Thursday, August 18, 2016

Discussing PISA 3/3: The OECD's Education Initiative Keeps Poor Countries Poor

3. Agenda of “Rich Countries Club”

One-sided Reactions of School Educators’ Community in Rich Countries

The Finnish education hype was ignited by the OECD and massively fueled by the school educators’ community, members of which include schoolteachers, academics, journalists, unionists, and others in rich countries.
I would like to discuss the reactions of the community below.

As I mentioned before, while constructivism is viewed as ideal among many educators, it has been causing more harm than good in practice. Frankly not only constructivism but also other progressive education theories loved by them have hardly succeeded.
It must have long been a heartbreaking fact for them, especially for the education academics advocating their ideals in their books and lectures. Thus they had been stuck for the positive evidence.
Under such circumstances, the OECD offered the solution by preparing the PISA project based on constructivism.

When Finnish education, which had undergone the reform recommended by the OECD, was ranked high in PISA, the community members were so pleased, and notably education academics readily believed that their proud theory was proved effective.
In this way, the OECD saved faces of many educators by providing evidence for their ideal education.

This solution is, however, not very fair because the PISA tests are designed in favor of constructivist education. And the evidence provided is tentative one in the particular examination and doesn’t seem to prove anything in reality, considering that Finnish children are suffering from innumeracy in their daily life now.

However, the journalists and academics have beautifully dramatized the Finnish education as success story of their ideal. Its beautiful image rapidly spread like wildfire in the school educators’ community and has developed to the hype across the globe.
On the other hand, the negative facts such as objection from within Finland, Finland’s mediocre result in TIMSSFinnish children’s numerate trouble, and Asian rise in the ranking have been neglected or treated as elephant in the room.
some educationists got together to call for a halt to PISA in protest against the Finland's "unexplained decline" in the ranking.
We should keep in mind these one-sided reactions of the educators in rich countries.

Joint Initiative between the OECD and School Educators

The bottom line is that while the OECD depends on the school educators’ community for the legitimacy of the PISA project, the community welcomes the OECD as friendly external evaluator.
Owing to this “mutually endorsing” relation, they are seemingly taking initiative together in leading the international debates on comparative education. This joint initiative between them seems good for educators, but not so good for learners especially in developing countries.

Since the school educators are concerned with their rights and interests, the policies and methods they propose tend to be costly or budget-consuming. Cost consciousness seems the furthest thing from their mind.
The OECD, of course, reflects their mind. Therefore, it incessantly preaches about the need for the investment in education, but is reluctant to talk about cost-effective means of education.

Cost-effective Solutions are Shut out from the Discussion Table

In the meantime, many countries are now facing the problem of teacher shortage.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has recently reported that the world will need to recruit 25.8 million teachers by 2030, and notably some developing or emerging countries will need more than one million teachers each. Another report says that there are already 100 students in one classroom of K-12 schools and 2,000 learners in one lecture theater of higher education in Egypt now.

It is obviously a tough job to make a budget just for hiring teaching staff to satisfy these demands in those countries. And it is feared that even a minimal teacher training may not be affordable there, let alone the gorgeous teacher trainings proposed by educators in rich countries. Therefore, it is worth considering e-Learning systems as alternative solution for student learning as well as teacher training.

When it comes to e-Learning solutions, a variety of experiences are available in the US, including blended learning, MOOCs, the Khan Academy, etc. And similar efforts can be found in shadow education in East Asia.

However, these cost-effective solutions are prone to be neglected or denied in the school educators’ community, because they can jeopardize the educators’ rights and interests. Accordingly the partner of the joint initiative, which is the OECD, is unwilling to touch the cost-effective, that is, labor-saving aspect of the technological innovation.
As a result, while they advertise the expensive policies and methods, effectiveness of which is dubious, they shut out the cost-effective solutions from the discussion table of comparative education and international policy borrowing.

This attitude of them can result in misguiding the educational resources, and its negative impact must be greater in developing countries, where education budget is limited despite the huge youth population. Thus the OECD’s educational initiative keeps poor countries poor, or in worse cases impoverishes them.

