Tag Archives: Japan

Recent Observations on Finnish Education from Elizabeth Green

This post can also be found on IEN Founding Editor, Thomas Hatch‘s new blog focused on school improvement, educational change and innovation.  

This past week Elizabeth Green, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Chalkbeat, shared a number of tweets from a recent visit to schools and day care centers in Finland.  She made telling observations, noting students’ use of slippers and the raised tables in daycares that make it easier for teachers to “get on students’ level”, that hint at the Finnish attention to detail and design.  She also pointed to key aspects of the Finnish education system that connected to some of the experiences that I had when spending a month in Finland with my family 2 years ago.  At that time, two of my daughters spent the end of the school year in Finnish classrooms, and my wife, Karen Hammerness, and I got to talk with a number of policymakers, educators, and researchers.  As Green indicates in tweets showing a graphic of the new Finnish Core Curriculum and noting that schools were given considerable time to prepare for implementation, the Finnish approach to developing a coherent national curriculum is totally different from the development of the Common Core in the US. While Green points to teachers who generally support the new Finnish Core Curriculum, the roll-out has included controversy over the extent to which the new curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary work.  Interestingly, Green also found that some teachers also dislike an emphasis on learning to code, an emphasis which seems to be embraced in many quarters in the US. Nonetheless, Green cited a new teacher gushing about her lesson plan as one of the best moments of a visit to a school as well as a teacher who commented that even with a “core” curriculum she still felt considerable autonomy.  We found that same kind of enthusiasm and sense of autonomy among teachers again and again, perhaps reflecting the extensive preparation and support that new teachers in Finland receive.  At the same time, during my visit, it seemed that autonomy also depends on a level of interdependence and collective commitment that often goes unmentioned. Green’s comment that she “Never considered proximity to Russia, geographic and cultural, when considering Finnish educational success” struck a chord with me as well.  The pressure and urgency that might have contributed to a commitment to centralize and transform the Finnish education system in the 1970’s (as Pasi Sahlberg describes in Finnish Lessons) came through to me when a Finnish educator told me that she grew up near the border in Finland knowing that Soviet tanks could be in her front yard in twenty minutes…

— Thomas Hatch

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21st Century Skills in Japan

Regular IEN contributor Paul Chua has reported several times on Singapore’s efforts to shift to a focus on 21st Century skills. As part of an exchange program with Waseda University, he had a chance to visit several schools in Japan and learn about their approach to 21st Century skills. In this post, with contributions from Prof Takao Mimura, Dean of Waseda Graduate School of Teacher Education, Paul reflects on what he observed in visits to four elementary, junior high and senior high schools, as well as interaction sessions with student teachers of the Waseda Graduate School of Teacher Education.

In Japan, as in Singapore, the competencies and pedagogical moves associated with 21st Century competencies are seen as a central means of using education to ensure sustained economic prosperity in the years to come. These 21st Century aspirations have been articulated in a New Growth Strategy announced by the Japanese government in June 2010 as well as in “The Future Vision on Career Education and Vocational Education at School,” by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in January 2011. Further, the 21st century competencies I observed in the Japanese classrooms I visited were not dissimilar from what I have known in Singapore: problem solving, communication, collaboration and use of Information Communications Technologies (ICT).

In the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classes I visited at the Suwadai Junior High School, curriculum design and classroom pedagogy has been shifted to teach these competencies. For example, teachers are asked to design their instruction around any of four pedagogical moves seen as supporting these competencies: discussion; use of ICT; use of library as a learning center; and utilization of guest lecturers. In one lesson that leveraged ICT and discussion, the teacher used a jigsaw strategy to break the students into groups to discuss the ICT-based research work that they had been doing. The discussion centered on evaluating the quality of the research work that they had completed. When the group discussion was over, selected students had to make presentations of the group findings and discussion. In another class, using discussion and guest lecturers, students were set instructional tasks that required them to rank and discuss their ranking of student art works and to compare their rankings with professional artists who had been invited to the school. In a science class, students compared and contrasted a video simulation of a science experiment with their own experience with the same experiment. Even in a physical education class, students reflected on and critiqued their baton-passing in a video-tape of their performance in a relay race.

In another school, the Shioiri Higashi Primary School, we were given an understanding of how Japanese education tries to support the development of a sense of teamwork and collaboration in the students. It is instructive that the school objectives are to help the school community to “shine together, learn together, communicate with each other and to support each other.” Social interaction and collaboration are a focus of attention in both the daily classroom instruction and other school activities. These include mixed-age interactive activities involving students from across grade levels a few times a year as well as activities involving students from the neighboring junior high school who come over to read with the younger students. In other Japanese schools, community life is also a way of living and learning. Large-scale communal activities in virtually all Japanese schools include Entrance and Graduation Ceremonies, and annual Sports Day and Choral Festivals. Although the school lunch might be outsourced to private operators, students are required to serve themselves and the cleaning up of classrooms and the school by students is part of the curriculum.

At the Waseda Senior and Junior High Schools, which are elite private schools, we witnessed how policies (as opposed to activities) could be used to promote the 21st century competencies. For example, the senior high school students do not need to sit for the matriculation examinations to gain entry to Waseda University. According to the headmaster, the rationale for such a policy is to remove the pressure of to master examination techniques so that the students can develop holistically i.e. spiritually, morally with a hope of living in the future world. When asked to elaborate, the headmaster stressed that the purpose of the education in the schools is to help the students to answer the question of “who are they?” and then to choose their university and career options based on this understanding. He did not want the students to just choose a prestigious university without regard of their interests and abilities.

Although the whole exchange visit gave me a good peek into how some Japanese schools are preparing their students for living in the future world, it should be noted that the schools selected for our visit were higher performing ones. Nonetheless, the approaches to developing the 21st century competencies we saw in Japan are broadly similar to those used in Singapore schools, including using non-academic activities to develop the social competencies and allowing select groups of students to bypass some milestone examinations.

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The “biggest-ever” league table?

The latest education report from the OECD ranks 76 countries according to the percentage of the population that lacks basic skills. The report, by Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich, derives the ranking from the latest test scores from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-olds and the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for 14-year-olds. In what BBC News called the “biggest-ever education league table,” Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan (again) top the charts. Coming in at number six, Finland is the top-ranking non-Asian country. Our latest scan of education news around the world finds many media reports highlighting the relative ranking of particular countries, but a number mention as well the report’s claims of a connection between improving performance on the tests and economic growth. At the same time, it is worth noting that not everyone agrees there is a straightforward relationship between performance on tests like PISA and TIMMS and economic outcomes. James Heckman and colleagues Tim Kautz, Ron Diris, Bas ter Weel, Lex Borghans, in particular, have emphasized that current tests like PISA and TIMMS “do not adequately capture non-cognitive skills, personality traits, goals, character, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other domains.” As they explain in Fostering and measuring skills: Improving cognitive and non-cognitive skills to promote lifetime success and Hard evidence on soft skills, for many outcomes, the predictive power of non-cognitive skills rivals or exceeds that of cognitive skills.

“Global school rankings: Interactive map shows standards of education across the world,” The Independent

“Asian kids race ahead on learning: OECD,” The Australian

Bottom in EU on OECD education league, again,” Cyprus Mail

“New education rankings from the OECD put Finland in sixth position worldwide—the top European country and the first non-Asian country in the list,” yle UUTISET

“Ireland ranks 15th in global league table for maths, science; GDP would be boosted by 2.3 per cent if universal basic skill levels were achieved,” Irish Times

“OECD report links school achievement and economic growth; despite oil wealth, Arab world trails far behind,” Israel Times

“When it comes to education, Singapore is a world-beater,”  The Straights Times

“Turkey ranks 41st in education on OECD report of 76 countries,” Today’s Zambian

UK below Poland and Vietnam in biggest ever international education rankings, TES Connect

“Improving Basic Education Can Boost U.S. Economy by $27 Trillion,” U.S. News & World Report

–Thomas Hatch

The Global Intensification of Supplementary Education

The following post was originally published by the Asia Pacific Memo on February 18, 2014.

Memo #271

Featuring Julian Dierkes

Recently, Ee-Seul Yoon of the Faculty of Education at UBC in coordination with the Asia Pacific Memo sat down with Dr. Julian Dierkes, Associate Professor and Keidanren Chair in Japanese Research at UBC’s Institute for Asian Research, to pose a few questions about Professor Dierkes’ recently co-edited volume, Out of the Shadows: The Global Intensification Of Supplementary Education, which was published in December 2013.

In our discussion, Dr. Dierkes presents an overview of the changing status and burgeoning popularity of supplementary education (that is, informal education received outside the traditional classroom) and what ramifications this is having on students, teachers, parents, education policy, and the political process—in Canada, Japan, Asia and even more globally. Finally, he touches upon how supplementary education itself is evolving as well as the present status of academic interest in the phenomenon of informal education.

Julian Dierkes is an Associate Professor and the Keidanren Chair in Japanese Research at the Institute for Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, where his research interests are in the area of comparative political sociology and the sociology of education.

Links

Janice Aurini, Scott Davies, and Julian Dierkes, Out of the Shadows: The Global Intensification Of Supplementary Education (Emerald, 2013)

Jukupedia, “Shadowing Education,” February 2014

Julian Dierkes, “Is South Korea’s Hyper-Education System the Future?,” Asia Pacific Memo #2

Husaina Kenayathulla, “Private Tutoring in Malaysia: Regulating for Quality,” Asia Pacific Memo #126

Education Reform in Japan

Dr. Christopher Bjork’s most recent publication, Japanese education in an era of globalization, which he co-edited with Gary DeCoker, was published in May of 2013 by Teachers College Press. The following post is based on a conversation in which he discussed educational reform in Japan.

As Dr. Bjork explained, education reforms in Japan in the 1990s aimed to “relax” strict educational standards and policies that many viewed as contributing to anti-social student behaviors, such as bullying and violence. In an attempt to relieve students of stress caused by high stakes testing, long hours spent in school, and rote learning, Japan implemented progressive, student-centered policies that privileged creative thinking and collaboration.  These changes were designed augment student interest in learning.

Teachers tended agreed with the goals of the relaxed education (yutori kyoiku) reforms, but often had difficulty implementing the initiatives in their classrooms.  Secondary instructors, in particular, were reluctant to diverge from practices that had proven effective in the past.  Dr. Bjork attributes this resistance to the cogent influence of entrance examinations, which act as gatekeepers and determine students’ future level of education attainment. Concerns about student performance on these exams made teachers reluctant to adopt strategies that they saw as unrelated to the content of the exam, and parents less willing to rely on the school system to sufficiently prepare their children for the challenges that lay ahead. As a result, many parents looked to private tutoring programs to fill what they saw as a gap in the children’s education.

Today, despite the country’s superior performance on the 2012 PISA test, the conservative government of Japan has a new agenda for overhauling the education system, which includes improving English fluency among teachers and students, teaching morals, and revamping the college entrance exam. A flurry of reports over the past few months also show that there is much debate over the government’s plan to revise curricula to state Japan’s territorial claims over disputed islands in teaching guidelines.  Although some vestiges of the relaxed education policies remain in place, their impact fell far short of the Ministry of Education’s initial projections.  The goal of alleviating pressure in the schools proved more ambitious than had been anticipated.

