Students snapping shots of sakura blossoms with their smartphones on the way home from school (EIJ photo)

Sakura spring greetings to readers of our regular roundup on educational news focused on Japan!

In this post, we bring you news of two new international school openings as well as other news focused on educational issues and the educational scene in Japan.

It may be time to re-examine the oft-stated belief and widespread perception that Japanese (and Asian) youths that they are lacking in creative thinking and problem-solving ability, as the results of 2012 OECD survey find that Japanese youths rank 3rd in problem-solving after the youths of Singapore and South Korea (NHK Apr 1, 2014)

Japanese teenagers finished 3rd in a global assessment of young people’s skills in solving problems encountered in real life.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveyed 15-year-olds in 44 countries and territories in 2012. About 6,300 Japanese youths took part in the study.

Real-life problems included buying the right train ticket from a vending machine, and observing a robot vacuum cleaner to identify a certain pattern in its motions. Participants posted their solutions online.

The Japanese teens scored 552 points compared to the survey average of 500. Singapore finished on top, followed by South Korea.

Japan’s education ministry says the youths did well overall regardless of their school and family environment, suggesting that the comprehensive curriculums of Japanese schools may be paying off.

However, the Japanese teens ranked lowest in self-assessment of patience and flexibility in solving problems.

The ministry says education programs should focus more on nurturing those skills.

See original source of report:  *** PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving (Volume V): Students’ Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems, Student performance in problem solving DOI:10.1787/9789264208070-7-en; Creative Problem Solving: Students’ skills in tackling real-life problems (Volume V); Snapshot of student performance in problem solving (pdf); PISA in Focus N°38: Are 15-year-olds creative problem-solvers? *** One interesting piece of data is the finding that the strong problem-solvers in Australia, UK and US are found among the strong and top performers in mathematics, while in Italy, Japan and Korea, the strong problem-solvers are found among the moderate to low-performers in mathematics … what this distinction implies should be a subject of further study.

Take the test yourself here and find out if you are smarter than the 15 year olds who took the test.

See related news: CNN: Report: 15-year-olds in Asia are better problem solvers than in the U.S (Apr 1)


Japan to help struggling families pay school lunch fees (Jiji Press, Apr 4,  2014)

The Japanese government plans to provide financial assistance to help households on welfare pay lunch fees, bus fares and costs of educational materials for their children who go to nursery school, kindergarten, or other types of authorized preschools, officials said Thursday.

The government is considering providing subsidies to cover half of such expenses, starting in fiscal 2015 that begins in April next year, the officials said.

At present, families receiving public assistance are exempt from paying childcare fees to nursery schools or kindergartens, but there is no publicly subsidized system to help them pay other necessary expenses such as lunch fees.

Also from Jiji Press, Mar 28: Number of Children on Nursery Waiting Lists in Japan Falls by 2,009 from a year before to 44,118, said the health and welfare ministry, the number of such children as of Oct. 1 dropping for the third straight year… however … the No. of children on waiting list for daycare centers still a serious problem, gov’t says (Apr 01, 2014 Japan Today), see excerpted article below:

“”The number of children on the waiting list for daycare centers nationwide was about 44,118 in fiscal 2013, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Monday.

Although the number decreased for the third year in a row, the shortage of such facilities is still a serious problem, a ministry official said, according to NHK…The government promised a plan to secure 400,000 places for children on the waiting list over five years, starting from last April.

Tokyo has the most number of children on the waiting list at 11,589, followed by Chiba (1,958), Osaka (1,761), Kanagawa (1,703) and Saitama (1,391). Kawasaki had 1,534 followed by Fukuoka (1,046), Hiroshima (951) and Sapporo (824).

The ministry spokesperson said they are urging local governments to increase the number of daycare centers but the reality is “we are not catching up,” he said.”

Meanwhile in related news, Japan Times has published a useful article (Mar 17) explaining the concept of ‘gakudo’ or after-school clubs:

After-school clubs falling short as more moms work

Working parents in Japan not only face long waiting lists when they want to enroll their children in day care centers, they also find themselves looking at equally long lists for “gakudo,” or after-school clubs, when their children take the next step and enter elementary school.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, as of last April there were 8,689 children nationwide on waiting lists for such clubs, where mostly first- through third-grade elementary school students spend their time after school and during school breaks — up from 7,521 around the same time a year earlier.

