Monthly Archives: June 2011

Publicly-Financed Remedial Tutoring in Germany

[Due to recent travel, I haven’t been posting as actively as in previous months]

I am – by now – fairly certain that supplementary education is on the rise globally. This sense seems to be shared by a large number of the members of the emerging scholar community focused on supplementary education.

However, in some countries, this rise is clearly beginning from a very small base. Most of Europe (save some Southern European exceptions, Portugal, Malta, Greece, but also Turkey) would be in this category where supplementary education largely exists in the form of individual private tutoring. While this sector has been corporatizing since the 1990s with some real corporate education giants emerging, and is becoming more and more visible in cityscapes and advertising, there is no large-scale take up.

Some of the growth has been if not fueled, at least hastened or reinforced by public policies. France is thus a longtime exception in that it offers tax credits for supplementary education expenses.

Germany now seems to be following in the footsteps of the U.S. by offering some public subsidies for remedial tutoring. Unlike in the U.S. where eligibility for such funds is rooted in the consistent under-performance of schools, the emerging German model ties the funding to the income/welfare status of students’ parents. The promise of available funds has thus come as a part of the package of welfare reforms commonly described as Hartz IV. A subsidy of €10 per month per child has been mentioned. A quick check of some websites of German tutoring services suggests that this may pay for a single instructional session once a week, if that session is part of a larger package.

However, these subsidies are currently not formally on offer but have to be specifically applied for. Uptake seems to be very limited.

The proposed subsidy is also unusual in that it would suggest (to my eye anyway) federal involvement in education, a big constitutional no-no in Germany, through the welfare back door.

If this subsidy were to become more common, it would be a step toward a public policy that addresses the equity concerns often associated with supplementary education. At the same time, the current discussions offer no insights on the selection of tutoring services where this subsidy could be spent, nor age or subject ranges that would be eligible.

Curious Opposition to Tutoring among Exam Setters

I mentioned a NYT article about widespread tutoring in Manhattan previously.

Very early on the article notes that “Riverdale discourages […] tutoring” referring to Riverdale Country School, apparently a fancy private school in NYC.  This school requires the SSAT or ISEE test for admission, both SAT-like tests for younger children (for entry to middle and high school).

This appears to be a common pattern among institutions who administer admission tests, i.e. they like to discourage tutoring for these tests. Whether it is based on an argument (this seems to be quite transparently false) that these are “aptitude” tests and thus can’t be prepped for, or on an equally spurious argument that prepping is undesirable and not conducive to the development of students.

Even in a hypereducation system like Japan, officials at schools that require entrance examinations often stick to the line that their test can be mastered (i.e. passed with a very high score) without any particular coaching. This would have to mean that a high score can be achieved on the basis of school attendance only. Or so, some of the exam setters claim. Most parents seem to disagree.

Why I understand that no exam setters wants exam takers to be able to “game” the exam, I am less certain where this allergy against test preparation among exam setters comes from. I suspect, however, that it is an element of embarrassment as the perceived need for tutoring exposes the fact that such tests do offer greater chances at higher scores to exam takers who devote resources (time and money) to exam preparation; resources that are obviously limited and distributed unevenly among the potential test-taking population.

June 2010 Asahi Editorial: Education Reform from Below

Last year (2010/06/16) I wrote an editorial for the on-line English edition of the Asahi:

POINT OF VIEW: While Policymakers are looking elsewhere, Japanese education is being reformed from below

Japanese elementary and high school education seems to have been lurching from one crisis to the next over the past 10 years.

From fears during the dot-com era that Japanese children were not being prepared for a post-industrial economy, to the apparent disaster caused by the implementation of “yutori” education, to the steady stream of social ills discovered in the nation’s schools–“ijime” (bullying); “gakyu hokai” (dysfunctional classrooms); “gakuryoku teika” (declining academic ability); and “futoko” (refusal to attend school)–politicians and the media continue to identify aspects of the decline of Japanese education.

