Hello to our readers regular and new, after an unusually long hiatus (it has been quieter on the education scene than usual, perhaps because of the turnover of the Financial Year), we return with our regular roundup of news about educational issues and matters.  Below you will find news briefs, headlines and excerpts of recent reports, discussions taking place here in Japan as well as globally.

First up, the news lineup on education in Japan:

Efforts are being made by the government to internationalise higher education as well as to attract women to pursue studies in science and engineering in Japan… see

EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Sparking interest in science among female students (Yomiuri, May 3) |

Dispatches from Japan: Thinking beyond international student mobililty(Guardian)

Globalisation has not only changed Japanese business, it’s also changing higher education policy. Hiroshi Ota looks at how Japan is preparing for the ‘ever-intensifying global talent war

Will Japan soon be celebrating victory in the ‘ever-intensifying global talent war?’ The Guardian looks at current initiatives on internationalisation of higher education in Japan …

In Japan, the internationalisation of higher education has traditionally focused on international student mobility, particularly inbound-flows such as the 100,000 International Students Plan and 300,000 International Students Plan.

Through these endeavours, the government has played a central role with strong initiatives, for instance, government scholarship programs, funds for tuition reductions and exemptions, subsidies for the construction of student accommodations, and relaxing immigration regulations, supporting host institutions of international students. However, both the country’s prolonged, demographic decline of 18-year-olds and a rapidly growing global economy have reshaped Japan’s rationale and approaches to international education.

New policies such as the “skilled migration approach” which promotes the post-graduation employment of international students in Japan (“brain gain” from overseas), have emerged, and lower-tiered, private institutions are partnering with commission-paid agents to aggressively recruit international students mainly from China (revenue-generating approach) to fill their classrooms. Both approaches are currently prevalent within international education in Japan, weakening the traditional, “co-operation and mutual understanding approach”.

Furthermore, international university rankings, which prospective international students often use as a guide to identify universities to which they should apply, have become part of internationalisation since they are now considered in the discussion of how Japanese universities can increase their international competitiveness so as to attract high-quality students from overseas.

Under these circumstances, internationalisation of higher education in Japan has encompassed many new cross-border movements and thereby broadened its original concept, rationalising and basing these new efforts on commercialisation and competition in order to cope with serious global issues within higher education, such as the decrease in public funding and an ever-intensifying global talent war. Recently, the term “international” is being replaced by “global” in Japanese higher education, for example from international education to global education, in line with advances in an era of globalisation. Accordingly, in order to meet the increasing demand for global-minded graduates (workforce) at rapidly globalising Japanese companies, the Japanese government has embarked on new initiatives of globalising higher education, such as supporting universities to expand their English-taught courses and study abroad programs.

Beyond student mobility, however, internationalisation has been less developed in Japan, especially in terms of curriculum reform. The government and universities have historically typified the approach of importing knowledge and technology from overseas, modifying them for Japan’s use with the main purpose of advancing the country’s modernisation (internationalisation for modernisation).

Since the vast majority of course content originally came from the West, this model has prevented Japanese universities from internationalising their curricula for a long time. However, as a new trend, there are a growing number of international liberal arts institutions offering international learning experiences, incorporating a high percentage of English-taught courses, a highly diversified student population and faculty, and a variety of study abroad programs. Beyond just adding so-called international programs to the traditional curricula, these institutions have thus made the internationalisation of education and learning the first priority within their missions and efforts.

Internationalisation has increased in importance in both education and research, taking a more mainstream role in Japanese higher education. Concurrently, however, as the country’s public debt has reached 200% of its GDP under a prolonged period of economic stagnation, there is a growing expectation of society, coupled with the concern of taxpayers, that universities be able to clarify both the added value of their international dimensions and the impact of internationalisation on their specific institutions.

Currently, one of the crucial challenges for Japanese universities is to develop an effective evaluation process of their internationalisation efforts. This challenge lies in balancing the needs between trusted quality control, which creates a bottom line in terms of accountability, transparency, and resource management, and quantitative expansion. In addition, such an approach requires a creative assessment structure and its related evaluation methods (for example peer review and benchmarking), which can account for and encourage overall internationalisation initiatives and adds a strategic dimension to further university internationalisation.

Lastly, the Japanese government is expected to continue to support the strategic initiatives of university internationalisation in order to provide a catalyst for the functional transformation of Japanese universities towards meeting the demands of the 21st century’s global knowledge-based society. For example, the government should provide not only competitive funds for pioneering internationalisation efforts and innovative, international collaborations of institutions in education, research, and administration, but also implement further deregulations combined with effective quality assurance programs in Japanese higher education as a whole. http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/apr/23/japan-international-student-mobility

Hiroshi Ota is a professor at the Center for Global Education and director of the Hitotsubashi University Global Education Program, Hitotsubashi University, Japan (h.ota@r.hit-u.ac.jp)


Schoolboy steals chemicals to make bomb (TBS News, May 2)

A 17-year-old schoolboy has been arrested on suspicion of breaking into his school’s chemistry storage room and stealing Potassium Nitrate multiple times from February until this month, police said Tuesday.

“3 places were locked. He picked the lock, then entered, picked the cabinet locks, and took the highly poisonous substance and left. I think it is quite a shame,” said the principal of the Hidaka district school of Hokkaido.