According to a survey in December by the International Affairs and Communications Ministry, more than 70 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 44 are either working or seeking employment.

Many working mothers have had to give up their jobs just because they can’t secure spots for their children at such facilities. The problem has become so acute that there is now a term describing difficulties confronting working mothers with first-graders: “shoichi no kabe” (the hurdle of the first grade).

Even students who are fortunate enough to gain admittance to an after-school club benefit for only a limited time. Many clubs — particularly the traditional, publicly funded ones — accept students only through the third grade, meaning that older children often have nowhere to go after school. Many end up staying home alone, often with a TV or computer games as their only companions.

Concern for such kids has recently given rise to another term: “shoyon no kabe,” or the hurdle of the fourth grade.

The government has taken aim at the problem and is looking to increase the number of after-school clubs nationwide. Officials have set a target of getting almost 1.3 million kids into clubs by the end of fiscal year 2017. Meanwhile, private enterprises — such as cram schools and private day care facilities — have rushed to fill the void, although for fees that some families can’t afford. Here are some questions and answers on after-school clubs:

How did the concept of gakudo come about?

The history of gakudo goes back to the 1960s, when a group of working mothers and fathers started after-school clubs and operated them themselves after finding themselves hard-pressed to find a place where their children could go to after school.

The Child Welfare Law of 1997 stipulates that children whose mothers and/or fathers are working should be given a place to stay after school until they reach “about 10 years old.”

Currently, about 880,000 children nationwide between the ages of 6 and 10 — or 1 in 4 students — use some kind of gakudo. Such facilities numbered 21,635 across the nation as of last May, 40 percent of which were public, while the rest were either publicly built and privately operated or privately owned and operated by parents and companies, according to Zenkoku Gakudo Hoiku Renraku Kyogikai, the nationwide liaison council for after-school clubs.

What sort of problems do after-school clubs face?

The biggest problem is that the number falls short of demand, especially in big cities.

A survey by the liaison council suggests that the actual number of children on waiting lists might be between 400,000 and 500,000, many more than are officially recognized. …” end of excerpt, read more about the costs, different types of gakudo’ here

Japan is strapped for IT programmers and this next article tells us there is a bright future for anyone interested in programming here … see:

Kids flock to Tokyo’s ‘Bit Valley’ to learn programming (March 31, 2014 Asahi-AJW)

Inside a skyscraper, high above Tokyo’s Shibuya district, a group of elementary school children sits patiently in front of their computers.

Someone shouts, “Development time, start!” and suddenly the click-clack sound of typing on keyboards echoes around the room.

Shibuya has been dubbed “Bit Valley” because of the number of IT companies operating within its borders. But here on weekend mornings at CA Tech Kids, rather than creating software to sell, the focus is on teaching children how to program.

Yumene Takeda, a sixth-grader who has not yet studied English, has no problem typing the alphabet and symbols. He began toying around with a computer at home when he was in the third grade. Now he says: “I want to make video games by myself. When I grow up, I want to get a job at a company that makes video games.”

“I love computers,” says fourth-grader Shinnosuke Chuman, whose dream is to become an astronaut.

Their parents, tired of Japan’s cram school-centric education, dream of their children becoming a future Steve Jobs of Apple or Bill Gates of Microsoft.

“They make something themselves and present it. The creativity, making presentations in front of other people and all that are fun in ways that learning by just sitting at school isn’t,” says Kazuhiko Chuman, Shinnosuke’s father, who works at an IT company.

President Susumu Fujita, 40, of CyberAgent Inc., the parent company of CA Tech Kids, came up with the idea at an executive training camp last year because he was concerned about growing public criticism of children’s use of mobile games. “I want to contribute something to society,” he says.

CA Tech Kids first began last summer with three days of pay-to-join classes. It was overwhelmed with applications and hurriedly increased capacity. Many parents, including ones of children who commute from over an hour away in Saitama, pleaded for the school to keep holding the classes.