By contrast, foreign observers might point to near-universal high school graduation, literacy and numeracy, as well as high rates of participation in higher education, as characteristics of the education system that call claims about a long-term decline into question.

Regardless of the empirical reality of a decline, the solutions to this decline are constantly sought outside of Japan.

Over the past five years, a number of models have been discussed at near-obsessive levels. From Indian arithmetic to the Finnish and Dutch education systems, pundits, academics and politicians seem to be travelling the world to find solutions to perceived Japanese problems at the national level.

Yet, few conclusions from these travels seem to get serious consideration by the apparently paralyzed Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Few politicians have the substantive expertise on education or the interest that would be necessary to evaluate claims of decline or alternative models to the extent that they could be implemented.

While a general sense of malaise permeates national discussions of education, local boards of education and schools are beginning to experiment with some very significant changes to public education, especially in Tokyo. Given the rarity with which political reforms in Japan bubble up from grass-roots experimentation, such efforts ought to be recognized, publicized, and considered for scalability to the national education system.

One of the areas of greatest experimentation has been emerging public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the schools of Tokyo’s wards. Originally pursued in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s, PPPs strive to harness private investments in public (infrastructure) projects and constitute an element in the so-called third sector. Toll roads are the paradigmatic examples of infrastructure PPPs. In Japanese education, PPPs are emerging where ward boards of education are signing contracts with supplementary education businesses (juku) to provide additional instruction to public school students on school premises in the afternoons and on weekends.

These “konai juku” are a daring experiment in that they are breaking with a decades-old attitude of confrontation between formal education and the shadow education world of juku and “yobiko.” The opposition to the existence of the juku system has been one of the few areas of policymaking where the formerly powerful Japanese Teachers Union (Nikkyoso) found itself in agreement with education ministry bureaucrats.

However, as the perception of significant shortcomings in public education has spread, local officials have increasingly looked to the supplementary education industry as a possible source for solutions.

Education PPPs now operate in all wards of metropolitan Tokyo. They have been created in the context of school choice that has been pushed down to the elementary school-level and encourage principals to seek distinguishing features for their schools that might stem the tide to private education in the capital. Coincidentally, the introduction of school choice has also been spearheaded by local efforts, most notably in Shinagawa Ward.

These PPPs take many different forms, some specifically targeting students who are underperforming, some aiming at the average students who have been somewhat neglected in public discourse, while others are providing the accelerated education and exam preparation for which some of the larger juku schools are famous.

Activities span from test-taking services, to classroom or individualized instruction, to teacher education seminars. While teachers and union officials are opposing these experiments in some schools, others are welcoming juku into the school for what they offer at the moment, a constructive experiment. One of the ironies of the entry of juku into publicly-run schools is that this signifies the re-introduction of Saturday school by stealth.

Juku are clearly not the panacea to end all educational ills that some proponents make them out to be. The scarcity of any research on juku means that claims of their efficacy and superior ability to tailor educational content to individuals and their learning needs, remain just that, claims. Whether or not one accepts the pessimistic view of contemporary Japanese education, however, experimentation with alternatives is an element that has long been missing in the highly-centralized education system, and these grass-roots efforts should be encouraged, nurtured and taken seriously.

While experimentation is to be welcomed, it should also be supervised and held accountable. Obviously, long-term contracts between private education providers and schools or boards of education have significant fiscal implications. They also bear the potential for creeping privatization of public education.

Boards of education should monitor these experiments very carefully and should themselves be held accountable for their experimentation.

I’ve written about the shift of power to grass-roots level in Japan on this blog as well.

Vancouver Juku Flyer Vancouver II

This flyer is from a specialized juku (learning differences) around the corner from where we live in Kitsilano.