Scanning the globe

Several reports over the past month highlight issues such as educational funding, early childhood education, new schools and school closure, and curriculum:

Funding

In the Phillipines, http://www.philstar.com argues that the country is not contributing enough to education. While education spending increased from 1999 to 2011 (13.9% to 15%), it has yet to reach the target 20% of the national budget. According to UNESCO, “The share of national income invested in education, which equalled the subregional average in 1999, had fallen behind by 2009 at 2.7 percent of GNP, compared with an average of 3.2 percent for East Asia.” In CanadaThe Globe and Mail reports that school boards have increased their spending over the past decade. In Canada as a whole, expenditures have increased 53 per cent – or 5.3 per cent a year, a rate much higher than inflation. In Australia, The Australian Teacher Magazine reports that the government is in the midst of a debate over the funding of education. While the government has committed to a new educational funding system for four years starting from 2014, officials are debating the timeline for the new funding system as well as the question of whether the funding should go to private schools as well as public schools. Meanwhile, The Norway Post reports that the Norwegian government is making plans to increase spending on teacher training.

Early Childhood Education

In Bulgariahttp://www.novinite.com reports that, in order to avoid a loss of EU funding, new legislation is being drafted and must go into effect by September 2014. Legislation includes revisions to a draft law on pre-school education, which include making pre-school education non-compulsory for 4-year-olds. Meanwhile, The Helsinki Times reports that Finland, where approximately 63% of children aged 1-6 attended daycare in 2012, is considering a new law that would “secure the high quality of early childhood education,” as well as all other issues, including funding and teacher quality.

New Schools and School Closure

According to Norways The Foreigner, Conservative Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen has proposed lifting current restrictions on establishing private schools. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has amended the Children and Young People Bill in order to defer decisions about school closures to new review panels. The aim of establishing these panels is to improve transparency and remove allegations of political bias from the process. In Lithuania, the Education and Science Ministry has approved a network of Russian-language schools, emphasizing that education programs of foreign countries and international organizations must be consistent with the education goals and principles in the Education Law of Lithuania, as well as the law on national security and other legal acts.

Curriculum

In Finland, The Helsinki Times reports that a high school reform task force delivered a proposal to the Minister of Education and Science in which they proposed reducing compulsory subjects, such as the study of Swedish, and introducing new interdisciplinary studies. The proposal has been met with resistance from some teachers and politicians. Meanwhile, in The New York Times, questions about the relationship between identity and the curriculum surface for Palestinian children who are educated in Israel, and Muslims who are educaed in Germany. The debate over language instruction is ongoing in countries such as The NetherlandsLatvia, and Japan.

In AustraliaAustralian Teacher Magazine reports on a new review of the national curriculum, which leadership feels should be pared back to basics. Kevin Donnely, one of two men who will conduct the review, raises concerns over teaching and learning, and considers the relationship between educational spending and learning outcomes. As he explains, “We really do need to know whether the millions and millions of dollars that’s gone into education over the last 20 years, where results have flatlined or have gone backwards – we want to know how effective that money has been.”

Japan

Interview with the Minister of Education

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (May 7, 2013)

Japan's Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura. REUTERS photo

Japan’s Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura. REUTERS photo

Mr. Shimomura, the Minister of Education, Culture , Sports, Science, and Technology, has just returned form his visit to European nations. Reflecting on his tour, he commented on the urgent necessity of shifting the paradigm of Japanese language education abroad. In the past, the target population of Japanese language education abroad was children of Japanese citizens, who intended to return to Japan in the near future. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of Japanese children who are not planning to return to Japan. Many of these children are biracial, having a Japanese parent who hopes to instill and nurture his/her children’s identity as Japanese. In response to this need, the MEXT will generate an plan on how to spread Japanese language education globally.
In addition, the MEXT plans to suggest other nations to teach Japanese in public schools. For example, the UK, has a plan of teaching seven foreign languages in elementary schools soon. However, in the current plan, Japanese is not included as one of those seven languages. The MEXT will communicate the ministry of education in the U.K about how important it is to teach Japanese to prepare global citizens, who can contribute to the world economy.

For more information:

Council proposes lowering age for English education

Japan’s ambitious proposals for higher education and language sectors

LDP takes aim at English education, seeks to boost TOEFL levels