Japan’s Institutions Fail the Country’s Most Vulnerable Children

Free SpiritHuman Rights Watch released the report Without Dreams: Children in Alternative Care in Japan assessing the impact these care facilities have upon children who live there. As of 2013, more than 39 thousand children lived in institutions rather than in a family setting. The report identified problems with child care institutions, including abuses that take place and long-term implications for these children.

“It’s heartbreaking to see children crammed into institutions and deprived of the chance for life in a caring family setting. While other developed countries place most vulnerable children in family-based care, in Japan, a shocking 90 percent end up in institutions,” explained Kanae Doi, director of Human Rights Watch for Japan.

Children end up in institutional childcare after having been either abandoned or taken from unfit parents by the government. Rather than send these children to foster care or adopt them out to new families, the Japanese system assigns most children to institutions where they are deprived of caring family relationships and commonly subjected to abuses.

Infant care institutions, child care institutions, and short-term therapeutic institutions are often understaffed and overcrowded. As a result, the well-being and development of the children living there suffer. These children have insufficient access to education and live in poorly maintained facilities with poor hygiene and a lack of privacy. Many also become victims of physical and sexual abuse by caretakers or other institutionalized children.

Growing up under these conditions, children experience lifelong difficulties including developmental and learning disabilities, high rates of unemployment and underemployment, homelessness and other social difficulties.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding…the institutionalization of a child is a measure of last resort and only occurs when family-type measures are considered inadequate for a specific child.”

This does not happen in Japan where child guidance centers preferentially assign children to institutions rather than pursue adoption or foster care. This allows centers to avoid spending large amounts of time finding individual children a more acceptable living situation. It also benefits institutions which financially benefit from government subsidies that pay based upon the number of children in residence.

Doi called for Japan to reform its alternative care system, stating that “Japan’s child care policymakers are allowing bureaucratic priorities to get in the way of finding alternative care that is in the child’s best interest. While many people working in the system are committed to helping children, a sustainable solution should recognize that foster care and adoption need to play a much more central role.”

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Yangon University Re-opens in Myanmar

Myanmar’s political reforms, which began in 2011 with the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are continuing with the reopening of Yangon University, which is teaching its first class of undergraduates since 1998.

Stupa-26The university had been the target of the military junta of Myanmar (then Burma) since 1962, when student protests spurred the destruction of the Rangoon University Student Union building and the deaths of dozens of students. In 1988, further protests against the junta caused the government to disband the political science department. 10 years later, the university ceased all undergraduate instruction.

In 2010 a general election unseated the military junta, and a nominally civilian government took power. Although the military still exercises enormous power in the government, recent reforms have led the country toward more transparent and democratic policies, and the administration of the university has followed suit. “We have full autonomy,” said Kyaw Nain, a university rector, two weeks after the school began admitting undergraduates again. After the military seized power in 1962, administration of the university passed from a council of professors to the Directorate of Higher Education—a government department controlled by the junta.

The reopening of the university is good news for higher education in Myanmar, where although the education budget has tripled since 2011, educational standards and funding still languish behind its Asian neighbors. A new class of young and educated Myanma will be integral to easing the transition toward a more liberal government and making concrete and lasting reforms.

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Korean Children Unhappy in School Despite High Test Scores

My korean student (July. 10)In the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, Korea ranked highly in all three subjects of mathematics, reading and science when compared with the other 64 countries evaluated. Despite high academic achievements, Korean students had the lowest degree of happiness of all countries who participated. Less than 60% of Korean students tested agreed that they felt happy when at school.

Part of the reason for this unhappiness could be the pressure placed upon South Korean children to achieve high test scores in order to be competitive. Specifically, students feel immense pressure to score highly on the Korean Scholastic Aptitude Test so that they can gain admission to the best universities. To best prepare students for these exams, oftentimes schools focus on preparing students for tests rather than teaching them basic learning skills.

“In Korea you have to know the right answer to every question, but in the US or Europe, the process of getting to the answer is much more important” stated Sue Kim, an education journalist at Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Pressures to succeed academically are so high that students commonly spend all day and night in classes. A typical student will attend school during the day, get private instruction at night, and then spend several hours studying independently. This leaves children with very little time to rest, recuperate or enjoy themselves.

