TheCaledonian comments

Posted in: Parenting book author says school system, overprotective parents killing kids' creativity See in context

You sure are fixated on the Western thing. Why not just stand up for the country you're from, or those you were educated in: it's not as if all Western countries are the same when it comes to education, or as if you've experienced them all.

Scotland (hence my nomiker 'TheCaledonian').

Of course I haven't experienced all Western education systems and of course there are local differences. But there are some generalisations that hold for the West, in the same way that we are partially justified in talking about East Asian education. If you're doubtful, I suggest Richard Nisbett's excellent 'The Geography of Thought' that explains the historical basis for these generalisations. It's a compelling read.

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Posted in: Parenting book author says school system, overprotective parents killing kids' creativity See in context

@ Kazuaki Shimazaki

Thanks for the Chinese example. The mathematics question is, actually, a well-structured problem, not an ill-structured one, so I'm not entirely sure that using 'critical thinking' skills is applicable here. Furthermore, it's not clear that the majority of Chinese maths students would be able to answer the question either. Indeed, you hinted at this result in your last sentence.

But your point, if I understand it properly, addresses the purposes of education at the level of personal values, asking What kind of citizenry should a nation-state aim to produce: those with a fundamental grasp of many algorithms and can apply them (perhaps) mechanically when needed, or those who can critically analyse propositions for bias and truth? Empirically, it does seem that the ideal of pursuing both aims simultaneously is not possible.

Responding to this question brings up issues of culture, of history, of methods, but most importantly, of deep-seated beliefs about notions of how each person should interrelate with their nation-state and globally. My own position is firmly based in the Humanist tradition. By this, I mean that I feel that education should be about developing the single person to the highest level possible. I do not believe that people are primarily workers or instruments of the state (purpose of education). I believe that the mechanical focus of education is based on a mistaken metaphor of the human mind being similar to a computer (method of education). Also, I'm not convinced that memorisation of mechanical rules is effective in helping people understand their relationship with themselves (development of the person).

Much of the previous paragraph is due to my Western upbringing, for sure. But I retain an open mind regarding the cognitive, affective and psychomotor processes in human learning, irrespective of regional setting. And in my professional life in Japan (teaching and research in a university), I do not see much evidence of higher-order thinking being employed consistently. This experience and research leads me towards the conclusion that much more can be done to improve the lives of Japanese people through education.

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Posted in: Parenting book author says school system, overprotective parents killing kids' creativity See in context

@ alwaysspeakingwisdom

If Universities in the west are spending money on bonehead class for college students, the universities themselves are saying -with their money- that the student's skills are not "good enough " for higher level work.

You are right about the existence of these classes, but I'm afraid that you have misread the reasons in the reports about why remedial classes exist in Western universities.

Two reasons exist.

1) There has been a serious drive towards inclusion (of lower-classes, of non-native-English-speakers, of various races, etc.) in Western universities. The result of this has been the affirmative action policies that give non-traditional students university places. The corollary of this has been the need to provide remedial classes.

2) Exit standards for university are high. There is a perceived need to maintain high standards of graduating students. As universities are often huge in numbers (as compared with Japanese institutions), there is going to be a bell-curve of abilities. Hence the remedial classes.

In Japan, for (1) stratification is done through the university entrance exam (and Centa Shiken) and no affirmative action is done; for (2), once matriculated, 95% of Japanese undergraduates will graduate irrespective of their actual development or ability. This phenomenon is widely understood.

In comparison, not only have Japanese students master the basics but they quickly mastering higher level work. Moreover, since Japanese students foundations are stronger it follows that they will have a stronger grasp of higher level skills and knowledge.

You have not provided any evidence, theoretical arguments, nor reasons for your claims. They remain at the level of opinion. You are, I'm afraid to say, personifying the very stereotype that you claim does not exist!

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Posted in: Parenting book author says school system, overprotective parents killing kids' creativity See in context

*But all the test including the pisa test shows  *western students can not even answer " well-structured problems. That is, the answers are deducible from the elements inside the problem space."

How can western students do higher level work when they can even do the basics?

So in reality you have no data to support your conclusion . Only an opinion supported by nothing. In comparison, we have test scores showing Japanese students blowing right by their western peers.

What data point do have?

You're right; there is no internationally-recognised comparison of cross-country ill-structured problem solving. All we have at the tertiary level are university league tables, which tell us little about the educational content and abilities of students.

But we do have more than opinion. At least four sources exist that can inform us of probable levels of higher-order thinking skills.

