渡良瀬遊水地 (Hot-air ballooning over Watarase Reservoir)


Dear readers,

The mercury in the thermometer is going up, temperatures are predicted to stay above 30 degrees celsius, we are being advised by public health authorities to take precautions against heatstroke and to drink lots of fluids. We’ve done an investigation on what are our best options for hydrating the kids with hotter days ahead, check out our feature here.

I also want to take this opportunity to say, on behalf of all of us here in our EIJ (Education in Japan) community, a big thank YOU to the … 1,000 U.S. high school students to start volunteer work in tsunami zones (Japan Times):

Around 1,000 high school students and youths from the United States will visit the Tohoku region in three groups from Sunday to carry out volunteer work in four disaster-hit prefectures at the invitation of the Japan Foundation. Each group will stay in the country for a fortnight and engage in various exchanges with locals in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures, according to the foundation, which specializes in cultural exchanges. Participants in the program will come from 40 schools across the United States, including areas affected by natural disasters in the past, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The last group will arrive in late July.

Below you’ll find our usual roundup of the goings on in the educational scene here in Japan as well as globally. First up, a look at what’s happening on the local scene:

34% of univ. presidents say classes boring (Yomiuri, Jul. 5, 2012)

According to a MEXT survey sent to 684 presidents of public and private universities nationwide, more than 30 percent (34.4 percent) of university presidents felt that class content is boring and does not match student interests.  of the respondents found their classes boring because of content that does not interest students. Many of these respondents said the puny amount of hours studied by students and their minimal achievements at university needed to be addressed urgently. They also recommended that debate-oriented or goal-orientated classes be introduced to improve class content. 74.6 percent of respondents said students were performing insufficient hours of study outside class, and 55.8 percent said students lack sufficient problem-solving abilities. More than 60 percent of the respondents said their university cited the shortage of support staff and the lack of coordination among lecturers, with course contents depending on the discretion of individual teachers. Read more here... (note link will expire soon)

70% of univs give credits for work experience (Yomiuri, Jul.5)…

“but only 2 percent of students have actually acquired the credits, according to an annual survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Many universities also have certified credits for volunteer and study abroad programs, and have otherwise made efforts to provide a variety of experiences to students.

According to the survey, 476 universities, or 74 percent of the respondents, have certified credits for job experiences. About 90 percent of national universities and 75 percent of private universities granted such credits, while only 55 percent of prefectural and municipal universities did so.

Large universities have been more willing to certify credits for such activities. Ninety-five percent of universities with more than 5,000 students granted credits for job experiences, 73 percent of them for studying abroad and 41 percent for volunteer projects.

About 45,085 students, or 2 percent, obtained job experience credits, while only 9,439 students obtained volunteer credits. In light of the obligation to foster vocational independence and to support areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, each university has encouraged students to participate in such activities. The survey results indicate many students are unaware of these goals and obligations.”…

‘Super Science High Schools’ nurture future Einsteins (Yomiuri, Jul 5)

“The ministry launched the Super Science High School program in fiscal 2002. The schools work on developing a curriculum that goes beyond educational guidelines by cooperating with universities and research organizations….

Super science students work on high-level experiments, including the Liesegang phenomenon–where regular stripe patterns or rings are seen in precipitation reactions–and killer yeast, which is able to secrete toxin proteins that are lethal to receptive cells. They often cannot complete their experiments during class and, when preparing for academic conferences or presentations, they voluntarily stay after class to continue their experiments.

Super science students are eligible to study in the United States, and every summer students travel to that country to study.” Read more here …

Anesthesiologist Fabricates 172 Papers (The Scientist, July 3, 2012)

A researcher in Japan faked patient data on nearly 200 studies over the past 2 decades, according to an investigating committee.

Yoshitaka Fujii, a Japanese anesthesiologist, may have just set a new record in scientific misconduct. After an investigating committee organized by the Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists concluded that he never saw the patients he claimed to see, or administered the medicine he claimed to treat them with, a total of 172 papers regarding those patients are up for retraction—a record number by a single author, according to ScienceInsider. Read more here…

Next in the lineup is Gregory Clark’s roadmap for reforming Japanese universities

Reforming Japan’s universities (Japan Times)

Media reports say Japan’s education bureaucrats are considering allowing students with “stellar” academic records to graduate from high school before they turn 18. In other words, the required three-year stint at high school might be cut to two.

In most countries, allowing university entry before age 18 would be seen as something quite normal, or even as desirable for bright math or science students. But not in Japan, at least to date.

Allowing bright students to enter university before age 18 has long been seen as rather dangerous. What would happen to group harmony in the high schools where everyone is supposed to move up together? And how about the individual concerned being seen as the nail that sticks out and facing severe discrimination?

In the late 1990s I found myself involved with an attempt by Chiba University to allow entry for bright 17-year-olds in math and science. A very conservative Education Ministry had finally given reluctant permission, but only as a test case and with strict conditions. The university first had to set up complex procedures to select the students. Those chosen had to be given special “care” after entry.

