Day 5

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2007 (DAY 5).

It was a short night.  The moments that I was awake and not working on the computer, I was able to read and determine a few things that I wanted to try and see while here, if time allowed, especially on my upcoming free day on Saturday.  The schedules are incredibly full, but awesome with information about education, Japanese life, culture and people.  It was light outside and the Tokyo Tower was still standing.  But still nothing with the computer, as I could not reconnect with the Internet.  As I closed out all the pages I had open from last night, I found that my connection had timed out, as I had it scheduled in 24 hour increments and had not clicked okay to renew it!  It was all as simple as that!  I got dressed, professional dress today, and headed off to another grand breakfast, I hoped.  There seemed to be many tired people.  Many had been up most of the night or up about 3am due to the jet-lag kicking in!  The breakfast was another amazing collection of trays and buffet holders of western and Asian foods.  One interesting thing is that salads are also served.  I talked with a few teachers that I have gotten to know and in our “free time” the next couple of days is really going to be fun!  I wont reveal those plans here just yet!  After breakfast, I did go to the lobby where the JFMF staff had a variety of options for us to look at for our one free day (it’s unscheduled so that way we could do something that we really wanted to do, if there was something)  that we would have here.  I let them know that I was interested in something different.  I had heard the plans of many and really didn’t want to go to another city. I had thought that I would like to go to Hiroshima, but that would be 4 hours one way by bullet train.  That would leave very little time there, and then having to come back all the same day.  But then, it would still be interesting.  The directors really discouraged us from going so far, as we really are under their care.  The gal that helped me was great.  She pulled out a brochure that matched everything I described to her and we set it up.  Sorry, I’ll save what I am doing for the Saturday notes! 

It was time to go to the first session.  Again, we were reminded NOT to be late.  The day’s keynote speech and information was given by Mr Tsutomu Kimura, President, National Institution for Academic Degrees.  He is in charge of the advisory panel on education to the government of Japan and has been awarded several commendations and even an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.  (Later on, many people referred to him as the Education Minister, but he was actually an advisor to the Japanese Government).  The information he presented was quite interesting.  Here are some notes of that information as I heard it.  He mentioned that the benchmark for change in Japan was the war (World War II).  He gave us some background in public schooling in Japan.  School starts at the age of 6 (being primary school up to the 6th grade) then to junior high school (until about 15 years old).  Known as “compulsory education”, primary and lower secondary (junior high school) are required.  Then about 98% of junior high school students go to high school (upper secondary).  And then following, 51% go to university.  In 1997 the National Curriculum was revised.  The Japanese Government pays the total on textbooks for compulsory education and 1/3 the teacher salaries.  The rest is paid by the local government(s).  Teacher license renewals are ½ paid by the government.  There are presently 87 state universities (there used to be 99, but some consolidated).  There are a total of 600 universities throughout Japan.  Public universities are run by the local governments.  There are about 70 municipal universities, the others are private..  In the “Edo Period” about 80% attended school.  Now it’s 98% attendance in secondary schools.   Japan maintains a 0% illiteracy rate.   Schools are encouraged to give children room to grow and encourage a zest for living.  In public school there are about 3.6 million students (1.2 million at each level).  There are about 140,000 (3%) that refuse to go to school and this is becoming a more and more difficult problem.  Some time ago in one area of Tokyo there was a 40% dropout rate.  The schools that had this difficulty were called encouraged schools (or were “encouraged” schools).  After some recent work with changes, now the dropouts are about 5%.  In 2008 there will only be two schools designated “encouraged schools.”   Bullying is a concern at the 7th and 8th grade levels, and violence levels in schools is increasing, but seems to be higher at the middle school level.  There are 12,000 junior high schools in Japan and 1600 have had recorded violence incidents.  To reduce the school bullying, they are trying to use school counselors to help.  Right now there are 0.8 counselors per school throughout the country.  The schools continue to raise expectations, but they are noticing that many students seem to stay away from math and science (even though there are still countless numbers that go into these areas).  But, the motivation to study is very important.  And, it is still a difficulty for teachers to try to increase that motivation for students to study.    Interestingly enough there is a Buddhist temple (somewhere in Japan) that was built entirely to honor or maybe to educate those that visit or pray there in the area of math.  There are math and geometry quizzes all over the temple.  If I heard this correctly, there are some 10,000 of these!  This was to be geometry for ordinary people and to continue to take quizzes.   The relationship between the Japanese Government and teachers, as a whole, is good.  They are both battling “monster parents”.  These are parents that are concerned about their own child’s academic performance, but not at all concerned about education as a whole, the school, school life, or any other student, or the workplace for teaches, etc.  (The term “monster parents” seems to be well known in the educational circles all across Japan).  The rise of the “monster parent” started after the war.  And, worst of all, the “monster parents” blame the teachers if their child does not perform well, and never consider that they have a part in this.   Local governments hire their teachers, but the curriculum is controlled nationally.  Students which are considered “criminal students” are sent to special facilities, but are allowed educations.  As far as education on-line, this is limited as it is mostly all in English.  This type of education is behind in Japan, but the quality control guidelines must be met as well.   The “zest for living” (mentioned earlier) is incorporated (embedded) into the curriculum as “daily habits” on how to adapt and adjust.  Also, in the new curriculum there is a requirement to increase physical exercises.  There was so much information, facts and figures that were presented.  I tried to do my best in trying to record at least some of these.  At this point, I look forward to seeing the schools.  Even though he has presented these raw numbers and facts, as I said, I really am excited to see their schools.  (I will be in Ota-ku touring an elementary, junior high, and high school, and also Tokyo University next week).