1) Educational psychology theory

The logic goes like this; if students do not practice the relevant lower-order cognitive processes that are necessary for well-structured problem solving, it is unlikely that the latter can develop well. Cross-cultural comparisons of Western and Japanese school textbooks do indicate that inferencing and predicting skills are missing in Japanese texts. Even in Kokugo (where some inferencing is taught), generally the questions centre on meanings and understanding that are directly based on non-inferential aspects in the given text. School-age children are not encouraged to question textual truth claims and not to find text-external relevant evidentiary bases to support their arguments. In such an environment, children are enculturated into non-questioning and into expecting that all relevant information is present. When information is not directly observable, the resulting ideas are opinions and can be accepted or dismissed without consideration. However, opinion-level discussions are not high-level discussions, if they can even be called 'discussions'.

2) Japanese higher educational researchers

Many Japanese higher education researchers also bemoan the level of critical literacy exhibited in Japanese university students. They have recognised that the well-structured nature of middle- and high-schools has stifled creative and critical reading skills. The Osaka University Academic Literacy Research Group regularly study and report on this problem extensively, for example.

3) Cross-cultural studies in related cognitive processes

In personal epistemology, for example, Hofer (2010) compared undergraduates from Japan and the US in terms of their acceptance or questioning of the printed text finding that the Japanese cohort were more believing of authorities. Such direct comparison studies are rare, but when the same valid instrumentation is used in different cultural milieu, some idea of the cognitive differences becomes possible. Boku and Mercier (2017) report on weaker argumentation skills in Japanese undergraduates and refer to earlier studies that support the same position.

Other fields that investigate related issues include Reflective Judgment, Argumentation and Epistemic Cognition. It's interesting to note that research in these fields is remarkably underdeveloped in Japan. Western countries are rapidly and extensively finding out about their children's/students' higher-order thinking abilities, but not here.

4) Anecdotal evidence

The famous qualitative research theorist, Michael Quinn Patton once noted that 'The plural of anecdote is data', meaning that all data is the collection of single pieces of evidence. Arguably, the vast majority of Western educators who have experience in the Japanese higher education system agree that the level of higher-order thinking exhibited by Japanese undergraduates is low. Some of this will be due to language difficulties, but we're not so silly as to forget that. Western teachers don't come here and say 'Wow! The students' thinking is so impressive'. There is something missing in the educational experience that leads us to our conclusions. And--as per point (2)--many Japanese educators also agree.

How can western students do higher level work when they can even do the basics?

The psychological concept of 'good enough' is relevant here. It's not that Westerners cannot do 'the basics'; it's that they are done well enough to allow them time to practice the higher skills. If there's no higher skill practice because all you're doing is 'the basics', it stands to reason that those higher skills will not develop.

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Posted in: Parenting book author says school system, overprotective parents killing kids' creativity See in context

@jcjapan

I agree fully with the general tenor of your post, but I'd like to qualify this statement a bit.

Japanese students almost always have a better command of things they memorized in secondary school but little capacity (in any language) to think critically about what they've learned, to offer their own ideas, to draw connections or offer critiques. 

The ability to draw inferences, then assess the origin and rationality of these inferences prior to evaluating if the inferences are plausible is entirely missing from (the printed rubrics in) Japanese middle- and high-school texts.

Inference building is a necessary but insufficient precursor to higher-level thinking, including critical thinking. However, in language arts, in history, in social science in schools, the output desired from children is at the level of opinion. Typically, and unless a particular teacher has a more enlightened pedagogy, opinion-level statements are not assessed nor evaluated epistemically. The result is that university-level students believe that there are fixed and absolute answers in the physical sciences and mathematics and that the other disciplines are a collection of opinion-level statements, which can be taken or left.

In my own research, I've found very few university-level students in Japan have a conception of how theory operates and how knowledge is created, justified and refined.

In many Western countries, the pedagogy in these disciplines (including the physical sciences) centres on producing children who are aware of the need to provide justifiable evidence and rationales for any truth claim they make. They are also trained in reading texts for subtext and contexts. Not all children do a great job, but generally, the level of critical reading in the university-age and adult populations is of a categorically more sophisticated level than what is observed in Japan.

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Posted in: Parenting book author says school system, overprotective parents killing kids' creativity See in context

In science literacy, the main topic of PISA 2015, 15-year-olds in Japan score 538 points compared to an average of 493 points in OECD countries. [SNIP ... ]

Not bad for automatons.

No. This is based on a misconception.

The PISA test items are well-structured problems. That is, the answers are deducible from the elements inside the problem space. Teach the elements and relationships and children can learn to do well on well-structured problems.

Twenty-first-century skills, on the other hand, are of the ill-structured problem type. The skills required to respond to 21st-century problems include the abilities: to conceive problems; to isolate relevant and purposeful elements and relationships; and to assess and evaluate between solution contenders. None of these skills are actively taught in Japanese middle- and high-schools.

