Monthly Archives: September 2011

Where to Meet Nice Supplementary Education Researchers

For the most part, supplementary education research is relatively underdeveloped as an academic specialty.

Supplementary Education on

A quick example: on, six researchers have joined me in stating their interest as “supplementary education“. I don’t know any of them and six of them list their status as “independent researcher” which doesn’t bode well for someone setting out in an academic career. Is it on-going squabbles about terminology? No, it doesn’t seem to be as neither “shadow education”, “hypereducation” nor “supplemental education” have an entry. There are a ton of entries with “tutoring” as a word, but they are relatively unfocused.

Why No Subdiscipline of Supplementary Education Research

So why has research on supplementary education not established itself? Another way of asking that question is, why are there not more researchers interested in this topic?

For the years that my previous SSHRC grant ran, I was able to recruit a single MA student as an RA. I sent feelers out towards sociology as we as Ed Studies, but found no interest.

One reason for the sparsity of research is the relatively recent recognition of supplementary education as a phenomenon worth of academic study. In places like Japan, pundits and commentators have written about juku since the 1970s, but this has not led to a research literature. In most OECD countries, the current tutoring/supplementary education boom is a relatively new phenomenon and thus hasn’t attracted a lot of attention yet.

Also, supplementary education sort of sits between all disciplinary chairs. The good thing is that this means it is establishing itself as a genuinely interdisciplinary enterprise which is terrific. This interdisciplinarity not only means a variety of perspectives on the phenomenon (most prominently, perhaps, sociological, but a significant presence of ed studies and pedagogy, coupled with a smaller presence of anthropologists, geographers, economists, etc.), but also means a relatively greater proximity to policy.

Take the example of most education schools: If you look at traditional divisions within the study of education, you will find divisions such as primary, secondary, higher education, or life-long learning, but these examples already suggest that supplementary education doesn’t “fit”. For people focused on schools, juku seem to informal, for life-long learning types 塾生 are too young. That may be why research in this area seems to be coming from neigbouring disciplines rather than education itself in many cases.

CEIS as a Place to Meet

For some time then, the emerging community of supplementary education researchers has been struggling with setting up a centre to its activities or a regular place to meet. Following some discussions last year at the CIES meetings in Montreal, CIES seems to be emerging as a strong contender. Why? It is interdisciplinary, and highlights cross-regional and cross-national comparisons. While CIES is U.S.-based, it has regional and national equivalents throughout the world and a regular global meeting. It meets annually. It is of a nice size, i.e. big enough that participation always seems to yield new insights, but small enough that some lasting links can be built. And finally, it is a pretty friendly conference.

I am aware of several efforts to propose panels that will be focused on supplementary education in Puerto Rico next Spring. One proposal is anchored by Mark Bray of the Univ of HK who generally functions as the godfather to the emerging network of researchers, partly based on his long-standing work in this field, but also partly on his past role as past director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning which has given him a wonderful network of researchers around the world.

Hopefully I will be joining with Janice Aurini and Scott Davies – with whom I have collaborated in the past – on a panel proposal as well.

Further Institutionalization

Hopefully, regular meetings of some of the people in this emerging field at CIES will lead to further institutionalization in the form of a community of scholars to whom one can circulate work in progress and with whom one can collaborate on grant proposals and publications.

There is – as of yet – no journal or newsletter that focusses on supplementary education. Yet, there is a growing – albeit informal – network of researchers who focus at least some of their energy on research in this area.

Juku Flyer Berlin I

I’m branching out in my collection of juku flyers, this time to Berlin, Germany [thanks, Mom!].

Cover of a German juku flyer

I suspect that some people will recognize the design of this flyer as it is advertising the local branch of the juku that is probably THE most active internationally. There is not much information on the front of the flyer, except for a generically happy-looking, perhaps stereotypically German looking girl. The back of the flyer does contain a little more information. From the information it is clear that this particular juku is targeting primarily remedial purposes. This seems to be (still) generally the case in Germany and in most of Northern and Western Europe.

“Lernfreude” and “Konzentrationsvermögen” look like they are right up there with “Fahrvergnügen” in the canon of compound German words that have a chance at English adoption. In this case, they are referring to a “joy to learn” and “ability to concentrate” respectively. Departing a bit from the generically remedial script the second bullet point promises not only a “focus on weaknesses in learning”, but also a “targeted expansion of strengths in learning”.

An emphasis on the emotional aspects of learning (weaknesses) is also in clear evidence with such terms as “joy”, “confidence”, “relaxed approach to challenges”.

Finally, the flyer offers a no-cost two week trial period for newly enrolled students.

