Japan from the inside out

School cell phone bans gaining momentum in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 21, 2008

“I didn’t realize there were so many things in the world I don’t need.
– Socrates, describing his impressions on visiting the marketplace

GROWING NUMBERS of Japanese officials are concluding that one of the things children don’t need is cell phones in their book bags. The trend among local governments is to either slap an outright ban on students bringing cell phones to primary and junior high schools, or to allow only those with severely limited functions.


Osaka Metropolitan District Governor Hashimoto Toru, an attorney and television personality known for his outspoken views on government waste and the malignancy of Kasumigaseki, the catch-all term for the national governmental bureaucracy, is also supporter of back-to-basics education. He’s had some well-publicized run-ins with teachers’ unions in Osaka, starting with his call for a performance-based wage system for teachers. (Speaking of these unions in the U.S. Jonah Goldberg remarked, “No group is more committed to putting ideological blather and self-interest before the public good.” He might as well have been speaking of Japan.)

Gov. Hashimoto’s willingness to take a public stand, no matter how outrageous, means his every word and deed are now automatically national news. Thus, his announcement earlier this month of a general ban on cell phones for the metropolitan district’s primary and junior high schools focused national attention on an issue that had been percolating at the local level. Even in the governor’s jurisdiction, 88% of primary schools and 94% of junior high schools had already banned them. These are not casual decisions–Osaka surveys show that 32% of grade 6 pupils, 68% of grade 9 pupils, and 91% of grade 12 have the devices.

The governor said the high-tech toys are a distraction for students and the prohibition will be conducive to concentrating on studies. He also moved to reassure parents the prefecture will be examining ways to provide a guarantee that their children are actually attending school or to confirm their location. One way to do this would be to allow phones capable only of telephonic communication or with a GPS function.

This drew the attention of Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Hatoyama Kunio. His ministry is responsible for regulating cell phone use in the country. Said Mr. Hatoyama:

“Banishing cell phones from educational institutions is truly correct…While cell phones are convenient, it is an undoubted fact that cell phones have aspects that are dehumanizing. (For one thing), people lose conversational ability.

Other reasons cited for the ban were the increase in bullying and crimes caused by the use of some cell phone sites, and the decline of scholastic achievement resulting from an inability to concentrate exacerbated by too much time spent using cell phones.

Now this week, a national government council on rebuilding education launched during the Abe Administration and reorganized during the Fukuda Administration created a subcommittee to study cell phone use in schools. The council is also recommending a de facto ban that limits devices to talk-only phones with GPS functions

The council emphasizes the role that families and the community must play in regulating cell phone use among the young. They urge that parents use filtering services for their children’s devices. They also suggest that more public phones be installed in train stations and schools to allay parental concerns about communicating with their children. They plan to submit a full policy recommendation in three years.

Finding ways to enable working parents to keep tabs on their kids is the key, of course. If it weren’t for that, cell phones would have no more business being in a classroom than comic books.

A quarter of a century ago, the Japanese public swallowed the line from Japanese educators that the school system needed to become more like that in America. Many Japanese now regret that their schools succeeded in following that model all too well, considering the subsequent deterioration in academic accomplishments and personal discipline in public schools since then. Over the past few years, the movement to reclaim quality education in Japan has been picking up steam. A cell phone ban is another step forward in that movement.

Afterwords: Note that high schools are exempt from Governor Hashimoto’s ban. There’s a reason for that: the Japanese have a clearer awareness than Americans (for example) that compulsory education ends at age 15. The decision to continue their classroom education is optional and in their own hands. Teenagers who want to attend a good college and enter one of the professions must take entrance exams for admission to a good academic high school. As a consequence, the average Japanese high school student has a more proactive approach to his education than his counterpart in the United States. That in turn seems to lead to an earlier formation of a sense of purpose in life. Very broadly speaking, Japanese high school students tend to behave with more self-assurance than those in America.

Of course Americans that age get to operate motor vehicles, work regularly at part-time jobs, and have the chance to enjoy a full schedule of social activities both at school (sponsored dance parties on the premises, for example) and on their own outside of school. I’m not convinced that the head start of a few years in these activities constitutes an advantage in life, however.