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Posted in: Cold wave grips Hokkaido See in context

While temperatures are shown in Fahrenheit in America. I am often puzzled. Unify the units.

Indeed, unify to Celsius and join the rest of the world. This is Japan, the website is JAPAN today, and Japan--in common with most countries--uses Celsius. The level of arrogance in the demand to unify shocks me.

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Posted in: Tokyo 2020 unveils names for Olympic Games & city volunteer teams See in context

The name 'City Cast' works well in katakana. I hope that visitors who have not gotten accustomed to katakana pronunciation don't take it the wrong way!

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Posted in: It is wrong to use those meaningless conferences to embellish scholarly performances, and a waste of research funds. See in context

I get these weekly and have checked a few of them out. Typically presenters' entrance fee is in the USD400 (44,000 yen) range. The JALT International Conference is, by comparison, much cheaper at 21,000 yen and the IELTS is 32,000 yen. What you get for, say, 21,000 yen is a package of over 600 presentations over 3 days.

However, most other conferences are more expensive. The upcoming European Conference on Language Learning at Birkbeck, University of London charges 50,000 yen for presenters, for example.

Academia is a game, in a sense, though. If your work can be promulgated better at conference A more than at conference B, who is to say which is better? But this is just my opinion. I'd like to hear from someone who has actually attended one of those conferences that are being framed as a form of spam.

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Posted in: High schools in 2 prefectures stop asking students to specify their gender on application forms See in context

@CH3CHO You raise an interesting point. In terms of educational achievement, it's now well-established that females perform better than males in reading and writing and in continuation to higher education. Even the earlier belief about males outperforming females in maths is being challenged.

The sex differences between females and males is sufficient to raise serious questions about how so-called 'gender' issues are addressed. This idea of removing sex (not gender) information from application forms seriously risks creating an educational environment that promotes learning in females and destroying male access to education.

In terms of systemic approaches to actual gender issues, Japan (along with the Western nations) has achieved parity to the extent where females are privileged in law, in mental health provision and in quality of life (https://bigi.genderequality.info/). Of course, systems cannot control cultural attitudes (hence third-wave feminism's aims of destroying masculinities through social control) and there are some genuine areas of concern there. But to assume that we live in anti-female world is, by the measurements of law, education and life quality, patently absurd. Removing the sex information is based on this weird assumption and is ultimately dangerous to males.

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Posted in: Crushing workload at schools is causing more Japanese teachers to suffer chronic depression See in context

I'd like to be able to upvote this comment multiple times.

Fizzbit: I can’t.

Fair enough. And I agree that channelling the energies of schoolchildren towards productive aims does seem desirable.

However, the question is if this should be a matter for governmental educational policy or for individual families. I suspect that you favour an official approach, but I'm firmly in the libertarian side.

I have in front of me Sendai City Board of Education's 2019 teacher recruitment pamphlet. Eight teachers' weekday daily schedule are given. All arrive in school before 8 am. All leave after 6:30 pm. Their sleeping hours all fall below the recommended 7-9 hours (in multiple Western sources), usually at 5 and 1/2 or 6. In summary, we have 10-11 hour work days on top of sleep deprivation.

It's too much to argue here that the bukatsu system is the sole factor in creating this toxic culture of excessive adult workload with little work-life balance, but I feel that it contributes significantly. As a Western father seeing my bi-cultural children become enculturated into the Japanese mindset, I have often wondered how people become Japanese. The bukatsu idea is instrumental.

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Posted in: Crushing workload at schools is causing more Japanese teachers to suffer chronic depression See in context

The coercive practice of Bukatsu impinging on pupils' precious free time to explore and learn outside of the soul-destroying examination mania is a blatant attempt by the state to control and discipline the student body in order to dilute individualism and promote conformity. 

I'd like to be able to upvote this comment multiple times.

In addition, the bukatsu system also erodes the family structure by reducing weekend and holiday times with family. Many, many times I've had my family's plan disrupted or abandoned because of bukatsu. My poor children want to enjoy the family trips but can't due to the pressure they face by bukatsu members for non-attendance. Our Christmas day family meal was tainted in this way because one club member complained that my youngest would attend practice on that day. This is one example of state-endorsed peer-pressure enculturating its young into highly collective patterns of thought that deny individualism.

The result is that family trips and such are highly curtailed.

The supervisors of these 'extra' curricular activities are, of course, teachers. And it's worthwhile remembering that bukatsu also limits teachers' private lives and is a factor in the cause of the number of depressive teachers.

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