In regards to the police investigation, the boy said things such as, “I used the stolen chemicals to make a bomb, and blew it up in the mountains,” acknowledging the accusations. It is reported that the police suspect the thefts were aided by 4 male students from the same school.


UNESCO honors kids who created postquake newspaper (Apr 4, Japan Times)


PARIS — UNESCO on Monday honored the children who created a newspaper to encourage evacuees at a shelter in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, after it was hit by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Four of the 12 children who worked on creating the Fight Shimbun newspaper, a colorful handwritten wall newspaper with illustrations, were invited to the headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris to be honored by Francesco Bandarin, assistant director general for culture.

Bandarin described the children, including 8-year-old Risa Yoshida, as “a light for the future” and praised them for raising the spirits of evacuees struggling in harsh conditions.

“I would like to say thank you to the people who have helped us all this time,” said Yoshida, who served as the first editor-in-chief of the newspaper, expressing gratitude on behalf of the people of Tohoku for the support received from around the globe for victims of the disaster.

At the ceremony to honor the children, Satoko Oyama, 10, who later took over Yoshida’s role as editor-in-chief, said, “I’m so glad that many people have read Fight Shimbun.”

Oyama’s sister, 13-year-old Kanako, who served as a reporter for the newspaper, said, “We will do our best toward recovery and would like you to extend your support.”

During the event, the children handed to Bandarin reproductions of some of the issues of Fight Shimbun, which UNESCO will display at its headquarters.

Bandarin said people around the globe are still concerned about the victims of the disasters and they will always extend their support.

On March 18, 2011, just a week after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit the city, Yoshida, together with her friend Oyama and two other elementary and junior high school students, launched the first edition of the Fight Shimbun. In Japan, urging someone to “fight!” is a way of encouraging them to do their best.

They published the newspaper almost every other day through issue number 50 on July 7, preparing articles under headlines such as “Now Electricity is Back!” as they covered events that brought delight to them and other evacuees at the shelter.


If you have a child in a local school, try not to get caught out by the likely change in scheduling for this day:

Schools consider changing hours on annular eclipse day (Apr.30 The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Many primary and middle schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area plan to change the starting time for classes on May 21, when an annular eclipse will be observed for the first time in 173 years in the area.

An annular eclipse is a phenomenon that occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, covering all but the outer borders and making the sun appear as a ring of light.

Some schools have decided to close for the day to allow students to observe the eclipse safely. The highlight of the astronomical phenomenon, when the sun will most resemble a ring, will occur around 7:30 a.m., the time students usually commute to school.

Schools were asked to help prevent students from being injured in traffic accidents while distractedly observing the eclipse and from damaging their eyes by watching the phenomenon without proper eye protection.

All of the 47 primary and middle schools in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, will move up the starting time of school on May 21 by at least one hour and hold a special viewing event to observe the eclipse. … read more

Related: Use special glasses to view eclipse, experts urge (Apr.28)  | Tokyo to be treated to rare annular eclipse, Venus transit (Japan Times)


Japan and the English Language / Interest growing in South Korea’s English program (Yomiuri, Apr.26) Excerpted below…

Japanese educators are becoming increasingly interested in the English-language teaching system adopted by South Korea.

Some Japanese schools, for example, send students to South Korea for English training. South Korea introduced English-language education for primary school students well ahead of Japan.

Ichihara Chuo High School in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, has carried out a four-day, three-night English-training program in South Korea since 2010. Participants are first-year students of its English-language course.

The venue for the training is “English Village,” a public facility that simulates the experience of living in an English-speaking part of the world.

The English Village project was initiated by the South Korean government in hopes of giving its people more exposure to English. Today, more than 20 English Village facilities are run by local governments in the country. These special villages encompass such places as branches of public offices, banks and restaurants. Participants in training programs there are required to speak English all the time.

The advanced level of South Korea’s English-language education has attracted a great deal of attention among the private high school’s educators and administrators…

The city of Paju in South Korea is located about an hour’s drive from Seoul and is home to Paju Camp, an English Village facility. The Paju facility in Gyeonggi Province is represented by Humanic Co., a Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo-based corporation that is responsible for arrangements for Japanese who wish to join a program there.

In recent years, Humanic has received a number of inquiries from Japanese schools, local governments, English-language school operators and others about the English Village scheme.

The popularity of the village stems from its ability to provide trainees with a total English immersion experience. Plus, English Village facilities can be accessed relatively easily and training there is less costly than in English-speaking countries, Humanic said.


Private univs coy on fall enrollment (Apr 26, The Yomiuri Shimbun)

More than 70 percent of private universities and colleges are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether to change undergraduate enrollment from spring to autumn, according to a survey.

The Japan Association of Private Universities and Colleges, to which 20 percent of the nation’s private universities and colleges belong, conducted the survey in February, following a proposal by the University of Tokyo to switch enrollment for its undergraduate students from spring to autumn to bring it more in line with the international norm. The association’s 121 members include famous universities such as Waseda and Doshisha. Ninety-eight gave responses.

According to the survey, 20 institutions supported autumn enrollment, while eight opposed it. Compared with the small number of institutions with a clear position, 70, or 71 percent, said they could not say either way.

Only eight institutions said they had started discussing introducing autumn enrollment for all or some of their departments, and 16 said they did not plan to discuss the matter. Seventy universities said they would consider it in the future.

Among 23 major universities with more than 10,000 students, eight agreed with autumn enrollment because it will be necessary to make them more “international.” None of the universities opposed the change.

Most of these universities are in large cities.

Meanwhile, regional institutions or small and midsize universities tended to be cautious about changing their enrollment season, with some saying, “We need to study the pros and cons of autumn enrollment.”

The association plans to study problems autumn enrollment might generate for private universities and colleges and other issues.


Pretty cool news next…

Kids get official nod for stellar find (Japan Times)  Thursday, April 26, 2012


An asteroid discovered in 2009 by two Japanese boys, a fifth-grader and a second-year junior high school student, has been registered with the International Astronomical Union recently.

The boys were given the right to name the asteroid by the Paris-based IAU, which regulates the naming of stars, the Japan Spaceguard Association said.

It is believed to be the first time an asteroid discovered by an elementary or junior high school student has been added to the IAU list, sources said.

On Nov. 22, 2009, Yuto Kanetaka and Yohei Motegi spotted the asteroid at a stargazing event in Ibara, Okayama Prefecture.


Single-sex schools see dramatic decline (Yomiuri, Apr 23)

Reflecting the nation’s declining birthrate, the number of single-sex schools in the country has decreased dramatically, according to a 2011 poll by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

There were 464 schools attended by only male or female students nationwide, according to the survey. Single-gender schools account for less than 10 percent of all schools, and their number is half of what it was 20 years ago.

The decline is mainly due to a shift at many schools to coeducation to attract more students amid the low birthrate.

Despite the decrease, boys schools still rank high in terms of the number of successful applicants to top-notch universities, highlighting an advantage of single-sex education.

At the beginning of the Heisei era (1989 to present), the country had far more boys schools, known as “bankara” (rudeness) schools, and girls schools, poetically called “otome no sono” (maiden’s garden). In 1991, there were 1,002 single-sex high schools, accounting for 18.2 percent of the total.

However, this figure had fallen to below 10 percent in 2008. In 2011, there were 464 single-sex high schools nationwide–130 for boys and 334 for girls, accounting for 9.2 percent.

Formerly an all-male school, Meguro-Gakuin Junior and Senior High School in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, had begun suffering a decline. As the student population failed to recover, the school became coeducational in 2011.

“We had no choice but to become coeducational to boost the number of applicants and students,” Takemi Matsumoto, the school’s executive director, said.

The school had about 390 applicants in 2010. After becoming coed, this number shot up to about 660 in 2011. The number of applicants further increased to 766 in 2012.

Entrance exam fees are an important source of funding for private schools. Becoming coeducational means potentially doubling the number of students qualified to take an entrance exam.

“The number of both female and male students has increased. I think becoming coeducational led to the boost,” Matsumoto said.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, at least four private high schools went coed this spring.

“As many parents today went to coeducational schools, they strongly prefer them, with the exception of some top-notch schools,” said an official at Ichishin Gakuin, based in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, which runs cram schools in the Kanto region.

On the other hand, single-sex schools, which are now a minority, have an advantage in terms of the advancement rate to prestigious universities.

Educational consultant Toshimi Nakai held a symposium on single-sex education in Tokyo last year.

“From late primary school to middle school, girls develop faster than boys both physically and mentally,” Nakai, 53, said. “So it’s inefficient for boys and girls to take the same classes together because their mental ages are different.

“Single-sex high schools always rank high in the list of successful applicants to the University of Tokyo,” Nakai added. “It also has been shown that in Britain and South Korea students in single-sex schools tend to perform better academically [than their counterparts in coed schools].”

According to a survey by Daigaku Tsushin, an information magazine on university entrance exams, the top seven high schools among successful University of Tokyo applicants in 2012 were boys schools–including Kaisei, Nada and Azabu high schools. All-girls school Oin Gakuen ranked eighth in the list.

Explaining the advantage of boys schools, Yukio Yanagisawa, principal of Kaisei Junior and Senior High Schools, in Tokyo, said, “Boys can concentrate more on their studies when they aren’t having to compete against female students, who develop faster in middle school.”

Year after year Kaisei high school tops the list of schools whose students who pass the University of Tokyo entrance exams.

“By looking at the example set by older students of the same sex, students can figure out what they want to be in the future at an early stage, which enables them to situate themselves and make efforts toward realizing their vision,” Yanagisawa explains.

“The need for single-sex schools has never been greater than in our time. We’ll continue to remain a boys school even if we become the last one,” he added.


High school students less willing to study overseas (Japan Times, Apr 5)

Japanese high school students are less willing to study abroad than their counterparts in the United States, China and South Korea, according to survey results released Wednesday. The survey conducted by the Japan Youth Research Institute found that 46 percent of Japanese high school students hope to study abroad, compared with 82 percent in South Korea, 58 percent in China and 53 percent in the U.S.

Japanese high school students are less willing to study abroad than their counterparts in the United States, China and South Korea, according to survey results released Wednesday.

The survey conducted by the Japan Youth Research Institute found that 46 percent of Japanese high school students hope to study abroad, compared with 82 percent in South Korea, 58 percent in China and 53 percent in the U.S.

Asked why they don’t want to study abroad, 53 percent of the Japanese students said that Japan is comfortable to live in, while 43 percent of Chinese respondents and 26 percent of South Koreans said the same about their countries.

The Japanese students opting to stay in Japan also said they lack the confidence to live alone and that it would be a hassle to live overseas.

Asked why they want to study abroad, only 17 percent of the students in Japan said they are in search of a better educational environment, far less than 77 percent in China, 39 percent in South Korea and 36 percent in the United States.

