30 May 2015

VELC--a possible alternative for TOEIC

This too was posted to www.eltinjapan.com, about an English proficiency test normed specifically to Japanese university students.

VELC--a possible alternative for TOEIC
VELC has been developed as an English proficiency test for Japanese university students (normed to a large population of such EFL learners), unlike the TOEIC. I have excerpted the abstract from the article's online PDF. VELC stands for 'Visualizing English Language Competency'. It takes about 70 minutes to administer a version of the test to a group, while the TOEIC takes about 3 hours.



The authors have developed a new competency test to make visible the English-language skills of Japanese university students as much as possible. The test divides the two sections of listening and reading into three parts each, measuring listening ,(vocabulary (L1), connected speech deciphering (L2), and listening comprehension (L3) along with reading vocabulary (R1 sentence structure awareness (R2), and reading comprehension (R3). Equating data from trial testing of approximately 5000 Japanese university students, using a Rasch model, makes it possible to compare scores on the same scale no matter which of multiple forms the test takers used. The test’s coefficient of reliability is higher than 0.95, and its multiple correlation coefficient to TOEIC scores is 0.82. Feedback on results is provided through a Web-based e-Portfolio that can be described as a record of an individual’s English-language ability. Students also can use this test to ascertain changes in their own English-language abilities by taking the test periodically. As a result, it can be expected to see a variety of uses that have not been possible with previous one-time testing.

TOEIC is not a very good test for university students in Japan

Note: this has also been published at the sister site, www.eltinjapan.com. However, because the issue is how TOEIC is a mismatch for university students, it is being published here too. 

TOEIC is not a very good test for university students in Japan

First, there are a lot of questions about how both TOEIC and ETS are run. But let's ignore those for now. The real issue is whether or not TOEIC proves a very good match for university students. Is it a good English proficiency test? Problems with TOEIC include:

1.  It's too long. It's easy to get behind the audio during the listening test, and it's hard to concentrate and keep on pace to finish the reading test. About 3 hours are required to take the test, much of it concentrating intensively on the test problems.   

2.  It lacks practical communicative tasks--especially ones that require any real production, such as speaking or writing.

3.  Its main focus is business and business traveler English, so it is schematically outside of the experiences and immediate needs and interests of university students in Japan.

4.  It too much an EFL literacy test: half the test is 'reading', and the other half, the 'listening' parts, require reading as well (e.g., Parts 3 and 4). 

5.  It's a norm-referenced test that basically puts inexperienced 18-22 year olds in direct competition with older, more experienced company and government workers for their 'level of attainment' in the tested group. 

6.  It's hard to analyze students' scores in order to come up with a better study plan for them. Many Japanese students think that their reading skills far exceed their listening ones. But at the lower proficiency levels (the bulk of the students here), the more typical pattern is for them to do much better on the listening sections of the test than the reading ones. However, it is difficult to devise a better study plan for them. It seems, though, for example, lower level learners might more quickly boost their scores by concentrating on the parts that they can master more quickly--which are probably Listening Part 3 and Reading Part 5. 

7.  Studying old tests and pseudo-TOEIC questions might help produce test-wiseness in the students, but these prove time and again to be horrible ways to help students learn English. What is needed is better-thought-out exercises and activities that help students learn, revise, and review the typical English that they need to take the TOEIC. The main thing taking practice tests does is reinforce failure and under-achievement. 

Perhaps these issues also hold in places like China and South Korea too, so it is little wonder then that governments and institutions in Asia are seeking to develop language proficiency tests that might fit national cultures better. It is also understandable why some might want to develop a better language proficiency test for young adults, such as university students typically aged 18-22.

01 April 2015

To University of Fukui: Stop starving the cats who live on campus. 福井大学に対する嘆願書:キャンパス内の猫を飢えさせるのは止めてください!

To University of Fukui: Stop starving the cats who live on campus. 福井大学に対する嘆願書:キャンパス内の猫を飢えさせるのは止めてください!

To University of Fukui: Stop starving the cats who live on campus. 福井大学に対する嘆願書:キャンパス内の猫を飢えさせるのは止めてください!

Why this is important

Starving the cats is not a humane solution to the issue of cats on campus. It is not even a solution. The solution is to allow and cooperate with the volunteers who want to finish spaying and neutering the cats. Then the cats can be properly fed and cared for. The ones who are suitable can be adopted. The others will live out their lives and actually keep new cats away from campus.


私は日本の福井市の福井大学の准教授です。福井大学の文京 キャンパスでは、猫たちが小さな集団を作って暮らしています。現在キャンパスには12匹の猫が暮らしていると推測しています。ほとんどの猫はキャンパス内 で生まれましたが、迷子になった猫と捨てられた猫もこの集団に加わっています。





こ れは解決法とは言えません。本当の解決法は、すべての猫に不妊手術を受けさせること、猫を迎えてくれる家庭を見つけること、キャンパス内の猫の数を健全な 数に保つことです。キャンパスに残った猫たちが新たな猫がキャンパスに来ることを防いでくれます。多くの学生および大学職員は猫が好きであり、キャンパス で猫を見かけるのを楽しみにしています。大学当局が承認してくだされば、猫の世話をボランティアで引き受けてくれる人も出てくるでしょう。



Additional background explanation:

I am an associate professor at the University of Fukui, Fukui City, Japan. The Bunkyo Campus of the university has a small colony of cats on it. I estimate that there are now 12 cats living on campus. Most were born here, but strays and abandoned cats have added to the population.

