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Visit to a Japanese Juku

Yoko Yamato (CERC Associate Member, resident in Tokyo) and Zhang Wei (CERC Secretary and Postdoctoral Fellow) are conducting research on shadow education in Japan. This includes interviews with stakeholders in the industry, and visits to a number of jukus.

One of these jukus is called The Scientific Education Group (SEG). The company was formed in the 1980, and has established a strong reputation. Below are some observations from a visit in December 2015. 

The visit to SEG and observation of the combined classes of Extended Reading cum grammar and oral communication completely changed our impressions of English classes that may be conducted in jukus. The stereotype image of English tutoring classes is of a teacher explaining the grammar of selected sentences and getting the idea of a paragraph in Japanese, with students taking notes while listening. ‘Reading’ classes often turn out to be translation classes in which no real reading is involved. Since SEG’s Extensive Reading class has Reading in its name, we had been wondering what technique the instructor would use. It was eye-opening and indeed interesting: more like individual reading time for students.

What distinguished the class from independent reading in a library was that the books were IMG_0502provided by the instructor rather than being selected by the students themselves. Further, each student was given a CD player on which they listened to the CD which accompanied the book they were reading. The teacher closely checked each student’s reading progress, and selected books for next reading. This left the teacher no time to sit and rest, but was possible in a class of 11 students. The teacher’s major role was not to deliver knowledge but to screen useful learning materials, to monitor and to guide.

‘Book whisperer’ is the term Donalyn Miller, the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child gave to this form of instruction. The class we observed was for Grade 7, when students first start learning English at school as a ‘subject’, though some private mainstream schools may have already introduced English from primary level. Public primary schools introduce English as ‘activities in another language’, not a subject at upper grades (though the contents, timing and syllabus differ from school to school). Students in the SEG class we observed seemed to enjoy reading silently while listening to the recording of the book or reading aloud in soft voice along with the CD. At the very beginning most students were just listening quietly, but later a boy started to follow loudly. Some other students were affected, and did the same. We attended an ER class conducted by Mr. Furukawa, the founder of SEG, and he said that students were free to read books in their own manner.

IMG_0524The range of books in this particular classroom was mainly for pre-primary to lower primary school children in the countries where English is the native language. The shelves supported as many as 20,000 books. As the grade progressed, so did the range of the books – even reaching unabridged Harry Potter books. Mr. Furukawa indicated that SEG invests US$500,000 on books every year. Close records of a student’s reading progress are also necessary. A handbook had been given to each student at the beginning of the program to track the books that had been read and the students’ reflections. The handbook is as much a reference for the teacher as a notebook for the students and a form of feedback to the parents.

The second half of the class was conducted by a British native speaker. It combined grammar, reading comprehension and writing. The instructor made use of Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS), involving the students actively by letting them make stories for the writing activities which followed. It was quite a task to open the students’ mouths, partly because the class was on the fourth day of a five-day special session for the winter holiday. Japanese students are seldom willing to express their ideas in public.

IMG_0513The teacher had to be an actor, entertainer, moderator, director and facilitator. He tried hard to make fun of himself and to cheer the students with body language. Sometimes students were not able to respond to his questions, and he would ask alternative questions in order to squeeze one or two words from them. He was good at using familiar examples, for instance about typical conversations when friends greet each other. This ended with a formula which students could use with anyone they intend to be friend and with a big heart on it (see photo).

As we observed, and learned from the students’ evaluations, the teacher was patient and ‘interesting’. His grammatical points did not seem to come in order of mainstream school syllabus and may not cover the entire grammar the students need to study in their schooling. The juku teachers can enjoy much freedom of teaching, partly because jukus are companies rather than public organisations subject to accountability requirements.

After the class, we talked with the teachers. The books levels are indeed lower than the students’ age levels, as they are picture books for pre-primary and lower primary students in English-speaking countries. But the students were learning to read books in a foreign language without consulting dictionaries, and the program enabled them to progress from easier to more difficult books.

Such reading of course can also be undertaken at home or in a library (which was our idea of how spare time can and should be spent, provided that a great number of good books are available). But SEG provided an atmosphere with peer influence and easily-accessible and carefully selected materials. The teacher felt that parents could provide the environment, but the approach would usually fail because they would usually give their children more difficult books than the children could read with pleasure. Because it is not examination-oriented, the Grade 7 students were able to enjoy their reading with little stress from time and the obligation to meet certain standards.

We were impressed that Mr. Furukawa, the founder, head instructor of ER and the president of SEG, was not looking for a short-term solution for passing an examination but a life-long mission of education: learning to learn, and learning to do. This applied not only to English but also to his own major, mathematics. Extensive reading can certainly equip students with solid foundations of a language, but it takes time. With such an approach some students might hit bottlenecks during the process so as to give up the practice. However, once they have the challenges, they may become more competent to learn the language independently and enjoy learning.

Yoko Yamato and Zhang Wei

6 January 2016

Welcoming a shadow education researcher from Europe

CERC has an international team focusing on the shadow education system of private supplementary tutoring. In November 2015, the team was pleased to welcome Vít Šťastný from Charles University in Prague. Vít is among the few Czech researchers working on this theme, in his fourth year of PhD studies. He found the resources to spend one month in CERC, and we feel that it was very beneficial for both sides. Below are some of Vít’s reflections.

Academic research on shadow education is still in its infancy in the Czech Republic. Therefore, I was very keen to visit CERC to discuss themes with other PhD scholars and with established researchers. My university indicated that it could provide financial support through its Mobility Fund at the university level and what is called SVV 22015-260228 at the faculty level. I was very pleased when Professor Mark Bray accepted my request to visit and allowed me to join CERC for one month.

On my first day, I presented findings from my research in the Czech Republic to members of the shadow education Special Interest Group (SIG). It was very valuable to discuss, compare and defend my results in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere; and by meeting the colleagues on the first day, I had immediately established contacts for follow-up discussion.

CERC-32-coverLater that week I joined the launch of the new CERC book Researching Private Supplementary Tutoring: Methodological Lessons from Diverse Cultures. Two of the editors, Mark Bray and Ora Kwo, led the discussions in conjunction with Zhang Wei who had completed her PhD thesis on this topic in China and with Kevin Yung and Nutsa Kobakhidze who are PhD students working on Hong Kong and Georgia respectively. This is the first book to focus on methods in this explicit field. The launch showed ways in which it had been a community-building exercise for the contributors themselves.

I also wanted of course to learn more about Hong Kong and broader affairs. CERC has many other dimensions to its work, and I was able to join a dozen seminars on a range of topics. I joined several MEd classes in which I found a very vibrant atmosphere. I was able to learn about dimensions of education policy, particularly on language and on dimensions of equity. Through the discussions, I reflected on my own society and in this respect learned even about the Czech education system!

IMG_0118The integration into the SIG and feedback from the CERC colleagues made me think about
shadow education in a wider perspective and conceptualize my findings on a global scale rather than just the European or national context. It was a great privilege and benefit, for which I express appreciation to both CERC and my own University.

UOBI shall also be glad to continue the discussions. Readers are invited to email

CGSED in Action

Vivica Xiong graduated from the MEd in Comparative and Global Studies in Education and Development (CGSED) in 2013. CERC is glad that she keeps in touch. Here she shares aspects of her current work and its links to the MEd programme.

I finished my MEd while working full-time at the Institute of International Education (IIE), and my job involved intensive travel. But I still remember the excitement of the classes and the intellectual conversations, and I much enjoyed the comparisons!

Soon after completing my studies, I secured a job in international education and development with the United Board. This body supports higher education institutions across Asia through capacity building in whole-person education.

Vivica Xiong (seated, 5th from right), organised a teaching workshop in Hong Kong entitled “Whole Person Education in Asia” for a team of university lecturers from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. She sees it as an example of CGSED in action!

Vivica Xiong (seated, 5th from right), organised a teaching workshop in Hong Kong entitled “Whole Person Education in Asia” for a team of university lecturers from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. She sees it as an example of CGSED in action!

The CGSED course provided a solid training in analysis and conceptualization. I learned how to develop “big pictures” when navigating among education systems. I learned that “life is complex” in education, and that we should not look only at one side.

I learned to be humble and not to impose,  especially when working in less-developed countries. And I learned always to remain curious.

With the many tools and perspectives from the programme, I am more confident to tackle the challenges in international education. My sincere thanks to the teachers and classmates in the CGSED programme!




My Internship Experience with UNESCO II: Collaboration with the UNESCO Chairs

Thea Zhang is from Hangzhou, China. In September 2013, she enrolled in the HKU MEd programme in Comparative and Global Studies in Education and Development (CGSED), completing at the end of August 2014. She moved to Paris to work as an intern at UNESCO Headquarters. Her work focuses on administration of the UNESCO Chairs programme. Here she shares some feelings and experiences after a month in the job. 

2For many years, UNESCO was for me just a word without any concrete sense except that it had been mentioned in the textbooks and is doing something great out there for the bigger good. Then, I had the chance to come to Hong Kong for the CGSED MEd programme. Its coordinator, Prof. Mark Bray, holds the UNESCO Chair in Comparative Education. So, not surprisingly I found myself learning a lot about UNESCO.At the start, I was just idealistic (and I still am!). One time I shared with Prof. Bray some of my dreams about the world and my desire to contribute to the cause of education. He replied, nicely of course: “You are still young, and should go out to experience the world.” And then he introduced me to Paulina Gonzales-Pose who is my supervisor now at UNESCO. Somehow, I find myself in this internship – it just happened!

I have so much that I could share. But my priority here is my new understanding about “means and ends”.

Before arriving in Paris I thought that being a part of UNESCO meant that I would be sitting in important conferences, helping with educational policy design and evaluation, and selecting and renewing UNESCO Chairs. Indeed I am doing some of that.  I attend meetings with my intern buddies, or sit in my office and listen on the intranet to the interpreters’ version of them. And I have been entrusted with the UNESCO Chairs database which might be the core of the programme. However, most of my daily routine is about the “small things”.

For the old me, this would have been a disappointment. But the “me” at this moment is happier than ever before. I realize that I will always be the girl who writes long emails to friends and teachers about dreams and doubts; I will always be the girl who believes in the power of education; and I will always be the girl who has faith in UNESCO and related bodies even though they are bureaucratic and slow. The “imperfection of the system” pushes me to do something about it, even though my contribution will be small. I also learned that being true to my dreams does not mean that I have to be stubborn. Instead, as long as I am true to myself and keep the big picture in mind, I will still do some good.

So, what is my summary of moving from the academic environment of the HKU MEd programme to the real world of international work?  It is: not quite what I expected, yet very rewarding in a different way.

And maybe next time I will tell you about Paris….

My Internship Experience with UNESCO I: New Dream from Fontenoy

By Lin Shumai

For most of the student interns at Place de Fontenoy (UNESCO Headquarters, Paris), UNESCO is a dream come true, it is the same for me. As a student in the Master of Education programme at the University of Hong Kong, there is no learning experience that can be more valuable than seeing the theories in the classrooms be applied in practice, especially on the platform that leads the key international movements in education.

dgMy three-month internship at UNESCO was with the Education for All (EFA) Global Partnerships Team. The EFA movement, launched in 1990 (Jomtien, Thailand) and reaffirmed in 2000 (Dakar, Senegal), is a major global initiative that primarily aims at providing equitable access to quality education for all. Up till now, EFA has made significant achievement in accelerating the enrolment rate to primary school in many regions of the world with disadvantaged educational resources. Meanwhile, a lot of work still remains to be done: along with the other main focuses of UNESCO, such as the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), EFA is moving toward its milestone of 2015, a year in which its goals are supposed to be achieved.

As intern, my role in the team largely depends on the major events that took place: the UNESCO Youth Forum, 37th session of the General Conference, the Regional Thematic Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, etc. It was unforgettable to witness some of UNESCO’s historic moments as well. From November 2013, Mme. Irina Bokova started her second term as Director-General and Mr. Hao Ping from China was elected as the new president of UNESCO’s General Conference, which was indeed an inspiring event for me and other interns from China.

youthAnother aspect that impressed me was an inclusive culture created by the colleagues from different countries. Different cultures were respected and appreciated in all forms (languages, clothes, viewpoints, etc.) with a strong common belief that is written in UNESCO’s constitution: Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. I integrated into the working environment with little effort, not simply because of my French language background, but for the academic training in our faculty and the welcoming culture in UNESCO. Though, just as any other organizations, there is still room for UNESCO to improve, I believe it has set the correct direction for everyone in the world to reflect and to take actions in daily life so as to build the world we want. My goal is to accelerate this process toward a better world through education and both my experience of academic inquiries and this internship are certainly indispensible in this life choice.

I wish to specifically thank my teachers at HKU for their inspiration and constant support, and to thank the Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC) for offering me the chance to build up my ability through its movie platform. It is every little step throughout the way that brought us to the final destination. With the dream come true, a new dream comes along: I believe the light of humanity and education will shine our way on this new journey.