textbooks to contain related materials from other subjects and descriptions about how material in textbooks can apply to daily life and society.

According to international math and science tests and related questionnaires–the results of which were released recently–Japanese middle school students rated, as a percentage, at the bottom of the list among those who answered negatively when asked whether math and science “are necessary for studying other subjects” or “are useful in daily life.”

Science, for example, can be used in home economics class, where teachers can have students calculate calories, or in health education, where teachers can teach students about the structure of the body. We hope textbook writers and publishers will tax their ingenuity in this regard.

In its report, the council said it was necessary to change the perception that the entire content in textbooks must be taught. Parents, in particular, should be made aware of this.

However, it largely depends on the ability of teachers whether the improved textbooks will enhance the academic achievements and motivations of their students.

As a matter of course, the report stressed the need for better training programs for teachers in addition to improving the textbooks. Efforts also must be made to devise content-rich training programs to be taken by teachers when they renew their teaching licenses under the new license renewal system to start next academic year.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2008)

A draft version of a set of new teaching guidelines for high schools, unveiled last month by the education ministry, signifies an attempt to end the ministry’s continued emphasis on cram-free education.

The draft calls for the removal of restrictions on teaching advanced content in science and mathematics, and discourages teachers from using Japanese to teach English class.

The government’s envisioned course of study asks educators to make a major shift and is aimed at improving the nation’s academic standards.

“It’s outrageous that we can’t mention [Nobel Prize laureates] Hideki Yukawa and Shinichiro Tomonaga in a physics textbook,” said an employee of a textbook publishing firm in reference to provisions that ban schools from teaching advanced content. Such provisions prevail in the cram-free education system.

“It’s entirely natural for teachers to try to inspire students by telling them about Japan’s great forerunners. But it’s been impossible to do this satisfactorily because of the government’s course of study,” the employee added.

One of the company’s textbooks was rejected in Autumn 2005 by the Textbook Authorization Research Council–an Education, Science and Technology Ministry panel charged with textbook screening. The company had cited the achievements of Japanese Nobel laureates in physics in a chronology appended to its Physics I textbook. But the council reportedly asked the firm to revise the book, claiming the inclusion of the laureates’ names and achievements was irrelevant to its main content.

The council reportedly felt the chronological information went beyond the bounds of high school education and infringed educational provisions.

In the past decade, however, a considerable number of high schools have moved away from cram-free education.

Tokyo Metropolitan High School of Science and Technology in Koto Ward, which aims to train skilled scientists and engineers, has drawn up a curriculum that goes beyond the recommended course of study, such as by offering a special program with university professors as guest speakers.

Established in 2001, the school respects the provisions’ upper limit on a level of study, while offering “super high-school-level” education that inspires students, according to one of the school’s teachers.

In a class held on Dec. 22 titled “The Forefront of Physics: Get Closer to a Nobel Prize,” an elementary particle researcher was invited as a guest speaker. Students were given the opportunity to learn about the study of CP violation by Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa who won last year’s Nobel Prize in physics.

The school’s principal, Kimikazu Tatsumi, 56, welcomed the draft revisions to the teaching guidelines. “If students become interested, they’ll want to learn more than the textbooks can offer. It would be great to see the provisions go,” he said.


Boosting English education


Under the new draft guidelines, the number of English words studied through high schools would be increased to 3,000 from the current 2,200. This increase of about 40 percent might leave some students nonplussed.

However, a 41-year-old teacher of a Tokushima prefectural high school said: “To prepare for university entrance exams, we presently teach 5,000 words. It’s difficult to teach [properly] as [the reality] is far removed from the teaching guidelines. [With the revisions], it would become easier for us to teach [more effectively].”

Since the course of study was revised in 1978 following criticism of cram-style education and extremely competitive entrance exams, the number of English words studied at schools has continued to decrease. In the early 1970s, more than 4,000 English words were taught at many schools, with a higher rate of students going on to higher education. But a 1989 revision slashed the number of English words to 2,400, and another 200 words were cut in a 1999 amendment.