Back Side of a German juku flyer

Jukucho as Education Consultants

Increasingly, the operators of small juku (塾長) seem to be offering themselves as education consultants to insecure parents. Whether this is also happening in the more corporate and chain jukus I don’t know.

What I mean by education consulting in this context is that operators of juku are stepping into roles that would have generally been taken on (whether in Japan or elsewhere) by parents or extended family. They are thus increasingly acting in loco parentis. Whether it is in instilling an appreciation for education itself in children or whether it is teaching manners, proper behaviour and generally socializing children, these are aspects of juku attendance of elementary school children that are increasingly highlighted by teachers and operators.

One area where the consulting function of juku is most obvious is in the selection of higher levels of education. With the introduction of school choice at the middle school level (throughout Tokyo and in many other parts of the country), parents of older elementary school students are increasingly facing such a plethora of choices that they are looking to professionals for help. This isn’t the kind of help that we sometimes read about for Manhattan where some high-priced consultant is meant to assist a child to get into a specific preschool or elementary school, but instead the jukucho are often looked to for providing advice on what school students might focus on in the first place.

There are some aspects of how parents are approaching school choice that seem to necessitate this kind of help. Geographical distance is not seen as an obvious criterion of selecting a school by many parents in metropolitan regions. At least it is not a criterion that trumps other criteria. This is in part due to the high reliance on public transport and the trust in students, even elementary students, to be able to rely on public transport for a commute to school that may stretch as long as 90 min. Another factor is that there seems to be less of a concern than I hear around me in Vancouver now or remember from my Berlin childhood, about enrolling siblings in the same school.

So, given the lack of constraint by geography or siblings’ prior choice, a Tokyo elementary school student could theoretically consider hundreds of schools as options. This is where discussions with the jukucho narrow the choices. Of course, practice entrance examinations already narrow the choices significantly in that the scores and ranking (偏差値) will have the student and her parents focus on a  narrow band of schools that fall near her hensachi score with perhaps one or two ambitious choices and a safety choice. Beyond this strictly numerical choice, however, jukucho offer their insights into specific aspects of schools. This goes much beyond the increasingly active attempts by schools to establish a profile for their offerings in an era of school choice, but includes such factors of the level of ambition of sports teams in a given school, the general atmosphere at the school (is this where cultural capital may be sneaking into decisions?), opportunities for student exchanges or common destinations for graduation trips, etc.

School Brochures at a Tokyo-Area Juku

Given the role of jukucho in dispensing such advice, many private schools are increasingly courting juku operators through various kinds of fairs. Some jukucho have also reported to me that they’re beginning to build on prior relationships with (predominantly private) schools that allow them not only to speak about some (somewhat local) schools with greater authority/inside knowledge, but potentially also to “get students into” these schools, even when their entrance examination result may have fallen slightly short of the result required.

Note that as far as I’m aware, none of these consulting services are for-fee. Instead they are offered as a service to long-attending students. But jukucho are clearly branching out from the “mere offering of courses” through such additional advice/consulting.

Cultural Capital in/through Supplementary Education

Among educational institutions in contemporary developed countries, juku seem somewhat unusual in that they don’t appear to confer cultural capital, at least not in the classical sense that Bourdieu identified to be so important to class reproduction in Western Europe.

In Distinction Bourdieu proposed “cultural capital” as a helpful notion to understand intergenerational class-reproduction in postwar welfare states. If the state equalizes economic capital and safeguards workers’ rights and livelihoods to some extent, how come we still see intergenerational class reproduction, was the question he was addressing. One element in the answer was that education not only confers skills (human resources), but that it also confers prestige and subtle familiarity along class-lines that individuals can display (cash in on, to stay in the language of capital) at later stages. For example, highly-regarded secondary schools may not teach any content in a particular different way from any run-of-the-mill lycée, but students at these institutions (drawn largely from a class-homogeneous population) may be taught a curriculum that emphasizes highly-validated content or ways of talking about this content that distinguish graduates of such an institution.

{Note that this is obviously a very simplified and painfully simplistic version of Bourdieu’s concepts and their influence.}

High Cultural Capital in Juku?

While plenty of arguments can be made that cultural capital may be playing a different role in different cultural/national contexts and over time, this is one of the concepts that has clearly inspired a lot of research in the sociology of education over the past three decades or so.

Now, cultural capital and juku?

