Monthly Archives: December 2011

Most-Read Blog Posts of 2011

Of my 80+ posts in the first year of the existence of the Jukupedia, here are the five most-read individual posts (excluding posts in the “diversions” category):

  1. Matsushita Sekei Juku
  2. Abacus Education
  3. Single Sex Education Caveats
  4. Shanghai PISA Results
  5. “Enduring Contexts”: Nomi

Thanks for reading my posts and I hope that many of you will return to reading more in the coming 2012!

The Economist on Supplementary Education

The week, The Economist’s Kenneth Cukier published an article entitled “Japan’s cramming schools – Testing times: A controversial institution has some surprising merits”. I was thrilled, of course, that he quoted me in the article as a “rare expert on juku”.

Great to see the 塾 character in the accompanying cartoon as well.

As is almost always the case with press and media accounts, the article is relatively short and thus has to gloss over some of the complexities of the phenomenon of supplementary education in Japan and elsewhere. I’ve been struggling with this myself all along in that there are some relatively simple (and thus short) messages I like to offer as conclusions from my research on 塾, but even these are necessarily simplifications (see the categories on the right to explore some of my research on hypereducation in Japan). The Economist’s Japan correspondent also picked up on some of these message, for example by referring to the variety of different juku that exist. While this is not the kind of variety that proponents of the privatization or liberalization often expect (i.e. a flowering of pedagogies and pedagogical innovations), some of the “immobilist politics” in Japanese educational policy (Len Shoppa of the Univ of Virginia used this term in a book on Nakasone educational reforms) is being unsettled by innovations in the supplementary education industry.

The scene Kenn recalls from Seiran Gakuin in his article is one that I have witnessed in many of the almost 50 juku that I’ve visited in Japan. Seiran Gakuin happens to be one of my favourites and is led by  林 政夫 who is one of the great examples of charismatic educators in the juku world.

When Kenn refers to surveys in Japan that attribute juku attendance to shortcomings in education systems (an element of the article that has been picked up by some Twitter reactions to it already), I would offer a qualification – an important qualification, I think – that it is perceptions of shortcomings in Japanese education that seem to be driving parents and students to juku. Whether such shortcomings exist in an empirically demonstrable way is much less clear, and it is always interesting to note that it is not only perceived shortcomings in public education, but in private schools as well. Private school students in Japan also attend juku in large numbers after all.

The Economist on hagwon

Note that The Economist ran an article about supplementary education in Korea in its Christmas special. I have previously written about South Korea as the paragon of hypereducation.

Much of what this article writes about Korea is also true of Japan, of course.

Japan is also a “one-shot” society in that there are few alternative educational or career transition tracks other than graduate from high school, sit entrance examinations, repeat with intensive preparatory study if necessary, graduate from university, apply for jobs during recruitment season, live happily ever after.

While the school-to-work transition is not as smooth as it was in high-flying economic times (I’m currently reading Mary Brinton’s “Lost in Transition” on just this topic), there still are very few re-entry students or alternative routes to higher education in Japan.

The discussion about the costs of the university entrance exam focus in Korea are mirrored more or less in Japan, though the concern with equity via for-profit supplementary education (hagwon) has historically been much greater in South Korea. Unlike the article on Japan (which ends with a note about broken government systems), the article on Korea ends on a more hopeful note focusing on young Koreans as a generation that might bring about/force change. There is little of such a dynamic visible in Japan…

My 2011 in Social Media

This past year, I got blogging and tweeting more seriously. This has had me become more and more interested in the professional use of social media, i.e. for research, publication and advocacy.

Not surprisingly, my social media efforts are focused primarily on supplementary education, Japan, and Mongolia.

My Facebook Author Page

First though, bridging traditional publishing and social media, my book author Facebook page is liked by more than 100 of you (thanks!). If you all were book buyers (of my book, that is) that would represent about 1/4 of sales.


I forget when exactly I set up my Twitter account, but I initially lurked primarily and found Twitter an interesting way to follow some foreign correspondents, primarily in Asia, recognizing that most of them publish a fraction of the stories they come across, but that they’re increasingly tweeting about stories.

Asia Pacific Memo

Some of this realization also led us at the Institute of Asian Research to create the Asia Pacific Memo in July 2010 as an attempt to change the culture of academic publishing, but supplementing important traditional channels like peer-reviewed journals, with forms of communication that are aimed more explicitly at an interested public. With Asia Pacific Memo we do this through very short written pieces (<350 words) or brief video interviews. I’ve been involved in this process from the beginning, have written some Memos and continue to be very interested in how to make Asia Pacific Memo more present in social media (FB, Twitter, YouTube). Interestingly, one of my very early Memos continues to have one of the longest lives of any Memo with more than 50 pageviews per month more than a year after publication. Part of the “success” of this Memo appears to be the use of the term “hypereducation” in this Memo which I have adopted for the Jukupedia blog as well. A lesson about academic branding in social media?

This year, I was involved directly in the following Memos:

Back to twitter…

On March 11, Japan was struck by a massive earthquake that caused a tsunami and triggered a nuclear crisis. At the time, I was teaching at the University of Toulouse as a visiting professor and felt quite cut off from news other than the sensationalist news channels. Fortunately, Japanese news channels were streaming on-line. Largely as a form of therapy for myself to combat the feeling of helplessness in the face of such a disaster in Japan, I started translating little bits of Japanese news announcements on Twitter. Soon enough, a couple of news organizations (Mark Mackinnon of the Globe & Mail may have been first) listed me as tweets to follow and my number of followers shot up from the around 100 where it had hovered for quite a while, to over 500 where it sits now. British journalist Kate Bussmann published “A Year in Twitter” at the end of the year and included a couple of my #JPQuake tweets in that collection.

Interestingly, few people who followed me during the #JPQuake seem to be unfollowing even when my tweets are a mix of observations, news, pointers on Japan and Mongolia.

At year end I have tweeted more than 900 times and have nearly 600 followers.

MAAPPS Twitter

For the entire year, we’ve also been tweeting about the MA Asia Pacific Policy Studies that I direct. It has been mostly me and program assistant, Kerry, who have been tweeting though the students occasionally chirp in as well. We’ve intended this graduate program tweet to give prospective applicants a sense of the daily goings-on in the program and some of the highlights in a more informal way than static web pages provide. At this point nearly 80 people are following the account, though that includes a number of institutional UBC accounts and current/former students.

We’ve also experimented with virtual office hours for prospective applicants this fall, giving interested students a chance to ask questions about the program and get very quick, to-the-point responses. This has been mildly successful, though I’ve certainly enjoyed it.

Jukupedia Blog

Sometime in April, I started blogging about supplementary education ( I started this blog after and during attending large conferences this Spring (AAS and CIES) and recognizing that a) I always have lots to say about juku in Japan and supplementary education more broadly, and b) not all of what I have to say fits into traditional publication outlets.

That desire to ruminate, share information, discuss supplementary education has led to 80 posts and over 1,300 visitors to the Jukupedia.

Spikes in traffic occurred especially when I commented on newspaper pieces and linked my comments to a more extensive blog post.

So far, the existence of the blog has also led some researchers and graduate students to contact me about related topics they’re interested in to conduct research on.

The most widely read blog posts are a group of mixed topics with some where it is clear why they received a lot of traffic (incoming links/referrals from colleagues/contacts), while others have less obvious explanations.

 Mongolia Blog

This year I have been delighted to have Byamba visiting from the Univ of Hokkaido. He used the desk in front of my office and combined with the presence of Mendee who was finishing up the MAAPPS program and now started graduate work in Political Science, this provided many opportunities to talk about current developments in Mongolia. Finally, we decided that we should record/share our discussions and started the Mongolia Today blog.

Since August, we’ve already had over 2,000 visitors to that blog and I very much hope to be able to continue to write even after Byamba has returned to Japan and as we head into the 2012 parliamentary election campaign.

Juku as Engines of Post-Disaster Recovery?

My geography colleague, friend, and predecessor as director of the Centre for Japanese Research at UBC, David Edgington, has put together a group of researchers at UBC who will conduct research on post-disaster recover in Tohoku leading up to a March 2012 workshop. Under David’s leadership, we have received a grant from the Japan Foundation under its “Critical Issues Emanating from Japan’s March 11th Disasters” funding envelope.

Our group includes David, the Institute ‘s Stephanie Chang, and Journalism student Jamie Williams.

Given my experience in Fukushima and Miyagi this summer, naturally my main interest in the post-disaster situation in Tohoku involves education.

Thus I am planning a trip to Japan in January and hope to spend about a week on Tohoku’s coast. I’m hoping to meet juku operators there who have re-opened their juku, and also others who have not done so.

Why talk to juku operators? Well, juku are a business with virtually no capital needs other than a room or building. No machinery, no fridges, no subscriptions to pay. Even in a post-disaster situation – as long as some buildings remain and a juku operator has access to them -, a juku could reopen very quickly after a disaster.

The reopening of various public facilities was seen as a significant milestone in many Tohoku communities, whether it was the return to normal train schedules or the closing of emergency shelters. Can a service industry with low capital needs serve as an anchor of social and economic recovery?

The complicating factor for the Tohoku coast (as opposed to Sendai, for example) is that many of the coastal communities were already facing a social and economic decline before the Tsunami struck. As  many people perished in coastal communities and many people who survived left the area, especially in greater proximity to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the potential customer base for supplementary education services may have disappeared. Remaining inhabitants may also not have the funds to pay for juku while juku operators are unlikely to be in a business position to offer significant discounts. While conventional schools may be receiving a variety of donations and other support (possibly even from here in BC, see an Natural Resources Canada announcement to this effect), there is unlikely to be very much support for for-profit juku and their customers.

The social decline certainly extended to the supplementary education industry as well, as I have observed in Shimane Prefecture where the de-industrialization and de-population dynamic was comparable to pre-3/11 Tohoku.

Looking for contacts in Affected Areas of Tohoku

If you know anyone who operated a juku pre-3/11 in Sendai or in coastal communities, I would be very grateful if you could put me in touch with such people, whether they have re-opened their businesses (if they were directly, i.e. physically affected by the Tsunami or not), or not. julian{dot}dierkes|at|ubc(dot)ca