13 Responses to “School cell phone bans gaining momentum in Japan”

  1. […] Cell phone bans in Japanese schools becoming more popular. […]

  2. They should just ban the use of them on school property and during school hours. I don’t see how they can ban them. They should be able to have it and use it before and after school on the way to and from school.

  3. Socrates said

    “That in turn seems to lead to an earlier formation of a sense of purpose in life.”

    In a land of unsophisticated, unromantic, petty-minded kidults, you say this? You say this?

    I am quite honestly stupefied at your utter lack of intelligence on both a molecular and philosophic level. Your comments are either steeped in sarcasm, or you have fully ingested Japan’s poison and are regurgitating.

    You can twist and turn the above as much as you see fit.

    “Get not your friends by bare compliments, but by giving them sensible tokens of your love.” Socrates

  4. Socrates, pardon my ignorance, but what are you talking about?

  5. Socrates said

    I am commenting, at an ungodly hour, about the fawning, naive “afterwords”, the empty bombast you can find a vertical scroll above this post.

    As in: showing or characterized by a lack of sophistication and critical judgement. Just like Japan.

    A list of meaningless credentials (as found in the ‘about’ of this site) is not required to understand that a Japanese schoolchild simply DOESN’T have ‘a more proactive approach to his education than his counterpart in the United States’.

    Such a comment is even Japanese enough to miss the ‘her’; which is pathetic. Too long in once place, and not the other, my poor man.

    The less articles we see on the net by self-proclaimed ‘insiders’, the better.

  6. ampontan said

    Such a comment is even Japanese enough to miss the ‘her’; which is pathetic.

    Nobody missed it. Apparently your education failed to convey to you that in English “he” includes “she”, and always has. Some people like to pretend otherwise, however.

    Oh, and in this world, no hour is “ungodly”. Impossible!

    But you can twist and turn that as much as you see fit!

    Have fun!

  7. bender said

    In America, they’re talking about gun control in schools, no?

    Anyways, the central government in Japan tries to control too much- but they can’t, the population is too big for several hundred bureaucrats to have effective control over everything, so things just get out of control and degrade. Better cede more powers to local bodies.

  8. ampontan said

    In America, they’re talking about gun control in schools, no?

    Bender: 15 years ago in Japan, some teacher with a problem closed a school gate too punctually and wound up crushing a student to death. It was nationwide news for months.

    Two or three weeks ago, in my hometown, one JHS student stabbed another to death on school grounds. It was big on local news for a day or two. No one else in the country knew about it.

    Fact: 5% of violent crime in the U.S. occurs in school, according to a U.S. Dept. of Justice report.

    Fact: 5% of American high school seniors drink every day, according to a U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services report.

    Fact: America’s Promise Alliance, a U.S. group headed by Colin Powell, released a report in April showing that only 70% of American high school students graduated on time with a regular diploma. Stats were from the Department of Education, funding by the Gates Foundation.

    The same study found that fewer than 50% of the students were graduated from high school in 17 of the country’s 50 largest cities. (Detroit: 24.9%; Baltimore, 34.6% (they thought it was a big deal that Baltimore’s suburbs had an 80% graduation rate); Indianapolis, 30.5%)

    But hey, what do I know? I “fully ingested the Japanese poison”.

  9. bender said

    Your hometown meaning in Kyushu, or where you were brought up in the States?

    In Japan, they’re talking about education reform 24/7, 365 days a year. It never goes anywhere but does succeed in messing up the system. One thing I find pathetic is how policy-makers deal with problems by fixing “education”- some examples:

    1) in trying to fix the bureaucracy, they imposed “diversification” by lowering the ratio of Tokyo University graduates in fresh recruits- but that’s not the real problem, is it?

    2) in trying to deal with rogue doctors, they imposed “ethic” tests for those trying to get into med school (or maybe the exam for becoming doctors, I don’t quite remember)- but the problematic doctors are obviously the ones already practicing, and not those who are trying to be doctors…

    3) legal reform- to enhance accessibility to legal service, the government decided to increase the number of those being newly admitted as lawyers by establishing “law schools” (supposedly based on the American JD system)- creating lots of jobless and badly-paid new lawyers- why didn’t they fix civil and criminal procedural laws instead, making it easier for people to bring in law suits?

