Extracurricular sports in Japanese schools still too much, doing damage to education/future

1.
Did you know in Japan some students formally train everyday for a sport? And they do this for much of their junior and senior years (12-18 years of age). A 10,600 student survey revealed that 20 percent of students do not have a single day off training (they go to school even on weekends), because in Japan sporting achievement is considered important in building good character.

According to an article in today’s The Japan News the Government has trying to implement changes to lower club activity hours to have at least two days of rest and  weekend training limited to maximum four hours. On top of this, there was a call for outside instructors to be employed. At present, teachers are entrusted with training and taking students to and from meets. This means teachers as well are kept busy. There is no parent or outside involvement at this level.

2.
Most Japanese do not know what club activities are like overseas. In Australia where I grew up, a sport is played and trained for during the season only. For example, I played soccer (football) for eight years. Each Autumn I would go for try-outs, play for three or four months in the winter, then rest from spring onwards. Training at the younger age group were once a week for 2 hours. we had training twice a week for three hours in the last three school years. Every weekend we had a match. Parents were responsible to take their own children to the games or else carpool with other parents. Furthermore, parents were the coaches. I was lucky to have a good coach. I had an ex-Scottish second division player as coach for most of my eight years.

I also played other sports during the summer. Cricket (baseball-like sport) for 2 seasons and basketball for one season. Being free to join and leave club activities on a year-by-year basis meant I can try many other activities. Apart from sport, I joined the chess club, the choir, the percussion ensemble and the debating team. All of these experiences were important to me, making me who I am today.

3.
The Japanese people I tell to about my school experience are surprised but also skeptical of the system. Students in Japan are expected to join a club for the duration of the three years they are in junior or senior high school. They also cannot imagine not training for even a day or not training in the off-season. And students who leave a club halfway through are looked down upon.

The culture of club activity is hard to break. The Government has been implement changes for 20 years now with little effect. Resistance is strong with old habits hard to break. As a parent of two children living under the Japanese education I can only hope.

The “hidden” poverty in Japan and its effect on the future

A documentary on tonight’s NHK titled “The Hidden Poverty” said 1-in-6 children are under the living in poverty. Only until recently has the government began surveying this. What makes it hidden is that families are finding ways to make ends meet but at the expense of the children education. Some senior high school students are taking on not one but two part-time jobs. Stories of junior high and elementary school students foregoing beneficial activities like club participation and extracurricular studies simply because the family cannot afford it, all the while they keep quiet about their condition.

This problem will only become apparent in ten or twenty years time when those who suffered from this disadvantage become members of society. And unless we start talking about it will be too late to forestall the problems.

The only way, then, is to make this invisible problem visible. Like language teaching, the invisible things need to be made visible and therefore analyzable and teachable. Without visibility things are difficult to understand. We are creatures in the habit of making things observable. We do this with language, turning all into tangible objects and spaces.

Don’t blame the computers for poor scores

Recent PISA score (shown in today’s newspaper) from the OECD has shown Japan has dropped from 4th to 8th in the ranking for Reading. A government official was quoted as saying the lower score was due to the change to an all-computerised testing system, and that students were confused as to how to answer questions. But isn’t it true that all other students from around the world had the same conditions of this new test format?

Either Japan heavily prepares their students for these tests (which I suspect might be true) or they cannot cope with change. 

Think again. The students sitting for these tests are not the same students for the last test. So one must assume some kind of priming (preparing) is occurring here. So I guess it is not the students who cannot cope  with change. 

Hideo Kageyama Rocks

According to The Japan News (formerly The Daily Yomiuri) renowned Japanese educator Hideo Kageyama (homepage in Japanese) will be release a rock song entitled ‘Benkyo Shiyoze’ (Let’s Study!) on 8 May.

You have to hand it to Prof. Kageyama who is now advisor to the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education. His techniques for motivating students are fun and simple, making you wonder why we didn’t think of that in the first place.

Introduction of elite language education at Tokyo University

It’s about time such a program was introduced anywhere in Japan.

Tokyo University will start streaming some students into an elite language program to groom future global leaders (13 July 2012, Daily Yomiuri).

Although many unversities in Japan have something similar running nothing with such vision and aim is available.

Tertiary institutions have to take the lead in this way to ensure their country’s and people’s future.

What has Zen got to do with English language teaching?

Everything.

“Revisiting” my master in Zen on YouTube the other day I was compelled to think about what it means to be a language student and how it relates to Zen.