In 1997, after a nationwide search, we found 11 candidates from which three were selected. The fuss and bother was so great that the university president who had initiated the scheme was voted out of office. Yet, one of our select entrants was later accepted for Ph.D. physics research at MIT. He told a newspaper interviewer: If not for the Chiba University initiative, he probably would have ended up on the Tokyo University elite bureaucrat conveyer belt.

In 2000 I found myself on another committee, this time to reform university education as part of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s National Peoples Conference on Education Reform (Kyoiku kaikaku Kokumin kaigi). Some of us tried to get permission for early university entry accepted as national policy and not just as an exception to the rule. But once again the education bureaucrats intervened, insisting that an education law made 18 the minimum age for university entry. There was a dramatic moment when Foreign Minister (and later education minister), Nobutaka Machimura, faced down the bureaucrats and barked: “Well, change the law.” And change they did, a year later, to allow entry at age 17.

But once again there was the demand for special selection and “care.” Only a handful of universities have so far responded. Meanwhile, Japan wonders why it falls behind in the genius stakes.

During a long career in Japanese education, I have seen many other examples of the conservatism and bureaucratic rigidity that stifles individual talent in this otherwise worthy nation. I once found myself on an education ministry committee set up to recommend stricter grading standards for university students (it was no secret that many universities would graduate almost anyone who would pay the necessary fees). After going through the list of possibilities — greater use of GPA averages, stricter final graduation exams and so on — we were blandly told by the bureaucrats that any university that refused to graduate a student could be sued. Why? Because when it received the usual large fee for entry it was implicitly entering a contract to educate and graduate, no matter how bad the student was.

This time it was left to Orix Chairman Yoshihiko Miyauchi to blow the whistle: “Well, why are we wasting time here if graduation is guaranteed regardless of what standards we set?” The bureaucrats mumbled something about hoping university educators would need to realize their moral responsibility to improve standards, and left it at that.

For a long time, I had thought things might change if employers looked more at graduation results rather than the name of the graduating university when hiring people, only to be told by a captain of industry on one of the several business committees set up in the mid-’90s to consider education reform (the businessmen were said to be suffering from the low quality of graduates): “My company does not look at graduation results. We do not need swots (gariben). We want students with a good record of club and sports activities.” The final recommendation from that committee was that firms should allow fathers at least one night free to go home early and have dinner with their children.

What to do? Ultimately it is a matter of creating the right study incentives. For some years now I have been involved in helping set up a new university trying to establish such incentives. Fortunately it has been able to ride the current boom in “international education” — in our case all teaching is in English and one year of overseas study is compulsory — to the point where it now ranks with the top Japanese universities in terms of student quality and entrance difficulty.

But Japan should look further than these short-term fixes. I see good postgraduate education as the key. As job hopping increases, employers will want increasingly to employ mature people with professional qualifications rather than taking immature university graduates and trying to mold them with in-house training and company indoctrination. As in the United States they will look to the top postgraduate schools to provide their future managers.

Once that happens many things change. To get into the top postgraduate schools good undergraduate results become important. Those results are not created by artificial entrance exams into so-called elite universities at age 18, as in Japan at the moment. They can only come from three-four years of hard undergraduate study. Automatically the incentive problem at undergraduate level is solved.

As for so-called international education, that should be focused only on those who genuinely want it. Here again, the U.S. and some other Western nations provide the model with their systems of double degrees or majors and minors. Students would choose both a discipline — economics, law, etc. — and a language for three-four years of concentrated study. And the language would not have to be English. Hopefully some will choose some of the other languages — Chinese especially — crucial for Japan’s future.

Shukatsu system shuts out opportunities for students who study overseas, see NY Times article

Nine important wetland sites listed (Japan Times)

Nine new sites in Japan, including Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture, have been listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, bringing the total of Japanese sites designated by what is commonly known as the Ramsar Convention to 46, covering a combined area of 137,968 hectares.

The nine sites include Miyajima (the UNESCO world heritage site of Itsukushima Shrine), is the only habitat of Miyajima dragonflies in Japan.

One of the new sites is the Watarase reservoir, which straddles a vast area covering parts of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Saitama prefectures, as well as the lower reaches of the Maruyama River and adjacent rice paddies in Hyogo Prefecture.

The Watarase reservoir is a haven for migratory birds and is known for naturally grown reeds. It also serves as a buffer against flooding during violent typhoons or heavy rainfall.

42% back university admissions shift (Japan Times)

A recent poll shows that 42.1 percent of respondents support the idea of shifting the admission time at the nation’s universities from spring to autumn, while 23.2 percent were against the idea. … [1,289 people were interviewed]

About the advantages of introducing autumn enrollment, 49.3 percent said that it would make it easier for both Japanese and overseas students to study at each other’s campuses, followed by 36.5 percent saying it would make students more internationally competitive.

Survey: 58.8% university students welcome foreign classmates; 7.4% oppose (Asahi, Jul 7)

Almost 60 percent of university students in Japan would welcome foreign students to their universities, although that warm feeling begins to fade among upperclassmen, according to a survey.

Masahiro Yokota, professor of education at Meiji University’s School of Global Japanese Studies, had his seminar students conduct a survey on students at 15 universities (four national, 11 private) from May to October last year. Of them, 1,996 students (914 men and 1,082 women) gave valid responses.