An official at the institute said that the attitudes of Japanese students “could change” if Japanese colleges switch the start of the academic year to conform to educational institutions overseas.

Discussion is under way among leading universities on whether to move the start of their academic year from spring to fall.


Nuke majors in decline at universities (Japan Times, Apr 17)

The number of students enrolled as nuclear energy majors at seven universities has fallen by 16 percent this year, a Kyodo News survey said Monday. Among universities offering undergraduate and graduate programs in the nuclear sciences, only 223 students had enrolled for the 2012 academic year, compared with 264 last year.


1.8 million students take unified tests  (Japan Times, Apr 18)

Around 1.8 million sixth-grade elementary and third-year junior high school students nationwide took unified achievement tests Tuesday after they were suspended last year in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The examinees were from 25,868 public and private schools.


Subsidy eyed to promote study abroad / 40 universities could receive 5-year grants  (Yomiuri)

The education ministry plans to establish a new financial support system for universities encouraging students to study abroad, it has been learned. The ministry aims to promote the idea of studying abroad to Japanese students, who are often regarded as being introverted, to foster human resources who will be motivated to actively participate in the nation’s domestic and international affairs.

Related: A cautionary tale told in an eye-opening JT blogpost about the hardships that can befall you when you fail to repay Japanese government scholarship loans or grants…

Beware of bureaucrats bearing student loans (Japan Times Yen for Living Blog, February 20th, 2012)


Medicine museum opens in Tokyo  (Japan Times, April 14, 2012)

A museum that opened recently in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district is offering visitors the chance to learn more about medicine, for free. The Kusuri Museum, run by pharmaceutical firm Daiichi Sankyo Co., uses computer graphics and other visual displays to show visitors how medicines are derived from plants, bacteria and other compounds, work on 3-D puzzles to create medicines, and even play games in which medicines battle viruses and bacteria.

See photos of the museum at this page.

Observatory fills small Gifu town with pride (Chunichi Shimbun May 5)

An official opening ceremony Sunday was held to celebrate the completion of a small astronomical observatory on the grounds of Tara Elementary School in Kamiishizu, Gifu Prefecture.

Reaching for the stars: The Tara Astronomical Observatory is officially opened in the town of Kamiishizu, Gifu Prefecture, on Sunday. CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

The school’s PTA and local residents built the 3-meter-long, 3.6-meter-wide Tara Astronomical Observatory at their own initiative.

“I hope the town’s children will grow to love to it too,” one PTA member said.

The project was conceived after Yasunori Matogawa, professor emeritus at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a member of the Hayabusa asteroid probe project, visited Kamiishizu in May 2010 and gave a lecture on astronomy.

Matogawa was also moved by the children’s enthusiastic response during his stargazing class and donated a telescope to Yoshihisa Otake, a former president of the school’s PTA who helped organize the event, telling him to “show these children the beauty of stars.”

Matogawa also declared the town, which is surrounded by mountains, well-suited for an observatory.

His enthusiasm motivated PTA members to set up the Tara Star Club and start designing the facility, while senior officials from local associations and community centers helped to establish the Tara Observatory Preparatory Committee.

Residents from the entire area became involved in the project and construction on the school grounds commenced last September, after approval was granted by municipal authorities in the city of Ogaki, which has administrative responsibility over the town.

PTA members, guardians of ex-students and the town’s residents gave up their weekends to build the observatory, using mainly local timber. They worked for free, utilizing participants’ expertise in the construction, carpentry, plating and stonework sectors.

The total project cost of about ¥2.4 million was covered by donations from local inhabitants, companies and store owners, as well as from former teachers and students of the school.

Though small in size, the observatory is a proper scientific facility, equipped with two telescopes — including one donated by astronomy enthusiasts in the prefecture — and a retractable roof.  Read on…


Attracting foreign talent to Japan’s universities (AsiaOne, Apr 12, 2012) |Yomiuri Shimbun Excerpts follow below…

According to data released by the Chinese government in February, Shenzhen topped the list of Chinese cities in terms of the number of applications for international patents for the eighth consecutive year in 2011. As economic globalization intensifies competition among not only countries, but also cities, an increasing rivalry has sprung up to win talented human resources….

Once criticized for their conformity, a number of Japanese universities are now pursuing innovative efforts to attract competent students and faculty members….

On Feb. 27, a special seminar was held in Bangalore, a southern Indian city known for its focus on information technology, to commemorate the launch of the University of Tokyo’s Indian office.

Until recently, universities in the United States and Britain were the overwhelmingly popular choice among Indian students wishing to participate in long-term study abroad programs.

Nilesh Vasa, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, said the number of IIT Madras students interested in studying in Japan began to increase five years ago as more Japanese companies expanded production in India.

The University of Tokyo opened an office in Bangalore so it would not miss the chance to draw Indian students to study at its facilities in Japan.

Sushant Kumar, a 21-year-old student, said he developed a strong interest in Japan’s advanced technology from how the nation has been recovering from the Great East Japan Earthquake. He also has concerns, however, about studying in Japan, due to his vegetarianism.

“If problems involving foreign students’ special dietary needs are solved, this would largely eliminate obstacles to their desire to study in Japan,” said Vice President Yoshihito Watanabe of Nagoya University, who attended the seminar.