It seems to me many of the students I teach unnecessarily limit themselves with a psychological barrier – they believe they will never achieve native-like fluency. By thinking so they have effectively placed a limit upon what they can achieve.

Language itself already places limits upon you. So for students to place another one upon themselves, the limits become twofold.

But I am not saying that they will achieve native-like fluency either, but rather they make it harder to even remotely make any headway into acquiring a second language. To truly achieve native-like fluency one must have the years of experience in and exposure to the target language and culture. Nothing can replace that.

But nothing can stop you from trying and that is the essence of believing in being able to acquire some resemblance of a second language which is like native-like.

So the next question is how can I possibly teach my students to not place limits upon what they can achieve. Again, for this I will need to think that it is not impossible.

Do Japanese really need compulsory English?

In today’s Daily Yomiuri there was an article about the results from a survey of 3,225 middle school students on their perception about English.

The survey conducted by the National Institute for educational Policy Research found only eleven percent of students want to find work which requires English. But seventy percent also said they believed knowledge of English will help them get work in the same survey.

How to interpret these results?

It seems while there are pressures to learn English from companies and society the reality is most people don’t feel they really need it for work. In all likelihood most students will go on to work for companies which will continue to look at their English abilities all the while not really requiring them to use that knowledge in the workplace for any great length of time.

Do we really need to teach English in schools? The short answer is ‘yes’. This is obvious but it is not clear how we should teach it. Of course it should be compulsory BUT it should not be tested, if the survey results are any indication.

Since the bulk of students do require English in their work English should be taught not for passing tests but for practical communicative skills. If English is taught has a non-tested subject then teachers will have more freedom to teach these practical skills rather than grammar and vocabulary far removed from actual usage.

But because teachers are obliged to get students pass tests they focus on the things which are peripheral to actual communication. I have rarely met an English teacher who is truly interested in some aspect of English culture and so few teachers who ask questions about the pragmatics of language. So how do we expect our students to gain this knowledge when teachers are not interested themselves?

Three things Tokyo University students have in common

I was reminded by Stephen Krashen’s post on reading, access to books, and school performance about the three things Tokyo University students have that help them get into the University – bookshelves (with books of course, and the more the better), a globe (to help them see the world differently (or is it correctly)), and a piano (music is softens the mind for original and abstract thinking).

I don’t remember where the source for this is but it was in conversation with my wife and friends.

Respect for teachers – Japan at the bottom of the heap

According to a quiz question on Sekai no Hate Made Itte Q (The Quiz Show that Goes to the Ends of the Earth [for answers]) Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, The Philippines and Romania rank first (with 100%) as countries in which their tecahers are respected most by their students. Second was Italy and Third was Venezuela. The average for the fifty-one countries surveyed was 93%.

At the bottom was Japan with 41.8%.

There are two things which should be noted:

  1. The average is skewed heavily to the top, and
  2. There are at least 196 countries in the world.

One must be suspicious of the results from these numbers, especially if you are a statistician. Firstly, with the above information Japan must be an outlier in statistical terms. Secondly, was the countries for the survey randomly selected. Lastly, Korea was second from the bottom (is there a Asian connection here? Thanks A.E.).

From experience I would have to say Japanese students are rather disrespectful of teachers, often without reservation. But also how many cultures have “respect” grammaticalized as the Japanese language has.

≪学校の先生を尊敬する国ランキング≫ (in Japanese)

1位 (100%)

タイ、インドネシア、ブラジル、トルコ、フィリピン、ルーマニア

2位 (99.1%)

イタリア

3位 (99%)

ベネズエラ

51か国の平均は93%の人が先生を尊敬しているそうです。

では日本はどのくらいかというと、

順位は最下位で、41.8%です。

If you can’t even get your Japanese right how are you expected to get your English correct

My kids watch this show on NHK called Cooking Idol Ai My Mine. Great show about a girl who is a real live cooking show host. Shows like these truly give kids imagination and creativity.

But I was really disappointed in the looseness of their script writing in this dialogue shown the other day:

Child: “Are there truly angels in the world, Mine?”
Mine: “Yes, there are … Probably.”

So which is it, Mine – yes or maybe?

Were they (the script writers) afraid to take sides on this issue? Afterall, Japan is not a Christian nation (there is no concept of angel in Buddhism). Japanese Children are indecisive like this. Perhaps the writers were only a mirror for society. Or are they wearing rose tinted glasses?

Either way it is troubling.

This is one instant I can think of right now but there are many others I have come across over the years.