2008-08-31 09:32:24 | 英字新聞
(Aug. 31, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun
Use natl test questions in regular classes
全国学力テスト 集積データを授業に生かせ(8月31日付・読売社説)

Now that the Education, Science and Technology Ministry has announced the results of this year's nationwide academic achievement examination for primary school sixth-graders and middle school third-graders, test results for two consecutive years are finally available.
The exam was resurrected last year after a 43-year hiatus. It tests basic knowledge in Japanese language, arithmetic and mathematics, as well as the ability to apply such knowledge.

We hope the ministry, prefectural and municipal boards of education and schools will compare and carefully analyze the data to help them formulate education policies and improve the pedagogic content of related subjects.

Compared with last year, all the average percentages for the number of correct answers decreased both for primary and middle school students in both basic knowledge and applied skills questions in all subjects.

The ministry said this was because test questions this year were more difficult than last year.

Test results cannot be easily compared if the degree of difficulty greatly differs.

Also, many pupils and students reportedly complained that they did not have enough time to answer the questions.

These are points that the ministry must improve in future tests.


Gaps do exist

The ministry said there were no major variations in the test results for either primary or middle schools according to prefecture.

But a close look at the results shows that average scores achieved by top-ranking Fukui Prefecture middle school students in the basic and applied mathematics tests were about 20 points higher than those recorded by their peers in bottom-ranking Okinawa Prefecture.
A similar situation obtains between Akita Prefecture, top in primary school basic and applied Japanese, and Okinawa, the lowliest placed prefecture in that subject.

The top- and bottom-ranking prefectures this year are almost the same as those in last year's achievement exam.

What factors give the top-ranking prefectures' students the edge over those in other prefectures?

The government should carry out in-depth surveys of schools in prefectures that chalk up good test results by, for instance, sending officials to study their methods and announcing the results of their surveys with the aim of improving the academic achievement level of the nation as a whole.

What we are concerned about is that only slightly under 50 percent of primary schools and slightly under 40 percent of middle schools are using questions from last year's test in regular classes.

Good test questions will be wasted if they are not actually utilized during classroom hours. The ministry should promote the use of the test questions in everyday classes.


Lifestyle, study habits important

Examining the results of this year's and last year's tests, there are correlations between the students' academic achievement and their lifestyle and study habits at home.

Children who indicated in a questionnaire they completed on the day of the test that they lead organized lives, doing such things as "eating breakfast every day" and "checking things to bring to school the previous day or in the morning before school" got good scores in the test.

Schools whose students do well academically have some things in common.

They train children to acquire reading and writing habits using a variety of measures, for example.

In addition, they announce their education activities on their school Web sites or set days when local residents may freely observe classes, in an effort to win the understanding and cooperation of their local communities.

Meanwhile, Tottori Prefecture's information disclosure council became the focus of national attention in July, when it released a report suggesting that academic results for each city, town, village and school in the prefecture should be disclosed.

However, the prefecture's board of education decided against disclosing such detailed data as those who are involved in the prefecture's education and some students' parents were opposed to the idea, saying such transparency would create a hierarchy of schools and invite excessive competition.

It is, of course, quite right that we should avoid creating an academic hierarchy among schools and excessive competition.

However, an appropriate level of competition among schools would be something to be welcomed.

There may be room for the ministry to reexamine the way it announces the test results.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 31, 2008)
(2008年8月31日01時38分 読売新聞)



2008-08-29 12:15:41 | 英字新聞
(Aug. 29, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan needs to keep up efforts on Afghan stability
NGO職員殺害 アフガン安定へ協力を続けよ(8月29日付・読売社説)

The worsening security situation in Afghanistan since last year has at last claimed a Japanese victim.

The kidnapping of aid worker Kazuya Ito near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan ended in tragedy when his body was found Wednesday.

Ito worked for the nongovernmental organization Peshawar-kai and had been engaged in agricultural training activities, such as cultivation of rice and vegetables, in Afghanistan for five years. With high aspirations, he toiled hard and integrated himself into the local community, building strong relationships of trust with residents. He must have been extremely saddened by how it all ended.


A sign of Afghanistan's plight

The Taliban, which once controlled Afghanistan, have admitted to involvement in the incident. Not only foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan fighting armed insurgents, but also civilians of goodwill who work hard to give humanitarian aid, have been targeted by terrorists. The incident is symbolic of the severity of the current situation in Afghanistan.

Out of concerns over the worsening security situation, the Peshawar-kai began to let about 20 Japanese staff members working in Afghanistan and Pakistan return home in stages starting from late last year. But about half of them continued to stay for such reasons as wrapping up their aid activities.

The Foreign Ministry since July last year has been issuing advisory warnings for Japanese nationals in all parts of Afghanistan to leave the country. But about 140 Japanese, including Japan International Cooperation Agency employees and NGO members, are still in Afghanistan.

There are limits to how well unarmed civilians can protect themselves. Given the current situation in Afghanistan, where a spate of suicide attacks by terrorists and the kidnapping of foreigners have taken place, now probably is the time for the workers to think first about their safety and seriously consider returning home or temporarily leaving Afghanistan.


A commitment to the world

Japan, however, needs to continue to play a part in actions with the international community on restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Japan has extended 1.45 billion dollars in aid for Afghan reconstruction, and the Maritime Self-Defense Force has been engaged in refueling activities in the Indian Ocean. Economic assistance and humanitarian contributions are like two wheels of one cart; both are indispensable.

In reconstruction aid, Japan has focused on not only improvement work for roads and airports but also efforts to improve the security situation through such actions as the disarmament of former soldiers and military cliques. The refueling activities are aimed at supporting multinational naval forces that monitor the movement of terrorists and the trafficking of arms and drugs.

Troops from 40 nations are now engaged in security enforcement and regional reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, pushing on despite suffering more than 900 casualties. Compared to this, the refueling activities involve extremely low risk. If Japan stops even these activities, the nation's reputation in the eyes of the world will plunge to unprecedented lows.

Japan should never be indifferent about the international campaign to help Afghanistan stabilize and eliminate terrorist activities. It is essential for the nation to pass a bill to revise the new Antiterrorism Law to allow the extension of refueling activities in the extraordinary Diet session to be convened next month.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 29, 2008)
(2008年8月29日01時49分 読売新聞)



2008-08-28 16:11:16 | 英字新聞
(Aug. 28, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun
Don't be deceived by N. Korea's tactics
核無能力化中断 北朝鮮の駆け引きに乗るな(8月28日付・読売社説)

North Korea's tactic of trying to intimidate opponents and win concessions from them by creating a crisis is nothing new.

Pyongyang has suspended its disablement of its nuclear facilities in response to the United States' postponement of removing North Korea from a list of states sponsoring terrorism.

North Korea's action is irresponsible and once again turns back the process of the six-party talks over the abandonment of its nuclear programs. North Korea should unconditionally resume its disablement work.

The deadline for the disablement, which includes the removal of spent nuclear fuel rods from a halted nuclear reactor and is aimed at making North Korea's nuclear facilities at least temporarily unusable, was initially set for the end of last year. Pyongyang failed to meet this and the deadline was extended until the end of October.


U.S. should stand firm

If North Korea continues to sit on its hands regarding disablement work, the deadline might be further put off. But Pyongyang has gone a step further, saying it would consider restoring its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original states.

These moves apparently are aimed at shaking up the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, whose term ends in less than five months, and pressing it hard for concessions.

The Bush administration must not make easy concessions in the hope of accomplishing something before Bush's term is up. The United States should be firm in negotiating with North Korea and urge it to accept strict verification procedures.

The United States has repeatedly said that North Korea's agreeing to verification procedures, which are for checking Pyongyang's declarations on its nuclear program, is essential for being delisted as a state sponsor of terrorism.

This is a justified demand.

The United States presented a draft on verification procedures at the six-party talks in July. If North Korea wants to be delisted as a state sponsor of terrorism, it must first hold talks based on the draft and agree to it.


Verification is paramount

In a statement issued Tuesday, North Korea claimed that an agreement on verification procedures is not a condition for being delisted from the terrorism sponsor list. It also accused the United States of trying to apply an "international standard" to the verification process.

These arguments are self-centered as they appear to regard the verifying of the declaration itself as wrong. Verification work without permission to collect samples and measure them cannot be considered verification.

The verification process should at the very least confirm the amount of plutonium North Korea possesses as material for nuclear weapons. If that point remains unclear, it would be tantamount to allowing North Korea to hide its nuclear arms.

Unless the verification system is strictly adhered to, North Korea's suspected uranium enrichment program and nuclear proliferation will continue to be covered up.

It is imperative that the five other nations in the six-party talks--Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the United States--are united in pressing North Korea hard into accepting the verification procedures as soon as possible.

Japan also needs to carefully assess the impact this latest move could have on the abduction issue, which North Korea has pledged to reinvestigate.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 28, 2008)
(2008年8月28日01時52分 読売新聞)



2008-08-28 16:09:58 | 英字新聞
(Mainichi Japan) August 27, 2008
Kirin unveils 'Strong Seven' beer with higher alcohol content

Kirin Breweries on Tuesday unveiled a new type of beer with 7 percent alcohol content -- higher than most beers -- in a bid to gain a bigger share of the market.
The company announced that it will begin selling its "Strong Seven" third-category beer on Oct. 22. Over the past few years demand has been increasing for light-tasting beer with low alcohol content, but Kirin decided to develop a new genre targeting male beer drinkers aged from their 30s to 50s.
The price of the new beverage will be set around 141 yen for a 350ml can, and 197 yen for a 500ml can.
The regular alcohol content for beer is 5 percent, but over the past few years, beer manufacturers have been selling third-category beer and low-malt beer with an alcohol content of 3 to 4 percent to attract young people and women as customers. However, this year Kirin and Suntory had hits with high alcohol-content shochu liquor-based drinks, and Kirin decided to boost its share with low-priced, high-alcohol third-category beer.

Words and Phreases:
unveiled a new type of beer with 7 percent alcohol content=アルコール度数7%の新しいタイプのビールを発表した
in a bid to=~するために
demand has been increasing for light-tasting beer with low alcohol content=低いアルコール度数の軽いタイプのビールの需要が高まっていた
new genre=新しいジャンル、種類
targeting male beer drinkers aged from their 30s to 50s=30~50代の男性ビール愛好家をターゲットとして
The regular alcohol content for beer is 5 percent=ふつうのビールのアルコール度数は5度である。
third-category beer=第三のビール
low-malt beer with an alcohol content of 3 to 4 percent=アルコール度数3~4パーセントの低いアルコール度数の低モルトビール
to attract young people and women as customers=若者や女性をターゲットとして
hits with high alcohol-content shochu liquor-based drinks=アルコール度の高いチューハイが好調である




2008-08-26 11:13:31 | Weblog
(Aug. 26, 2008) The Yomiuri Shimbun
Expanding rice demand key to sustaining industry
新規需要米 増産で農業の基盤を守れ(8月26日付・読売社説)

New sources of demand for rice are attracting attention as the key to the thorny problem of how to lower the production of rice used as a staple food while at the same time raising the nation's food self-sufficiency rate.

Demand is sharply rising for different varieties of rice that can be used for livestock feed or as rice flour for making bread or noodles in place of regular flour made from wheat.

The production of rice for livestock feed or rice flour still only constitutes less than 1 percent of the output of rice as a staple food. But the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry intends to take advantage of rice produced for livestock feed or rice flour to help it raise the nation's food self-sufficiency rate from its current level of 40 percent to 50 percent.

From fiscal 2009, the ministry will subsidize farmers who stop growing rice for consumption as a staple and instead switch to producing rice for other purposes, and also those farmers who grow rice for these purposes on idle farmland. The system of subsidies will make it possible to limit the surplus production of rice as a staple while at the same time ensuring that a sufficient number of people continue to farm rice. It could also be an effective way of maintaining the existence of paddy fields.

Due to soaring grain prices, the price gap between imported wheat or corn, and rice for livestock feed or rice flour is narrowing. Therefore, if rice for these other purposes can be produced in sufficiently large quantities, it might be possible to decrease the level of grain imports. The government should come up with bold support measures.


Encourage 'rice returnees'

As the price of wheat continues to rise, the number of people "returning" to rice consumption is on the increase. As a result, rice consumption per person in Japan rose to 61.4 kilograms in fiscal 2007, 0.4 kilograms more than the previous year. This increase in rice consumption per person was the first in 45 years if we exclude past cases in which per capita rice consumption rose temporarily in years following a dip in consumption due to poor harvests.

Nevertheless, annual total rice consumption is still only about 8.3 million tons. The current year is expected to see a rich harvest of rice, with production for staple use likely to exceed 8.5 million tons. While consumers' growing reluctance to eat rice seems to have temporarily abated, the current situation is still far from likely to resolve the problem of Japan's rice glut.

More than 40 percent of paddy fields nationwide, or 1 million hectares, have already been taken out of rice production as an adjustment measure to maintain rice prices. But if we keep on reducing rice production for use as a staple food, the nation's rice producing industry will merely continue to shrink.

The area of planted land devoted to the production of rice for livestock feed has been rapidly increasing since last year and now exceeds 10,000 hectares. The demand for rice flour has been mounting, leading to a major convenience store chain launching sales of bread made from rice flour and more stores stocking the flour for household use.


Golden opportunity

As consumers are again paying attention to rice, now is a good opportunity to promote its wider usage. To ensure the present situation does not prove to be a temporary blip, we hope the government will quickly try to promote the research and development of high-yielding rice strains and the improvement of distribution routes for rice destined to be used for livestock feed or rice flour.

In tandem with this, it is absolutely necessary for measures to be taken to strengthen the management options of rice-producing farmers, such as policies to allow them more flexibility in leasing paddy fields.

However, even if the production of rice for livestock feed or rice flour increases, there will be no change in the predominance of rice production as a staple food. It will be difficult for Japan to strengthen its international competitiveness merely by adjusting rice production levels in an effort to maintain price levels.

Amid concerns over food shortages worldwide, strong doubts have been aired about Japan's ongoing attempts to lower its production of rice as a staple food. In the long term, the government should discuss a radical review of its rice policies, including the abolition of the current rice production adjustments aimed at maintaining prices.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 26, 2008)
(2008年8月26日01時24分 読売新聞)