The majority of South Korean children follow schedules such as this every day of the week in order to get ahead. Following a full day at school, students then attend private “crammers” called hagwon where they receive tutoring for a fee. Approximately three-quarters of all children attend the nearly 100,000 hagwons that exist throughout South Korea.

Yoon-Gyeong Hwang, a mother of a teenage girl explained “Korea has few natural resources, we don’t even have much land, the only resource we have is people. So anyone who wants to be successful really has to stand out. As a mother I don’t feel comfortable about this kind of situation, but it’s the only thing she can do to achieve her dream.”

Not only does this approach to education place an immense burden upon South Korean children, but it also strains the resources of their families. Each year parents spend thousands of pounds to pay for after school instruction.

The endless pressure placed upon Koreans to succeed also made Korea the industrialized OECD country with the highest rate of suicide. For Koreans under the age of 40, suicide is the number one cause of death. In response to this epidemic, the government has been working to find ways to improve conditions.

According to Nam Soo Suh, Education Minister, “Korea has achieved miraculous growth within a short period of time…And naturally, due to that, we focused on and emphasised achievement within schools and in society, so that students and adults were under a lot of stress, and that led to high suicide rates. We still have a long way to go but we are doing some soul-searching in our society, and our goals now are about how to make our people happier.”

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Shanghai Students Top PISA Global Education Rankings

学周希望小学学生For the second time, students in Shanghai, China, have come out on top of the global Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test rankings. The newly released PISA results stem from the 2012 exams, which tested the mathematics, reading, and science skills of more than half a million secondary school students from 65 countries.

The PISA test is conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In addition to Shanghai’s top ranking, this year’s tests showed East Asian economies in general (including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea) outperforming the rest of the world.

The city of Shanghai was ranked separately from the rest of China, and was the only Chinese city to be ranked, as not enough data from other regions of China was available. Some educational experts have pointed out that the education system in Shanghai is very different from the rest of the country, and is far more effective.

Shanghai’s schools are said to be better funded and their teachers better paid than in other parts of China. Kong Linghuai, a professor and expert on Shanghai’s education system, says that the city’s success can be attributed to a mixture of “traditional elements and modern elements.”

Traditional elements, according to Kong, include a high cultural value placed on education, while modern elements include an evolving curriculum, a focus on improving underachieving schools, and an emphasis on teacher training.

Shanghai’s performance on this year’s PISA tests has gone a long way toward ending stereotypes about education in China. The belief that the Chinese school system is based on rote memorization is becoming outdated, as the government has been making consistent efforts to shift away from this paradigm.

According to the PISA report, this year’s findings reflect the fact that students excel when they have a measure of control over their own learning.

“Practice and hard work go a long way towards developing each student’s potential,” noted the report, “but students can only achieve at the highest levels when they believe that they are in control of their success.”

The full 2012 PISA results can be found here.

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Child Abduction in China Feeds the Adoption Industry

Kidnapped Girls, Foochow, China [1904] Attribution Unk Upon the news that the Chinese government has rescued 92 children from a kidnapping ring, there has been renewed international attention to the rise in human trafficking throughout China over the past few years. Some estimate that up to 70,000 children are abducted from their families annually, making this a problem of epidemic proportions. The majority of these children are sold for adoption, but others end up living in orphanages and on the streets, or are forced into labor and the sex trade.

Children can be sold for adoption for between $5,000 and $13,000, making child abduction a profitable and growing business in China. Once kidnapped, children may be sold to adoption agencies or directly to other Chinese families interested in having a son. With the country’s one-child policy and the high value placed on male children, many families would rather purchase a son than risk having a daughter naturally.

Exact numbers on the percentage of kidnapped children being sold for adoption remain unavailable. While the Chinese government keeps these statistics out of the public eye, countries that adopt large numbers of Chinese children, like the United States, do not press either for answers or further investigation into this serious problem.

Despite the lack of available data, the extent of this issue became more widely publicized in August of this year when Charlie Custer and Leia Li released their documentary Living with Dead Hearts online. According to Mr. Custer, “the statistics are terrifying, but they’re just statistics, especially for people outside China.” To illustrate the devastating effects of child abduction, filmmakers followed three sets of Chinese parents as they searched for their missing children. The resulting imagery shows the anguish families suffer as well as the miserable conditions children face following abduction.