The school opened as a regular business in Shibuya last October and has a branch in Osaka’s Umeda district as well. The second session of courses began in January. CA Tech Kids is now accepting students for the third session that begins in April. The three-month introductory course of six lessons costs 36,000 yen ($350).

Yuta Matsuyama, a 25-year-old CyberAgent employee who makes teaching materials, began programming at age 9. “If you’re going to get into video games anyway, it’s more creative to make them than to buy them.”


Computer education for kids isn’t new in Tokyo. In Tokyo’s Sumida district, an NPO called Canvas has run a programming school for children since 2002.

Nanako Ishido, Canvas’ 34-year-old director, says, “We want (students) to learn creativity and teamwork skills through programming.”

Over the last 12 years, a total of 300,000 students have completed courses at the school.

But while that might sound like a huge figure, there are still not enough IT engineers in the industry, according to CyberAgent President Fujita.

“People in Japan always talk about improving English skills, but there is a huge shortage of programmers,” he says. “There is a headhunting war, and competent programmers are being offered fat salaries.”

In the global IT world, it is natural for programmers to start up companies the way Gates and the late Jobs did, but Bit Valley still has to catch up.

Be that as it may, even the precocious Matsuyama is surprised at the ability of elementary students at CA Tech Kids to absorb information. When instructed to develop their own creations, one fifth-grade boy made an “unlimited calculator.” While regular calculators can only display a certain number of digits, he made a smartphone app that can calculate numbers of any size by using the device’s scrolling feature to move the display sideways.

Matsuyama was particularly impressed with the boy’s ability to show and explain his app to his peers.

“He was just like Jobs at the presentations,” Matsuyama says with a laugh. “Japan’s future is bright. We can be hopeful.”

Govt aims to help kids adapt to primary school (Mar 29 Yomiuri Shimbun)

The education ministry has decided to provide financial support for primary schools that offer preparatory classes for preschool children on Saturdays, as part of efforts to reduce problematic behavior among new primary school students.

The government is working to alleviate children’s anxieties over entering primary school and prevent so-called first-year student problems, such as failing to adapt to the new environment and walking around during class.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to subsidize 3,000 primary schools across the nation. It believes children will take to their new school routine more easily if they experience primary school life before official enrollment.

As activities likely to be helpful, the ministry has cited such things as reading and writing hiragana, playing with numbers, listening to stories, English conversation and exercise classes.

According to the ministry’s outline for education at kindergartens, such activities as reading and writing hiragana and English conversation are not required. For this reason, the ministry is emphasizing activities to get children accustomed to a learning atmosphere while having fun, rather than having them acquire academic development in “lessons” at a primary school.

As teachers, the ministry envisages high school and university students, as well as foreigners in the community.

First-year student problems in primary schools, which began to attract attention around 2000, have become a national issue in recent years. Children are entering primary school who cannot cope with group activities in a class, and who make a fuss or walk around in classrooms, interfering with teachers’ efforts to give lessons. According to experts, one reason is the different atmosphere between play-focused preschool education and textbook-focused education at primary schools.

According to a survey by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, problematic behavior among first-year students was found at about 20 percent of public primary schools over the 2010-12 academic years. Reports on behavioral problems from schools have included statements like: “Students do not stop talking when the teacher is speaking,” “Students do not keep still and stand up suddenly” or “They wander around the classroom by themselves.”

The education ministry has recommended efforts to achieve a smooth shift to primary schools through such measures as increasing opportunities for exchanges between primary schools, and kindergartens and nursery schools. Some municipalities have started their own efforts.

The Kyoto prefectural government started a project in the 2010 school year to help children experience primary school before they formally enter. These “soon to be first-year student” children experience activities with primary school students such as searching for acorns in a life environmental studies class and making things in art class.

According to the prefectural government, these experiences have helped ease preschool children’s anxiety about their new life at primary school.

The education ministry means to promote such efforts further with its financial support. Funding will be drawn from a total of ¥1.3 billion in subsidies for primary, middle and high schools that hold Saturday classes.