Satisfying foreign students

Watanabe said efforts such as adjusting cafeteria menus at Japanese universities to suit foreign students’ tastes will be a key indicator of whether Japanese schools can draw a larger number of foreign researchers and students.

There are about 2,550 foreign students at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, accounting for 40 percent of the student body, making it one of the leading universities in Japan in terms of foreign enrollment.

The students come from 78 countries and territories, mainly from the Asia-Pacific region, though there are also students from Europe, the Middle East and other regions.

Lectures at the university are conducted in English, and student dormitories are adjacent to the campus to help students feel at ease in daily life. The university has also ensured that students are able to eat meals suited to their regular habits.

Vegetarian food is available at the university’s cafeteria, as is halal food for Muslim students who cannot eat pork or drink liquor. According to university officials, cooking equipment used for dishes with pork is not used for preparing halal food. Cafeteria management also check whether seasonings and condiments, such as soy sauce, contain distilled alcohol.

These efforts have helped the university succeed in satisfying its foreign students, leading to an increasing number of applicants from overseas, the officials said.

They also said the university has prioritized creating close relationships with high schools and administrative agencies in foreign countries through the good offices of university graduates and others.

The school has overseas offices in eight countries and regions, including Taiwan, and sets up booths at college fairs for students wishing to study abroad.

However, Yasuharu Abe, chief of the university’s student recruitment department, said, “We can’t compete with prestigious schools from the United States and Europe by simply setting up our booths at college fairs.

“To generate interest in our university among talented students, we must make efforts rarely seen at prestigious U.S. and European universities,” he added.

In addition to contending with overseas schools in the scramble for students, competition among Japanese universities has also intensified due to the chronically low birthrate.

The number of applicants for entrance exams at state-run and public universities dropped to about 495,000 this year, compared to about 620,000 when the National Center for University Entrance Exams began administering uniform preparatory tests in 1990.

Some universities have already been forced to suspend enrollment activities for new students.

Nearly 50 state-run and other publicly operated universities have merged in the past decade, mainly in areas outside major cities. The mergers were primarily aimed at ensuring the universities continue to play a key role in fostering human resources for their respective regions.

There also have been nationwide moves to form consortiums to jointly undertake tasks such as developing human resources and utilizing the characteristics of each region in research activities.

The Iwate High-Education Consortium, which comprises five universities in Iwate Prefecture, will transmit the schools’ liberal arts programs and other courses to three high schools in the coastal cities of Kuji, Ofunato and Kamaishi via a video-conferencing system from April.

Emphasize Japan’s strengths

Iwate Prefecture is faced with the task of boosting the prefecture’s university enrollment rates, which have been lower than the national average.

The five-university consortium is aimed at helping increase the enrollment rate of high school graduates in coastal area schools within the prefecture, to develop human resources conducive to facilitating reconstruction projects related to the March 11 disaster.

Iwate University Vice President Yoshihito Takahata stressed he wanted to see many high school students and graduates interested in the affairs of disaster-hit areas’ local communities.

In addition to these measures, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda created the Council on Promotion of Human Resources for Globalization Development in February to promote the “development of human resources capable of playing a role on the global stage.” It will conduct studies about what should be done to secure competent, academically talented human resources to address global problems.

Prof. Narasaka of Nanyang Technological University said, “Japan pursues a high level of basic research activities, and we must hammer out a well-defined strategy to draw highly talented people from overseas that uses these basic research projects.”

Success in tackling this challenge will be of crucial significance as Japan carves out its future at the local and national level.


TOEIC’s popularity on the rise (. (Yomiuri Apr. 26, 2012)

The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is becoming popular as English is an essential skill for employees as companies expand overseas. The number of applicants in Japan for the TOEIC test, which measures English language skills necessary for international business, in fiscal 2011 increased by about 30 percent to 2.27 million from the previous fiscal year.

The figure is close to the 2.3 million who applied to take the Test in Practical English Proficiency (Eiken) in fiscal 2011. Eiken is the most popular English proficiency test in Japan, and its Japanese name literally translates to “English skill test.”

It is possible that TOEIC will replace Eiken as Japan’s most popular English language test. TOEIC has become popular partly because companies have increased their international activities and students face difficult job markets.

TOEIC was developed by a U.S. nonprofit test organization and is administered in about 120 countries. In Japan, TOEIC was first available in fiscal 1979.

There is only one difficulty level for the TOEIC exam, and all test takers are evaluated on a scale of 10 to 990 points. Many TOEIC applicants are university students and working adults.

Eiken was introduced in fiscal 1963 and is Japan’s original English proficiency exam. Test takers sit for seven different exam difficulty levels–5, 4, 3, pre-2, 2, pre-1 and 1 with 1 being the most difficult. Many Eiken applicants are middle and high school students.

The Institute for International Business Communication (IIBC), the Tokyo-based organization that administers TOEIC tests in Japan, said the main reason behind the rising number of TOEIC applicants is that more companies are using TOEIC scores as a condition for in-house promotions or hiring requirements for new graduates as they increasingly expand their business overseas.


A step in the right direction  (Japan Times, Apr 15)

Junior high school students will be dancing up a storm under new guidelines from the education ministry that require dancing, along with martial arts, as compulsory subjects at schools this year. These new subjects will be required for all Japanese middle school students from this spring.