Several barriers make solving this problem difficult. To begin with, children are often abducted from families that are poor and have little education. As a result, they have no resources to look for their children and are unaware of their legal rights under Chinese law.

Finding a kidnapped child takes a large investment of time and requires the cooperation of authorities. Since the chances of successfully locating these children are extremely slim, police often consider it a waste of time and resources to look for them. Recovering these children is further hampered by police officers and family planning officials that are involved with kidnappers and facilitate their operations.

This epidemic was further investigated on Sept 27th at the meeting of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. When Chinese delegates were asked if the government would legally prohibit all human trafficking including the sale of children, they responded by declining to answer.

This ongoing failure to make significant improvements was also noted by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which placed China in the lowest ranking of countries worldwide.  According to the report, China was “deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.”


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North Korea’s Education Reform: Is it Practical?

Given it’s recent slew of politically hostile threats, much of the world’s attention has become focused on North Korea. As the country’s military actions come under close scrutiny, its new educational reform has provided no exception.

North KoreaAccording to official reports, education reform has been a pivotal issue since Kim Jong-un assumed the supreme leadership role of North Korea. Last fall, the Supreme People’s Assembly approved an education bill which proposed to tack on one extra year of compulsory education while also dividing the secondary school curriculum into three two-year periods.

Educational experts from abroad remain unconvinced that the country has the needed resources to apply the series of changes by the next academic year.

“Since Kim Jong-un took power, North Korea has been focusing on education reforms, but the conditions for training teachers and procuring education tools and materials are not that easy given the (difficult) environment the country is facing domestically and externally,” said Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “The country may take some time and face difficulties in the short run before the new system takes off.”

Teachers now face increasing pressure to implement these rapid changes and adopt never-done-before approaches to learning in order to put the country’s technological and scientific capacities better in line with the demands of the modern world.

Skepticism of the education bill is not internationally exclusive, with state media also raising some concerns. According to an article by Rodong Sinmun, a mainstream newspaper, current inadequacies in teacher training staff and resources will serve as the most critical roadblocks to the reform.

Kim Yong-chol, an official at Kim Hyung-jik University of Education, stated, “one of the pressing issues for successfully implementing the 12-year compulsory education system is teacher training.”

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New Study Shows East Asian Countries Leading in Education

Last Day at SchoolA global study has recently revealed the results from Trends in Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The study took results from 2011 and found East Asian countries are leading in math, science, and reading. These countries include South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Not far behind them are several European nations, such as the United Kingdom and Finland.

The results showed a correlation in higher level of education with societal commitment to education. For example, several Middle Eastern nations ranked at the bottom of fourth grade performances in math, science, and reading. This reflects the issue of poverty that is preventing children from getting proper education. For well-off nations, especially the economic power countries in Eastern Asia, a higher commitment to education is shown. Schools that are well-financed and have highly trained and satisfied teachers produce student with better performance.

Co-director of the exam, education professor Michael Martin of Boston College, stated, “Education is a multi-generational enterprise, so if you go back 30 or 40 years, many of these countries really did not have an education system, with only a small group of people getting a decent education. When parents haven’t been to school and are not literate, this is a big problem to overcome.”

Over 60 countries partook in the international exam on academic achievement in fourth and eighth grade. The TIMSS is conducted every four years and the PIRLS every five.

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China’s Gaokao Fever Continues

2010/06/07 14:11:59 SHANGHAIChinese state agency, Xinhua, reported that Xiao Yulong, a proctor for the 2012 college entrance examinations (gaokao), has been sentenced to one year in prison for ringing the bell to end the test too early.  Xiao, a now former high school teacher in China’s Hunan province, rang the bell four minutes and 48 seconds early “by mistake” on 2012 June 8.  This meant that 1,050 students had to hand in their test papers before they were required to do so.

In the official court statement released last Friday, Xiao’s carelessness was cited as causing “adverse social impact” for the school community.  Thousands of students and parents gathered “multiple times” at the school and the local education bureau to demand of the government punitive action against Xiao.

