Monthly Archives: May 2011

A ¥100 Map in Every Classroom

Virtually every juku classroom that I’ve ever visited has a world map on the wall. You know the one with the flags of all UN members arranged around the outside of the map. These are generally available at the ¥100-shop (equivalent to Dollar Stores).

Generally, these maps are quite decorative in that they are colourful and with their B3 size take up a bit of wall space. What I do find surprising is how universal this is as decoration.

In addition to being decorate, the world map obviously also includes information, namely the names of countries, important geographical features, etc. Much of this information may also show up as test material in social studies classes.

However, world maps are not the only imaginable decoration-cum-learning-content. What about a periodic chart of elements? Or, geometrical shapes and their accompanying formulae for area and volume? Geometry takes up substantially more teaching time and commands more attention (in part because arithmetic/mathematics is a subject that features on more entrance examinations) than geography does, but somehow the world map has established itself as decoration of choice for juku classrooms.

“Enduring Contexts”: Nomi

As part of the “Enduring Contexts” discussions, Tomoaki Nomi, Southeast Missouri State Univ, presented some of his work on the link between socio-economic background and students’ academic achievement. He is drawing on data from Tokyo prefecture and focuses on elementary and middle school.

In his paper, Nomi referred to the general decline of academic standards in Japan as a “widely recognized trend”. I strongly object to this view, as I also expressed in my comments on Hyunjoon Park‘s contribution. In short, what is important about Japan’s PISA scores is that they have been interpreted (along with other data) to suggest a general trend of decline and this perception is pervasive, not whether this trend is actually empirically substantiated (which I doubt). Keita Takayama has written decisively about this issue and has recently been awarded the CIES’ George Bereday Award for the most outstanding article published in the Comparative Education Review. In the end, this was more of a semantic disagreement with Nomi.

For further reading, I would  recommend Nomi’s Japan Focus article: “Inequality and Japanese Education: Urgent Choices“. For a different view articulated most prominently by Takehiko Kariya, see “Misinterpreting Globalization in the Context of Japanese Education Policy” in Asia Pacific Memo.

CIES Presentation Langager et al.: Balancing CJK and English Literacy Objectives

With thanks to Mark Langager for sharing their abstract.

Wednesday May 4: Session 424, 13:45-15:15h, Floor C – Saint Laurent

Mark Langager, Hui Xu, and Jadong Kim, International Christian University

“Balancing CJK and English Literacy Objectives: A Case Study of East Asian Supplementary Schools in the Seattle Area”


Biliteracy has been broadly seen as being acquired by learners on a number of continua (Hornberger, 1989) between sets of two poles, including L1 versus L2 dominance, textual versus oral skills, communicative versus academic language and so forth. Until the recent work of Kondo-Brown and others (2006), however, most of the biliteracy literature has focused on that which occurs between languages with Latinate orthographies. Moreover, outcomes typically view language minorities as immigrants and thus favor analyses, findings, and conclusions based on skills in L2, generally the language of the host country and often the researcher (Langager, 2010).

Staking a more neutral spot on the continuum between ultimate L1 versus L2 literacy objectives, the current study uses interview and observation data to examine educational objectives of Chinese, Japanese and Korean communities providing L1 Saturday instruction at supplementary schools in the Seattle area. Students’ US residence ranges from short-term to long-term and thus literacy goals favor a range of priorities between L1 and L2. Initial findings suggest the three language communities all differ systematically in their literacy acquisition goals, albeit all three hold fast to both L1 and L2 objectives. Differences are identified among the three communities in the quality of governmental overseas assistance, circumstances bringing families to the US, educational career paths, and the place of entrance exams in the homeland. Accordingly, while children’s education varies considerably among individuals, separate patterns can be traced for the three communities.

“Enduring Contexts”: Akiba

Akiba’s contribution to the “Enduring Contexts” project was based on her article on bullying in Japanese middle schools: Motoko Akiba, Kazuhiko Shimizu, and Yue-Lin Zhuang. 2010. “Bullies, Victims, and Teachers in Japanese Middle Schools“, 54(3): 369-392.

One of the very interesting aspects of attempt to (ac)count (for) widespread bullying (いじめ ijime) in Japan is that the MEXT statistics suggest that the incidence of bullying is actually declining. Akiba et al. thus cite official statistics as showing that reported cases dropped from approx. 60,000 in 1995 to approx. 20,000 in 2005. Magical, that! This has got to be one of the all-time rare instances of the recognition, naming and consciousness of a social problem to lead to a reduction in incidence. It seems to me that most social ills that I can think of increase in reported incidence as they are recognized by society, the media, and the state as a category of social ill. Hate crimes would be an interesting example of such a development that a former PhD student of mine, Bern Haggerty, has written about.

There probably is a literature or at least some writings on why we would see the drop in reported cases of bullying in Japan, but the two explanations that come to mind would be that MEXT also created a category of violence in school that may be ‘attracting’ some of the reports of bullying, and that there are no incentives for principals to report on bullying in an accurate and truthful manner, especially with the introduction of school choice down to the middle school level in many Japanese jurisdictions.

Compared to these official statistics, Akiba et al.’s figures of around 30% of middle school students in one school district reporting victimization are obviously much higher. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: the per grade population of Japanese students must be on the scale of 1 million so that a 30% victimization rate in middle school would suggest around 3 mio victims at that level of schooling alone. That calculation makes me wonder a bit about self-reported victimization/perpetration as it seems so enormous.

One of the clearest findings in Akiba et al. is the higher rate of victimization and perpetration of physical violence for boys than for girls.

I am less convinced by some of the causality implied by Akiba et al.’s article which Motoko Akiba also included in her presentation to the Enduring Contexts meeting.

They discuss a causal relationship between negative valuation of schooling and bullying (victimization and perpetration), but it seems to me that the causal direction has to be going in both directions for this. For example, status as a teacher’s pet (presumably high value of schooling) may lead to victimization, but that victimization of a teacher’s pet might reinforce this victim’s high value for schooling as well.

When I raised the issue of causal directionality in the discussions, Victor Kobayashi (correctly, in my mind) suggested that we ought to think about (and analyze) bullying in relational terms, i.e. as a relationship between perpetrator, victim, and also teachers, esp. the homeroom teachers that Akiba et al. focus on in their analysis.

The focus on homeroom teachers immediately begged a comparison with owner-operators of juku. As is the case with homeroom teachers, jukucho take/bear a special responsibility for the development of students beyond their scholastic progress. For some jukusei enrolled in a small juku past their transitions through the educational system, their link with a charismatic jukucho may be the strongest social link and bond with anyone in education. A measurement of that link with a jukucho, especially for students who maintain a strong social tie with a juku (this would clearly be much more common in smaller juku than in the highly competitive urban corporate juku) would make for a fascinating control variable for Akiba et al.’s analysis, though the data obviously do not exist for this.

In a survey, I would expect that we would find a greater proportion of students in middle school reporting a strong bond with a jukucho than with a homeroom teacher.

The juku comparison also came to my mind because I have asked jukucho about bullying directly and have always been told that there is no bullying in juku. I have discounted some of that response as a PR claim (I suspect, for example, that bullying incidents that occur in transit between school and juku would be blamed on schools, not the juku by most parents), but have taken the explanation seriously that jukucho can threaten expulsion from the juku in a way that school principals or homeroom teachers cannot. Akiba et al.’s finding of the significance of a strong bond with homeroom teachers suggest that low rates of bullying in juku (if there were data to support this claim) could be associated with strong social bonds with juku teachers. A comparison between owner-operated and corporate juku would be illuminating in this regard.

“Student guidance” may also play a role in shaping social relationships in some juku.

One of the empirical findings that Akiba reported is the decline of incidents of bullying across middle school grades (i.e., less bullying in 9th than in 7th grades). Could this be linked to the kohai-sempai relatonship? I.e. sempai are not bullied (lower incidence for grade 9) and may not consider their interactions with some kohai bullying and thus don’t report them as such.

Supplementary Education Stepping Out of the Shadow Part II: Comments and Observations

All comments based on presentations rather than papers (for now, perhaps).


Brehm and Silova characterized the fact that shadow education may be supplanting conventional schools in importance as a “uniqueness of the Cambodian context”. As the subsequent discussion also showed, this is not unique to Cambodia at all and may in fact be part of a broader trend described by the title of this post, i.e. that shadow education is stepping out of the shadow. In the Cambodian context this stepping out of the shadow is occurring (as the presentation showed) through the role of conventional schools as an entry point to tutoring. Since it is teachers themselves who are offering tutoring (this is one of the common characteristics of shadow education in developing countries where it is mainly linked to low salaries for teachers), classes in conventional schools (already curtailed by the infrastructure need to double cohorts in school facilities creating a short school day) are a funnel into gradations of tutoring, “extra study” and “extra special study” in local parlance.

