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Hello to all readers of our regular roundup on educational news in Japan.
It’s the end of the local summer break and back-to-school for everyone. This past week saw my daughter completing two days of “apprenticeship” work experience at a nearby DIY store, and lugging her Jiyu kenkyu (lit. ‘Independent Project’) Summer Project back to school yesterday.
Only a week ago, my husband and I were still wondering if she would actually ever come up with any ideas for a project. Remember Michelle Pfeiffer’s role in One Fine Day as the interfering super-mom who takes over her son’s summer project? Well, we bit our lips, unnaturally and strenuously held back our suggestions for a summer project. And then after a week spent jogging with her Dad by the Ibaragi coast where a row of wind turbines line the sand dunes, she came up with her own original ideas for a science project. I was pleasantly pleased by her choice of the science project, as she seemed to be entering her girly anti-science/math phase. Below are thumbnail bits and pieces of her written report on her experiment.
The project involved a simulated miniaturized wind turbine, and the measuring of how much energy force could be produced with the different types, sizes and shapes of propellers, with single blades or double or triple, and more… All parts were handmade or home-assembled, except for the propeller parts, without pre-bought kits, and the process of thinking through, organizing the test, building it, testing and writing it up was a priceless learning experience for our daughter. Best of all, it was truly her own “Independent Project”.
The moral of this little lesson for us was that it is well worth giving our child a lot of leash, (or better still, unleash them altogether) so they can run on their own creative juices and ideas. Our self-restraint turned out to be a good call.
In the same spirit and quest for nurturing creativity in our kids, read Yasunori Kameoka’s paper “Cultural dimensions of outdoor education in Mt Koya, Japan: Co-existing patterns of universalist and local outdoor education approaches“. This study (as the title suggests) highlights the cultural dimensions of Koya outdoor education, including its historical development and future possibilities, and examines the geographical, historical, social and cultural aspects of outdoor education.
By the way, for parents with elementary students who still haven’t got the hang of it, check out p. 12 of this handy Guidebook if you still need an idea of how to prepare for the start of school.
Now for the regular wrap on what’s been happening on the educational scene in Japan.
It used to be believed that Education was a recession-proof field– especially the juku businesses, well, apparently it’s recession-proof no longer …
Yoyogi Seminar, one of the country’s largest cram school operators, plans to close the majority of its schools for children preparing for university entrance examinations, possibly next spring, a school official said Saturday.
In a move apparently reflecting the shrinking pool of children in the country as society rapidly ages, the cram school operator plans to close around 20 schools, about 70 percent of the total, including those in Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe and Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture.No students will be sought for such schools from next spring, the official said, adding that the plan was conveyed to teachers on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, other opportunities appear on the horizon with news that the Japanese retail giant Aeon plans to open day care facilities inside its nationwide network of shopping centers and general merchandise supermarkets for its employees and other parents. (Nikkei)
According to the achievement exams conducted in April by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Okinawa Prefecture advanced to sixth place from last year’s 47th of all 47 prefectures in the average score on basic understanding of arithmetic.Part A of the exams evaluated basic understanding of the subject, while part B gauged the ability of students to apply knowledge in a practical way.
Sixth graders in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture, raised their rankings by more than 10 places in all subjects, reflecting improvements in school classes.
The exams also found that sixth graders in the central prefecture of Shizuoka showed better performances in all subjects after the prefectural government stepped up efforts for improvements. The Shizuoka governor released the names of principals of some low-ranking schools after the prefecture ranked lowest in Japanese language A last year. See more newsonjapan.com
Assistants help 1st-graders adjust to life at school (Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug 25, 2014)
KOCHI—As many primary school students struggle to adjust to their new school life when they enter first grade, local governments are introducing a “first-grade assistant” system to address any problems they encounter.
The Kochi municipal government, for instance, deployed first-grader assistants this fiscal year at 13 city-run primary schools.
According to the city education board, such problems as students constantly talking during class and wandering out of classrooms have occurred at eight of 41 city-run primary schools in fiscal 2011, and at four schools in fiscal 2013.
To remedy the situation, the education board asked 36 people, including former teachers, homemakers and university students hoping to become teachers, to assist struggling children for ¥1,000 a day. They were sent to schools for three months in the first semester.
