Japan’s Declining Population

A declining and aging population for the future of Japan (chart courtesy of CNN)

The passing of a bill increasing blue-collar immigration by the Japanese government has been in the news recently. There is a labor shortage due to the aging population and a decrease in young people entering the workforce. CNN’s article, “Japan needs immigrants, but do immigrants need Japan” really captures the challenges of a declining population. 

In one way, I think it is great. The islands of Japan are roughly the same size as the state of California, but with 126 million people compared to the 40 million Californians, I would say it is crowded here. With great public transport, smaller housing/denser housing and a high rate of urban living, it is a pleasant place to live and you don’t feel the population density. However, growing up in rural northern Michigan, fewer people here would be a good thing in my opinion. More room for wilderness! 

If you look at the chart above, without immigration and a continued low birth rate, Japan’s population will drop to around 50 million by the end of the century. More importantly, the percentage of elderly will rise to almost half of the total population. Japanese people have some of the longest life spans of anyone on earth and with laws requiring mandatory retirement around 60-65, most people have 20 to 30 years of living on a pension. With many less workers paying into the pension system, the government will be running up a huge debt. 

Japan has one of the lowest rates of immigration in the world. Only about 2% of the population are foreign residents. Other aging countries like Germany and Singapore are actively recruiting young people to move to their countries. The lack of English and long work hours discourage people from settling here long term. 

For international schools, increased immigration, especially temporary residency, would be a good thing as perhaps there would be a need for families seeking an education in English. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Japan. It is a preview of what is coming for other countries including the USA. 

Your Child In The Digital World: A parent conversation – December 6

OIS counselor Michelle Vogel, Technology Learning Coach Oscar Sala and Head of School Bill Kralovec will be leading a conversation about our students learning to manage their digital life. We feel students need support from both school and home and giving a child an iPhone, is like learning to drive. There are risks and students and parents need information, techniques and tools when using digital devices, just like driving a car.

The talk is more geared towards parents of middle school and high school students, but elementary parents will take away useful ideas from the event. There are two resources parents can read that will help them and will be discussed in the workshop.

Culture Reframed is a non-profit organization that provides education and resources to build resilience to hypersexualized media and porn. The Center for Humane Technology founded by former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris raises awareness of how digital tech companies have a culture, business incentive, design techniques and organizational structures that are driving technology to “hijack our minds”.



ICEF PD 2018 Student Wellbeing is on Everyone’s minds

I attended two sessions about student wellbeing and it seemed to be a hot topic at the event. Bobbi Hartshorne from GSA (Global Student Accommodation) a company that provides housing for international university students (see their growth in Japan) for over 13,000 students. They are an extremely fast-growing company, but most importantly for me, they are becoming experts in student wellbeing in a boarding situation. They did a huge study on the impact of the environment (housing) on student wellbeing. The report found that the quality of accommodation plays a huge role in well being. It makes sense since they spend 67% of their time in the dormitories or apartments. They found that accommodation staff are the people best placed to identify wellbeing problems, even more so than teachers. Students in trouble often close the door and spend hours on the internet when they are lonely, depressed or anxious. Schools can counteract this by using common spaces in the dormitories better by making them more appealing, getting guest speakers to come and meet with students, and other activities to try to build community spirit and increase the human connections among boarding students. Bobbi mentioned the Warwick Edinburg Mental Wellbeing Scale which would give quantitative data to schools wanted to measure student wellbeing at their school.

She talked about today’s youth and general characteristics of the generation. At GSA, over 50% are multiracial, they are great at filtering information and value experience over luxury. The Varkey Foundation and GEMS Education did a big study and found that there is a movement of global homogenization and students around the world are more similar than previous generations.


Stephanie Hiltz & Julia Salema from Study Insured an international student insurance company gave a good talk on using technology to help the mental health of international students.

There were several apps that students can use to help improve mental health.

  • Headspace – Meditation Made Simple
  • Calm – The #1 app for Meditation and Sleep
  • Pacifica – Reduce Stress – Feel Happier
  • Moodpath – Your Mental Health Companion
  • 7 Cups – Online therapy & counseling

These are apps that use game theory to also support mental health.