Maybe we should remember that the OECD is the “Rich Countries Club” and seek another approach for education of young people in developing countries.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Discussing PISA 2/3: Politicizing the International Student Assesssment

(Continued from "Discussing PISA 1/3: Questionable Background between the OECD and Finland's Education Administration)

2. Agenda on International Politics

The OECD's Identity Crisis

According to the BBC report, the OECD is an international organization that was born as a means of distributing the American cash and economic wisdom to the war-weary Europe, but it is now suffering from something like identity crisis because it lacks in political power, compared with other international organizations.

Under these circumstances, it is conceivable that the OECD has the agenda to raise its presence on the arena of the international politics. And it possibly looks at the PISA project, including the other educational policy instruments, as a candidate tool through which the OECD can become influential, though its influence is limited to education at the present moment.

If the OECD is urged by this agenda and tries to grow the PISA project to a full-fledged political tool, it should, in the first place, obtain the approval from the educators' community. 
In this sense, it is a normal strategy to adopt a favorite theory of education pundits, which happened to be constructivism, and design the project in accordance with it, even though it is a problematic one. 
In other words, the OECD has to depend on the school educators’ community for the legitimacy building of the PISA project.
Unfortunate is that constructivism doesn’t work in reality despite the wide popularity among educators.

New Test on "Global Competence"

In the meantime, the OECD announced in May the introduction of a new test subject called “Global Competence” in addition to the three regular subjects including mathematics, science and reading.

In the business of comparative education such as international tests and cooperation projects, politically neutral subjects including natural sciences and languages are usually chosen for the sphere of activity, but social studies subjects such as geography, history, civics etc. are usually avoided because those subjects, contents of which vary greatly by countries, are easily politicized.

However, the “Global Competence” test will be categorized into social studies. In this sense, it is an epoch-making and adventurous attempt.

Politicizing The International Student Test

If it is successful, the OECD will be able to obtain the authority to define “Global Competence”, which can be a global standard, and, thereby, expand its influence out of education to the arena of international politics.

Actually if children in a country are ignorant of topics appearing on the test of “Global Competence” or fail to interpret them as suggested by the OECD, the country will be placed low in the ranking. Therefore, education policy makers across the globe cannot help but take into consideration the inclusion of those topics and their desired interpretations into their curricula.

Moreover, once the test project achieves a global recognition, people’s attention tends to concentrate on the countries’ ups and downs in the ranking and rarely dwells on the problems about the assessment criteria, the administration system, test contents, etc. Thus the political power exercised by the test administrator can be easily overshadowed.

I expect that the first “Global Competence” test in 2018 will be carried out very carefully so as not to cause any disputes. However, I don’t expect that those who are aware of its potential political power will do nothing and miss the opportunity forever. 
There will come up lots of people who seek to influence PISA tests in one way or another: some may openly demand that some particular topics should be included in (or excluded from) the test or that yet new test subject, let’s say, “Global History” or “Social Justice” should be created. And others may lobby to change the test contents, the assessment criteria, the committee members, and whatever.

In these kinds of conflicts, the OECD will play a role of final arbiter, and thereby tremendously improve its presence in the international politics.
This kind of political presence probably sounds very attractive to the OECD, the identity of which is blurred

(Continued to "Discussing PISA 3/3: The OECD's Education Initiative Keeps Poor Countries Poor" )

Discussing PISA 1/3: Questionable Background between the OECD and Finland's Education Administration

(It is advisable to first read "Finnish Mathematicians were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype".)

Questionable Background between the OECD and Finland's Education Administration

As I wrote before, Finnish education can hardly be deemed successful. And considering the early criticism from within Finland, we cannot help but think that the Finnish education hype has been a total illusion since the beginning.

We should not applaud the education through which less than 20% of students can solve fractions and some of them have numerate difficulty in daily life. At least we should scrutinize it thoroughly before taking it as educational role model.

Finnish education has gained attention since Finland was ranked high in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) administered by the OECD in the early 2000s. 
And some questionable background between the OECD and the Finnish education administration is pointed out in the below articles.

How Finnish, Not Eeast Asian Education Became A Global Reference?