Prof. Nobuyuki Wada of Tokyo Seitoku College, an expert on cooperation between kindergartens and nursery schools, and primary schools, said: “If preschool children experience primary school through things like using its toilet and sitting in a classroom, they will look forward to their new school life. I think it’s a worthwhile effort.”

The first nationwide study to look into the link between children’s family environment and their academic performance concluded that …

Smarter children have better-educated, richer parents: study

(March 28, Jiji Press)–Children with better-educated and higher-earning parents tend to demonstrate higher academic abilities, a Japanese education ministry-commissioned survey study showed Friday.

The study, based on academic achievement tests conducted across Japan in April 2013, also found that children who do their homework show high academic performance regardless of their family environment.

Among other findings, parents with higher incomes tend to spend more on their children’s out-of-school education and such children had better test results.

In addition, the study found that children’s academic capabilities are strongly influenced by the extent to which their parents read to them or encourage them to read books and newspapers on their own…”

Next, the spotlight on the revolutionary software Vocaloid and its new role in music education and usefulness for music composers:

Vocaloid Utilized for Music Education in Japan (Mar 30, 2014, Jiji Press)

Tokyo–The Vocaloid singing voice synthesizer software has grown into a pop culture sensation. It created a virtual pop star named Hatsune Miku.

It is now beginning to be utilized in the field of music education in Japan.

In the school year starting in April 2015, Shikoku University in Tokushima, western Japan, will open a training course at its two-year music college where students can learn to write songs using the software.

The software allows users to write songs by just typing in lyrics and melody. “At first, I thought Vocaloid was something more childish,” said Atsushi Masuda, associate professor of popular music at the university.

“I came to realize that creating singing voice with Vocaloid is profound because you can make adjustments to the vibrato tone or the intake of breath,” he said.

If you’ve never watched a Vocaloid performance, click on the Youtube link below to watch AniMiku Vocaloid concert:

Fukushima junior high students perform in London (Apr 4, NHK)

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta from Japan’s disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture performed in one of the most prestigious concert venues in London Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday. The 37 members of the orchestra are students from 4 junior high schools in Fukushima City, the prefectural capital. They performed pieces by Mozart and Chopin together with local musicians. The program included a piece prepared by a British composer to encourage Fukushima children.

Update: Isles, quake appear in schoolbooks (Yomiuri Shimbun, Apr 5)

Some new social studies textbooks and maps for primary schools to be used from spring next year clearly state that the Takeshima islets in Shimane Prefecture and the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are “territories inherent to Japan,” according to the education ministry, which announced Friday the results of the screening of primary school textbooks for the next academic year.

This is the first time for primary school textbooks to carry clear descriptions that the islands are Japanese inherent territories.

Meanwhile, all social studies textbooks for fifth and sixth grades have detailed descriptions of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Some also include descriptions of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

All 139 textbooks in nine subjects submitted by publishers passed the textbook screening by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the ministry said.

The screening system, which began in 1947, aims at checking such things as whether textbooks follow the government’s curriculum guidelines. Each year, one of four groups of textbooks are screened: those for primary school and the third year of high school, for middle school, for the first year of high school, and for the second year of high school. Therefore, textbooks are reviewed every four years in principle.

Of 14 social studies textbooks and maps, seven textbooks for the fifth and sixth grades clearly state that Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands are the nation’s territories or territories inherent to Japan. They explain the current status of these islands using pictures and maps.

In January, the ministry revised the national curriculum guidelines’ instruction manuals for middle and high school social studies to include an expression that these islands “constitute inherent parts of our nation’s territory.”

The revision will be reflected in middle school textbooks to be used from the 2016 academic year and in high school textbooks from the 2017 academic year.

Currently, only one primary school textbook, for the fifth grade, has descriptions including “South Korea is illegally occupying Takeshima.” However, publishers this time have adopted detailed descriptions in primary school textbooks prior to middle and high school textbooks, with some firms saying that the public’s interest in the issues is high as they make news headlines quite often.

The news on new schools opened in Japan:

ABC Montessori International School opened on Apr 1st. A division of ABC International School, this new branch school with a Montessori education-dedicated curriculum is located across from the lawn tennis club in Hiroo.

For more details and contact info, visit their website/webpage:  http://www.abcinternationalschool.com/abc_motessori_international.html tel 03-5793-1359

Osaka school offers new approach to education for ethnic Koreans (Japan Times, Mar 4, 2014)

OSAKA – For decades, schools for ethnic Koreans living in Japan have been divided along pro-Pyongyang or pro-Seoul lines, with their curricula reflecting the differing political ideologies in North and South Korea.

In 2008, however, a new type of school opened in Osaka in response to Korean residents’ desire for an education that, while emphasizing their roots in the Korean Peninsula, is not restricted by differences across the 38th parallel.

Most of the 86 students from the seventh to 12th grades at Korea International School in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, are Koreans living in Japan. But there are also Japanese students and people who have returned after stints abroad.

Nowadays, 4 in every 5 Koreans in Japan are believed to have at least one parent with Japanese nationality, unlike previous decades. Many citizens of Korean descent also have assumed successful roles in academia, business and other circles in Japanese society.

As a result, there has been growing frustration and dissatisfaction that the education offered at Korean schools simply imitates that of the “home” country — that is, North or South Korea, depending on the school’s affiliation — according to Om Chang Joon, vice principal at Korea International School.

Established in response to such frustrations, the new school in Osaka has adopted a curriculum based on Japanese educational guidelines, with the majority of classes taught in Japanese. It also has classes on Korean language and history, and attempts to cover the peninsula as a whole. … Read more about Korea International School here.


Obokata falsified data in STAP papers: probe (Japan Times, Apr 2, 2014)

A probe into possible “research misconduct” by the authors of two potentially revolutionary papers on pluripotent stem cells turns up two instances of deliberate falsification…

RIKEN Panel Finds Misconduct in Reprogrammed Stem Cell Papers – Science News (Apr 1)
An investigating committee has concluded that falsification and fabrication mar two recent Nature papers reporting a new, simple way to reprogram mature cells into stem cells. The committee concluded these acts constitute research misconduct. Related: read more on this at world.edu

The controversy hinges upon Haruko Obokata’s reused images from her doctoral dissertation, that depicted completely different experiments.

Benesse to tap McDonald’s Harada as president (Japan Times via Four Traders)

McDonald’s Holdings Co. (Japan) Chairman Eiko Harada is expected to become chairman and president of education service provider Benesse Holdings Inc., informed sources said Thursday. …

In other local news … Japan Times: Japanese firms mostly unaware of benefits of hiring from JET ranks: poll

Five great learning apps for kids, from a new magazine for Tokyo’s international women, called SavvyOn technology and learning, check out these:


Elsewhere in the world the edu-news of interest:

Higher Education: Is college worth it? (The Economist, Apr 5) Too many degrees are a waste of money. The return on higher education would be much better if college were cheaper. A useful comparative chart on annual returns over a 20 year period of various different colleges is provided. Read more…

Hire like Google For most companies, that’s a bad idea (LA Times, Mar 9, 2014)

Authors of the article Chabris and Wai take issue with Laszlo Bock, the head of human resources at Google for having said (in his interview with NY Times) “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless…. We found that they don’t predict anything…” .

Chabris and Wai remind us that “decades of quantitative research in the field of personnel psychology have shown that across fields of employment, measurements of “general cognitive ability” — which is another way of referring to the old-fashioned concept of intelligence or IQ — are consistently the best tools employers have to predict which new employees will wind up with the highest performance evaluations or the best career paths. We shouldn’t rush to assume that Google, with its private data, has suddenly refuted all that work” and Chabris and Wai also explain that ” the fraction of people at Google without a college degree has increased over time and is now as high as 14% on some product teams. This means, however, that more than 86% of people at Google do have a college education (or more), and most of them come from the most elite schools. … These highly selective institutions have, by definition, already filtered students based on high school GPAs, SAT or ACT scores, and other factors. Google in effect uses attendance at those colleges as a hiring criterion, so Bock — who happens to possess a degree from Yale University — is using GPAs and test scores whether he realizes it or not.”  The authors conclude that while computer giants like Google can afford to abandon traditional measures of intelligence, most companies can’t.

Ivy League colleges maintain low acceptance rates for applicants  (Bloomberg Mar28)

While most Ivy League schools reported a decline in applications this year, Yale University received a record 30,932 applications and accepted only 6.3% of them. That’s down from 6.7% last year. Other schools accepted more, like Harvard University, which accepted 5.9% of applicants, up from 5.8% last year. Acceptance rates at other elites including Columbia and Princeton universities remained unchanged.

A Merkel, a Map, a Message to China? (Foreign Policy, Apr 1, 2014) “Historical maps are sensitive business in China. Every schoolchild in China learns that Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and the Diaoyu Islands have been “inalienable parts of China since ancient times.” The d’Anville map, at least visually, is a rejection of that narrative…” The map of 1735 by d’Anville the French cartographer presented by the German Chancellor Merkel, to the Chinese President causes brouhaha because it shows “China Proper” in ancient times without Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia or Manchuria … A map published in many Chinese-language media reports about Merkel’s gift-giving shows the Chinese empire at its territorial zenith, including Tibet, so this gift is embarrassing. The larger territory as drawn on Chinese maps is instead based on British mapmaker John Dower’s map made a century later, which reflects the militarism of the Qing empire and Emperor Qianlong’s efforts to bring the peripheries under imperial control..

Addition of Korean name for Sea of Japan becomes law in Virginia (JapanToday, Apr. 04, 2014)

Legislation requiring that the Korean name for the Sea of Japan be included in new school textbooks has become law in the U.S. state of Virginnia after lobbying by Korean residents …  Read more here…

According to Bandwidth blog, South Korea has found the perfect way to police smartphone usage by youths … with the iSmartKeeper app:

South Korean schools curb students’ smartphone use with app (Bandwidth Blog on 24.03.2014)

“…schools in Seoul, South Korea, have decided to fight fire with fire – they have implemented a new app in schools which is solely aimed at reducing distractions within the classroom. …

iSmartKeeper is a smartphone app with an accompanying desktop program that allows teachers to control which apps their students may use during class, all from the comfort of their desk.

It’s premise is really simple, too. Students download the app onto their smartphone, while the teachers then use an accompanying desktop program.

The desktop program then gives the teacher the ability to remotely ‘control’ the students’ smartphone and app usage. Teachers can turn off specific apps during class or block messaging and social media apps (we’re looking at you, WhatsApp and Facebook).

They can also lock all smartphones in the school or adjust the settings so only emergency calls are allowed or only phone calls and SMS.

What’s super clever about the app, is that it uses location data to track the students movements. This enables the app to only work when the student is actually on school grounds.

iSmartKeeper is currently used in 11 schools in Seoul, with 600 other schools having shown interest in using the app. While it is still in it’s ‘experimental’ phase, co-creator and professor at the Gonju National University of Education, Haun Gyu-sang, has said that 30 000 students are already registered for the app.

Of course, before the app can be used, schools will first have to get approval from the students’ parents. However, the app is just as appealing to parents as it is to the teachers; the app can also be used at home, with the parents implementing the same restrictions if they want.

The project is wholly endorsed by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, who plans to expand the project to more schools in the near future.

The idea to control the kids’ app usage with another app is genius. In recent years, reports have been flooding educational journals and websites on the immense effect (distracction) that smartphones and apps have on kids, teenagers specifically…”

See related editorial “Smartphone addiction” (Mar 27, The Korea Herald)

Twitter and text are not GR8 for English skills, warns head (The Times, March 24, 2014 via SchoolsImprovement.net)

The Times is reporting warnings from a head that eliminating “text speak” and its impact on children’s spelling and grammar is among the greatest challenges facing teachers…”Abbreviations and slang used in text messages and on Twitter are “eroding hard-learnt skills”, and pupils are growing up with a more limited vocabulary because they spend less time reading books …there should be a drive to stop the damaging effect of instant messaging on written English work”, said Caroline Jordan, head of Headington School for girls in Oxford. More

Genius, as a Tot (POPSCI, 14 Mar)

When MENSA admits tots, it makes for sensational news but what exactly are the connections between early smarts and later life? And can genius be recognized in early life?

“Jonathan Wai, a research scientist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program, says that tests can identify above-average babies, as early as 12 months. His colleague Joseph Fagan created the Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence.

Fagan tested 61 infants between 7-12 months of age on their ability to selectively attend to novel pictures. The infants looked at pictures for a few seconds, and then paired the old pictures with new ones, recording how long the babies looked at the old pictures. The smarter the infant was, the shorter time they spent looking at the pictures that weren’t new – at least that was the idea. Infants generally spend about 60 percent of the time looking at new images.” Read the rest…here

Learning Curve  (Mar 12, Foreign Policy) on why more and more extremely poor parents in
poor countries are paying out of their limited income to send
their kids to private school…

On matters of kids health and safety, check out Upworthy’s easy-to-understand infographic:

Here’s what happens to kids when they get to eat  before school everyday?

Tsunami left mental scars on 1 in 4 kids (Japan Times): A quarter of the nursery school children who survived the 2011 quake and tsunami have psychiatric problems that could last a lifetime if left untreated.

Autism May Be Tied to Flawed Prenatal Brain Growth (ABCnews, Mar 27)

A great safety product and service available to parents who want to track their kids but don’t necessarily want to give them smartphones/mobile phones is SECOM’s Koko Secom service and buzzer that is heads and shoulders above all other kinds of buzzers…it is basically an on-call and pay-as-you-use security service for tracking your child, see  All abuzz about child safety (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Apr 5) Excerpt follows:

With the arrival of the new school term, many parents must be worried about the safety of their children when they travel to and from school or juku cram schools. To ease their anxieties, a number of firms are providing services to swiftly dispatch personnel from a security company in the event of an emergency.

Tokyo-based security firm Secom Co. is offering a service called Koko Secom that allows a child to contact the firm’s operation center with the push of a button on a terminal smaller than a business card. The center then telephones the child’s guardian and, upon request, swiftly sends a staff member to the child’s location.

Even if the child does not press the button, the GPS functionality of the terminal allows parents to track the child’s whereabouts by visiting a designated website.

When subscribing to the service through the Internet, a customer pays an entry fee of ¥4,500 (all prices exclude tax) and ¥2,000 for a battery charger for the terminal. The monthly fee for the basic plan, which allows parents to locate their child’s whereabouts up to 10 times per month without additional charge, is ¥900. When a staff member is dispatched to a child in an emergency, an additional fee of ¥10,000 is charged each time.

NTT Docomo, Inc.’s Kids Keitai cell phones include a function to sound a buzzer and automatically send an e-mail to a designated guardian when the attached strap is pulled. Such a cell phone works with Docomo’s Kaketsuke (rush to the scene) Service operated in collaboration with Sohgo Security Service Co. (ALSOK).

If the guardian so requests, ALSOK will dispatch a staff member to where the child is. The service plan has no monthly fee, but when a staff member is dispatched, ¥10,000 per hour is charged.

Parents want to know if their children are taking the same routes home from school or juku.

Odakyu Electric Railway Co. is offering a service for parents of primary and middle school students that sends e-mails to inform them what time their children have passed through automatic ticketing gates at stations on railway lines operated by the company. To use the service, a guardian is required to sign a contract with Odakyu and the child must have a Pasmo card with his or her name registered. The monthly fee is ¥500.  Read more…


In our Book Nook spotlight today, we recommend theManBookerprize.com’s and Goodreads’ reviews on Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being”

Ruth Ozeki’s third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013.

“Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery.

In a small cafe in Tokyo, 16-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.” — theManBookerPrize review.

“Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.(Goodreads)

Miscellaneous:  NGO Full-Tuition Scholarship (Tokyo Only)

The NGO Full-Tuition Scholarship provides full tuition for any one course applicable to the NGO Management certificate for one semester. This scholarship is open to any students who are or will be enrolled in any of the designated core and elective courses in the NGO Management certificate course. NGO Scholarship is for any student who is committed to completing the NGO certificate. New students must register before applying for this scholarship. Applicants whose tuition is paid by their company are not eligible to apply.


TTFN and digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

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