Monday, September 08, 2014

School Tests: Privacy, Scores and Competition

In Japan, tests typically come 3 times a semester, with 3 semesters.  Typically kids will have a test at the beginning, middle and end of a semester.  Testing takes on something of a militaristic drill here.  The first sign of testing comes out one week prior to the test coming down.  There will be a notice posted on the teacher's room with a NO ENTRANCE for students the week before and after a test.  Tests have something of a religious overtone and are treated as if the will of the spaghetti monster has tossed down a testing meatball with is holy noodly appendage into each and every classroom.

The tests have to be made by each and every teacher.  Tests have a test booklet and answer sheet that must accompany it.  The test booklet and answer sheet are all prepared by the teacher and kept locked up tightly like a bank vault.  Teachers in fact are banned from taking USB media to school and all computers used at the school belong to the school and are locked down tight with both a username/password and physically with a wire lock that latches it to the desk.

The USB rule stems from careless teachers who in the past had all their students' data on the USB that was subsequently lost.  Losing students' data is akin to killing the Pope in Japanese schools.  Teachers can be fired, re-assigned or reprimanded for losing data of students as this is a potential breach of privacy.  Privacy, especially students' privacy, is the sacred cow of Japan and must not be violated under any circumstance.  So any potential to do so like a lost USB, lost computer, etc... are nipped in the bud by the board of education and administration.

Scores are also closely guarded with as much vigor as students' data.  Scores are not posted in classrooms, read aloud or anything like that.  In fact many teachers when passing back tests dog-ear the tests with the score hidden underneath the dog-ear.  Scores are taken with the utmost seriousness quite unlike my own experience in the states.  I can remember rushing to my teacher's door to see scores posted and my own rank.  It gave me a lot of motivation to top my classmates and do better.  In Japan this is forbidden and in fifteen years I have never seen a single score posted in public. 

In a way I can understand why scores are not broadcasted like they are in the states.  Competition can leave the lower tier students feeling even worse, especially when posted publicly.  However, at least in my own experience, it motivated me to try harder, always do better and was sometimes the source of great consternation for me.  However, I consider that a good thing.  If I hadn't had my classmate's scores to use a baseline I would never know how well or how badly I was doing at least in terms of the class average.  I know these days competition in schools is a big stinker but for me I feel it is the essence of life.  Sure cooperation, helping and supporting are all great aspects but competition above all motivates many to do better. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

Summer Wrap Up: English Day

Over the summer as I have said I didn't have much to do. In the first of August we had a workshop, seminar and some preparation events for working on an all-day event for elementary children. We put together a plan for an English Day event for kids ages ten to twelve and theme was based on countries. So the group I work with represent over 10 countries and is roughly around 120 teachers.
 We worked for three days non-stop putting together bits and pieces for English Day. We were given materials, support and supplies to make and create anything we desired for the special event day. Groups were chosen based on our nationalities though some volunteered to work with groups that had few members.

I wound up working with the Scottish group and we put together a miniature Highland Games themed activity complete with caber tossing, sack dragging, sheaf toss etc. It took the better part of the three days to make the materials, come up with the ideas and get it all organized. We worked rather diligently and were given leeway to do whatever we desired. By the end of the summer, we had sorted all our ideas, gotten everything ready and were set to put on the English Day event in the middle of September.