Regarding foreign students, 58.8 percent of the respondents said, “I want to accept them very much,” or “I want to accept them to some degree.”

On the other hand, 7.4 percent replied, “I do not want to accept them at all,” or “I do not want to accept them very much.”

Many of the positive respondents said, “I will have more opportunities to learn foreign languages,” and “They (foreign students) will become incentives for me to establish global business networks.”

Those not welcoming foreign students said, “Troubles will increase among different cultures,” and “They would make it more difficult for Japanese students to land jobs.”

The questionnaire asked the respondents to show their levels of positiveness to the acceptance of foreign students in the figures of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most accepting. The average figure among freshmen was the highest at 3.81 points. The figure declined to 3.72 points among sophomores, and further to 3.59 points among juniors. However, it rose slightly to 3.65 points among seniors.

“Upperclassmen have to make preparations for landing jobs. They lose interest in foreign students as their academic years advance to junior and senior years,” Yokota said of the downward trend of the numbers

60,000 high school students to take English exam (Japan Times, Jun 28)

The education ministry will hold English examinations between late June and early August at 218 high schools nationwide to test students’ ability to express themselves and their pronunciation, officials said Wednesday.

The curious case of the eroding eikaiwa salary  (Japan Times, Jul 3)

Now fraught with job insecurity and low pay, there was a time when the work was steady and salaries were high for those who taught English in Japan.

Spouse rule axed for overseas teachers (Kyodo, May 27)

“Step aims to ease staff shortage at Japanese public schools abroad


The education ministry has scrapped a rule stipulating that teachers transferring to Japanese public schools overseas must be accompanied by their spouses, sources revealed Saturday.

The change, implemented in April, is aimed at increasing the number of applicants amid a severe teacher shortage at such schools, the sources said.

The rule was originally intended to ensure teachers had sufficient support while abroad.

The number of elementary and junior high school students at Japanese public schools in Asian countries is rapidly increasing as Japanese businesses expand overseas, and the trend is expected to continue.

In contrast, the number of Japanese students living in Europe and the U.S. has declined amid the global economic downturn.

The ministry is supposed to dispatch 80 percent of the teachers working at such schools and pay their salaries, while the number of teachers at each school is based on student enrollment.

But fewer teachers are applying, mirroring the declining number of educators in Japan due to the shrinking birthrate. The rule on spouses compounded the problem. …”  Read the rest of the article here…

Princess Mako to study in Britain from September (Mainichi,  June 1, 2012)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Princess Mako, a granddaughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, is preparing to study at a British university from September to May next year, Imperial Household Agency sources said Friday.

The 20-year-old eldest daughter of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, who is a junior at International Christian University in Tokyo and has an interest in the restoration and conservation of artworks, is likely to study fine arts during her first full-fledged study abroad, they said.

ICU has an exchange program with various British universities from which the princess is expected to choose, they said. Under the program, credits acquired at the British university will be recognized as part of the credit requirements for graduation from ICU.

While studying at ICU’s college of liberal arts, the princess has been actively involved in official duties as an adult member of Japan’s imperial family, such as attending an imperial banquet and ceremony to greet the general public at New Year.

The princess stayed in Ireland for about a month for language study when she was a freshman at ICU. Her father, Prince Akishino, studied at the University of Oxford.

Ministry surveying past school truants (Yomiuri, Jun 25)

The number of primary and middle school students who refuse to attend class has exceeded 100,000 for 14 consecutive years, prompting the education ministry to begin a survey of 20-year-olds who refused to go to middle school five years ago.

High school students may get 2-yr graduation option (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jun 3)

The education ministry aims to introduce a system to allow top-performing high school students to graduate in two years and enroll in universities earlier.

Under the system designed for students planning to attend university, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry aims to foster graduates who can perform well internationally.

If realized, the system will be more convenient for enrollment in overseas universities, where the academic year begins in autumn.

Within Japan, the new system is expected to resolve the problem of gap terms that may present an obstacle to an academic year beginning in autumn at universities.

Though early admission to universities is possible under the current education system, the practice is rare because students who opt to enter university early cannot obtain their high school graduation certificates.

According to the ministry, the new system will be available to high school students whose academic marks exceed a certain level.

The ministry plans to introduce it by revising the School Education Law, which stipulates high schools’ course terms as three years.

The new system will enable eligible students to enroll in universities after graduating high school in a minimum of two years. Students could also enroll in autumn without facing a gap term if they stay in high school for two and a half years.

More details about the planned system will be discussed by concerned entities such as expert panels and the Central Council for Education.

The ministry will report the plan to a meeting of the National Policy Unit to be held soon.

For highly talented second-year high school students, early admission to universities in some fields became possible in 1997.

Since 2001, qualified students have been allowed to use the system for all fields of study.

But until this fiscal year, only about 100 students had taken advantage of the system.

This is because these students are viewed as having quit high school. Thus, if they drop out of university, their highest educational level will be as middle school graduates.

Education experts have also pointed out the current system’s benefits for individuals and universities are not clear.

Starting universities’ academic years in autumn is the norm in many parts of the world, including the United States, Europe and China.

Countries in which the academic year starts in April are a minority. Some education experts have said this timing has presented an obstacle for Japanese students who wish to go to foreign schools and foreign students who wish to enroll in Japanese universities.

Financial woes continue for Brazilian schools (Japan Times, June 1, 2012)

Brazilian schools in Japan continue to face financial difficulties as more Japanese-Brazilians, thrown out of work in the aftermath of the Lehman shock of 2008, take their families back to South America. With support from the government also falling, some of the schools are finding it hard to stay open. There were 110 Brazilian schools in Japan in 2008, but 40 have since shut down.

Austrian textbooks to also carry ‘East Sea’ as name for Sea of Japan  (Japan Times, Jun 28)

VIENNA — Geography textbooks to be used at elementary and secondary schools in Austria from September will carry the name “East Sea” for the body of water officially recognized as the Sea of Japan in line with demands from Seoul, a major publishing house in the country said Wednesday.

Austrian textbook publisher Hoelzel said its policy of carrying the two names reflects instructions by an experts’ group of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which decided in March to recommend that the country’s textbooks refer to both names.

The group said carrying the two names is a realistic option as the media in German-speaking countries have increasingly used both names in recent years.

Printing of the textbooks carrying the two names has already started, the publisher said.

South Korea has long demanded the waters be called the East Sea on grounds that the term Sea of Japan only became popular globally during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

But Japan claims the Sea of Japan has been the international term since the 19th century, even before the peninsula came under Japanese colonial rule, and wants only that name used.

The Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo that textbooks in several other countries, including Brazil and Australia, use both names for the sea area.

In April, the International Hydrographic Organization, a Monaco-based body consisting of 80 member states that aims to achieve uniformity in nautical charts, documents and the name of waters and straits, rejected Seoul’s demand that its publication Limits of Oceans and Seas include “the East Sea” side by side with “the Sea of Japan.”

Inadequate probes of foreign students’ financial status blamed for ballooning subsidies (Mainichi, Jun 28)

Sloppy screenings of the financial status of foreign students studying in Japan have likely led to excessive amounts of subsidies forked out to private universities hosting them, a government investigation has found.

The Board of Audit of Japan, which conducted the survey, has demanded the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan to improve the situation before allowing universities to apply for tuition fee reductions and the exemption program for financially-strapped foreign students.

According to the survey, 23 private universities and junior colleges across the country either reduced or exempted school fees for foreign students under a subsidy program operated by the corporation in fiscal 2010, without screening the students’ financial status. The schools — including Kokushikan University, Osaka Sangyo University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University — received a total of some 250 million yen in subsidies from the corporation.

The subsidy program was launched in fiscal 2010 with the aim of supporting the globalization of private universities and junior colleges. Under the program, the government subsidizes part of the expenses necessary for schools to reduce or exempt tuition fees for foreign students who are in financial difficulty. A total of some 1.24 billion yen in subsidies was paid to 397 schools in fiscal 2010.

The Board of Audit singled out 27 schools that received higher amounts of subsidies than other schools and investigated their screening systems. As a result, 23 schools had failed to set up any clear guidelines for examining the economic conditions of foreign students, such as how much in allowances they receive from their relatives and others in their home countries. These schools either reduced or exempted school fees for almost all foreign students who applied for the program, receiving a total of some 250 million yen in subsidies unconditionally.


Elsewhere in the world, here’s a summary of the news about educational matters:

Neuroscientist retracts Parkinson’s research after false data is found (The Scientist.com June 29)

Mona Thiruchelvam retracted her research on Parkinson’s disease after her cell count data was found to be falsified. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity found that the former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey committed research misconduct. Her two studies focused on the effect of pesticides on neuronal mechanisms involved in Parkinson’s.

Misconduct Shakeup (The Scientist, July 3, 2012)

The ongoing saga that led to psychologist Dirk Smeesters’s resignation from the Erasmus University Rotterdam has the scientific community discussing new ways to detect data fraud

Printing in 3-D helps scientists see their research in a new way (Nature, July 4)

Research labs use many types of 3D printers to construct everything from fossil replicas to tissues of beating heart cells. Arthur Olson’s team at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, produces models of molecules; some are shown here partway through the printing process. 3-D printing is helping scientists see new things in the subjects they study. A print of a protein at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., revealed a previously unseen “tunnel” of empty space running through it. Other researchers are using the technique to study Neanderthal bones.

Science & the Public: Measuring how well kids do science (Science News, Jun 19)

On June 19, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released the first national report card gauging the performance in hand-on and research-oriented interactive computer tasks by U.S. children. And the overall grades: Well, they show lots of room for improvement. Some 2,000 children took each test at each of three grade levels: 4th, 8th and 12th. “Across the 9 interactive computer tasks, we found that 42 percent of 4th graders, 41 percent of 8th graders and 27 percent of 12th graders gave correct answers on the steps they attempted. Students were likely to be successful on parts of the testing “that involved limited sets of data and making straightforward observations from those data,” but were poor at using those data to extrapolate a general trend or justify a conclusion with the evidence they had just collected.    Read on…

Asian parents are spending billions of dollars on private tutors for their children, and the practice is growing despite doubts over its effectiveness, according to a study published Wednesday. … see Asia spending billions on tutors: study  (AFP, Jul 5, 2012)

Asian parents are spending billions of dollars on private tutors for their children, and the practice is growing despite doubts over its effectiveness, according to a study published Wednesday.

“Shadow education” is an expanding business not only in wealthy countries but also in some of the region’s poorer nations as parents try to give their children the best start in life, the Asian Development Bank said.

Nearly nine out of 10 South Korean elementary pupils have private tutoring, while the figure for primary school children in India’s West Bengal state is six out of 10.

“Proportions are lower in other countries, but throughout the region the shadow is spreading and intensifying,” the study said, calling for a review of education systems to make such extra teaching less attractive.

Extra academic work is aimed at helping slow learners and supporting high achievers, and is seen by many Asian parents as a constructive way for adolescents to spend their spare time.

However, it can also reduce time for sports and other activities important for well-rounded development, as well as cause social tensions since richer families are able to pay for better-quality tutoring, the study said.

It estimated that the costs of private tutoring in South Korea were equivalent to 80 percent of government spending on public education.

Japan spent $12 billion on extra teaching in 2010, while the figure for Singapore was US$680 million in 2008.

In Hong Kong, where 85 percent of senior secondary students receive tutoring, companies advertise the services of “star” tutors, on television, newspapers and the back of buses, the study said.

“Expenses are lower in other countries, but they are headed in the same direction,” it added.

But despite its popularity, particularly in East Asia, tutoring has had mixed results, said the study, conducted with the University of Hong Kong’s Comparative Education Research Centre.

“Much depends not only on the motivations and abilities of the students but also on the motivations and abilities of the tutors,” it said.

“In many countries, individuals can become tutors without training, and the effectiveness of some forms of tutoring is doubtful.”

The study called for state supervision and regulation of the industry, as well as a review of Asia’s educational systems.

“They should ask why it (tutoring) exists in the first place, and what can be done in the mainstream to make supplementary tutoring less desirable and necessary.”

Drastic measures as China students sit exams (AFP, Jun 7, 2012)

More than 9 million students sat China’s notoriously tough college entrance exams on Thursday, with “high-flyer” rooms, nannies and even intravenous drips among the tools being employed for success.

With just 6.85 million university spots on offer this year, competition for the top institutions is intense, and attempts to cheat are rife — 1,500 people have been arrested on suspicion of selling transmitters and hard-to-detect ear pieces.

Parents and students this year are also resorting to some outlandish but legal methods to ensure nothing goes wrong in the make-or-break two-day exam.

Students have reportedly been given pre-exam injections and intravenous drips designed to boost energy levels, while girls have resorted to hormone injections and birth control pills to delay menstruation.

“There are situations where girls take pills to delay their periods until after the exams,” a gynaecologist at Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital, who declined to give his name, told AFP.

Some of the more affluent parents have rented houses close to the 7,300 exam venues across the country, while so-called “high-flyer rooms” are being offered in the northern port city of Tianjin, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Boys find it tough in China’s schools (Today, 30 May)

Educators say that the academic rift between boys and girls in China is apparent, and statistics indicate it is quickly growing wider… teachers observe a difference in discipline and focus…

In the UK… the debate by education experts continues… Do we want the return of the O-level? (Telegraph, Jun 30)

Girls outperforming boys in “masculine” subjects (Telegraph, Jul 5)

Girls are outperforming boys in traditionally “masculine” subjects such as engineering and construction, despite repeated attempts to close the education gender gap, it emerged today

Top jobs ‘restricted to graduates with first-class degrees (Telegraph, 4 Jul 2012) Leading companies are preparing to screen out graduates who fail to gain first-class degrees as up to 150 university leavers compete for each job, it emerged today. | Related: Do graduates need a first-class degree to get a good job?

Up to a fifth of graduates ‘without work’ after university (Telegraph, 5 Jul)

A fifth of students are being left without a job six months after graduating from some British universities, according to official figures.

Top school scraps “dull” GCSEs in favour of new exams (Telegraph, 29 Jun )

One of Britain’s top private schools is devising its own qualifications in a series of key subjects amid claims that “dull” GCSEs no longer prepare teenagers for the demands of the sixth-form

“Sevenoaks School in Kent has become one of the first in the country to create a new generation of courses for 14- to 16-year-olds designed to act as a more stretching alternative to traditional exams.

This year, pupils became the first to sit the school’s own test in English literature – formally accredited by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service – with plans to generate further qualifications in art, music, drama and technology.

The school is also considering making the switch in history, geography and foreign languages.

Katy Ricks, the head, said the move was made because GCSEs failed to equip pupils with the creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and team working skills needed in the sixth-form, where the school already runs the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to A-levels.

It comes just a week after it emerged that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, intends to scrap GCSEs nationally because of fears the exams have been systematically “dumbed down”.” Read the rest of the article here…

Academics call for degree shake-up to reduce 2:1 effect (Guardian, Jul 4)

Survey shows employers discard applications from students with less than an upper second

If you were worried about the opinion piece, Here’s why Google and Facebook might completely disappear in the next 5 years (MacDaily news, May 1, 2012), read the comeback from George Anders Google and Facebook Dead in 5 years? Fat Chance!