On July 15, about 30 children in the first grade at Yokohama Primary School in the city of Kochi were learning arithmetic from their homeroom teacher, Maya Higuchi, 48. While the class tried to solve a problem using plastic blocks, a boy started playing with them instead.
Yuri Tone, a 43-year-old homemaker who was in the classroom as an assistant, approached the boy and gently told him with a smile, “It’s problem-solving time. Come now, look ahead.”
The boy nodded, replied “Yes,” and looked at the blackboard.
Tone was the only assistant at the school, helping out in classrooms from second period until the end of lunch break.
Making her rounds to three homeroom classes, she gently nudges distracted children to pay attention and helps with note-taking when they cannot follow what the teacher writes on blackboard.
She also helps with setting school lunches on tables and changing clothes for gym class. She has scolded misbehaving children and even stopped a fight.
“It’s worthwhile. Being with the children, I could feel them growing up,” said Tone, who has a boy at the primary school.
“It’s difficult for a homeroom teacher to check on how all the children are doing in class. Supporters are a big help,” Higuchi said. “And it seems the children find it easy to talk to her.”
Similar systems have been introduced in such municipalities as Tokyo’s Katsu-shika Ward, Sendai and Okayama… Kochi city plans to increase the number of primary schools with assistants from next fiscal year…
A total of 102,810 students did not graduate from colleges and universities nationwide this spring, with many choosing to repeat a year because they had decided to decline job offers they were reluctant to take, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
This means one in every six students in their final year will repeat that year, exceeding the 100,000 mark for the first time in two years. According to university officials, an increasing number of students are apparently inclined to repeat a year if they are displeased with the job offers they receive, and they try to find jobs they will find satisfactory instead.
Eighty-nine percent of colleges and universities across the nation responded to the Yomiuri survey.
According to the results, 102,810 university students who were in their final school year as of May 2013 did not graduate this spring. This figure represented 16.3 percent of the total and was up 3,445 from last year.
According to university officials in charge of assisting with student job hunting, many of the repeaters had been unable to secure the credits necessary for graduation or chose not to graduate because they had not gained job offers from companies.
But there was also a conspicuous number of students this spring who chose to repeat their final year after turning down job offers, the university officials said… Read more here.
Obokata’s case reveals faults of lenient Japanese academia (The Japan News — Jul 24)
Amid a series of research misconduct cases involving universities and research institutions in the nation, such as the recent controversy over articles on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells, there is increasing criticism over insufficient investigations into suspected research misconduct.
For example, an investigative panel at Waseda University probed the work of Haruko Obokata, a unit leader at government-backed research institute RIKEN, who is at the center of the scandal over STAP cells. It said there was no need for the university to retract her doctorate although the panel admitted the doctoral thesis contained misconduct and irregularities.
Meanwhile, RIKEN’s internal investigative committee that was in charge of reviewing the STAP articles had overly narrowed down the range of issues to be covered, raising one new doubt after another since its investigation was closed.
These cases shed light on the lenient attitude of research institutions and universities toward their colleagues and fellow researchers.
“I can never go along with such a result. Japan’s academics will lose trust if this goes on,” a Waseda professor in a department related to science and technology said with anger after the university’s investigative panel announced its final report on the probe of Obokata’s doctoral thesis Thursday.
The panel identified intentional misconduct in six parts of Obokata’s thesis, including the fact that text on 20 pages-about one-fifth of the entire thesis-were copied from the website of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, while also pointing out a total of 20 irregularities such as fraudulent use of images.
More at The Japan News
On health, safety and societal issues:
Causing quite a buzz is the news of the 3 dengue fever infections blamed on mosquitoes in Yoyogi Park, and that of the …
Yabusaki reportedly confessed to the charges but no explosives were found in his home during the investigation. The suspect who once served as the school’s curriculum coordinator allegedly sent around six emails to his board of education with various threatening remarks.
Among the messages’ grievances are “There’s no way to recover when you’re working until Saturday” and “All that can be done on Sunday is sleep.” These complaints were followed by threats of violence such as “On behalf of the faculty of Noda, I will blow up bad guys like you and your government buildings. I’m ready.” Even in Japanese the wording seemed pretty immature for a teacher nearing his fifties. – See more at: http://newsonjapan.com
A 10-year-old girl in the fifth grade of primary school in the Chubu region now looks forward to weekends after she started going to a tuition-free tutoring school organized by former teachers and other local volunteers in May.
At the tutoring school, she studies Japanese and arithmetic on a one-to-one basis.
“I can ask questions whenever there’s something I don’t understand. It’s fun because I can also play with other children,” said the girl.
She ended the first term with a better grade in Japanese, a subject she used to struggle with.
The girl lives with her 15-year-old sister and her 44-year-old mother, who divorced her father this spring because of his chronically excessive spending.
“At a meeting with my daughter’s teacher, I was told to help her raise her grades, but I was annoyed because I can’t afford to send her to a private tutoring school due to lack of money,” the mother said. “The free tutoring school has also become a place for my daughter to hang out as she only has a few friends.”
Free tutoring schools have been attracting attention as a way to help restore the confidence of children struggling with their studies, and to offer them an alternative place to spend time besides school or home. But compared with the number of children in poverty, there are only a small number of free tutoring schools with insufficient public support.
Hachioji Tsubame Juku, a nonprofit organization headed by Takayuki Komiya, started a free tutoring school two years ago in Hachioji, western Tokyo. With many children hoping to attend, the organization increased the number of classrooms to four by using space in public buildings and the home of an acquaintance of Komiya.
The number of children attending the school has increased to about 50, but the organization does not receive any public support and relies entirely on donations to pay rent and utility costs. “Many children hope to come to our school, but it’s hard to immediately increase the number of classrooms due to cost increases,” lamented Komiya, 36.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, only 12.9 percent of municipalities provide support for organizations that offer such free tutoring services or other programs to children. Though the central government plans to boost support for such organizations from next fiscal year, the decision to provide support ultimately lies with each municipality.
“If the issue is just left for each municipality to deal with, there won’t be an increase in these kinds of organizations,” remarked Tokyo Gakugei University Prof. Susumu Kase, an expert on special needs education. “There are many children with no interest in studying, unable to take that step toward attending a free tutoring school. There need to be more ways to encourage them, through such measures as providing free meals with classes.”
An even bigger challenge is reaching out to the children who can’t even attend these free schools. Some municipalities have therefore started dispatching so-called school social workers to primary, middle and high schools to seek out SOS signals from children at school.
Miwa Nakayama, 45, is a social school worker in Osaka Prefecture. She quietly observes children for signs of bullying or if they’re wearing damaged clothes or shoes. If she spots a child with signs of trouble, she observes them during class. Nakayama then plays with such children, inquiring about their day-to-day living. If she thinks could be facing financial difficulties, she advises their parents on public support provisions such as child-rearing allowance or school expense subsidies.
But according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, there are more than 34,000 public primary, middle and high schools across the nation and only just about 1,000 school social workers. Nakayama, who works at primary and middle schools in four municipalities in the prefecture, said: “Problems in these children’s lives don’t really surface unless I meet with them many times and build up trust, making it hard to offer the right kind of support. But under current circumstances it’s difficult for me to go to the same school even once a week.”
According to Osaka Prefecture University Prof. Noriko Yamano, who is familiar with child welfare, many school social workers are part-timers or work on a commission basis, while only about 40 percent of them have qualifications as certified social workers.
If they identify possibly needy children, cooperation is necessary with municipal welfare offices and child consultation centers to determine whether their households receive livelihood assistance or if they are being abused.
However, no system currently exists to carry out such endeavors. The central government is planning to boost the number of school social workers, but Yamano said, “Even if there’s more, it won’t be possible to provide sufficient support as the situation stands today.”
Open University of Japan Vice President Michiko Miyamoto, who chaired a government panel of experts tasked with working out necessary measures for child poverty, echoed similar sentiments and said, “Child poverty is intricately intertwined with various issues such as divorce, employment and the education of parents, so it’s impossible to resolve the problem with just one measure.” — Read more here.
The Yomiuri ShimbunThe education ministry plans to produce booklets and videos to encourage young children to enjoy physical exercise, and distribute these teaching aids to lo-cal governments, nursery schools and childcare centers nationwide.
The plan is aimed at encouraging exercise among children of preschool age, a time when their athletic abilities rapidly develop. This will help them acquire a fondness for sports, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry believes.
In recent years, the average physical strength of primary, middle and high school students in Japan has been improving. However, they still compare poorly with the peak seen in about 1985, according to a ministry survey.
The ministry believes this may be partly due to insufficient exercise by children during their preschool days, although no studies have been conducted of children at this age.
In March 2012, the ministry drew up a set of guidelines for encouraging young children to exercise. Proposed measures seek to ensure that:
—Children spontaneously play in different ways, thereby becoming comfortable with a wide range of bodily motions.
—They engage in fun exercise for 60 minutes or longer every day.
—They are provided with opportunities to play in a manner that does not put an excessive burden on their bodies.
In some areas, various attempts are being made to encourage young children to enjoy exercise on their own.
One idea is to have children quickly walk on a balance beam while wearing a ninja costume. Other suggestions include playing tag while wearing some sort of animal mask, as well as exercising one’s whole body by pretending to be a fish or other animal.
Nursery school personnel who have no experience with such activities have said they need specific, easy-to-understand visual materials.
This prompted the ministry’s decision to compile examples of children safely enjoying exercise, and produce pamphlets and DVDs useful for guiding them to enjoy physical activity
“…many Americans assume good teachers are born, not trained; that teaching well requires innate talent, or recruiting the best and brightest to begin with.
Elizabeth Green, who founded the education news site hereand serves as its editor and CEO, spent five years researching those assumptions. She visited the classrooms of talented teachers and charter schools renowned for high test scores, and traveled to Japan to watch math teaching methods in action. Her book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that teaching is perhaps the most complex profession there is, but that training, not talent, can create exceptional educators.” Read more of the interview with Elizabeth Green
On the topic of School-refusers and Bullying:
On technology & education:
Tokyo, Aug. 25 (Jiji Press)–A government survey has revealed that nearly half of third graders at junior high schools in Japan spend one hour or more per day using smartphones, with over 10 pct spending four hours or more.
The survey was the first by the education ministry that asked about the length of time spent on mobile phone use.
The survey also found that over half of sixth graders at elementary schools have mobile phones.
Students who spend more time on mobile phone use, such as e-mailing and browsing Internet sites, tend to have poorer results in terms of academic performance, according to the survey.
An expert warned that certain rules on smartphone use need to be established immediately. Read more here
More readings related to Historical perspectives: War as a path to hell or the glorification of war
An Aug 28 Yomiuri Shimbun editorial focuses on the new proposal that moral training be upgraded to a “special subject”, see:
New subject of moral training should nurture children’s thoughtfulness (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 28, 2014)
It is important to ensure that the proposed idea of introducing moral training as a school subject will result in substantial improvement in the quality of our nation’s ethical education.
An subcommittee of experts at the education ministry’s Central Council for Education has basically adopted a report proposing that the current “moral training hour” at primary and middle schools be upgraded to a “special subject.” The new subject would use education ministry-authorized textbooks but not grade students numerically.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry hopes to introduce the new subject in fiscal 2018 at the earliest, after revising its official teaching guidelines and laying down criteria for screening moral education textbooks.
As circumstances stand today, classes for moral training are not part of the ministry’s regular curriculum. Some schools tend to pay little heed to the importance of offering moral training, as shown by their practice of switching such lessons to Japanese language, arithmetic and mathematics classes. The idea of making moral training a subject is intended to rectify this situation.
It is very meaningful for children to be encouraged to learn social rules and develop a sense of thoughtfulness toward others, as they are certain to play a leading role in shaping our country’s future. Some critics have said that making moral training a subject is tantamount to forcing certain values on students. Such criticism must be dismissed as pointless.
The latest report cited “the frailties of people” and “the courage to confront difficulties” as examples of topics to be taken up in the new subject, reflecting the fact that school bullying is becoming even worse nowadays. It also proposed addressing contemporary issues such as the morals to be observed when using information on the Internet.
The question is what should be done to improve the quality of moral training lessons. Teachers will not gain a favorable response from children if they only read out from a textbook.
Imaginative ideas needed
One of the proposals put forward in the report focused on school bullying and other problems involving students. The report suggested encouraging students to think about what to do by having them role-play such scenarios. It also proposed getting children to debate a single issue to the fullest. We find it reasonable for the proposal to emphasize the need to come up with imaginative ideas about how to give moral training lessons.
The introduction of the new subject is certain to test teachers in terms of their instructional skills. However, the status quo is hardly promising. In the teacher training courses offered by colleges and universities, there are only a few lectures on moral education. Therefore, many teachers remain unsure about their teaching methods.
Moral training lessons would be conducted by homeroom teachers as they are well acquainted with students. Such teachers should not be left to their own devices or become complacent about how to conduct moral education. With this in mind, the principle of each school should take responsible steps to ensure this does not occur.
One focus of attention is examining what kinds of standards should be set for screening textbooks, as well as how to assess the achievements accomplished by each student.
Full rein must be given to the originality and ingenuity of private-sector textbook publishers, to ensure that the contents of their textbooks are worth reading. At the same time, however, it is necessary to lay down screening criteria conducive to securing the ideological neutrality of the contents and attaining a proper balance in other aspects of the details.
In conducting moral training lessons, it is not appropriate to use scores to grade students’ achievements. Moral education differs from other subjects in which students are assessed through tests and other scores. Classes for moral training are intended to improve their mental attitude. Given this, the latest report is correct in saying that teachers should describe in writing the attitude of each student toward the lessons and his or her accomplishments. We hope the education ministry will set specific guidelines for that purpose, to provide teachers with some illuminating information.
Stereotyping people based on their blood type is a near obsession in Japan, with books on the topic selling millions of copies. But research indicates that the science doesn’t back up this popular belief.
A study published in the latest issue of the Japan Psychological Association’s Shinrigaku Kenkyu magazine dismissed the view that ABO blood types are a major factor in determining a person’s character.
For his study, Kyoto Bunkyo University’s Kengo Nawata conducted a questionnaire of over 10,000 people in both Japan and the United States on a variety of subjects including personal preferences and thoughts on future plans, religion, gambling and relationships.
Of the 68 questions, 65 of them showed no specific pattern depending on the person’s blood type, Mr. Nawata wrote, pouring cold water on the idea of blood as a determinant of character. Even with these three questions the study showed that blood types “explained less than 0.3% of the total variance in personality.”
“There is no correlation between blood type and a person’s character,” Mr. Nawata wrote in the study.
The belief that blood types influence personality appears to have taken root in Japan in the 1970s. The widely held view in Japan is that people with blood type A are meticulous, type Bs are optimistic and Os are social animals. AB types are seen as having highly individual characters.
Among references to blood type to describe a person’s failings, former reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto blamed his blood type for a gaffe that cost him his job in 2011, saying that he was “a type B with a tendency to be simplistic and too straightforward at times.”
Blood type ‘plays no role’ in personality via Newsonjapan (The Japan News — JUL 31)
A belief widely held in Japan that blood type is linked to personality has no scientific basis, according to a recent statistical analysis conduced by a Kyushu University lecturer. Kengo Nawata, who specializes in social psychology, analyzed survey results encompassing more than 10,000 people from Japan and the United States to draw the conclusion.
Many Japanese people believe that character is determined by blood type-for example, that “people with blood type A are serious” or “type B people are selfish.” Observers point out that such a belief has lead to “blood type harassment,” in which people face discrimination in job-hunting, personnel issues and other spheres on the basis of blood type. These findings are likely to raises questions about the popular belief.
In other educational news outside Japan:
Read about the interview “Why teachers have a tougher job than doctors” with Elizabeth Green, author of “Building a Better Teacher” who says teaching is perhaps the most complex profession there is, and that training, not talent, is the key. Green traveled to Japan to watch math teaching methods in action.
See Melissa McCartney’s study on the benefits of having students write their own test questions, Students produce assessment materials:
If teaching someone else is the best way to learn, what will students gain from writing their own test questions? Every week, as part of an introductory undergraduate physics class, Bates et al. required students to contribute one original test question, answer five others, and critique an additional three. The researchers used Bloom’s taxonomy criteria for cognitive level and quality of explanation—a standard scale—to rate the questions. Seventy-five percent of questions produced by first-year students were of high quality, with a large portion of the questions constituting true problems, as opposed to simple multiple choice questions. Overall, involving students in the summative assessment strategy for their own course increased both engagement and learning.
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.10.020105 (2014).
And that’s it for now folks!