Too Eager to Comply? OECD Education Policies and the Finnish Response

Finnish education, which had been reformed in accordance with the OECD’s recommendation in 1990s, has been ranked high in the international test carried out by the OECD and played up as successful role model, though East Asian education systems, which have been ranked also high, or even higher, in the same test, have never been celebrated or advertised like Finnish one…

The OECD started the PISA project with the aim of justifying its own education policy with which it reformed the Finnish education?

Constructivism - the Problematic Theory

Even Granting that the OECD utilized the international test merely to justify its policy, it could be still useful if it resulted in dissemination of some good and effective education. However, it seems not the case.

It is pointed out that both the Finnish education and the PISA project share the same education theory called constructivism. And this theory is very controversial and problematic: while it is lauded often very enthusiastically by the school educators, it has caused many problems in practice.

For example, the constructivist education reform introduced in the US in 1990s brought a big controversy called math wars. And notorious Yutori education in Japan, which was officially denied recently, was also influenced a lot by it. Similar confusions can be seen in other parts of the world such as Turkey, Uganda, and China, according to a report.
And Finland seems no exception.

Why the OECD Advertises the Problematic Education?

Why the OECD has to advertise this problematic, or at least controversial, education theory by carrying out the PISA project?
For thinking about this question, I hypothesize the below agendas the OECD is likely to have behind. And I try to discuss them one by one.

1: Agenda on Economic Policies

1. Agenda on Economic Policies

Many people may wonder why the OECD, which is primarily an economic organization, is involved so much in education and the international test project. This question would not be raised if PISA was held by the UNESCO, UNICEF or other education-related organizations.
Therefore it can be suspected that the OECD has some hidden agenda on economic policies behind. In fact, the Finnish education scholars are hinting neo-liberal tone of the OECD in their argument above.

It would not be impossible to find something in common between neo-liberalist argument and the OECD’s education theory.
Generally speaking, not only constructivists but also other progressive educationists put importance on students’ active engagement in learning and de-emphasize instruction itself. On the other hand, neo-liberalists say that state intervention should be minimized so that entrepreneurs can act freely to boost economy. Thus you may find these narratives sound similar in a sense.
On the other hand, however, some Japanese researchers argue that neo-liberalists in Japan as well as in the US and the UK cannot accept the OECD's educational thought.

As far as I have read arguments on this matter so far, it’s not very convincing that the OECD advertises constructivism with the aim of pushing forward neo-liberal economy, though I keep looking for more convincing arguments.

(Continued to "Discussing PISA 2/3: Politicizing the International Student Assessment")

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Japan's Farewell to Yutori Education

On 10th May 2016, Mr. Hase, Japanese Education Minister, issued a message to clearly mark the departure from Yutori education, the ill-famed Japanese education policy that is largely influenced by progressive education thoughts.

Although this policy had been already reconsidered in 2005 by another education minister of the time, some people were worrying that the new education policy would become a disguised attempt to go back to Yutori. Thus, he felt it necessary to confirm that it is not intended to turn back a clock.

In the meantime, it is reported that the OECD director for education and skills recently praised Yutori education. If this report is true, Mr. Hase’s message happens to highlight the difference of opinion between them.

Yutori education policy is a set of school reforms that were aimed at depressurizing school life, which had been gradually introduced since the late 1970s and faded out in 2000s. It is primarily known for large cutbacks in subject contents and school hours.

When it comes to learning methods, cramming methods such as rote-learning, drilling, testing, etc. were largely denounced because the Yutori policy was based on the firm belief that every hardship and suffering of young people was caused by such methods.
Alternatively the progressive educational methods such as problem-solving, experiential learning, project-based learning, etc. were encouraged with a view to eliminating problems in schools and promoting all those positive things such as academic ability, creativity, independence, or whatever.

The consequence was devastating. 
Parents evacuated their children’s learning to juku cram schools and some companies had to provide remedial courses to their newly-recruited employees who received Yutori education. One news report described Yutori people as “running amok, threatening to destroy the country”.
Needless to say, this policy is now regarded as the most famous blunder of Japanese education. Many ordinary Japanese people may feel his message as a belated action.

Although his message states that “we should not return to the dichotomy of cramming and Yutori,” many things still remain to be clarified. 
Particularly, it doesn’t clearly mention how to rectify qualitative or pedagogical failure of Yutori education, though it seems to admit that the large cutbacks in subject contents were wrong.