Flyer from Vancouver Juku

Inside of three-fold brochure

Some of elements that are frequently emphasized in juku advertising and also appear here:

  • one-on-one
  • “individualized”
  • diagnosis to guide lessons

Less typical is the reference to a specific pedagogical approach, Orton-Gillingham. While I am not familiar with this approach, the mention in this flyer certainly suggests a concern with a research-foundation for approaches adopted in tutoring.

A quick check on Google Scholar reveals close to 100 articles that refer to this approach in 2010 and 2011 (as of June 2011) suggesting that it is at least widely-cited, though I am unable to sift through these citations to note whether the citation is approving, critiquing or name-dropping.

The outside of this folder flyer mainly contains some branding, contact details and a column “About ???”:

??? is a learning center that specializes in one-to-one remedial tutoring for children who struggle in school and/or have learning differences. Tutoring is based on the highly-effective and widely-recognized Orton-Gillingham approach, which combines the proven success of phincs with a multisensory delivery method of teaching.

Not sure whether the U.S. spelling of “centre” suggests that this is an American approach or juku, though nothing suggests a chain and the website only mentions the single Vancouver location.

It is pretty unclear to me what exactly “multisensory” means here, though the inside of the flyer (see above) mentions that,

Visual, auditory, tactile and kinestehtic modalities are all used to teach and to learn.

Hm… still don’t really know what that means, though it sounds like it may be akin to some of the learning strategies that seem almost physical in their practice that I see in juku, i.e. rhythmic repetition of terms, vocabulary, etc. The website also offers a FAQ entry on “What is multisensory tutoring?” but it offers more fancy terminology rather than information.

Note that the focus on learning differences is one that is rare in Japan though I’ve discussed two examples of a focus on special needs education in the juku context.

Two Immutable Laments about Juku

I’ve confessed to cultural relativism before, and have also noted how much my research in juku has changed my mind on some aspects of the large presence of juku in the Japanese education system.

However, despite the dedication among some juku-cho that I see as charismatic educators, despite the social benefits that centre on juku (childcare, neighbourhood ties, etc.), and despite the joy that some students obviously derive from their juku instruction, two aspects of juku continue to jump out as elements that do seem to have a clearly negative or at least lamentable character, a) double-schooling, and b) the lack of content variety, especially when accelerated learning creates time for more varied content.

Double-Schooling or Hypereducation

At times, I catch myself observing a gifted juku instructor thinking, “this would be a nice classroom for my children to participate in”. Then I glance at my watch and realize that it is 17:30h and that some of the students in the classroom have been in school for most of the day. Obviously, notions of how much learning is enough/too little vary significantly. Take contemporary France as an example where students are in school until around 17h, though that is more a matter of childcare rather than learning necessarily.

I also see nothing wrong with children learning in the afternoon instead of the morning. I’m sure that such a schedule would please many Canadian children, including most teenagers.

What I do lament is the growing perception that the real learning is occurring in juku rather than in schools and what this implies. If this perception is correct (i.e. if the perception is wide-spread, or if we could document the share of learning from different sources), should we not reconsider compulsory education so as to avoid that children are being forced to attend schools that they (or their parents) perceive to be useless? Should we also not reconsider the giant education budgets that we invest in these schools (public and private)? My answer is, yes, but the solution is not a libertarian free-for-all that abolishes public schools in my mind. Rather the solution should be a concerted attempt to re-adjust the balance between schools and supplementary education. Much of this re-adjustment may have to come in the form of a specific campaign to understand the learning that occurs in supplementary education vs. the learning that occurs in conventional schools, but also a concerted campaign to combat negative perceptions of schools that are not rooted in fact.

Wasted Time in Supplementary Education

To me, one of the most disheartening moments in my research can be when a juku-cho proudly introduces me to a group of grade 10 students and tells me that they’ve finished the entire curriculum for High School a year or two early. That’s fantastic! If there are kids who want to and can learn more quickly, great!

Then I ask, so what are they doing in this class now and it’s the answer to this question that I find so disappointing. “復習” (review). The point of 進学 (accelerated learning) instruction is thus to finish the curriculum early, so that it can be reviewed more.

