Posts Tagged ‘education’

For teachers, the business of education has become even more of a business

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Private high school students boarding a private high school bus

Private high school students boarding a private high school bus

The Asahi Shimbun and NHK recently ran features about the changing job situation for high school teachers, specifically those who work for private institutions. According to education ministry figures, there are about 90,000 teachers working at private high schools nationwide, a number that has stayed about the same since 2001.

About 34,000 of these teachers were considered “non-regular” in 2011, meaning they were either hired directly by the schools on a yearly contract basis or obtained through temporary human resources companies. That number represents 36.8 percent of all private high school teachers, whereas the portion of public school teachers who are non-regular is 19.7 percent.

Furthermore, since 2001, the number of regular teachers in private high schools has decreased by more than 4,000, mainly the result of attrition through retirement, while the number of non-regular teachers has increased by 2,800. During the same period, the number of students attending private high schools has dropped by about 15 percent, while the number of private high schools hasn’t changed.

Private high schools are under pressure to maintain enrollment just to stay solvent, and one of their main incentives to attract students is student-teacher ratios, the smaller the better. So even as the number of students declines, these schools have to maintain staff numbers, a situation that puts more strain on their budgets. They have to cut expenses wherever they can, and since 70 percent of a private school’s expenditures goes to personnel, teacher pay is the obvious target for rationalization.

Continue reading about non-regular teachers →

Money for education ends up in the toilet

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Every elementary school student’s dream

Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released statistics from 2009 related to the cost of education in 31 developed countries. For the third year in a row, Japan was the lowest in terms of portion of GDP spent on education and schools: 3.6 percent, which, while being 0.3 percentage points higher than in 2008, is still much less than the average, 5.4 percent. (Denmark, for the record, spends the most: 7.5 percent.) Not surprisingly, Japanese families spend more for college than anyone else in the world, and in terms of how much of the money spent on education was from private individuals, Japan ranked third at 31.9 percent (after Chile and South Korea). The world average is 16 percent.

In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that in 2010, the year the ruling Democratic Party of Japan did away with tuition for public high schools, the average family with a full-time salaried head of household still spent 5.7 percent more for education than it did the year before. In the same class of households that had high school or college students, the increase was 9 percent.

On average, a household spent ¥1.91 million a year on education, down ¥700,000 from the previous year probably owing to the tuition break. That’s about 37.7 percent of the average family’s yearly income, and the poorer the family, the greater the burden: for families that earn ¥2 to ¥4 million a year, the portion spent on school is 57.5 percent. And if you wonder where all this money goes, don’t blame teachers, whose average salary over the past ten years has decreased by 9 percent.

It also doesn’t seem to be going to school infrastructure. The education ministry says that 60 percent of all public elementary and junior high schools in Japan are at least 30 years old and have never been renovated. In major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, the portion is 70 percent. The part of the physical plant that tends to show its age the most are the restrooms. In fact, Japanese public school lavatories are infamous, as evidenced by all the J-horror movies that take place in them. Invariably they are described with “the 3 Ks” — kusai (smelly), kitanai (dirty), kurai (dark).

Continue reading about public school lavatories →

Eat a potato chip and send a kid to college

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

They care

Besides manufacturing stuff, what do condiment maker Kagome, snacks producer Calbee and pharmaceutical company Rohto have in common? Not much, but in any case the three firms have joined forces to establish a foundation called Michinoku Mirai (Northern Region Future) to provide funds for young people who were orphaned by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami to pay for university or post-secondary vocational school. According to the Health Welfare and Labor Ministry, about 1,500 youngsters aged 18 or less lost both parents in the disaster, and starting in March 2012, those who graduate from high school and wish to continue their education can apply for up to ¥3 million a year from the fund to pay for anything related to that education, including entry fees, tuition and supplies.

The three companies estimate that the fund will need about ¥200 million a year, and each one will start by contributing ¥30 million for the first year, with the remainder coming from solicited contributions. They will continue supplying the fund with money for 20 years, at which point children who were orphaned as infants by the disaster will have graduated from high school. The reason the fund was created is that there is no public support in Japan for the continuing education of orphans. When orphans reach the age of 18, they are on their own. Foster care ends at 18, and since in Japan there is very little in the way of what in the West are called scholarships — meaning education grants — orphans almost never attend university. The exception is the long-standing, specialized private foundation Ashinaga Ikueikai, which provides educational support to orphans all their lives, from elementary to graduate school.

In Japan, you get the education you (the consumer) pay for

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

All in the family: National cram school Kawai Juku joins forces with local cram school Tokyo Shingaku Seminar for some educational synergy

Last week, the Organization for Economic Cooperation released a list that ranked the 31 member countries with “comparable data” in terms of public spending on education as a percentage of gross domestic product. Japan came in last at 3.3 percent. The average percentage was 5.0, with Norway at number one with 7.3 percent. However, in terms of private spending as a proportion of all expenditures on education, Japan came in third out of 28 OECD member countries with comparable data, at 33.6 percent. Only South Korea and Chile were higher.

These findings were based on data from 2008, which means they don’t take into consideration recent changes implemented by the Democratic Party of Japan. The most relevant change in this regard is the government’s decision to waive tuition for high school students by paying subsidies to local governments. High school is not mandatory in Japan, and even public high schools require fees of some sort. These subsidies will probably change the OECD’s rankings when it compiles a list for public spending in 2011, but it may not have any effect on the list for private spending. One of the reasons the DPJ pushed the tuition-free policy is because the party recognizes that in the current job climate even entry-level, minimum-wage service employment requires a high school diploma. The days when junior high school graduates were solicited for factory jobs and other blue collar work is long gone. But compared to many of the other costs that parents pay to have their children educated, public high school tuition is almost like a drop in the bucket. According to education ministry figures for 2006, the average public high school student paid ¥112,000 a year in tuition, which is certainly high for lower income families; but at the same time, the average public high school student also paid ¥176,000 a year for outside cram schools, or juku. Altogether, parents paid on average ¥520,000 a year in education costs for a child if he or she went to public high school, which is about half the cost for private high school students, who paid on average ¥1,045,000 a year (including ¥785,000 tuition and ¥260,00 for juku). Continue reading about spending of private education →

Got your back: Randoseru makers enjoy a captive, if shrinking, clientele

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

For the past several weeks some good Samaritans have been sending gifts to various child-welfare facilities throughout Japan. All of the senders identified themselves as “Naoto Date,” the name of the fictional character who was a professional wrestler called Tiger Mask in a popular animated series that aired between 1969 and 1971. Date also grew up in a child welfare facility, which for all intents and purposes is an orphanage; when he grew up and made money, he gave some of it to the facility that raised him.

Randoseru display at Nitori

In at least three of these charitable incidents, the anonymous donor deposited gift-wrapped randoseru at the entrances of the facilities. English-language news outlets translate this word as “school bags,” which doesn’t do justice to the thing it describes. Randoseru, a local rendering of the Dutch word ransel, is considered a uniquely Japanese accoutrement to the lives of young children. Randoseru are those boxy, hard leather backpacks that elementary children wear on their way to and from school and which are considered mandatory for no other reason than that everyone at that age wears them. Traditionally, they are expensive, which explains why the anonymous gift-giver chose that particular gift: orphanages, he figures, probably wouldn’t be able to afford them. He obviously thought he was giving those kids, who likely attend public schools alongside non-orphans, a measure of self-esteem.

Legend has it that the randoseru craze was sparked when the future Emperor Taisho was given a genuine Dutch backpack as a child, and while explanations for the subsequent popularity of such an accessory focus on practicality, a closer look at the phenomenon reveals it has more to do with marketing and status. Because a child will only use it from the first to the sixth year of elementary school (though many stop wearing theirs by the beginning of fifth year because randoseru look ridiculous on larger kids), he or she will most likely only possess one, and so the randoseru represents in commodity form a child’s formal entrance into the educational system. It is an emblem of a rite of passage. All children show up to class on the first day of first grade dressed in their school uniforms and sporting identical and — most important — brand new randoseru. God help the child who shows up with his older brother’s or sister’s hand-me-down bag or even a standard canvas backpack, no matter how new and fashionable. The kid would be teased mercilessly.

Continue reading about randoseru →

Cost of education a drag on the economy

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Save it for later: Japan Post's school expenses insurance plan

A survey carried out by the Japan Finance Corporation has been getting a lot of attention in the media this past week. JFC asked 5,400 households that receive government education loans about the amount of money they spend on education for their children. The respondents on average answered that they have spent 37.6 percent of their income on education in 2010. The average percentage in 2009 was 33.7.