* Above cited Japan Times article said that Yutori kyoiku (Yutori education) took effect in 2007, but it is a glaring mistake. Although there are some different opinions on when it was started, nobody thinks that it took effect as late as in 2007.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Lesson Study Failed in Japan?

Thanks to the help from those who shared and tweeted the previous post, far more people than expected have read about Lesson Study.
I hope that they have understood that Japanese people cannot believe in Lesson Study as success story.

The Background of the Movement

Since it is obvious that it failed to work in Japan, some people may be wondering now why Lesson Study has been so advertised.
Its background in Japan is relatively clear.
To make a long story short, the Japanese education studies as a whole has been lacking in notable academic achievements. And the researchers as well as other school educators, whose raison d'etre is questioned these days, are consciously or unconsciously longing for some trophy to authorize themselves.
Thus the Lesson Study movement must be regarded by them as a good chance to achieve an international reputation.
(I wrote about this background more in "Pitfalls of Japanese Education Studies 1, 2, and 3)

I'm not sure why overseas educators are keen to play up Lesson Study despite all the news reports about the failed Japanese school education.
However, considering that the wrong educational reports are often applauded without any critical thinking, we may have good reason to suspect a similar background in their countries or on the global level.
At any rate, the Lesson Study movement reflects this kind of educators' mindset rather than students' learning.

Why Lesson Study failed to work in Japan?

Japanese educators’ mindset is one thing, and efficacy of Lesson Study is another to talk about. 
As I argued, Lesson Study is neutral and doesn't guarantee either success or failure by itself. With this in mind, I would like to discuss the reasons why Lesson Study failed to work in Japan.

1. Lesson Study is carried out just as ritual
Needless to say, it's nonsense to conduct Lesson Study just as ritualistic formality. However, there are a lot of such ritualistic events and activities in Japanese school education, some of which do more harm than good.
Therefore, I cannot deny the possibility that many of the Lesson Study sessions are held as one of those rituals.

2. Lesson Study is carried out very exclusively.
Lesson Study is characterized by joint collaboration by schoolteachers.
It may sound very open-minded, but actually it’s very exclusive because it is basically confined in the closed circle of school educators. 
Its initial concept, which is to share good practices and ideas, is certainly open-minded, but it seems that the Lesson Study experts limit the source of those good practices and ideas only to schoolteachers for some reasons, promoting some turf-minded attitude which, as a result, functions to shut out efforts and developments outside of schools.
In such a closed environment, it is no wonder that the Lesson Study sessions tend to be made just to satisfy the members inside.

3. Irrelevant ideals are shared by educators.
When teachers share the same educational ideal, Lesson Study will be influenced by it. 

For example, the present dominant ideal among Japanese schoolteachers is the Finnish-style education.
Therefore, it is likely that the performing teachers
 try to bring their teachings close to Finnish style in the sessions and that observing teachers applaud them.

However, students and parents don't wish for the education in which
 less than 20% of learners become able to solve fractional calculations. Thus Lesson Study cannot help but go irrelevant.

4. Successful Lesson Study needs competitive environment.
Frankly speaking, the long-standing popularity of jukus in Japan suggests that their staff training has been better than that of school education on the whole.
However, unfortunately the staff training as well as teaching methods of juku companies has been rarely reported, because Japanese education scholars have neglected them.

In the meantime, the professional development system is usually available in private companies, sports clubs, show business, and others. And Lesson Study, which is consisted of planning, observation, discussion, etc. is most likely to have many things in common with those systems in other working places. In fact, some Lesson Study experts argue that it is comparable to the renowned industrial methods such as PDCA, Kaizen, etc.

However, there is a fundamental difference which is very critical: while those industrial methods have been developed and carried out in strongly competitive environment, Lesson Study is practiced in school education which is a monopolistic state undertaking.

In this sense, it is relevant to consider that those methods including Lesson Study should work effectively only in some competitive environment.

The above are the likely causes I can think of for the failure of Japanese Lesson Study. I hope they activate the discussion on it.