In their public and private self-representation, juku certainly don’t claim to be a place to acquire cultural capital, at least not of the high culture variety. Jukucho would immediately point to the predominance of standardized testing that would not make it possible for applicants (to higher education, to jobs, etc.) to display (and thus cash in) any cultural capital. There is also no evidence that juku attendance leads to lasting social ties of the kind that some secondary school and university clubs do (most famously baseball and rugby teams, for boys at least). This seems to be the case even though attendance at juku may stretch out over a much longer period (some time in elementary school through secondary education, and for some students on into higher education when they “return” to a juku as a teacher). So the immediate answer on (high) cultural capital would have to be, no, juku don’t seem to confer this.

Learning How to Learn

What about the kind of cultural capital that is more focused on study/learning skills. So, how to organize homework as opposed to knowledge of classical composers. Here, juku certainly claim that they are infusing students with cultural capital, specifically by teaching students how to learn. While the kind of learning that is being taught in juku with its focus on processing speed, correctness of answers selected from multiple choices, etc. is very particular, long-term attendance at a juku would certainly seem to reinforce this kind of cultural capital, and it is this kind of learning that may lead to greater chances at success at later stages in education that do in turn confer cultural capital, particularly the prestige associated with specific institutions of higher education. Takehiko Kariya (Oxford and 東大) has been arguing that learning capital is one of the crucial variables in Japanese stratification (see his Asia Pacific Memo for related arguments).

The Future of Cultural Capital in Juku

Juku will change in the future. From succession problems in small juku to a decrease in the competitiveness into higher education institutions due to the decline in the number of children, to some mild tendencies to broaden the access points to higher education, it seems like juku’s role may be declining in significance. Countervailing trends could be seen in the potential of juku to gain a more formal standing as alternative schools.

In terms of cultural capital, the greatest question may be whether juku will gain some kind of role as an arbiter of cultural capital. The current prominent role of three graduates of the Matsushita Seikei Juku in the Noda cabinet may be an example of such a role, though an exceptional one.

Another avenue for cultural capital to begin mattering more would be through a greater prevalence of admission to universities “by recommendation” rather than entrance examination. Perhaps some of the more well-known juku will gain the “right” to nominate students in the future?

Or, if students’ perception that the “real learning” occurs in juku gains in prominence, perhaps companies will begin hiring on the basis of which juku an individual attended?

This seems unlikely to me, but may be the case in the future.

Social Repercussions of the 大震災 in Coastal Tohoku

While driving around with Billy McMichael in Tohoku it emerged clearly that there’s no consistent policy as to whether property and former house owners will be allowed to rebuild their houses in areas that were swept by the Tsunami. The arguments for/against are clear, I suppose.

No, don’t allow rebuilding: It might have been a once-a-millennium Tsunami, but that’s just an average, so re-building should not be allowed so as not to raise the expectation that they state/municipality backs homeowners up when there are recurring disasters.

Yes, allow rebuilding: a) It’s private property, owners should be allows to do with it what they want to do.  b) It’s their home and returning to a rebuilt home may be an important part of grieving and recovery.

In Soma and Shinchi it seemed that rebuilding would not be permitted while in Nattori it seemed like there were preparations under way for rebuilding.

If there’s any rebuilding, will more protection against Tsunamis be built? 10-15 years ago, the Japanese government would have enthusiastically said, “Yes, let’s build a 40m dyke, that will show the waves!” and would have begun mixing the concrete. While the current government is not noticeably smarter with these kind of decisions, it has noticeably less financial leeway, so that is not an option. Improvements to the Tsunami warning system are being considered, however.

As an aside, my new prepaid phone that AU made me get as the old one was using a CDMA generation that is about to go out of service, has an earthquake warning function built in. No good, if you’re a prepaid (i.e. cheap) customer as prepaid doesn’t include any data traffic, but imagine the warning before a quake is about to strike. Presumably phones buzzing all around…

The other big questions regarding rebuilding is not about private residences, but about the economic bases of towns. Some of the towns on the coast were obviously highly dependent on specific industries or employers. Some fishing towns may have been deriving as much as 70% of the overall residents’ incomes from fishing (fishermen themselves, longshoremen, harbour operators, packers, freezers, shippers, etc.). With harbours entirely out of commission, many of the under- or un-employed are hiring on with the construction crews that are cleaning up Tsunami debris.

The situation in towns closer to the nuclear plants is even more tragic in that jobs have been lost as adding insult to the injury suffered from radiation.

Any agricultural or fishing products will obviously also suffer from the spectre of radiation for some years to come to the extent that consumers in Japan or elsewhere will be able to identify produce/products from Fukushima and Miyagi.

So, should towns, prefectures and the national government encourage re-building when many of the affected areas were already in demographic decline? What’s the alternative to encouraging economic rebuilding? If there was a serious push for green energy (unclear whether PM Noda will continue PM Kan’s recent anti-nuclear rhetoric), wouldn’t it be terrific if some of the r & d or production could be located in Tohoku? But will that really revive these towns on the coast?

I am contemplating some limited research to investigate the role that juku (as low capital-cost, high social integration potential for communities) might play in the revival of some rural towns. One of my main juku contacts in Tokyo lost his mother in the Tsunami while his older brothers still reside in Kesennuma. He is eagerly waiting for some local leadership to emerge (no one has any illusions about any of the DJP (or LDP for that matter) leaders becoming true leaders in the sense of charismatic visionaries) to (re)consider the future of these towns. I hope that juku might give me a little bit of an angle to examine the future development of Tohoku.

Juku-Flyer: Learning American English in Chinese Juku-Courses in Summer

A Guest Post by Steve Entrich, University of Potsdam, Germany:

What we are all well aware of is the fact, that shadow education institutions are established all over the world and seem to gain greater importance from year to year. The presented flyers show a typical side of these institutions: juku are also season oriented organizations, which aim to get more students especially while summer break.

I found another flyer in China, which represents a part of the private tutoring sector, that seems pretty dubious to me and shows that also just earning money is one of the reasons to run such a business:

The article related to this flyer is posted in the German online magazine concerned with themes all around Asia, the “Asienspiegel”:

The german article you will find when following the link posted above shows you a Chinese juku flyer that was especially printed for a English language course which is held during the summer holidays and addressed to primary and middle school students that aim to upgrade their English knowledge. At second thought you might think, maybe not the students themselves are meant but their parents, on whose worries the juku owners are taking advantage in order to earn some money.

The problems you will find here are the same ones we find in a lot of other countries too: there are no quality standards that define the teachers educational level. And if that isn’t enough, in this special case the juku owner seems to lie about the qualifications of their tutors and the outcomes of the received learning sessions. The price is also quite delicate: about 40000 Yuan (ca. 6272 US $) were paid by a chinese mother after visiting a trial lesson that in the end wasn’t comparable to the later received lessons.

Meanwhile the Peking administration for trade and industry – that has already created a bunch of hotlines for such cases – advises parents to report all malpractice of those institutions. But in the end parents can’t be protected of falling into numerous traps unscrupulous juku-owners had set for them. Like in many other states the education at juku-like institutions will remain in the shadow if the state itself doesn’t install legal regulations.

Abacus Education

The first time I encountered a juku was when I returned with my 上智大学学生寮 roommate (I spent my 3rd year in university on exchange at Sophia) to his home in Shimane Prefecture. Shinji’s parents ran an abacus juku. I thought to myself, “An abacus juku? In 1991? In Japan, where the pocket calculator was invented in the 1960s? How bizzare!”

Over the years, I have visited the 瀬川塾 many times and have been fascinated and impressed by the success that abacus education can have with some kids. Children who enjoy computation (I was one of those myself) can get a real kick out of the speed with which the abacus lets them perform calculations, especially once they graduate to methods where they’re only visualizing the abacus not actually using it.

My former roommate is now involved in a larger-scale effort to introduce the abacus more formally into math education, not as a calculator, but rather as one more way to introduce elementary school students to different math concepts. See Shinji’s blog for more information on SSKClub and their efforts.

Juku Flyer Vancouver IV

Another flyer contributed by a participant in my Continuing Studies course earlier this summer.

First I find this flyer  appealing, but not over-the-top in its design and professionalism.

I would note the cost for a 5-week course here. At five days a week for a nearly full day, this works out to $60/day which certainly is not terribly expensive compared to other camps/daycare options.

What was entirely new to me on this flyer was the “earn course credits” opportunity.

Perhaps because of home schooling, but also because of the existence of remote, small secondary schools with limited course offerings, I imagine, BC offers extensive options for long-distance learning. Typically, these are based on some kind of exam-for-credit system.

It is this possibility that this particular tutoring service is relying on. In their 5-week course, one of the grades 10, 11, 12 math course’s subject matter is covered and a student can thus apply to receive the credit for that course via an exam. Potentially, this offers the opportunity to a student to jump a grade of math in their secondary school or to substitute other electives instead.

This exam-for-credit is not an option in Japan and other Asian education systems. In part the absence of such a system, produces the double-schooling that I have lamented.

The “enrichment tutoring” also seems to offer possibilities beyond course credit, though “remedial tutoring” is also mentioned on this page.

The “top ten reasons” seem to be aiming at students more than parents which may be appropriate given the older age groups targeted (16-18-year olds).

Here’s the back page of this flyer: