Monthly Archives: June 2011

CEU Summer Course on Privatization in Education

Today I received an announcement of a summer course to be held at the Central European University in Budapest this July.

When I saw “summer course on privatization in education”, I immediately thought that this sounded like a how-to business seminar, or an ideologically-driven exercise in expounding the supposed healing powers of the neo-classical market. Fortunately, I turns out not to be that at all, but rather a serious effort at investigating privatization in education as a global development.

Part of how I know that and what reassured me is the involvement of Geoffrey Walford (Oxford) as one of the faculty members in this activity. Walford co-organized a conference on school choice (with Martin Forsey (Univ of Western Australia) and Scott Davies (McMaster) in Perth some years ago that I participated in. This conference resulted in an edited volume, The Globalisation of School Choice (Symposium Books 2008) that included my chapter, “Japanese Shadow Education: The Consequences of School Choice“.

Here’s some more information on the CEU summer course:

Under the auspices of the Privatisation in Education Research Initiative (PERI), the Education Support Programme of the Open Society Foundations and the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, are offering a one-week summer university course on privatisation in education from the 25th–29th July 2011.

Bringing together an internationally renowned faculty, the course aims to:
1.       Locate new governance initiatives in education sectors in relation to wider transformations in the global political and cultural economy; education as a services sector; education as a tradeable commodity; education as a form of human capital and investment; education as a human right; education as a form of cultural capital; education as a means for emancipation; education as a cultural and class project.
2.       Demonstrate understanding of the complex nature of education governance that involves different actors, differing activity, and different scales on which to act.
3.       Outline the nature of the conceptual complexities and empirical phenomena associated with Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as emerging, hybrid, forms of governance and their role in, and consequences for, the governance of the education sector, and new forms of privatisation of education.
4.       Develop a critical account of a range of education governance initiatives; from low-fee-schooling; Charter Schools; Shadow Schooling; PPPs, global transnational firms, such as GEMS, Cisco Systems; education consultants, such as CfBT, and so forth.
5.       Apply a theory of social justice to the framing and outcomes of new governance initiatives in education.

Places are limited to 25, are fully funded will be offered on a competitive basis. The scholarships include visa, travel, accommodation, tuition fees and a subsistence allowance.

Global applications are invited from PhD candidates, early career educational researchers and policy analysts with a PhD, policy makers and government officials, and faculty in education, particularly those engaged in comparative scholarship and scholarship on education policy, social inequalities, and institutional change. Practitioners with a strong policy engagement are also encouraged to apply, especially those based in or working with southern countries.

Further details

Questions Arising from Course Discussions

I always enjoy presenting aspects of my research on juku to new groups of people as there never fail to be different questions on various aspects that I report on.

The UBC Continuing Studies course that I’m teaching is no different in this regard especially since most of the course participants have a (Canadian schools) teaching background and seem to be quite interested in aspects of the developments that I’m recounting.

One of the questions that came up today was about the impact of time spent in structured activities, including juku, on Japanese children and especially on their overall development.

As with so many questions on juku outcome measurements (including, very significantly, the efficacy of juku instruction), my first response was to point to the very real methodological challenge in comparing populations of students when these are young and ethical concerns prevent the use of non-voluntary control groups.

[HUGE CAVEAT: I’m neither a neurologist, nor childhood development expert, so what follows are informed musings rather than research conclusions.]

My eyes have been opened to many different aspects of and aspirations for education through my research on juku. While inclined toward cultural relativism to begin with (some simplistic form thereof, not entirely thought-out or developed) and intent on a Weberian stance of neutrality in observation and analysis, I have abandoned most of my notions associated with ‘cram school’ in the course of my research. Most of this shift in my thinking has come about through interactions with many of the individuals involved in juku who not only talk about having the best interests of their students in mind, but act accordingly as well.

That is not to romanticize the juku world and to claim that parts of it are not focused exclusively on a relatively rote memorization that does not seem to make the world, nor the students involved a better place/person.

So when a question about human development is raised and focuses on an area like unstructured play, I often think to myself that that is a very contemporary, North American/Oceanian/European notion. That doesn’t mean that I don’t share the intuition that unstructured play seems to offer elements of social development that many organized play activities don’t, I’m just not certain that these elements are typical or necessary for human development. The question in the discussion today, by the way, did not imply that necessary link.

Some years ago, there was a brief flurry about some research findings suggesting that urban children we no longer able to walk backwards. In a quick Google Scholar search I was not able to find the research that this claim was based on, sadly. Perhaps this was an urban myth that I’m perpetuating here.

My reaction to this discussion was that I thought it was awful that children can’t walk backwards. But then I have to catch myself and remind myself that walking backwards does not seem to be a necessary element in being a better person (if that is an aim for education), nor is it an essential skill for contemporary life (taking a more human resource-focused approach to education), though it may have been for mammoth hunting.

Another example of a skill that is seen as essential in a specific time and place is swimming. When you live in urban Canada with the plethora of swimming pools offered in community centres and perhaps only rivaled by the erstwhile penetration of swimming pools in small-town West Germany, it it astonishing to hear of a child that doesn’t know how to swim. Yet, swimming in and of itself is neither a universal stage in human development, nor is it a necessary skill everywhere in the world.

And so it is with the impact of unstructured play (or the absence thereof as it may be caused by the growth of supplementary education, among many other factors). Yes, instinctively I would say that such an impact is likely. However, I am also open to the possibility that the valourization of unstructured play may be specific to a time and place. Just as I am very happy to reconcile myself to university students who don’t seem to read entire books, but have great information searching skills, so am I willing to accept the lack of unstructured play as a reality across most developed countries.

That acceptance does not mean, of course, that it wouldn’t be a very interesting and also very important question to ask about the impact of time spent in juku and thus mostly in sedentary positions indoors, on childhood development.

UBC Continuing Studies: Ageless Pursuits

This week I get to teach a class in UBC Continuing Studies’ Ageless Pursuits series.

The Global Spread of For-Profit Tutoring and Cram Schools” will discuss Japan as an example of the long-term historical shift from all-private education until the advent of modernity. In Japan’s case, an all-encompassing public education system was then constructed after the Meiji Restoration (1868). Importantly, this public system also included various forms of private education, private schools and universities most explicitly, but it was governed by policies designed and enacted by the state.

I argue that the first “juku-boom” of the 1970s was the beginning of a pendulum swing back toward private education and that Japan is but one example of this dynamic around the world.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to develop this argument over five sessions and to discussing it with the participants.

And yes, I used the “c-word” in the title of the lectures. Sometimes it’s more important to give people a sense of what I’m talking about, even when there’s a lot that’s wrong with that sense.

Exam Success Qualifies Teachers and Consultants

In today’s Globe & Mail, Tralee Pearce wrote an article that reports on efforts by Toronto parents to seek advice on school admission. This is a nice contrast to a Manhattan-focused article on Kumon in the NYT some weeks ago.

The first thing I noticed that even the most anxious Toronto parents are positively serene in their attitude compared to Manhattan parents. No big surprise there.

What’s more interesting in a general way and as a lens on Japanese supplementary education, is that the article discusses the status of past entrance exam takers in imparting wisdom on the entrance exam. This personal experience is something that is valued very highly in the juku world as well.

While not all juku-cho are graduates of the most prestigious universities (remember that this is a clear and nearly universally-agreed upon category in Japan), many of them are.

In part, this educational background is rooted in the fact that one of the trajectories that has led individuals to become supplementary education entrepreneurs is their role as tutors (家庭教師) during their university years. For some individuals, success in this role and requests from parents to also tutor younger siblings, for example, then led to the foundation of a juku.

In hiring tutors Japanese parents clearly seem to prefer students at prestigious universities, though I’m not sure whether there is any data to corroborate this suspicion. While it seems relatively unimportant to parents whether a tutor or juku instructor has any pedagogical qualifications (formal in the form of a teaching license, or informal in the sense of a talent), subject-specific knowledge, or rapport with students. Instead past experience and success in entrance exams seems to trump many of these other possible considerations.

There are a number of aspects of this preference that I find odd. On the one hand, it suggests a strong belief in the uniformity of learning styles. A students’ individual strengths and abilities are not considered when any past exam taker is seen as an expert independent of whether this student was largely self-motivated or needed a highly regimented study regime, for example.This belief in the uniformity of learners is closely linked to a strong belief in the efficacy of effort in educational success. Adages such as “four hours success – five hours failure” (referring to the hours of sleep during exam preparation, I’ll have to dig up the Japanese original for this some time) are indicative of this belief in effort rather than aptitude.

Contrast this belief in homogeneous learners with the equally strong perception of differences between entrance examinations. This has long puzzled me when looking at the large number of how-to manuals that describe entrance examinations for particular schools (whether at the lower or upper secondary, or the higher education level). For secondary education at least, most of the entrance examinations are based on the school curriculum. While there have been some departures from that in the 2002-2011 yutori years (some private schools basing exams on pre-yutori curricula, one of the rare departures from the official curriculum in juku coverage as well), the subject matter of entrance exams is generally the subject matter of school textbooks and lessons which in turn is the subject matter of all educational aids used in juku (教材).

Given the curriculum as a basis, why is there specific advice for how to take the exam for school A vs. school B? The advice often focuses on a preference for a specific type of question (this is particularly true for university entrance exams where volumes of past exams are analyzed and available for practice tests), yet it would seem to me that at a certain level a student who is well-versed in the school curriculum (with some strategic extensions) ought to be well-prepared for entrance examinations at a large number of institutions. Yet, the strong belief in some kind of insider knowledge from having successful taken an exam persists.

The one area where I do see advice from past test-takers (though successful or not wouldn’t matter) as useful is on the format of the exam. This also holds for interviews and other non-exam-based forms of admission, of course. From my own experiences with the TOEFL, SAT, and GRE (granted, many years ago), I would agree that a degree of familiarity with the format of a test can be very useful in reducing anxiety and also improving results.

My Sense of the Future of Canadian Education vis-a-vis Supplementary Education in 2008

In 2008, I wrote an article for Education Canada, published by the Canadian Education Association, that a) reported on the current state of (research on) supplementary education in Japan, and b) speculated a bit about what an understanding of juku implies for the trajectory of Canadian education. In this discussion of the Canadian context, I relied on a quick-and-dirty survey of supplementary education institutions in the Lower Mainland that I did together with intern Sabrina Lohner in the summer of 2007.

In this survey, we found 74 tutoring centres and other supplementary education institutions in the Vancouver area.

Roughly half of these supplementary education businesses promoted themselves in more languages than just English and many of them seemed to be branding themselves specifically in a way to appeal to Asian-Canadians.

The full article is freely available on the Education Canada website or as a PDF.

Juku Photograph I

Here’s a photo of the classroom in a juku in a relatively wealthy neighbourhood in the southwest of downtown Tokyo.

From my visits to numerous juku around the country, a number of things are typical about this particularly classroom.

The first thing would be the nearly ubiquitous world map on the right-hand wall, accompanied of a similar map of Japan in this case.

Nest, this is an example of a juku that occupies space that was intended for some kind of office/commercial use. As the slanted wall/ceiling and the use of a partition on the right to block off the next classroom suggests, this was not intended as a classroom.

Not visible in the photo are two more rows of desks, this classroom thus accommodates about 16 students and classes at this particular juku typically consists of 8-12 students.

The classroom furniture here is the nearly-universal Kokuyo furniture that will be familiar to anyone who visits Japanese schools regularly as well