Sunday, January 24, 2016


(The English summary is on this page)









1 PISA 調査で分かるのは、生徒の数学能力のごく一部だけ

The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children's mathematical skills

PISA 調査の結果が発表されて以来、「フィンランドの義務教育を修了した者は数学の専門家だ」などと新聞やマスコミは報じているが、大学や Polytechnic(技術専門学校)の数学教員たちは、新入生の数学の知識が劇的に落ちているので懸念している。たとえば、1999年に行われた TIMSS (国際数学・理科教育調査)では、図形と代数の分野でフィンランドの学生は平均を下回った。また、あまりにも多くの受験生を不合格にできないので、最近理事会は入試の合格基準点を驚くほど下げざるを得なかった。
この矛盾は、PISA 調査では日常的な数学知識を測るだけで、分数の計算、初歩的な方程式の解法、図形的推理、立体図形の体積計算、代数式の扱いなど、その他多くの技能には対応していないことが主な原因である。


2 フィンランド人の数学能力における深刻な欠点

Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills

200人以上の大学教員がフィンランドの数学教育について懸念を表明したことに対して「アカデミックの批判にすぎない」という意見があったが、それは正しくない。実際、文書にサインしたうちの約半分は Polytechnic や工科大学の教員であって、彼らが教えているのはアカデミックな数学ではなく、実用的な数学だ。
1999年から2004年にかけて、Turku Polytechnic(トゥルク技術専門学校)では工学系の新入生の数学能力をテストしてきたが、2400人の生徒のうち初歩的な問題を解くことができたのはわずか35%であった。
Polytechnic の教員たちは、学生の代数式の扱いや方程式を解く能力の低さに驚いている。
この問題を解決するために、教育省は作業部会を設立する必要があると思うが、そのメンバーには大学や Polytechnic の教員を参加させるべきである。
また、PISA 調査でトップになることは Pyrrhic Victory(ピュロスの勝利=犠牲が大きすぎる勝利)なのではないかと考えてみる必要がある。



あるアメリカの数学者がTIMSS というもう一つの国際学力試験の結果について論じている。
OECDのPISAとは違って、TIMSS ではフィンランドの子供たちのスコアは総じて低いのだが、その中でも、彼は分数の引き算の問題について注目し、16%という正答率の低さもさることながら(日本の正答率は65%)、その間違え方を分析した上で、フィンランドの生徒は分数が何なのかわかっていないかもしれない、と論じている。






Lesson Study Is Not A Success Story of Japanese Education

Critical Thinking about Overseas Education Reports

After having read educational discussions for the past few years, I have learned that the education theories and ideas based on experiences of different countries are often unreliable.
Especially, the experiences of countries where “educational pluralism” can be seen are more than likely to be misreported.
Therefore, educators are strongly advised to apply their critical-thinking ability to those reports instead of swallowing them. It is not fascinating that people’s discussion is driven by wrong stories.

This time I would like to discuss Lesson Study (or Jugyokenkyu in Japanese), a teacher training method of Japanese origin, which is gathering attention now.

Lesson Study as Success Story outside of Japan

Lesson Study is a professional development method in which teachers collaborate with each other through planning, observation, discussion, etc.
It was first introduced widely abroad in the late 1990s in the book titled “Teaching Gap” written by two university professors in the US.
Since then, this method has been known overseas as a secret of Japan’s educational success. Many educators have been involved in the seminars and workshops on it. Several study groups have been set up and conferences have been held.
Thus this movement has succeeded in raising awareness of the Lesson Study method among overseas educators to some extent.

Lesson Study as Unsuccess Story in Japan

However, this success story of the overseas Lesson Study movement must sound very strange to the people who have just experienced the grand educational failure in Japan, which is, for example, described in the below articles.

By searching the Internet with the phrase “yutori education”, you can find other discussions on this policy, none of which call it successful most probably.
In fact, it is a national consensus in Japan that this long-standing yutori education was a big failure.
It was so devastating that the Japanese word “yutori”, which used to have only positive meanings, has earned a new meaning that is very negative. For example, “Are you yutori?” in casual conversation means “Are you an idiot?” now.
Accordingly, so many students resort to shadow education that is called juku in Japanese.
Now we should scrutinize and overhaul the whole school system including teachers’ trainings.