    Fixing education in the name of reform- it looks like reform, but the system is conveniently preserved while young people get screwed. In a generation, the country gets screwed, too, because that’s what a country essentially is- people.

  10. ampontan said

    My hometown in the US. (Baltimore)

    BTW, just an hour ago I got around to reading today’s newspaper, and the front page story is the Ministry of Education’s plan to roll back “yutori kyoiku”. Class hours to increase, high school English classes to be (as a rule) taught in English. Interesting point: it says that Japanese history will not be made compulsory in HS, but the instruction of world history will be tied into the teaching of Japanese history.

    Also glad to see you’re warming up to the idea that government is the problem and not the solution!

  11. bender said

    I don’t see any sense in teaching English classes in English. First, it’ll be taught in Janglish anyways, second, people who really want to be international/cosmopolitan will help themselves- again, the Japanese government just can’t let go of the notion that all people are the same with the same needs.

    BTW, never said I’m converting to conservatism. Liberals can be hyper-critical of governments, too.

  12. ampontan said

    You might be surprised at English teaching in Japan these days. I was a judge at a prefectural debate contest in the end of October. There are now English debate clubs in high school, doing real debates in English, with opening statements, questions, rebuttals, negative arguments, negative rebuttals, everything. It was impressive.

    This year, the All-Kyushu contest was held in Saga, and I was a judge for that too. 16 teams, two from each prefecture. (Okinawa came). It was even more impressive. Some of the rebuttals and questioning were better than anything on American television. There’s a national contest, too. I think this year is the fourth.

    In the high school I went to, we’d have been lucky to find a bathroom in a foreign language, much less listen to a three minute opening presentation and then take two minutes to prepare questions and then take another two or three minutes to prepare and then present a rebuttal. And then turning it around and doing it from the opposite side of the question.

    I was talking about this with a junior high school teacher yesterday, and he told me they’re going to start too.

    There’s still a lot of Janglish going on, but there’s a lot more English teaching in high school going on by people who spent at least a year living overseas. I know several of them. And you may not be aware of the extent to which ALTs and other native speakers are being used in Japanese classrooms these days. I know a woman from the Bahamas who is not an ALT, but works at a local private high school as the regular classroom teaching partner of one of the English teachers.

    The days of kids seeing some foreigner and going, “Ah, gaijin da! Haro, jis izu a pen, yaro?” are now history.

    BTW, never said I’m converting to conservatism. Liberals can be hyper-critical of governments, too.

    “Conservatism”? There’s nothing in the least conservative in letting people handle their own affairs instead of having some dillweed lacking in social skills but with a master’s degree in the social sciences decide what everyone’s going to do instead. Or an unelected judge.

    I’m not a conservative and never have been. It’s like that Chesterton quote I used to have up on the right sidebar: “I’m a liberal. It’s the people who say they are liberal who aren’t.”

    The only time I’ve seen liberals critical of governments is when they think governments aren’t doing enough.

    People like Takenaka Heizo and Hiranuma Takeo don’t have very much in common. Just because the people on the left think that they’re all “conservative” or “right wing” doesn’t mean they both are the same thing. (Then again people on the left are notoriously monolingual and myopic when it comes to non-leftist politics.)

    These taxpayer-funded deficit spending programs that people call “bailouts”? Please. Democrats call George Bush a conservative, but he has a lot more in common with Tony Blair than with Ronald Reagan. And McCain’s even worse.

  13. Paul said

    Baltimore is not America, and I find it very hard to believe that the nation’s dropout rate is anywhere near thirty percent. If something sounds too bad to be true, it’s probably false:


    “America’s Promise Alliance, a U.S. group headed by Colin Powell, released a report in April showing that only 70% of American high school students graduated on time with a regular diploma.”

    You’re only counting the ones who graduate on time? That’s way too narrow. Apparently I don’t count because I had to repeat a semester in high school.

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