TOKYO â€" Earlier this year, a delegation from the Egyptian government was visiting Nibukata Primary School in Tokyo. "The children are well-disciplined and work in teams," a member of the delegation noted.
But the delegate then went on to express particular surprise that children sweep and mop the classroom floors, for it's common in Egypt for all the cleaning to be done by janitors. "We'd like to introduce Japan's special activities, which foster human capabilities, in our school education," said former Higher Education Minister Hany Helal.
Efforts are increasing to introduce Japanese-style education, with its emphasis on special activities like cleaning and school events in addition to children's academic development, in countries across the Arab world and elsewhere.
These moves are prompted by the expectation that fostering discipline and cooperativeness will help to develop the human resources responsible for future nation building. The government has decided to "export" its knowledge of this kind of education, with the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry accelerating efforts to build a framework to respond smoothly to the needs of each country.
As Principal Hiromi Shimizu of Nibukata Primary School said to the Egyptian delegation, "Special activities help reduce bullying and also lead to improved academic performance."
According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the number of officials in charge of educational administration around the world who visit Japan to learn about the educational methods of its primary and middle schools has been increasing. A total of 617 officials from 79 countries visited in fiscal 2014, up about 70% from fiscal 2004.
Some children overseas have already experienced Japanese-style education.
Schoolboy in Setagaya, Japan â€" Photo: spaztacular
The Japanese school in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates has been accepting local children since 2006 at the request of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. About 20 local children take classes with about 50 Japanese children and participate in special activities. "They're pleased the children can learn Japanese-style manners and achieve high academic performance," said Principal Masahiro Ogawa, 57.
According to the education ministry, primary schools in Saudi Arabia introduced classroom cleaning after a special program on Japan was aired in 2009 on MBC, a Middle East satellite TV station. The program spotlighted classroom cleaning and school lunches in Japan.
Expectations are also high for Japanese-style career education.
There are moves to introduce Japanese educational methods in countries other than those in the Arab world. The education ministry plans to establish a council in fiscal 2016 that will comprise JICA, incorporated educational institutions and other organizations. The ministry aims to help schools expand their operations overseas.
"The awareness that holistic education, which teaches cooperativeness with others, is important has been spreading globally, and Japanese-style education is drawing attention," said University of Tokyo Prof. Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, who specializes in comparative education.
"However, Japanese-style education also has drawbacks in that it lacks a diverse perspective in terms of things like ethnic groups and religions. By learning from each other, I hope Japan will take this opportunity to improve its own style of education."
Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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