Xiao’s jail sentence for ringing the bell too early is evidence of China’s gaokao (高考) fever. This is not an isolated incident, but a pattern related to the country’s obsession over the annual college examinations which determine a teenager’s social advancement.  A good score means admission into China’s most prestigious universities and social prestige for the family.  The family planning of the 1980s made the one-child policy in China a persistent pressure on families.  The aspirations of grandparents and parents rest on the achievements of their child.  Children begin preparing for exams at an early age, as the test-centric culture of the country is highly competitive and demanding.

Every year in June, the whole country, as the New York Times remarked, are “in on it.”  Commercial and military flights are diverted around examination sites to prevent distracting the students who are taking the test.  Construction sites are silenced and honking is prohibited.  Parents pray at temples for good test scores. Even the Olympic torch relay of 2008 was rerouted so that testakers would not be disturbed by the games.

The China Daily reported that, in 2012, 9.1 million students across China took the gaokao, competing for merely 6.85 million spots in Chinese universities.

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Taiwan’s Brain Drain

students and busThe Taiwanese Ministry of Education arrived in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley last week to hold its Taiwanese education fair in the United States.  The education fair featured recruiters from Taiwan’s top universities who spoke to interested American students and parents who want their children to prospectively study in Taiwan.  The Los Angeles Times reported that over a thousand people attended.  The fair was based at the Chinese Cultural Center in the city of El Monte, a Southern California ethnic enclave of over 20,000 people of Asian descent.

Taiwan’s minister of education, Wei-Ling Chiang, who was present at the education fair, spoke of Taiwan’s current social exigency–the brain drain.  Chiang pointed out that there are 3,651 American-born students who are currently studying in Taiwanese universities, while 24,000 Taiwanese students are enrolled in American universities.  This imbalance in enrollment has caused Taiwan’s young talent to leave the country and to stay in places such as the United States and for long-term jobs.  This outflow of talent is detrimental for Taiwan, as the current demands of the workforce and development calls for evermore aspirant and talented individuals who can contribute their knowledge and skills to their home country rise.

In his welcome speech at the education fair in El Monte, Mr. Chiang made a compelling argument to parents for choosing Taiwan’s universities as a prospective degree program for their children.  The average education costs for an undergraduate is about $3,000 per year, which is the standard tuition set by the Taiwanese government.  The cost of living is likewise far less than the United States.  The target audience for increased enrollment is the average Taiwanese-American teenager, who is the second or third generation in the United States.  The appeal of a Taiwanese education is timely as the freezing enrollment and tuition increases in the University of California and California State University systems are pushing for parents to reconsider the value of an American education.

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Lucrative South Korean Cram Schools

My StudentsIn a country that places great emphasis on education and social advancement, the industry for cram schools, or hagwons, flourish.  The Korea Times report that 28,000 cram schools currently exist in South Korea, which incurs over $15 billion in tuition annually.  The cram school is a way of increasing a child’s chances at the annual college examinations, where a series of multiple choice questions and fill-in-the-blank questions written by the South Korean government determines the future prospects of a teenager.

South Korean children are prepared at a young age for the standardized examinations to enter the top South Korean universities–Seoul National University, Yonsei University, and Korea University.  The government’s top positions reinforce the notion that success is equated with prestigious university enrollment.  Top cram schools usually charge $1,000 a month per subject, which, as the Korea Times points out, is a large financial burden on parents who have average incomes of $16,000.

Conditions in Korean cram schools are tough–12-18 hours of daily studying, no Internet, no television, no game machines, and pretty much a suspension of anything that can be seen as potentially distracting to studying.  Parents call it an “inevitable choice,” where the one-size-fits-all educational system is often credited as the fuel for the nation’s economic success.  Time reports that the South Korean GDP has risen 40,000% since 1962, and its obsession over education has transformed the country into an economic powerhouse.

The Korea Times in 2009 reported that parents are frequently overcharged tuition fees at the hagwon.  In a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, 358 cram schools out of a sample of 500 cram schools charge 40% more than the standardized tuition rate.  Cram schools will continue to thrive as the nation braces for the 2012 round of national examinations coming up later this month.

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