The ministry’s attempt to significantly boost the number of English words was apparently prompted by an increased focus on English education in South Korea and China.

“With the 3,000 [English] words, we can stand on an equal footing,” a ministry official said.

For the first time, the draft guidelines have asked teachers to conduct English classes in English. However, this has sparked concerns in the field.

“I’m not sure if this is doable. It’ll depend on the teachers’ skills,” a teacher at a Saitama prefectural high school said.

The nation’s English education has not focused on verbal skills, instead stressing grammar and reading. This is a reflection of the entrance exams, most of which previously did not test speaking skills.

One public high school teacher said, “Unless the entrance exams system changes, we can’t respond to a call to suddenly start focusing on speaking.”

Teachers’ verbal skills would be an issue as many have no experience of studying abroad and are not accustomed to communication in English. With the new guidelines, both public and private schools are likely to seek new teachers with higher levels of spoken English. But such a move likely will affect the recruitment of teachers.


History requirements


The new draft teaching guidelines for high schools, however, stop short of making Japanese history a required subject, despite calls for this from some prefectural boards of education.

Though the draft made clear the need to learn world history in the context of Japanese history, advocates for such a change have been disappointed by the draft.

“We regret the decision because we’ve been speaking with one voice in making the request,” said Masahito Yamamoto, head of the Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education, which has been asking the central government to make mandatory the study of Japanese history.

The prefecture has stressed the importance of learning the history and culture of one’s own country in the era of globalization. Based on this philosophy, the prefecture is planning to set up a course on its own, combining Japanese history with modern and contemporary world history.

In March 2007, the Toyama Prefectural Board of Education also filed a request with the central government to set up a new course on contemporary history by merging the world history and the Japanese history courses and making it mandatory.

Many local governments, including Ishikawa and Ibaraki prefectures, expressed their strong desire to make Japanese history a required course, even though they may not be as passionate about it as Kanagawa and Toyama prefectures.

In the first place, Japanese history is a very popular course among entrance exam takers.

It came to light three years ago that many high schools in the country failed to teach world history despite the subject being mandatory.

Although many students are familiar with Japanese history as they have studied it through classes in primary and middle school, most high schools usually have to teach world history from scratch.

As a result of many universities allowing applicants to write entrance examinations on Japanese history, many high school students are reluctant to study world history.

Students’ preference for Japanese history is a contributing factor to the calls by prefectural governments to make the subject a required one.

(Jan. 8, 2009) The Yomiuri Shimbun


TOTTORI–A Tottori Prefectural Assembly committee on Tuesday passed a revision of an ordinance that releases results of nationwide achievement examinations by municipality and school. .. Tottori will be the first prefecture to disclose the test results by both municipality and school although the Osaka and Akita prefectural governments have already released the test results by municipality.

The move had earlier been fiercely opposed by associations comprising primary and middle school principals, and education boards of cities, towns and villages in the prefecture on the grounds that the disclosure “would drive the schools to put priority on test scores”.

Source: Tottori Pref. test scores ordinance nears final OK (Dec. 17, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun; also Public disclosure of test results at issue Sat Aug 23, 2008 The Yomiuri Shimbun

2 thoughts on “Current concerns (12) Edu ministry proposes cell phone ban”

  1. With regard to a ban of cell phones, respectively before the administration should consider such a drastic measure they should realize that the cell is a tool that can be used in a positive as well as a negative manner. The positive factors such as the need of the most vulnerable members of our society to have access to a cell phone should over ride the unscrupulous manner by which a cell phone can be used. As the owner of a e-commerce site that sells cell phones,, we have mainly received comments from the parents of children using cell phones that it has been an important ingredient of their lives and knowing that their child can be accessed readily is a reassuring feeling that will not be given up.

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