(NOTE:  there is much more on education that I will record in another place on this website.  This information was not in the presentation notes that I had from Mr. Kimura)

After his education presentation of 90 minutes, we had a quick break, and then a 90 minute presentation on Japan’s Economy by Dr Takahiro Miyao, (pronounced mee-ow),  a professor from the International University of Japan.  He had a great sense of humor.  His presentation was as equally fascinating. Here are some notes I took from it.  The Japanese economy is second only to that of the United States.  (In some ways it seems like it is first).  Some experts think that China’s should be the second largest, but the GDP says otherwise.  GDP is the Gross Domestic Product.  China’s prices are about 1/3 of USD 1.  50% of the materials/goods from China are exported.  The Chinese software market is growing fast, but it is in India, too.  There are more graduates in computer science than in the US.  The Americans see very successful corporations in Japan.  Americans see and have heard of Toyota, Honda, Sony, etc.  But, many companies are failing.  The Japanese budget for development is huge and larger than the GDP.  Why?  The last 10 years the economy, as the Japanese see it, was stagnate.  Tax in Japan is like the British VAT (value added tax) at 5%., and this should be raised.  Many changes and draws on the government monies.  The public pensions are becoming a problem.  The families are changing sizes…they are getting smaller.  People are waiting to get married, waiting to have children.  There is not even a replacement population.  That would require 2.3 children per couple.  Population decreasing?   The focus on continuing to bring money into the country (especially for trade) is to continue to promote innovation—and this right now seems to be the way out of some of these difficulties.   I stood and asked a question, which he acknowleged was quite good.  I asked about a general perception that Americans have.  Americans, generally, are amazed at the incredible and dedicated work ethic that seems to be displayed by the Japanese.  This seems to be evident from education to the products they produce, among other ways.  Dr. Miyao suggested that if this is true, one of the things that the Japanese lack, that the Americans have done successfully is “service.”   Maybe the products and the work is/are exceptional, but to be able to take care of with good service is not a quality that he felt was a forte of the Japanese.

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Then it was our lunch break.  It was a huge and amazing buffet, similar to that of breakfast with many, many trays and pots of food, but with chicken, meats, salads, sushi and sashimi, and wonderful deserts.  We were reminded to be at the next session 15 minutes ahead of time and to sit silently, not talking or whispering as this is respectful and the way we should honor our next special presenters.  Members of Japan’s Parliament (“The Diet”) arrived to give us a presentation on the Japanese Government.  One of the presenters was the most senior statesman of Japan, having served for over 30 years, Honorable Mr Yuji Tsushima from the House of Representatives and also a lady from the House as well.  While they were giving their presentations, Kyoko Jones quickly appeared in front of me, handed me a paper and disappeared off to the side.  She was watching me.  I thought I had done something wrong, as I am sitting in the very front row.  No.  It was a request that on behalf of the group that I thank Mr Tsushima for our tour yesterday of The Diet (Governemnt Building) and also the book that they gave us on the Japanese Government.  I did, but due to the applause, and the repeated signals from Kyoko Jones, had to do it three times to get his attention.  Wow, that was pretty neat, though, to be addressing and asking for the attention of one of Japan’s highest parliamentarians, even if it was to say thank you!

Immediately after this session, another person came in representing Japan’s Sunmark Publishing company.  He read his presentation in English very carefully.  The result was that he presented us each with two books written by Kenji Miyazawa translated into English.  He hoped that we would accept these and learn more about Japanese culture.  Amazing. 

This all finished by 4pm.  It was a very fascinating day filled with information to give us a better understanding of the workings of Japan.

At 4:30pm, I met two other teachers and we were off…off to Tokyo Disneyland.  In a few short stops and one train transfer, we were there.  The doors open to the subway, and there it is.  We stayed until the park closed at 10pm and then went to the shops until 11 and then returned back to the hotel by 1230am.