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Aja B.
  • Aja B.
  • New York, NY
  • United States

Online Community Manager, TED


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For non-US TEDizens: Can you tell us about your country's education system?

This week's special on American TV, "TED Talks Education," focuses on problems in US schools.

So here's the place for non-Americans to share: What's an issue in your country's education system that you'd like to see a TED Talk about? Who would you ask to speak? Do you have any success stories to share?


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    May 13 2013: Japan.
    In our country education is too specialized on making students mark a high score on exams to obtain enrollment rights of authoritative top universities. Children are forced to repeatedly train answering questions rather than truly solving problems. This is the case after the university enrollment, except that the lectures are slightly advanced. We don't really much have discussion or presentation classes.

    In this information age when most of simple tasks can be easily automated, what schools should cultivate is not just knowledge but the ability to find a real problem and think about how to solve it. Japan's current education system undervalues creativity. But according to Sir Ken Robinson's popular TED talk and its comments, this problem might be common at all across the world...
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      May 13 2013: Thanks for your comment.
      I totally go along with you. As you pointed out, critical thinking, analytical viewpoint or something like that is the thing that the school has missed out. Rote memorization might be essential to some extent, but the important thing is how to educate children to withdraw, combine and put into practice what they have learned in school. I think the focal point for future education in Japan is how to make the transition smoother.
      • Matt K

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        May 13 2013: True what u guys saying. I was a kindergarden teacher in jp and the amazing thing is that these young kids were all smiling agile behaving with no difference to German kids.

        But when grown up, u can feel the difference. Japanese people much more calm and at work wait for olders boss instruction without so many questioning. also learning so many kanji seems to be an inefficient waste of time compared to alphabet.

        learning no latin and religion is an advantage compared to Gemany, however. I also like the idea of nationwide university entry exam.
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          May 14 2013: >>Matt K
          I think it is true that children in Japan are more obedient than those in other western countries because most of us have been brought up to learn that there is a single answer to a solution and the person who worked out the answer (and often are extrapolated to teachers or people older than you ) is absolutely right.
          Learning Kanji is sometimes bit boring and looks time-wasting, but I think it is important process for us to realize our national identity and the unity as a country. Kanji is a fundamental part for a lot of Japanese culture. That must be the same case in German to learn Latin and religion.
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        May 14 2013: Masatakesan konichiwa,

        May I ask you a few questions?

        When you were in elementary school, did you use Math books?
        If yes, was your Math book very thick, did it have many problems?
        Were the books colorful?
        And were you shown word problems throughout your Math courses?

        I guess I am interested in How you learned your Math, and what role your teacher played in the instruction.

        Domo Arigato Gozaimasu for your kind reply,
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          May 14 2013: >>Mary M.
          Thank you for your questions.
          In Japanese public school, we are supposed to use textbooks authorized by MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). So, I used a math textbook.
          The following URL will help you see what it looks like:


          If my memory is correct, I think there were almost no word problems because I guess a number of editors review the textbook over and over again and if they find mistakes they correct them immediately before it is published.
          The characteristic of the textbook is that only the essence of the math is described on it in both good and bad sense. Hence the volume of pages is reduced at minimum level, which is around 150-170 pages. That also means that whether students can understand math largely depends on capability of teachers. Actually, I didn’t like math until I became a high school student because my teacher just stood in front of me and spoke repeatedly what was written in textbook. It was boring enough for me to space out.
          Two more things to add are we usually use a textbook and a drill separately to complement the lack of problems in textbook and the ideal role of teachers is encourage children to connect surreal mathematical essence to everyday phenomena, I think.
      • May 14 2013: my experience here as a junior high school teacher in japan is the same. i teach every class but only once a week. in first grade when i ask the students something new they'll have a guess, but by 3rd grade they have stopped using their brains and have become dependent on having things explained and taught, so they can only answer "i don't know" until a teacher tells them and they remember it.
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          May 14 2013: >>Ben Jarvis
          Your experience clearly shows their laziness to use the brain, and actually this downside can be seen among lots of students in each phase of school (even in university!) except for a small number of students in top school. I know there is a gap between bright students and others, but the gap we are seeing now is well over what we can allow. The most shocking word I ever heard is “The students here(my home university) are brain-dead”. It was really shameful.
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        May 14 2013: Wow so many responses! :o
        Looks like many are feeling the same thing about Japan's education.

        One of the biggest objectives in education is to provide thinking tools and encourage students to think in their own brain, but the reality is the exact opposite. The current educational form of unilateral teaching makes students passive and reluctant to study more, as Matt and Ben put it. In my opinion motivating children is a difficult task and cannot be achieved without collaborating with their family. So future education should be something that educates parents as well as children. This is ironic.

        Last but not least, it is intriguing to know education systems in other countries, their pros and cons, and how overseas people view our nation's education. Thanks Aja for hosting this awesome conversation. :-)
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          May 14 2013: Tomoshigesan, Konbanwa

          You state that "In my opinion motivating children is a difficult task and cannot be achieved without collaborating with their family"

          Just how involved is the family in the education process?....I am interested in the elementary years. Do parents help their children with homework? Is there alot of homework in the elementary grades Tomoshige? Do the parents go to the schools and volunteer throughout the day?

          It seems to me, from my 25 years of being a teacher, both in the states, and working for the gov't overseas that although parental support is important, it is the teacher who truly motivates and inspires children to love learning.
          It takes a dedicated passionate teacher to do this.

          In the conversation I am hosting on "Teacher Appreciation" you can read comments from all over the world on what we adults feel was a special teacher while growing up.


          I invite you, and anyone else reading this comment to read the replies offered there, because I think there is alot to glean from looking back through time, and to come to an understanding of what exactly makes a Great Teacher...........I think you will enjoy the comments, feel free to leave your own, if you have had a special teacher.

          Domo Arigato Gozaimasu Tomoshige.
          I await your reply,
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          May 15 2013: Heelo Tomoshige,

          Yes, that was Anna....she listed her parents.
          Our parents are definitely our first teachers.

          And yes Tomoshige, some parents need 'parenting classes'.
          These types of classes exist here in the United States.

          There are Mommy and Me classes which many hospitals and private agencies, and public libraries offer to first time moms to help educate them in being a parent.

          There are also alot of books that you can read on your own. The problem is Tomoshige, that we live in a material world. Many parents think that just by buying their children all the things the other children have is enough. (i-pads, i-phones, wee, etc.....)They do not realize that what children need is love and nurturing, and to have a head start in learning new things, before school starts.
          This is sad, but it is the world we live in.

          As a long time educator, and as a mother, I see so much that needs attention, I try to help whenever I can. I try to lead by my example.

          I lived two years in Japan, but because my nihongo was not good enough, I could not have a deep conversation with any of my neighbors who had small children. Talking to you and to Masatake has been so refreshing and interesting.

          I did visit a Japanese elementary school on a field trip with other educators that worked in my school. That was a great trip, I still have the pictures I took. I learned quite a bit about how the school was organized....but again, not knowing the language, prevented me from asking questions.

          There is alot to say on this subject, ne?
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        May 14 2013: Masatake, thank you for your wonderful reply and link.....I really enjoy seeing this.

        I had heard before that the books in Japan were much thinner than the ones in the United States.
        So I am glad you confirmed this information.

        I am however, very surprised to hear that there are not so many problems inside the book. And also very disappointed to hear that the teachers will repeat just what is in the book and not explain or ask higher order questions......in Math especially, it is so important to show many ways to understand a single concept.

        So, just to clarify this point on word problems, this is what I mean by word problems:


        I hope you can open the link.
        So are these kinds of problem solving questions part of all the Math lessons taught in school?
        Are they found in the textbooks?

        Thank you for patiently answering my questions Masatakesan.
        Your insight is most valuable to me.

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          May 14 2013: >>Mary, M.

          It might be inappropriate to say that there are not so many questions in textbook, because this impression came from comparison between the textbook I used in elementary school and the one I’m using now in BS course in university. For more reliable comparison, I need to check out the text designed for elementary school students in your country. The only thing I would say, however, is the number of questions is totally inadequate if you’d like to pass the entrance examination for junior high school.

          I was a bit confused with the meaning of word problems you’d like to say. I’m sorry. Actually when I was an elementary school student, I solved less word problems than the children nowadays. You know word problems are very useful to raise awareness of math hidden in daily situations and to foster applicability of math. MEXT realized the benefit of adopting more word problems in textbooks after I graduated. So, the curriculum and the lecture style might be completely different from what they used to be. As far as I know, we come to see more number of word problems than before but I cannot tell you how they are delivered to children in class now.
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        May 14 2013: Masatake, there is not one math textbook for the whole country in the US. When I taught math not so long ago, our kids from age 10-14 in my whole urban district used books that were paper-back, about seventy pages long, and with three holes to fit in a binder. They were almost entirely word problems. After they finished one such book, the teacher collected them and issued another little book. I think that series was the most widely used series for the age group in the US, but there are always multiple series to choose from produced by different publishers.
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        May 14 2013: Masatakesan, thank you for your explanation.

        I am glad to hear more "problem solving" questions are being included in the curriculum.

        Yes, it is very beneficial to have these kinds of problems, as early as kindergarten (age 5), because they help to really see if the child is grasping the comprehension of the mathematical operation, and it is higher level cognitive exercise, with "real world application" practice.

        I, personally, enjoy these types of questions the most.

        Domo Arigato Gozaimasu.
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          May 15 2013: Thank you Mary for suggesting another wonderful conversation. What impressed me in the conversation you are hosting is that someone listed her parents as great teachers. That is what I wanted to mean. I would say school is not all of education. You questioned how family are involved in education, but for infants parents are, in a wider sense, the closest and most influential educator and are kind of an information hub. Take language acquisition processes for exmaple. Babies become (probably unconsciously) interested in what parents speak and eventually start learning words. If adults surrouding a baby spoke nothing at all, he or she wouldn't be able to acquire a language. Parents are much involved in education, whether consciously or unconsciously, in ways that give their children some curiosity in their daily lives and preliminary knowledge for that. But parents aren't really taught how to educate or discipline children at home. That's a big problem, given the fact that even schoolchildren spend more than half of a day at home. This is why I think we need to educate parents.

          As for homework, elementary school students surely have some (but not too much) of it. But I don't want to say parents should help children out with just finishing it. As you said earlier, what's important in education is not give children the answer but help them grasp the real comprehension of what underlies what textbooks say.

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