Under these circumstances, nobody can possibly argue that the Lesson Study method succeeded in Japan. Rather, some may suspect that it hindered students’ learning.
Or are there any arguments that this method alone was successful in midst of the overall collapse of school education?
I wonder how the experts think about the role played by the Lesson Study method in this recent failure of school education.

Collaboration between Schools and Jukus after Educational Failure

The government is gradually shifting away from yutori education, and school educators as well as policy-makers are now struggling to seek a new direction.
Under these circumstances, some of them are looking to jukus for help, as seen in the below articles.
(Please seek assistance from the Internet translation service for understanding the below articles written in Japanese)

To respond to these demands, some juku companies have prepared school-support services and some are involved in school reform programs carried out by local governments, as can be seen in the below articles for instance.

I have been talking about the dual structure of students’ education in Japan. And now maybe we are witnessing the similar structure developing for teachers training.

Lesson Study Doesn't Guarantee Success

The recent Japanese educational situation doesn’t provide any evidence to prove that the Lesson Study method was successful. Rather, it can testify that it failed to work.
Therefore, it is incorrect to insist that this method succeeded in improving students’ learning in Japan. It would be dishonest to play up this method while shutting eyes to the failed Japanese school education.
Probably the proponents of this method including the authors of the above book are making the same mistake with the NY Times.

However, just because Japanese Lesson Study failed to work, it doesn’t mean that this method always fails everywhere.
Ingredients of the method such as planning, observation, discussion, etc., are neutral in nature.
In other words, it doesn’t automatically guarantee either success or failure by itself.

In this sense, Japan’s experience of Lesson Study can be an important case study.
Although it is unfortunate to take up Japan’s case as unsuccessful, it is worth discussing the reason why it failed to work in Japan in order to find out problems in its implementation and seek the ways to solve them.
I hope that such a discussion will deepen the thought on Lesson Study.

To be continued in "Why Lesson Study Failed in Japan?" 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Finnish Mathematicians Were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype


Finnish Mathematicians Were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype.

Introductory Words

When I speak of shortcomings of Japanese school education, some people sometimes react by saying that "Why you so criticize your own country?"

Needless to say, education is nothing more than a part of the country's system, but some people mistake criticism of the school system for the criticism of the whole nation.

Although the below discussion on Finnish education may sound negative, I respect Finland as a nation, of course. I am going to just discuss the recent hype about the Finnish education.

The Global Hype about Finnish Education

Finnish education has attracted a lot of attention of the global community of educators since the early 2000s. Here in Japan, it has a good reputation among people due to the enthusiastic promotion of education experts and the media coverage with the banner of "The World Best Education."

To be honest, however, most people are just having a vague idea about it and unsure what is really going on there. And I was no exception.

Last year, when I was struggling to argue against the NY Times, the people, who thankfully helped spreading my opinion in the US, also informed me of a few reports and opinions about the Finnish education hype.

I would like to present some of them as below.

1. The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children's mathematical skills

2. Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills

I'm not very sure about the educational situation and the context of the debate in Finland, but there has been a controversy there, which doesn't seem negligible.

Less Than 20% of Finnish Students can Solve Fractions

Finlanders' achievement in another international assessment test, which is TIMSS, is way lower than that in OECD PISA.

Dr. Richard Askey, an American mathematician, made a report on the below TIMSS question on fractional calculation.

He takes note of the mistakes they made as well as its percents correct by country (Finland: 16% Japan: 65% for your information) and argues that Finnish students possibly have no idea about what fractions really are.

Do educators, who highly play up Finland's education and PISA-type ability, know these facts?
At least, nobody in Japan seeks education in which less than 20% of junior high students can solve fractions.

(The below part was added later on 2nd of June.)

Is This "Pyrrhic Victory"?

In April 2016, a Finnish news report deplored that the Finnish students' math skill is not enough for daily life. They cannot calculate how much a 50-euro shirt is going to be after 30% discount according to the report. 

Finnish mathematicians wrote about "Pyrrhic Victory" in the second opinion above. And I wonder that this is the price of being ranked high only in the PISA study. 

*Further discussions are available as below: