Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Misunderstanding Asian Education in the US

Misunderstanding Asian Education in the US

If the US Education Secretary Arne Duncan is interested in the high performance of Asian countries in the latest PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment), he will read official reports, have some briefings of professors of education, or attend some conferences held by the governments of those countries. Thus he is doomed to miss the point, unless he learns the lesson from the experience of his predecessor 30 years ago.

When Terrel Bell, the US Secretary of Education in the Cabinet of President Ronald Reagan, who was famous for the report “Nation at Risk”, received Japanese delegation headed by the minister of education in early 1980s, he praised juku, one of the forms of shadow education (supplementary education or private tutoring) in Japan. Then the delegation members got embarrassed, and an awkward silence followed. His aide promptly explained the situation, saying that jukus were what the Ministry of Education of Japan was trying hard to abolish.

This episode was shared by some education researchers in those days, who believed that the secretary mistakenly lauded jukus. However, it is getting more controversial because shadow education is now outperforming schools in Japan.

During the growing period in 1970s and 80s, the Japanese shadow education business was greeted by criticisms and hate speeches from school educators, academics, media commentators, and other opinion leaders, saying that jukus are money-mad business, worms acting as parasites in the minds of students and parents, fanatic cult groups and so on. A famous novelist wrote a story titled “Ban on Juku”. And there was even a Japanese Nobel laureate who insisted on abolition of jukus in a governmental ad-hoc council on educational reform.

In spite of these hostilities, jukus increased explosively in number and have become an integral part of student life in Japan. Number of juku companies increased from 18,683 in 1981 to 51,120 in 2001 according to the Ministry of Industry. And surveys by the Ministry of Education revealed that the juku utilization rate rose from 12 percent in 1976 to 54 percent in 2010 for elementary school students and from 38 percent in 1976 to 63 percent in 2010 for junior high school students. Thus the business developed to a 10 billion US$ market before the turn of the century. Some big companies set up their own publishing houses and some launched satellites for their distance learning more than ten years before the emergence of Khan Academy.
Nowadays the business has penetrated into the school activity. Some jukus provide remedial courses in the public schools and some hold training courses not for students but for schoolteachers.

However, despite its enormous popularity and impact, the juku phenomenon has never been sufficiently studied as a research subject, though the commercial guide books and magazine articles on the juku service are abundantly available in Japan. It is probably because education authorities and researchers feel that school system is threatened by them.

Shadow education in Japan has almost half-century history, and now other Asian countries are seeing similar phenomena, which are more exciting. According to a report of Asian Development Bank in 2012:

*In China, the 2004 Urban Household Education and Employment Survey of 4,772 households indicated that 73.8% of primary students were receiving supplementary lessons, including in non-academic subjects. Proportions in lower and upper secondary were 65.6% and 53.5%...

*In Hong Kong, a 2009 telephone survey of 521 students found that 72.5% of upper primary students had received tutoring; and a survey of 898 secondary students found that 72.5% in lower secondary had received tutoring, while proportions in middle and senior secondary were 81.9% and 85.5%, respectively.

*In South Korea, in 2008, 87.9% of elementary school pupils were estimated to be receiving tutoring. In middle school the proportion was 72.5%; and in general high school it was 60.5%.

*In Singapore, a 2008 newspaper report stated that 97% of students polled at the primary, middle, and senior secondary levels were receiving tutoring.

Although these surveys are not necessarily large in scale, the results are too strong to be neglected. And it is noteworthy that all the top-ranking Asian countries in the latest PISA result see this proliferation of shadow education.

PISA is obviously designed to gauge how effectively the official school system functions in each country, but it unwittingly shed light on the shadow, suggesting that school education might be left behind.


Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia

Japanese education. Why the cultural element is key

Japan’s cramming schools. Testing times.

Juku – the Stealth Force of Education and the Deterioration of Schools in Japan

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