One of the reasons for the percentage rise is that household incomes themselves have dropped, from an average ¥5.92 million in 2009 to ¥5.72 million this year. What’s particularly shocking is that the burden rises considerably as household income drops. For households making between ¥2 million and ¥4 million a year, education costs account for an average 56.5 percent of household incomes. Last year it was 48.3 percent.

The JFC says that tuition, textbook prices and transportation costs to and from school have gone up in the last year. The average student in 2010 will spend ¥10.6 million from the point he or she sits for a high school entrance exam until university graduation. That’s an increase of ¥520,000 over the average in 2009.

Respondents said they are cutting back on other expenses in order to cover education costs, with 63 percent saying they have reduced spending on leisure and travel, 51 percent forgoing eating out and 41 percent eliminating “pocket money” (kozukai) for the adults in the family. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan, of course, made public high schools tuition-free last spring, one of the few campaign pledges they’ve kept so far, but education remains a serious drag on household spending and, by extension, on the economy as a whole.

Education is a huge industry in Japan but the trickle-down benefits aren’t very clear. However, the benefits to education executives are clear and can be understood by that recent scandal involving Teikyo University, whose late chancellor, Shoichi Okinaga, was found to have stashed a cool ¥1.5 billion in a bank in Liechtenstein without telling Japanese tax authorities. Obviously, the education biz is good for some people.

Government organ sets sights on student-loan scofflaws

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Abandon all financial hope ye who enter here: Tokyo Univ. of Fine Arts

Abandon all financial hope ye who enter here: Tokyo University of Fine Arts

Education is big business in Japan, and as with all big businesses there are lots of government agencies and organizations who make money from it. In turn, these public organs can find themselves in just as much financial trouble as private companies, what with the continuing economic downturn.

Take the Nihon Gakusei Shien Kiko, or, in English, Japan Student Services Association (JASSO), which is mainly responsible for distributing university scholarships to qualifying students. Before we go any further, these scholarships are not what you might expect them to be if you went to school in the West. For some reason the word shogakukin is translated in English as “scholarship,” which in America, at least, describes grants given to students with extraordinary abilities, special needs or both. In Japan, shogakukin are essentially student loans. Except for some special programs carried out by individual universities, there are no grants.

JASSO is finding itself in a pickle thanks to the recession. According to the association’s statistics, only about 60 percent of university graduates in 2009 have found regular full-time employment so far. This portion, however, marks an increase over recent years. In 2004, the percentage was 53 percent for men and 59 percent for women. Since then the portion has risen slightly for men, but has dropped to about 35 percent for women. During the bubble era of the 1980s, about 80 percent of college grads found regular full-time jobs. The portion peaked in 1991 at 81.3 percent, and has declined ever since.

Many college students take out student loans from JASSO, and because fewer and fewer are finding gainful employment, the number who are delinquent with loan payments is increasing. Last year, the number of people who were more than three months behind on their payments was 2.6 times the number in 1999. These delinquent payments — not the balance or money already paid, only the money that is late so far — amounts to a hefty ¥263 billion. About 2,370,000 former students are behind in their payments, and JASSO is having a difficult time tracking them down. That’s because the association assumed the function of a different government organ called Nihon Iku Eikai in 2004 without updating its system, and they can’t keep up with the sudden increase in loan scofflaws. This is a big problem because the money they receive from former students is used to fund the “scholarships” they give to new students. This year the amount of money they will lend to university students is a little more than ¥1 trillion. That’s 2.4 times the amount they lent in 2000.

JASSO offers two types of loans, one with a maximum interest rate of 3 percent, and one that is interest-free. About half of Japanese high school graduates go on to four-year universities (the same as in the U.S., but much less than South Korea, where the matriculation rate is 89 percent), and one of the myths is that public universities are free. Actually, they are only slightly cheaper than private ones. The Tokyo University of Fine Arts, a public institution, requires ¥817,000 for the first year and then about ¥535,000 tuition each year thereafter. Waseda, the country’s premier private school, costs ¥1.2 million the first year and ¥752,000 every year after that for a liberal arts degree. That doesn’t include books, room & board and the many supplementary fees that universities require depending on your major.

So getting a good job after graduation is essential, in more ways than one. JASSO says it will start cracking down on scofflaws by sending notices to 2,360 of them at first, informing them that if they do not catch up with their payments by a certain date, they may be placed on a blacklist that will make it difficult for them to secure credit in the future.

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