From three years ago, some people at the College of Engineering were feeding a family of cats in that part of the campus (the southwest corner). But they were not doing spaying or neutering. So the population quickly grew to over 10 cats.

For the past 6 months, I have been spaying and neutering all the cats on campus and also at a near-by colony just southeast of campus. There are still 3 cats that need to be spayed or neutered.

However, the university opposes my activities. They are ordering me to stop feeding, spaying, neutering, everything.

Their proposed solution to the issue is that the cats should starve.

This is not a solution. The solution is to complete the spaying and neutering, find homes for those that are adoptable, and maintain a healthy population on campus. The cats that remain will keep new cats from coming onto campus. Many students and members of the faculty like the cats and enjoy seeing them on campus. Some would volunteer to help take care of the cats if the university administration would approve.

Sign the petition at the link below:


15 March 2015

Fukui professor arrested over female graduate student’s murder

Japan HEO blog wouldn't normally post this here, except we are at the University of Fukui, and also in the same faculty (College of Education and Regional Studies).


Fukui professor arrested over female graduate student’s murder


An associate professor at a national university in Fukui Prefecture was arrested Saturday on suspicion of killing a female graduate student under his tutelage, police said.


30 August 2013

A summary of what is going on at Fukushima as of 30 August 2013.

The biggest 'fallout' for the higher ed sector has been the collapse in the numbers of students applying for nuclear-energy-related programs at universities (e.g., the one at University of Fukui, where I work--and University of Fukui and the prefecture are in deep with the nuclear power industry for money while the prefecture hosts more reactors than any other in Japan, 13 of the 50 in the country). The two reactors now operating (the others are still shut down) are in Oi, in southern Fukui Prefecture.


Fukushima, Japan update Charles Jannuzi in Fukui, Japan

A lot of alarming reports and comments are appearing in the western media about the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors in NE Japan. They largely echo what has been appearing in the media here in Japan.

Are things getting so out of control that they will affect the health and well-being of not only the Japanese but other Pacific Rim nations, including the west coast of the United States? Is the escaping contamination from Fukushima going to turn off sushi eaters in the US? (Elevated levels of cesium have been reported in tuna as far away as California).

Let's try to untangle the contamination and leak issues that have been in the news a lot recently. What are the sources of the reported leaks?

It seems that the issue is actually THREE issues:

1. They have been storing a lot of the water that they pump into the stricken reactors to cool both the piles of depleted fuel rods (which take years to cool down properly) and the melted down cores. The excess water from these cooling operations they have then been attempting to filter in order to decontaminate. What they can not decontaminate and recycle for cooling they have been storing in hundreds of makeshift tanks above ground. It appears that some of the tanks have not held up well and have been leaking.

2. Four of the six reactor buildings at the site are heavily damaged from hydrogen explosions and from the melting down of the cores (which may have punched holes in the bottom of the containment). This has made the reactor buildings leaky. So any water pumped in to cool rod piles and core material may leak out into the ground.

3. It's not really clear from reports just what are the states and locations of the cores of three of the reactors. The three that have melted down might have escaped the final bottom layers of containment and lodged in the ground beneath the reactor buildings. If so, groundwater working its way through from the hills above the site could also be coming in contact with radioactive materials from the melted down cores and contributing to the contaminated water problems. Also, the reactors that exploded expelled core material into the air, which may have come down around the reactor site, and this material too could be working its way into the ground water or at least the water that flows out of the site into the sea.

On the positive side, there is right now little danger of radioactive materials escaping into the air and moving on the wind. It's mostly an issue of what is in the water at the site.

There is, however, another dangerous problem. This is the large, elevated pool filled with fuel rods that had been taken out of Reactor 4 before the disasters. This pool is in danger of collapsing because the support structures around it are weakened from the explosion while the reactor building itself is subsiding.

If the storage pool were to collapse and there were a loss of coolant, the rods could overheat and cause radioactive leaks into the air again. Since it is a very large amount of spent fuel, such an incident could, in theory, threaten cities downwind of the site, including the Kanto/Tokyo metropolitan area of 35 million people to the south.

Should Americans living on the west coast be worried about the leaking radioactive materials flowing around the Pacific? So far, the ocean has dispersed and diluted most of the contamination. However, contaminants such as cesium and strontium may not just disperse the way the ocean currents take them. If they end up in food chains (from plankton to small fish, from small fish to larger fish, etc.), they could accumulate and show up in the Pacific fish and seafood that Americans eat.

Cesium acts a lot like potassium, so eating potassium-rich foods (such as avocadoes and bananas) can help displace cesium in the human body. Similarly, strontium acts a lot like calcium, so a diet rich in calcium can help displace strontium.The Fukushima Daiichi reactors used MOX fuel, which includes plutonium. Some plutonium has been detected well away from the reactors, which indicates it was expelled when the reactor buildings exploded and burned. 