The new divide in the digital age (Jun 5, New York Times)

Technology may not help children from poorer families, who waste more time on media

NEW YORK – In the 1990s, the term “digital divide” emerged to describe technology’s haves and have-nots. It inspired many efforts to get the latest computing tools into the hands of all Americans, particularly low-income families.

Those efforts have indeed shrunk the divide. But they have created an unintended side effect, one that is surprising and troubling to researchers and policymakers, and that the government now wants to fix.

As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than those from more well-off ones using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

This growing time-wasting gap, policymakers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.

“Access is not a panacea,” said Ms Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft. “Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.”…

A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families.

In 1999, the difference was only 16 minutes.

The researchers also found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources – including television, computer and other gadgets.

That is an increase of four hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999.

Children of parents with more education – generally understood as a proxy for higher socioeconomic status – also largely used their devices for entertainment.

In families in which a parent has a college education or an advanced degree, the study found, children use 10 hours of multimedia a day, a 3.5-hour jump since 1999. (The time spent multi-tasking was double-counted. If a child spent an hour simultaneously watching TV and surfing the Internet, the researchers counted two hours.)

“Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,” said Ms Vicky Rideout, author of the decade-long study.

“Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.”

Policymakers and researchers say the challenges are heightened for parents and children with fewer resources – the very people who were supposed to be helped by closing the digital divide. “

Related IT news:  Classroom Lectures Go Digital with Video-On-Demand (All Voices, June 24) about the value of TED Talks and other digital media learning resources (that we here on our EIJ forum already LOVE!)

Against all odds: From homeless to Harvard (Lawndale : NC : USA | Jun 10, 2012)

Loggins is a straight “A” senior as well as a methodical and meticulous janitor at the northern Cleveland County high school, in Lawndale, N.C., where she began the 2011-2012 academic year homeless, abandoned by her drug-abusing parents. …

This fall, Loggins will be putting away her mop and bucket and leaving the North Carolina foothills for the ivory covered towers of Harvard University, where she will begin the year as a freshman biology major.

Grants and an on-campus job will help Loggins pay for her tuition, books, room and board. She said she isn’t worried about taking the step from a 1,100-student school 15 miles north of Shelby, N.C., to an academic powerhouse in the shadows of Boston. Read more here…

A tree of life connects species (New York Times, 2012-06-17) via Chinadaily.com

In 1837, Charles Darwin opened a notebook and drew a simple tree. Each branch represented a species. Two decades later Darwin presented a detailed account of the tree of life in “On the Origin of Species.” And much of evolutionary biology since then has been dedicated to illuminating parts of the tree. Using DNA, fossils and other clues, scientists have worked out the relationships of many groups of organisms, making rough sketches of the entire tree of life. Scientists want to create a single tree of life out of thousands and are doing something new: they are drawing a tree of life that includes every known species – a tree with about two million branches. Scientists have developed computer programs that find the most likely relationship among species without considering every possible arrangement, and that can now analyze tens of thousands of species at a time.  Read the article here.

Napoleon’s English homework sells for $415,000 (AFP, 12 Jun)

“The standard-sized sheet of paper is a homework exercise Napoleon sent to an English teacher for correction in 1816 and was sealed with the imperial eagle wax stamp.

It’s one of three such English-language letters by Napoleon in the world, according to the auction organisers, and was bought by Paris’s Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in a dramatic bidding war yesterday near the Chateau of Fontainebleau, one of Napoleon’s south of Paris.

The selling price suggests the document’s historic value, as rare proof that Napoleon, who famously dismissed England as a “nation of shopkeepers”, learned to speak the language of his opponents late in life.” … Read the rest here…

Report Predicts Huge Gap in Educated Workers (Telegraph, June 24, 2012)

There will be a shortage of up to 40 million university graduates by 2020, a McKinsey report suggests.

“By 2020, there will be about 38 million to 40 million too few college and university graduates to satisfy the demands of the global labor market, a report issued this month has found.

At the same time, there will be a surplus of up to 95 million low-skill workers globally, according to the study, conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report bases its estimates on the projection of a global work force of 3.5 billion by the year 2020, compared with 2.9 billion today.

“Unemployment for less skilled workers is currently running two to three times that of those skilled workers with university or post-graduate degrees,” said Richard Dobbs, one of the authors of the report. … The report suggested that the shortage of high-skill workers could be avoided by doubling the rate of post-secondary education attainment, retraining midcareer workers and encouraging the migration of educated workers.”


In this segment on kids’ health & safety issues…

High schoolers try to cleanse tsunami-hit farmland with water spinach (Jiji)

GIFU — High school students from Gifu Prefecture are set to carry out an experiment using water spinach to remove salt from tsunami-hit farmland in the Tohoku region.

Seven third-year students from Ena Agricultural High School will visit farms in Miyagi Prefecture, including one in Miyagino Ward, Sendai, for three days from Friday to plant seedlings.

They will return to the farms in late August to pick the spinach and analyze how much salt the plants have absorbed. A similar test last year showed 24.6 grams of salt was absorbed by around 3 kg of water spinach planted at the same farms.

Subsequent research has found that the plant grows up to 10 percent bigger in water with a salt density of 1.5 percent compared to fresh water. In this year’s test, the students will plant water spinach seedlings in 1.5 percent saltwater for two weeks.

Cesium found in urine of Fukushima children (Japan Times, July 2, 2012)

A small amount of radioactive cesium was found in urine samples from 141 infants and young children in Fukushima Prefecture, home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a research group said Saturday.

Three samples had over 10 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, including one with 17.5 becquerels. Up to 10 becquerels were detected in the other 138 samples, the Isotope Research Institute said.

The three children found to have the highest levels of cesium were on a steady diet of home-grown vegetables, it added.

The average amount of cesium in the 141 samples was 2.2 becquerels per kilogram. Cesium was not detected in 1,881 of the 2,022 infants and kids surveyed, the Yokohama-based institute said.

The 141 samples also contained an average of about 64 becquerels of radioactive potassium, which is found naturally in the environment….

The survey from last November to January covered infants and kids up to age 7. The institute said the survey was free and performed out of concern for those who may have suffered internal exposure to radioactive materials.

Sleep Deprivation Amps Up the Brain | The brain gets more active the longer it goes without sleep (June 21, 2012 Sci Am)

Anyone who has pulled an all-nighter knows it is possible to be tired without being sleepy. The body slows and concentration slips, even as thoughts spin toward a manic blur. It feels as though the sleep-deprived brain is actually becoming more active. And indeed it is, according to a recent study in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Marcello Massimini, a neurophysiologist at the University of Milan in Italy, found that the brain becomes more sensitive as the day wears on. The experiment, he explains, is like poking a friend in the ribs to see how high he jumps. Massimini prodded brain cells in the frontal cortex with a jolt of electricity, delivered via noninvasive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Then he observed how the rest of the brain responded, comparing results from subjects who had been awake for two, eight, 12 or 32 hours. “I’m sure if you bump your friend when he’s sleep-deprived, he’s going to jump higher,” he says. The sleep-deprived brain, it turns out, also gets jumpy, responding to the electrical jolt with stronger, more immediate spikes of activity.

The results jibe with a widely held theory that while we are awake, our neurons are constantly forming new synapses, or connections to other neurons, which ramps up the activity in our brain. Many of these connections are irrelevant, but the only way to prune them is by shutting down for a while. The theory explains why it is difficult to cram new information into a sleepy brain. But it also helps to explain some unusual medical observations: epileptics are more likely to have seizures the longer they stay awake, and severely depressed patients with abnormally low brain activity sometimes improve after skipping sleep. “You keep them awake for one night, and, incredibly, they get better,” Massimini says.

Cooling system fixed at Fukushima plant’s No. 4 fuel pool  (Japan Times, July 2, 2012)

The cooling system for the No. 4 reactor’s hazardous spent-fuel pool came back to life Sunday at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant after emergency repairs succeeded, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

The cooling system automatically shut down on Saturday for unknown reasons, allowing the water in the pool to reach 42.9 degrees Sunday. The pool must stay filled to prevent the used rods from burning up.

The cooling system resumed shortly after 3 p.m. The temperature in the pool, which is sitting perilously atop the reactor in a heavily damaged building, was 33.3 degrees when the cooling system failed Saturday morning.

The company believes a part in the cooling system’s emergency power unit caused the shutdown and plans to replace it “soon.”

The pool contains 1,535 fuel assemblies — including 204 unused ones — that could all burn up if the remainder of the building collapses and dumps the water out. The same cooling system also was suspended on June 4.

See related: Accurate radiation info needed

This past year has seen a great deal of stress, not just for adults, but also for children living in Japan, particularly for those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis and tsunami. According to research, stress in children can manifest in:

“Stress is most often seen as an overt physical reaction: crying, sweating palms, running away, aggressive or defensive outbursts, rocking and self-comforting behaviors, headaches and stomachaches, nervous fine motor behaviors (e.g., hair twirling or pulling, chewing and sucking, biting of skin and fingernails), toileting accidents, and sleep disturbances (Stansbury & Harris, 2000; Fallin, Wallinga, & Coleman, 2001; Marion, 2003). Experts suggest that children may react globally through depression and avoidance; excessive shyness; hyper-vigilance; excessive worrying; “freezing up” in social situations; seemingly obsessive interest in objects, routines, food, and persistent concern about “what comes next”; and excessive clinging (Dacey & Fiore, 2000). “

This article “Stress and Young Children” takes you through the four distinct stages of the stress experience as well as the adaptations and coping mechanisms that children have, and suggests how adults should respond to these situations. [See also related: Children and Stress: Caring Strategies to Guide Children]

Radioactive river mud threatens lakes, Tokyo Bay (Asahi, IHT July 05, 2012)

Lakes across eastern Japan are being contaminated with radioactive cesium from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and scientists are warning of a growing problem in Tokyo Bay.

Radioactive mud carried down rivers is slowly accumulating in the lakes, in some cases making fish and shellfish dangerous to eat.

In March, a maximum cesium concentration of 9,550 becquerels per kilogram was detected in mud on the bottom of the Bizengawa river, 1.65 kilometers from where it flows into Japan’s second-largest lake, Lake Kasumigaura in Ibaraki Prefecture.