If 11th graders have finished the curriculum, why not go in-depth on a particular subject that they’ve finished? Why not read novels? Focus on constitutional history? Study Confucius?

Acceleration for the purpose of making time for further review strikes me as a great waste of time.

Breakdown of Classrooms?

One of the several moral panics that has swept the discourse about Japanese education in the past several years has been 学級崩壊, the breakdown of classroom (discipline).

While a number of different kind of phenomena are grouped under this term, the fundamental message is that the number of unmanageable (due to student behaviour) classrooms has increased, students are loosing their respect or at least not behaving in a respectful manner toward teachers, and bullying and violence toward other students is on the rise.

Now, the OECD has released an analysis of PISA data (PDF) that looks at reports of disciplinary problems in classrooms.
Japanese responses easily top the chart at 93% of students who confirmed that “the teacher ‘never or hardly ever’ or ‘in some lessons’ has to wait a long time for students to quieten down”.

Yet another case of domestic perceptions differing wildly from a perspective on Japanese education from abroad?

Note that the average for students’ responses to this question was 72%.

The fewest disciplinary problems were reported in: Japan, Kazakhstan, China (Shanghai only), Hong Kong, Romania. Students in the following countries reported the most problems: Argentina, Greece, Finland, Netherlands, France.

Finland? That model to all education policy-makers? Unruly, but great learners? Maybe students forgetting to turn off their Nokias.

Clashes in Inner Mongolia: Geography

The other day, I expanded upon an Asia Pacific Memo I co-authored with Jargalsaikhan Mendee (a student in our MA Asia Pacific Policy Studies) and Dalaibuyan Byambajav (PhD program, Sociology, Hokkaido University, Japan). In this memo we argued that conflicts in Inner Mongolia (and in Mongolia itself) seem to be primarily erupting about livelihood disagreements rather than along ethnic lines.

A post by Mu Chushan in the “China Power” blog of The Diplomat. The post is relatively brief and argues that the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) is a particularly important test case for the CPC’s strategy and argument for ethnic harmony based on economic growth. Of the potential “trouble spots”, the IMAR has shown the strongest economic growth.

This post didn’t speak to another issue that I also have been thinking about beyond my expansion on the memo on this blog last week: geography.

While the IMAR is often portrayed as quite remote in Chinese conversations, some parts of it are actually quite close to the big cities of the Chinese coast. Xilin Hot – the centre of recent protests – is less than 500km away from Beijing. Even the furthest reaches of the IMAR are only about 1,600 km to the West (close to where Gansu provinces, the IMAR, and Xinjiang don’t quite meet) and about 1,500 km to the Northeast where Heilongjiang, the IMAR and the Russian Far East meet. Of the major IMAR cities, Baotou is further West, but less than 600 km from Beijing.

Contrast this with Lhasa which is approx. 2,500 km from Beijing as is Urumqi.

I cite all these differences here to illustrate that the IMAR is not remote from a Beijing perspective. This relative proximity is an element in the relative prosperity of the IMAR compared to other seemingly remote regions of China. Among Chinese provinces the IMAR thus has the 6th-highest per capita GDP, ahead of powerhouse Guandong, for example.

The IMAR’s geographic location along with the factors I wrote about the other day, all contribute to the importance of the IMAR that was highlighted in The Diplomat. Perhaps this explains the swift reaction by Chinese authorities in the sentencing of the perpetrator of the death of Mergen, as well as the prompt discussion and revision of some elements in mining policy in the IMAR.

Another Article on Hypereducation in Exotic Manhattan

As a Japan researcher, I am perfectly accustomed to the exoticization of all things linked to Japan in most journalistic accounts. That includes the rare articles on juku, of course. But the cherry blossoms, “Fujiyama”, geisha, etc. articles and motifs have nothing on the extent to which I am accustomed to the exoticization of Manhattan as a supplementary education researcher.

This week, Jenny Anderson had an article on tutors hired by parents of selective Manhattan schools. While the article (and the comments on it) contain a lot of interesting information and discussion, it’s hard not to read this information with an easy “ts, ts, ts, these überrich Manhattanites” reaction.

That kind of reaction misses the reality of the Manhattan situation for many parents around the world. For the U.S., hypereducation may be limited to the always-exotic island of Manhattan (minus palm trees and jungle), but in countries like Brazil, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Turkey, among others, it is a pervasive reality.

Special Needs Education in Juku

During the course I taught through UBC’s Continuing Studies, the topic that engaged the participants most (perhaps because I was deliberately provocative) was special needs education. When asked about the availability of special needs education in Japan, I replied that “There are no special needs.” Obviously, that is quite untrue on many levels.

However, as far as perceptions by most stakeholders are concerned, that provocative over-simplification seems to describe the state of affairs reasonably well.

Before I get myself into really hot water in an area that I have only looked at through the words/eyes of my interview informants, let me stick to the juku perspective on special needs.

I’ve only seen one child with an obvious physical disability in my 45+ juku visits. Obviously, I may not have spotted disabilities that are less visible.

I would, however, include school refusal in the category of potentially requiring special needs attention. 不登校 (school refusal) has emerged as a major  concern in Japan over the past several years. As far as I can tell, this term encompasses a whole range of behaviours that fall along a continuum stretching from mild (“I don’t like my teacher, so I don’t want to go to school”) to more severe (mental health issues, including agoraphobia, etc.).

I have encountered school refusers in virtually all the juku that I’ve visited. Somewhat embarrassingly to me as a researcher, the jukucho will often point these students out to me quite explicitly. Beyond their presence in all juku, I have also visited two juku that specialize in the more severe cases of school refusal.

Initially, I was astonished to learn that there are school refusers who are attending juku instead of conventional school. If you come to this situation with notions of exam hell structuring the school experience of secondary school students, and of juku focusing on cramming for entrance examination, then one might not expect students to “flee” to juku away from the senate.

At the milder end of the school refusal spectrum, some students may simply not be getting along with fellow students or teachers. For this category, juku attendance would seem to make sense, as switching schools is very unusual in Japan, so that juku presents itself as a ready alternative. As authorities are clearly tolerating juku attendance (or even complete school refusal by staying at home) as an alternative to compulsory education, juku may really be the obvious solution. That would also explain the fact that a significant number of school refusers at the lower secondary level, re-enter school for senior secondary schooling. Clearly, these have to be relatively mild cases of school refusal.

Towards the other end of that spectrum, I visited two juku that specialize in special needs students. One of them was even more unusual in that it is run on a volunteer-basis, i.e. not-for-profit. This is in part possible because the jukucho owned a large apartment building that a) provided him with an income, and b) made some basement space available for the use of the juku. This was probably also the juku that had the coolest (or any) toys available for students in the form of constructor-set-like things.

The other juku is also in metropolitan Tokyo and caters more specifically to students who are challenged by social interactions. I had obviously read about otaku and even about hikikomori (shut-ins), but this experience at this particular juku definitely gave me a new perspective on these phenomena.

There were only five students (all middle school) in this classroom, but it was very clear right away that these students were different from the students I usually saw in Tokyo juku. There was something very physical about their social interaction disability, the way they held themselves and held their body when interacting with others. Then, during class, some of them would simply seem to clam up, turn inward and tune out, even when simple questions were addressed to them. Coupled with the dinginess of the juku surroundings, this visit was pretty eye-opening.

Interestingly, even these students (who looked to this layman like they fell in the mental health portion of the spectrum of behaviours), were planning to re-enter high schools through entrance examinations to complete their education.