Hong Kong:

The pop start character of some tutors obviously distinguishes HK and is something that is not at all widely visible in Japan. While there are certain juku and yobiko instructors in Japan who have a bit of a start following, the large billboards of teams of prominent tutors that can be found in Hong Kong make for a celebrity status that seems somewhat outlandish in most other places. A couple of years ago CNN ran a report on one such celebrity tutor that Mark Bray also referred to as part of his presentation.


I did not know anything about shadow education prior to this presentation, so it was great to learn more, even though it was not surprising to hear that supplementary education is a substantial sector in Malaysia as well.

In contrast to Hong Kong, Cambodia, Japan and elsewhere, “private tuition” in Malaysia does seem to remain in the shadow in that Kenayathulla responded to a question that there is no sense of “the real learning is happening in shadow education”.

Another very interesting aspect of shadow education in Malaysia is the different use of tutors by ethnic groups linked to language needs and preferences.

Now some themes that I saw in these papers and which I talked about briefly at the session in my role as discussant.

1. The interaction between conventional schools and shadow education seems to be shifting in many jurisdictions. When I first began with my research on juku about six years ago, juku in Japan seemed very separate from schools, public or private. Recently, we’ve seen some occasions/spaces/programs in Japan where that separation is being watered down, for example through so-called 校内塾 (kônaijuku), that is juku within schools, that are offering juku services, aka classes, on school grounds in the afternoons/evenings or on weekends. This is primarily occurring in within the 23 wards of Tokyo to my knowledge though may also be spreading.

That’s one version of shadow education leaving the shadow. The other version is the anecdotal reports (including on Cambodia and Hong Kong in the presentations and Q&A) that students increasingly (over time? cross-regionally? what ages?) hold the view that their “real learning” is occurring in juku and that they sleep in conventional school to preserve their energy for juku classes, or because they studied until late into the evening in juku and are thus tired.

Shadow education thus seems to be increasingly (primarily over time) exerting an influence on conventional schools. Mark Bray spoke of “backwash” to the school system in this context, or of a “blending” of schools and shadow education.

This blending was also a theme, by the way, in the discussions at a workshop on “The Worldwide Growth of Supplementary Education” that I co-organized with Janice Aurini (U of Waterloo) and Scott Davies (McMaster U) last June at Waterloo.

2. Parents’ and students’ choices are increasingly driven by widely held perceptions of the quality (or, generally, lack thereof) of conventional schools. In the discussion and Q&A Mark Bray used the metaphor of shadow education as a “virus” infecting school systems. In this metaphor, popular perceptions are clearly the factor that are significantly weakening school systems’ immune systems and making them susceptible to this virus. The fact that the spread of this virus is not at all based on any established facts or, God forbid, research on the efficacy of tutoring, doesn’t surprise Bray at all, since educational policy has rarely been based on real data and evidence in other areas either.

3. While shadow education in developing countries (say, Cambodia), industrializing countries (Malaysia, perhaps), and developed countries (HK) may be increasingly similar in the breadth of its impact on conventional schools, one of the main distinguishing features that remains is the organizational form. In Japan, across East Asia, but also with some of the cross-border M&A activities in Europe by growing concerns like Acadomia (based in France) or Studienkreis (based in Germany), shadow education in developed countries is increasingly taking on the characteristics of highly institutionalized industrial sectors or organizational fields. In developing countries, tutoring continues to be a more personalistic affair.

4. There are some areas where public/state education policy is preserving its influence very strongly.

  • curriculum: almost all academic shadow education continues to focus on the content defined by public curricula and courses of study, even if this content is often mediated by (entrance) examinations of various kinds and thus not set in its specificity by public policy makers.
  • transitions: the progression from one level of education to another (primary to secondary, secondary to vocational, etc.) is still governed by the structure of the education system as it is determined by public actors
  • policy makers are experimenting with regulations of shadow education. The longest-standing example is the South Korean state’s battle against shadow education in the name of (in)equality, but the no more than 45 students per classroom policy in Hong Kong, or voucher systems in Malaysia, are clear examples of more widespread (albeit ineffectual for the most part) experimentation with the regulation of shadow education.

5. Inequality, inequality, inequality. All kinds of inequalities seem to be exacerbated by shadow education: economic, rural/urban, ethnic, etc. Inequality in access to shadow education is also believed to lead to inequality in education outcomes, though that is conditional on the unproven efficacy of shadow education.

Supplementary Education Stepping Out of the Shadow

Wonderful session at CIES this morning:

Markets, shadows, and schools: The impact and implications of private tutoring in Asia
Chair and Organizer: Mark Bray, Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong

The hidden privatization of public education in Cambodia: Quality and equity implications of private tutoring” William C Brehm, This Life CambodiaIveta Silova, Lehigh University, USA

“The evolving shadow: Supplementary private tutoring in Hong Kong” Mark Bray

“Tuition syndrome: Determinants of private tutoring in Malaysia” Husaina Kenayathulla, Indiana University, USA

First, some quick summaries/observations of the presentations/panel. Then, some broader comments inspired by the panel discussions.

Brehm/Silova on Cambodia:

They argue that private tutoring is a conduit by which traditional social relations (primarily hierarchical) are reproduced in education even though the public education system is committed to the provision of free education to Cambodian students.

Data come from fieldwork in Cambodia that include interviews with teachers and students and focus on the costs and organizational structure associated with private tutoring. Through this fieldwork Brehm/Silova are able to offer summary data on the cost of tutoring in different categories, i.e. by level of education and rural/urban location. These costs range from 200 Riel/hr (approx. C¢5) to 16,000 Riel/hr (C$3.75).

The presentation highlighted the fact that students are classified into different achievement groups in public schools and that this classification may well have come to be based on students’/parents’ willingness/ability to pay their school teachers for tutoring.

This intertwining of classroom practices, teachers’ salaries and private tutoring is increasingly turning public schools into a mere ‘façade’ on an entry point to private tutoring.

Bray on Hong Kong:

Bray relied on visuals to provide a striking impression of the current context of private tutoring in Hong Kong. From videos focused on celebrity tutors and their students, to photographs of the splashy advertising that the tutoring industry decorates Hong Kong with, this industry clearly has become a very visible part of schooling in Hong Kong.

As an anecdotal aside Bray mentioned that classroom size is limited to <45 students (by regulation), but that celebrity tutors circumvent this by having glass divisions between classrooms staffed with “dummy tutors”.

Kenayathulla on Malaysia:

Kenayathulla presented her models of the likelhood of spending on private tutoring and the amount spent.

“Enduring Contexts”: The Shifting Balance of Power or Points of Initiative within Japanese Education Policy

Fascinating discussions on contemporary Japanese education with a specific focus on educational policy over the last two days in Montreal.

12 researchers gathered by Chris Bjork (Vassar College) and Gary DeCoker (Earlham College) to talk about “Japanese Education in the Era of Globalization: Enduring Issues in New Contexts”. Lots of specific points to write about from the presentations and discussions, but one of the main themes that struck me in the course of discussions was the changing role of the Ministry of Education in Japan.

While the pre-Asia Pacific War ministry was almighty, its postwar reincarnation was initially limited in its policy-making power by the U.S. occupation. With the end of the occupation, the Ministry was able to pull some of its administrative and policy-making power back into the centre in Tokyo (this is a crucial part of my analysis of postwar history education). Over the postwar period, the only significant opposition to the Ministry was 日教組 (Nikkyoso, the Japanese Teachers’ Union). I have thus been accustomed to characterize the Japanese education system through the high growth era as highly centralized with the Ministry representing the pinnacle of decision-making, as well as the source of policy initiatives.

This does not mean that the Ministry tightly controlled all aspects of education. History education might provide an example here. While textbook approval is supervised and organized by the Ministry (this has led to the frequent mistaken perception that Japanese textbooks are “government textbooks”), this approval process generates a list of approved textbooks that are then selected by prefectural and local authorities.

However, most of the discussions across a great variety of aspects of education (making these past two days fascinating, especially as they followed on a similar gathering with some overlap in the participating scholars at the AAS meetings) suggest that more and more policy initiatives originate in local efforts at the school or community level. The Ministry thus continues to set the context for education throughout Japan, but the leeway for local experimentation is expanding. And, some of this experimentation is leading to change in national policies or recommendations as well.

Beyond the examples discussed over the past two days, one of the most striking examples of this is the introduction of school choice in the past decade. While limited choice had been available to high school students in the past, enrollment based on catchment areas has been supplemented with various means of choosing an elementary and middle school as well.

This development was clearly spearheaded by authorities in Tokyo’s 品川区 (Shinagawa Ward), though with the approval of Ministry officials. After the introduction of school choice in Shinagawa in 2001 (I think), the system has spread to many other jurisdictions, though it has not become national policy as such. (For a discussion of the impact of these changes, see my article “Japanese Shadow Education: The Consequences of School Choice” [in Forsey, Davies & Walford, eds. The Globalisation of School Choice?. Oxford: Symposium Books, 2008.]