A month later, the highest reading was 800 meters closer to the lake and had increased to 9,980 becquerels per kilogram.

Hiroshi Iijima, who heads the Asaza Fund nonprofit organization, which conducted the surveys, has asked the central and prefectural governments to put cesium-absorbing zeolites in the lake and set up a temporary dam to stop the mud flowing from the river.

Ibaraki Prefecture is known for producing the largest eel catch in Japan. In May, the central government suspended shipments of eels caught in Kasumigaura and other locations in Ibaraki Prefecture after cesium levels exceeding the government standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram for food were detected.

In fiscal 2011, cesium levels over 100 becquerels per kilogram were found in fish and shellfish caught in the lake in eight of 71 surveys. The frequency increased to 28 of 87 surveys in the current fiscal year.

The prefectural government on April 1 asked fishermen to refrain from shipping three other fish from two rivers and other locations due to high levels of cesium.

Since April, cesium levels over 100 becquerels per kilogram have also been found in fish and shellfish in Lake Numazawako, Lake Inawashiroko and Lake Akimotoko in Fukushima Prefecture, Hinuma marsh in Ibaraki Prefecture, Teganuma marsh in Chiba Prefecture and Lake Chuzenjiko in Tochigi Prefecture.

“Despite decontamination work, radioactivity could remain in lakes as long as cesium flows in,” an Environment Ministry official said. “While giving priority to decontamination efforts on land, we want to find out to what extent radioactive materials will move to fish through the rivers.”

Scientists say freshwater fish tend to retain ingested cesium longer than their saltwater counterparts. They do not discharge as much of the material due to low osmotic pressure between their bodies and surrounding waters.

The Environment Ministry found higher cesium concentrations in fish and water insects in lakes and rivers than sea life in a survey in Fukushima Prefecture from December to February.

The highest level was 2,600 becquerels per kilogram in a type of rhinogobius in Manogawa river north of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The concentrations in most saltwater fish were below 100 becquerels.

Meanwhile, Yosuke Yamashiki, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Kyoto University, estimates that cesium concentrations at the bottom of Tokyo Bay will peak in 2014 and then remain roughly stable through 2021.

His modeling predicts that levels will rise to 300-500 becquerels per kilogram of sand at the bottom of the bay near the mouths of Edogawa and Arakawa rivers in March 2014. Those rivers flow through areas with relatively high radiation levels.

Hotspots with cesium levels of 4,000 becquerels per kilogram are possible, Yamashiki said.

“Even if no impact of radiation has yet to be found on fish and shellfish, we cannot tell what will happen in the future,” he said. “We need to begin to prevent contamination immediately by reducing the amount of sand flowing into the bay.”

Sand containing cesium tends to accumulate in Tokyo Bay because it has a relatively narrow opening to the Pacific Ocean.

Yamashiki simulated sand and mud movements in Tokyo Bay and rivers flowing into the bay since March 2011 and used cesium concentrations in soil measured by the government to produce his estimates.


Experts discuss evacuation plan in the event of Mt Fuji eruption (Japan Today, Jun. 10, 2012 – 06:45

TOKYO — A meeting of disaster prevention experts have recommended drawing up a plan to evacuate those who would be affected by an eruption of Mount Fuji.

Specialists from Kanagawa, Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures held a conference on Friday at which they agreed to draw up a plan for sheltering people who may be affected by a potential eruption of the 3,776-meter-high mountain and to perform a test run of the procedure by 2014, TBS reported.

The plan is to include evacuation methods and routes for residents and tourists in the event of an eruption. Each team is to reflect on the efficacy of current arrangements and report back to the council at the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in late April 2013 in Yamanashi Prefecture, TBS said.

Also in attendance at the conference were volcano experts who spoke on the subjects of Mount Fuji’s history, the reliability of volcanic eruption predictions and the likely characteristics of an eruption.

Prof Toshitsugu Fujii of the University of Tokyo Earthquake Research Institute said last year’s March 11 earthquake transformed the Earth’s crust in the region and another earthquake is expected to hit in the South Seas, TBS reported. He was quoted as saying there is a high probability that this tectonic activity will cause Mount Fuji to become more active.

A survey carried out by the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute in May found a 30-km fault running from Gotemba in Shizuoka Prefecture beneath Mount Fuji. Research results indicated it is likely to be active.

A survey carried out by the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute in May found a 30-km fault running from Gotemba in Shizuoka Prefecture beneath Mount Fuji. Research results indicated it is likely to be active.

If the fault sets off an earthquake, researchers say the slopes would most likely collapse, causing massive landslides and mudflows.

An earthquake in 1707 caused Mount Fuji to erupt and killed an estimated 20,000 people.

Bullies forced ‘suicide practice’ on Otsu junior high student who killed self: survey  (Mainichi, Jul 4)

Bullies at a municipal junior high school here routinely forced a 13-year-old student who leapt to his death in October last year to do “suicide practice,” according to a student survey conducted by the school.

According to sources close to the matter, 15 students reported in the questionnaire that the victim had been forced to “practice” killing himself. The city board of education did not disclose the finding at its November 2011 news conference on the suicide case.

The parents of the deceased boy filed a lawsuit with the Otsu District Court in February against three stude

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