The changes do not come without controversy. After it was discovered that in 28 years through fiscal 2010, 114 students died and 275 others suffered serious physical injury from judo classes and activities, the introduction of martial arts classes was given scrutiny. Without adequate preparation and the proper training of physical education teachers who teach judo, learning martial arts cannot be done safely. Dance, too, takes preparation, though it is less likely to cause injuries to anything other than pride.

Learning about pride, though, is part of developing self-confidence and body awareness. The new guidelines recognize people have different ways of learning. Reading and listening are essential, but so are moving around and doing things. Not everything fits on a multiple choice exam form. The introduction of dance will give students with natural “kinetic” skills a chance to shine, and those without, a chance to develop.

Learning dance is also a good way to improve social and presentation skills. Working with others and performing in front of others are important life skills. Many older Japanese struggling with salsa lessons or ballroom dance contests surely wish they had been taught how to shake their hips and wiggle their shoulders to the beat, and company employees of all kinds surely wish they felt calm and self-assured when giving speeches or presentations, too.

Interestingly, most schools have chosen the most popular forms of dance: hip-hop, jazz dance or other “street” styles. That may be a concession to students’ obsession with commercial pop music groups, but it is also an awareness that contemporary dance is full of emotion and excitement. Dance involves more than just putting your feet in the right place or following set choreography: Dance is about expressing yourself.


Lacking proper teachers, girls’ schools struggle with martial arts classes(Asahi)

Private junior high schools for girls are teaching the proper ways to bow and other forms of etiquette to prepare for the mandatory introduction of martial arts programs at junior high schools. The students are not yet attacking each other. But they are grappling with the question of why they are being forced to learn martial arts. “It’s in the curriculum guidelines, so there’s nothing we can do about it,” said a male instructor at a private junior high school in Aichi Prefecture. “But still, I don’t feel comfortable with martial arts at a girls’ school.”

The curriculum requirement originates in a 2006 revision of the Basic Education Law that stresses tradition and culture as well as local patriotism as educational goals. Under the education ministry’s curriculum guidelines revised in 2008, first- and second-year junior high school students will study martial arts, such as judo, kendo and sumo, to “develop offense and defense using basic techniques.” But since many schools lack teachers who can properly teach students such techniques; they are taking a hands-off approach in the name of safety.


High school texts bulk up with 12% more pages (Yomiuri)

The average number of pages in high school textbooks to be used from next spring will increase by 11.9 percent compared to those being used now, according to the results of textbook screenings released by the education ministry. The increase results from the government’s new curriculum guidelines, which expand the amount of academic content students must learn while also eliminating a clause that restricted the teaching of higher-level material.

Related: School textbooks feature ‘hip’ topics  (Yomiuri, Mar 29)

From pop idol groups to Internet slang, high school textbook makers have tried to stir the interest of students by using topics familiar to them. Casual topics will be used more often in English textbooks to be used from next spring compared with the teaching material in other subjects. Some English textbooks will feature expressions useful for e-mails and blogs.


WWII-era poison gas suit rejected by court (Japan Times, Apr 17, 2012)


The Tokyo District Court rejected a lawsuit Monday filed by two Chinese who sued the government for injuries caused by a poisonous gas shell the Imperial Japanese Army left in China at the end of World War II.

Rejected: Zhou Tong (left) stands outside the Tokyo District Court on Monday after it threw out a damages suit he and another Chinese filed over injuries caused by a gas shell left behind by Japan after World War II. KYODO

While expressing regret over the injuries, the presiding judge, Hisaki Kobayashi, said that even though the Japanese government did not take specific steps to prevent the incident, it does not mean Japan’s response was unreasonable.

Kobayashi said the Chinese government did not recognize the urgency of dealing with abandoned shells in the area of Jilin Province where the incident occurred, and that the Japanese government would have been unable to recognize the danger by specifying the area where the shell was abandoned.

Zhou Tong, 19, and Liu Hao, 15, sued the Japanese government in January 2008, seeking ¥33 million each for injuries they suffered in July 2004 after touching liquid on the shell, which they found at a river in the province. They were hospitalized for nearly two months.

They charged that the Japanese government had recognized the possibility poison gas weapons were abandoned in the area and that it should have informed residents of the danger and conducted a survey to find them.


If you don’t know what the new term “gap term” means, Astro Boy explains it here:

“It’s always referred to in connection with the University of Tokyo’s plans to shift its student enrollment to autumn within five years. ….Even if the university changes its enrollment period from spring to autumn, it will maintain the current timing of its entrance exams and announcement of successful applicants. This means there will be a half-year break between the entrance exams and admission to the university. The University of Tokyo coined “gap term” for the six-month period from April to September. “Gap” means a “break in continuity,” or hiatus, while “term” signifies a “period of time.” The gap term is meant to be a hiatus between the time when applicants pass their entrance exams and when they enroll. During the gap term, they are expected to engage in such activities as volunteer programs and studies abroad, in preparation for studying at the university fruitfully, the school says.”


Next up, focusing the global spotlight on educational matters in other parts of the world:

The growth of the ‘Titan’ schools (Guardian)

23 Apr 2012: It has eight portable classrooms and, within a couple of years, 1,200 pupils. Fran Abrams visits England’s biggest primary – one of a growing breed, thanks to the national shortage of placest

Bob Garton, the headteacher of Gascoigne primary school in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, has a slightly faraway look in his eye. “There used to be playing fields,” he says, “big enough for a proper football pitch.”

Standing at the first-floor window, we can see a graphic illustration of the school’s major problem laid out below us. Those fields are now completely covered by four mobile classrooms, a children’s centre and an early-years block. Where there used to be a playground, there’s now a dining hall for 500 pupils – far too small; it takes nearly two hours for the whole school to eat lunch. There are two more mobiles on the teachers’ car park, and, last year, the library had to be wedged into a windowless temporary building in an alley to make way for yet another extra class. This year, the music room has to go; next year, a few remaining flower beds will make way for four permanent classrooms.

Welcome to what is – according to the latest official statistics – England’s biggest primary school. In a couple of years’ time, when two extra classes finish working their way up through the school, there’ll be more than 1,200 pupils.

Gascoigne was always a big school. When Garton became head of the newly combined junior and infant schools in 1999, there were 700 pupils here – nearly three times the average number for a primary school. It must be hard for its staff to imagine how it could ever have been that small. It now feels like several schools on one site, each with its own fence and its own little playground. Most of the children are taught in single-storey blocks, built in the 1970s to replace an old Victorian school, and their corridors seem to go on for ever.

Growing pupil numbers are not the only issue with which Gascoigne primary has to grapple. There are 60 different languages spoken here …  Read on…


Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses (May 2, 2012, NY Times)

In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans — one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.

Harvard’s involvement follows M.I.T.’s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.

But Harvard and M.I.T. have a rival — they are not the only elite universities planning to offer free massively open online courses, or MOOCs, as they are known. This month, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with a new commercial company, Coursera, with $16 million in venture capital.

Academics eye global cooperation (Japan Times, Apr 30)

The presidents and vice presidents of 14 universities in 10 countries and areas around the world gathered in Tokyo on Sunday to discuss how to nurture globally minded citizens in today’s changing world.The academics and others agreed on the necessity of promoting the liberal arts and intercultural communications to produce students that can contribute to their communities and the increasingly globalized society.


For Some Parents, Leaving a Private School Is Harder Than Getting In (Apr 29, NYT)

In February 2011, Nicole Smolowitz’s son was admitted to the Mandell School on the Upper West Side. She signed a contract and paid the $7,500 deposit.

By late April, the family’s financial situation had changed, and private school was no longer an option. Ms. Smolowitz called the school to say her son would not be able to attend. She did not expect to get her deposit back — but she was told she had to pay the remaining $26,250, as well.

“It’s April,” she said she told them. “I will find someone for you to take my child’s spot.” The school told her that was not how things were done. Then, in September, Mandell sued.

For most parents, getting their child into a private school is a moment of joy, or at least relief. But uncomfortable conversations take place at this time of year, as some parents reconsider.

Sometimes these conversations lead to an amicable parting. Other times, they lead to a bare-knuckled fight in court.

Since 2009, at least five private schools in New York City — Mandell, York Preparatory School, Friends Seminary, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School and the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School — have sued parents for tuition.

The schools’ argument is simple: Parents sign a contract when they accept placement, saying they will send their child to the school the next year and pay the agreed-upon price … read on


Private school pupil numbers rise | Survey reveals number of pupils being educated privately has risen for the first time since credit crunch (Guardian.co.uk, April 2012)

Pupil numbers at private schools have risen for the first time since the credit crunch, a survey has revealed. The figures show a north-south divide, with a 1.2% rise in London and the south-east masking a decline in the rest of the UK.

There were falls of 1.6% in the north of England and 1.9% in Wales, according to data gathered by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) from more than 1,200 UK private schools. Overall, the rise in the south-east contributed to a 0.1% national increase in private school pupil numbers to nearly 505,000 children.

An increased proportion of children at fee-paying schools are non-British, the survey finds, up 5.8% to more than 26,000. There has been a sharp increase in Russian pupils, from around 800 five years ago to more than 1,700 this year.

School fees rose by 4.5% last year, the survey shows. The average termly fee is now £3,903 at day schools and £8,780 at boarding schools. Around a third of pupils receive help with their fees.

Independent schools have consistently grown in size over the past 25 years, with the average school a third larger than in 1985, the survey finds. They have also become more diverse.

There is a slightly higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils in private schools than in state schools.

Just over a quarter of pupils in private schools are from ethnic minorities. When boarding schools are excluded, this proportion rises to 28.5%. The latest figures for state schools in England show 24.5% of pupils are from ethnic minorities.

The government has urged private schools to back the academies programme, under which state schools become independent of local authorities and are funded directly from Whitehall.

However, relatively few have responded to this call. Currently 19 schools sponsor academies while 14 are co-sponsors.

The survey reveals that fewer than 1,000 private schools had partnerships with state schools, including sporting ties, and links involving music and drama.

Among private school pupils going to university, 2.8% chose to leave the UK.

Some 27% of schools reported an increase in the number of pupils going to overseas universities, while only 8% reported a decrease. The US was the most popular destination, attracting 45% of ISC pupils who went to overseas universities, the next most popular was Hong Kong, attracting 12%.

The survey detects a slight shift away from single-sex education: 13% of the schools that were boys-only and 9% of the schools that were girls-only in 2007 had become co-educational by 2012.

The ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon, a former head of Harrow school, said in a statement: “At a time of recession, when very many parents are struggling financially, it is clear that finding fees for their children’s education remains a priority for very large numbers.”

Related article: Private education: what price excellence? Telegraph, Apr 26 2012


On Education: On Report Cards for City Schools, Invisible Line Between ‘A’ and ‘F’ (April 30, 2012)

Michael Winerip examines the slippery slope of the subjective school grading system …


University Guide 2012: Cambridge tops the Guardian league table

Cambridge beats arch rival Oxford to take first place in the Guardian ranking of UK universities Jessica Shepherd

guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 May 2011

Cambridge has taken the top spot in this year’s Guardian University Guide league table, breaking its arch rival Oxford’s six-year stint as the UK’s leading institution.

Oxford has come second and St Andrews third, while the London School of Economics has climbed four places from last year to take fourth place.

University College London, Warwick, Lancaster, Durham, Loughborough and Imperial College make up the top 10.

The University Guide, published in full on the Guardian website on Tuesday, is based on data for full-time undergraduates at UK universities. The league table goes live on the website at midnight tonight.

Our analysis shows that universities with low rankings are almost as likely to be planning to charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 in autumn 2012 as those with high rankings.

London Metropolitan University, which comes bottom of the Guardian tables, intends to charge between £4,500 and £9,000 for its degrees. Salford, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester Metropolitan and the University of East London – all of which rank in the bottom 20 – want to charge £9,000 for at least some of their courses.

The government’s access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access, is looking at the fees each university in England wants to charge and will announce in July whether it approves.

All the English universities in our top 20 intend to charge £9,000 fees, apart from London School of Economics, which has not yet decided.

The first university that proposes to charge less than £9,000 for all of its courses is Sunderland, which is ranked 48th.

There are a total of 120 institutions in the tables: 38 in the top half intend to charge £9,000 for at least some of their courses, while 18 in the bottom half propose to do the same.

Universities are ranked according to how much they spend per student; their student/staff ratio; the career prospects of their graduates; what grades applicants need; a value-added score that compares the academic achievements of first-years and their final degree results; and how content final-year students are with their courses, based on the annual National Student Survey.

Birmingham City University has fallen most since last year – 24 places, from 66th to 90th – while Middlesex is the biggest climber, reaching 75th place this year compared with 112th last year. Durham has risen from 17th place to eighth.

While the oldest universities dominate the top positions in the tables, the newest have improved their rankings since last year. Winchester has leapt from 96th place to 69th.

The tables, compiled by an independent consultancy firm, Intelligent Metrix, are weightedin favour of the National Student Survey. As part of the survey, final-year students are asked to score their universities for overall satisfaction, feedback and contact hours. Other league tables concentrate more on research ratings.

The Guardian publishes an overall ranking table, separate tables to show which universities are best – and worst – for each subject and another table for specialist institutions.

The more a university spends on each student, the more likely it is to have a high ranking and the more satisfied its students seem. However, our judges took into account that some universities do not teach expensive courses, such as engineering, and so their spending is lower.

There is huge variation in how much universities spend per student, with an average of £3,428 in 2009-10 (a fall from the £3,495 the year before). At Oxford, average spend per student fell to £11,232 in 2009-10 from £11,410 the year before. The university spends substantially more than other institutions. Cambridge spent £8,612 in 2009-10, a rise from £8,118 the year before.

St Mary’s University College in west London and Leeds Trinity University College spent among the lowest of all institutions per student.

The tables show that Cambridge has overtaken Oxford in philosophy, law, politics, theology, maths, classics, anthropology and modern languages. However, Oxford overtook Cambridge in psychology and also came top in chemistry, business and management, and art and design. Loughborough is best for sports science, while King’s College London is top for dentistry. University College London topped the table for English, while Trinity Laban Conservatoire excelled for drama and dance. Northumbria has shot up the table for modern languages, from 48th last year to third this year.

Universities with high rankings tend to have fewer dropouts, and fewer students per academic. The top 20 institutions have a drop-out rate after the first year of just 4%, compared with almost 12% for the bottom 20.

There are 14.2 students per academic among the top 20, but 21.5 among the bottom 20. The smallest institutions tend to be ranked closer to the bottom.

Professor David Tidmarsh, vice-chancellor of Birmingham City University, says he expects his university’s fall in position to be temporary: “It is caused by student number growth, which has now been curbed, and student satisfaction scores, which we expect to improve significantly as a consequence both of increased investment and of the way in which we are engaging students as partners in their learning experience.”

He says the university is investing £180m in new buildings, facilities and equipment.

Swansea Metropolitan, Wolverhampton and Liverpool Hope did not allow the Guardian to use their data.

Meanwhile, the government has cut the number of places universities can offer on teacher training courses. Cambridge University, which comes top of our table for education courses, will have 49 fewer places on its teacher training course this September, an 11% cut. Altogether, almost 4,000 fewer places will be available on teacher training programmes.

A spokesman from the Department for Education says pupil numbers are falling sharply in secondary schools and so the need for new teachers has gone down.


Not for love or for money — why do a PhD? Guardian 3 May

“…if you want to be really financially prosperous, then PhDs are not for you.

There are other reasons that motivate students to continue their education to PhD level. Harking back to a time when these diplomas were reserved for a minuscule segment of the population, the doctoral degree is a seen as a prestige marker, the recognition of one’s exceptional talents and the certificate of belonging to the intellectual elite. The non-material rewards that a PhD is supposed to bring, at least theoretically, are connected to social standing; PhDs can be used as a vehicle for upwards social mobility, and for the fulfilment of personal and family ambitions.

The prestige power of the PhD is however on the wane. “… <a href="http://ww

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