It also turned out to be a mouth-watering visit, however, in that the jukucho had returned from a trip to Denmark (if I recall correctly) some years earlier where he had visited a program that offered vocational training to at-risk youths. He had been impressed and subsequently opened a Ramen shop that is staffed by his students. The noodles were actually quite good.

To return to the question of the absence of special needs education, the current post-triple-disaster fiscal situation probably makes a large-scale public investment unlikely, especially since this would most likely come in local budgets, rather than national MEXT contributions.

Given that fiscal constraint, but a growing awareness of the desirability of special needs services (social interactions, Japanese-as-second-language-learners, otaku/hikikomori, etc.) among parents, perhaps the juku industry will respond to this more flexibly than conventional schools are able to (especially in the current context).

If the fairly unusual juku that I mention above are ahead of the curve on this topic, then we might expect not only a growing awareness of special needs, but also a growing servicing of these needs as juku turn themselves more and more into more comprehensive education providers and consultants.

Conflicts between pastoral herders and mining in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia

Yes, this is an off-(supplementary education)-topic post, but it focuses on a subject matter that is a frequent distraction for me, Mongolia.

Together with two Mongolian graduate students, Jargalsaikhan Mendee (a student in our MA Asia Pacific Policy Studies) and Dalaibuyan Byambajav (PhD program, Sociology, Hokkaido University, Japan) I wrote an Asia Pacific Memo on “Livelihood Clashes in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia“.

In the memo we are arguing that recent clashes in Inner Mongolia as well as an incident last year are widely being portrayed as ethnic conflict but are rooted more in differences in livelihoods, i.e. pastoral herding vs. mining.

If we didn’t restrict ourselves to the very short length of the Asia Pacific Memo, I would have liked to write a bit more about some of the following related topics:

  • the lack of real information about the current clashes in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (China). All the information seems to be coming from the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center, a U.S.-based human rights group. News agencies and Beijing-based reporters are then relying on the SMHRIC reports to write updates. While I have nothing against the SMHRIC and appreciate their work on behalf of Mongolians in the PRC, I sure would be eager to hear about the conflict from other sources as well, and I don’t mean Chinese state sources either.
  • given my interest in Mongolia, I have an obvious side-interest in Inner Mongolia. The photo that appears alongside the Asia Pacific Memo (note that I’m the one wearing the hat) was actually taken in Mongolia on a trip right after I visited Inner Mongolia with my colleague, Pitman Potter. I have not been back to the IMAR since then, but found this trip very interesting. Mongolia-IMAR relations are clearly fascinating. Mongolians in China are the only major ethnic minority that has a viable patron state dominated by co-ethnics. By contrast Tibetans count on the support of their exiled leadership in India, and Uyghurs are making primarily a historical claim related to East Turkestan. Ethnic Koreans in China may be the other group that can look to a potential patron state. However, out of respect for China, Mongolia does not really act as a patron state to Mongolians in the PRC. For example, there is no special provision for ethnic Mongolians from China to acquire Mongolian citizenship. Nor do they receive preferential treatment in asylum cases.
  • the relationship with China and the situation of Mongolians in China is fast fodder for populist claims by Mongolian politicians. According to Mendee and Byamba, there is a lively debate in the Mongolian blogosphere regarding the stance that the Mongolian government should take vis-a-vis the clashes in the IMAR. Mendee is writing his MA thesis on anti-Chinese sentiment in Mongolia, so this is an area where he is very knowledgeable.
  • mobilization around mining-herding clashes is a subject that the brief memo couldn’t really do justice. This is Byamba’s area of expertise as he’s writing his dissertation on the development of civil society and is focused on environmental NGOs in particular in one chapter of the dissertation. Some of the current discussions in Mongolia seem to be focusing on the fact that protests have been relatively rare in Mongolia itself, even compared with the much more repressed situation that Mongolians in China find themselves in. We hinted at the fact of greater urbanization and concentration of infrastructure in the IMAR compared to Mongolia in our memo, but that clearly is not a satisfactory explanation in and of itself.