The biggest challenge now facing Tepco and the government of Japan is not really the immediate clean up of the Fukushima site. Rather the challenge is to get the site into stable enough shape in order for real clean up to proceed, with clean up taking up to 50 years or more.

For that to happen, they will have to somehow stop or divert the groundwater that flows under the site, since this groundwater could be coming into contact with core material in the ground and then flowing into the ocean.

There have been calls from overseas for Japan to allow for an international effort to help at Fukushima, but Japan is a country that prides itself on self-sufficiency in such matters, and teams from overseas would be expensive to house, feed, supply and provide interpreters for, while they might not really have the expertise that the disasters require.

Part of the problem is that former Soviet countries have the experience with a severe disaster (that is, Russia and Ukraine with Chernobyl), but the reactors in Japan are an American design--the GE Mark I boiling water reactors (BWR), also in heavy use in the US and other parts of the world. Russia and Ukraine do have expertise in the use of purified Prussian Blue to lower the levels of radioactive cesium in humans and animals that may have breathed, eaten or drunk it. But relations between Japan and Russia have deteriorated recently. The US military is said to be sitting on a large stockpile of Prussian Blue, but there have been no reports of them offering to supply it to Japan.

Meanwhile, government policies under PM Abe have brought some relief to the ailing economy (Abenomics). But for example, the intentionally cheaper yen that has helped Japan's famous exporters (like Toyota, Nissan, Canon and Sony) has also made imported oil and gas much more expensive. Before the disasters, nuclear energy had provided over 30% of Japan's electricity needs. Japan is a country of 127 million people that must import about 85% of its total energy needs.

There is now a lot of pressure from the power companies to get the government to allow them to re-start most of Japan's 50 reactors while continuing the construction of new ones. During the recent hot summer there were reported energy shortages but no major blackouts. Power plants burning oil, gas and coal have taken up the slack. Public buildings have kept their thermostats set at a rather warm 85 F to conserve energy, which at least has led to a boom in Cool Biz clothing for office workers.    

However, 80% of the public oppose any re-start of the reactors. Despite this opposition, Oi 3 and 4 here in Fukui Prefecture have been in operation since the summer of 2012, providing electricity to the Osaka/Kansai metropolis area.

Unfortunately, it seems the Fukushima nuclear disasters and energy troubles are going to remain in the news for years to come.

21 October 2012

New Issue of ELT in Japan (Issue 5, OCTOBER 2012)

ELT in Japan Issue #5 (October 2012)

ELT in Japan Issue #5 (October 2012)

 ELT in Japan (Issue 5, OCTOBER 2012)

In this issue:

1. Pronunciation in the Japanese Elementary EFL Classroom: A Few Perspectives 

by Matt Hauca.........................................................pp. 1-5

2. Conceptualizing Phonological Awareness for EFL Learning and Literacy 

by CharlesJannuzi.................................................pp. 6-10

View a preview page. 

[Open in new window]

View the entire publication at Google Documents or download the entire issue in .pdf (Adobe Acrobat Reader program required).

06 April 2012

Japan Times: Japan's top university aims for autumn school year start within 5 years

The hopes are that a fall start to the school year (instead of the April start that is the standard in Japan) will encourage Japanese students to study abroad more as well as draw more foreign students to Todai. However, such a move could put the university out of synch with the rest of the country. Although Todai may have little to worry about, universities and colleges which do not have huge numbers of surplus applicants may be reluctant to undertake such a major change.    



As of last May, only 53 undergraduates at the University of Tokyo, 0.4 percent of the student body, were studying overseas, the report says.

Foreign students in the undergraduate program at the school, known locally as Todai, currently account for only 1.9 percent of the total, compared with 10 percent at Harvard University and 6 percent at Seoul National University, it says.

"I don't think the change will sharply increase the number of foreign students nor Japanese students going abroad to study. There are still many other factors," Hamada said. "But I believe by establishing this fall enrollment system, the process toward internationalization will move forward."

See also:

Is Japan's enrollment season really a problem?

12 universities to launch forum on fall enrollment

29 February 2012

Japan's top university--Univ. of Tokyo--tries to recruit students from India

Chinese nationals dominate the 140,000 international tertiary students in Japan now. 



The University of Tokyo opened an office in the high-tech Indian city of Bangalore on Monday to recruit local students. While about 1,000 Chinese and about 600 South Korean students were studying at the university as of May last year, there were only 35 Indians....Indians account for fewer than 600 of the 140,000 foreign students enrolled at Japanese universities.


Japan public civil servants--including university faculty--hit with 8% pay cuts

But university faculty have never fully been given collective bargaining rights or the right to strike. See:



The policy chiefs of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito have agreed to cut the salaries of national government employees by an average of 7.8 per cent for two years beginning in fiscal 2012. The cuts will include a retroactive 0.23 per cent cut extending back to April 2011, in line with a figure proposed by the National Personnel Authority. Funds saved through the salary cuts--totaling about 588 billion yen--will be used for the reconstruction of areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.


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