  • Flowy – a game to help sufferers of panic attacks
  • SuperBetter  – a game to increase resiliance




ICEF 2018 PD – Schools Need Video!

I recently attended the ICEF workshop in Berlin, Germany that brings together educators, service providers, work & travel professionals to meet the world’s best student agents. Agents are people who recruit and assist students who want to study abroad, both short-term and long-term.

ICEF holds global regional workshops all over the world and the biggest is this annual conference in Berlin. The 2017 conference had over 800 participants representing 104 countries and over 1,700 organizations. Over 30,000 meetings took place.

On the first day of the conference there were numerous professional development seminars and below are my notes the sessions.

Video Marketing in the Education Industry: Pushing international student recruitment to the next level – Florian Schafer

85% of all schools market with video

Florian Schafer is the director of the ICEF media production team. Schools need to have video as part of their marketing plan. Research shows that videos are watched more than reading text, at a 4:1 rate. Put video on your landing page and even putting a video in the email subject line helps generate interest in your school. As a parent and educator, I see my children and students watching more and more videos and reading less.

With literally millions of videos available, the fight for attention and differentiating your video is fierce. Videos need to be short, usually no more than 1-2 minutes. An image video ideal length is 90 seconds and an online ad 15 seconds. If it is going to be on Instagram or Facebook, it should be able to be viewed silently with hip text with the key messages. Many videos today are watched with no sound.

To get your video noticed, schools should use “influencers” who are popular students w with lots of friends and a social media presence and use those students as “multipliers” to share the videos via social media. This is also called “seeding” and identifying key students to share your videos will help them get more views.

Making a video is a process has several steps:

  1. client brief – What makes you unique and how are you going to differentiate yourself? Who is your audience?
  2. pre-production – prep your subjects, know what footage you need; have a storyboard
  3. production – shoot multiple takes; “Don’t wait for the lion to come to the waterhole” – stage shots!
  4. post-production – most expensive and time-consuming; choose music carefully, best if in-house with a student;
  5. distribution – website landing page, social media

A good idea to have a YouTube Channel and work to increase followers. YouTube is not a library or archive, but a social media channel. It is a good idea to try to publish with a schedule. Make sure to customize the thumbnail and it is better to make the thumbnail a close up and emotional. Use keywords to help search engines.

Florian shared many examples of good videos, including an innovative one from London South Bank University that uses stop-motion techniques to make it stand out. It made its debut at the conference and is not released to the public as I write this, but I’ll try to link it when I can. Another example was to show potential customers who want to study Russian in Riga, Latvia, that the city is not just full of old buildings and a beer-drinking destination. The Liden & Denz video accomplishes this. More examples of ICEF videos can be found on their YouTube page.

It costs schools about 2000 Euros to make a video with ICEF. I was most impressed with their focus on helping a school discover their unique and distinctive characteristics and putting out a message that will drive interest in a school. As Florian said, you are selling the dream of becoming a part of a school community and place.

Most international K-12 schools do not have intense competition as language schools or universities because the families you are trying to recruit are usually being posted to your city through work or family reasons. However, there is competition within the city and region and with more international schools being founded yearly, video marketing is a must-have for school.

My final takeaway from the session – videos need to be short, authentic, unique and have a social media & mobile phone friendly format. 




OIS Student Internship Program

The staff of Mori Kosan Co.

OIS is looking to expand its high school student internship program. If you are a business that wants to support OIS students, please let us know.

Work experience is invaluable for helping our students find out what direction they want to take their higher education and career. Often I find teenagers have an unrealistic view of daily work life. Internships give them opportunities to see what it is really like.

Homin and Mina make their final presentation report to the staff

Two OIS high school students, Mina Allen and Homin Kim, completed an internship this summer at Mori Kosan Co., a company that helps foreign university students find jobs in Japan after their studies are completed. They help with business etiquette, language courses, job searches, etc. Mina and Homin did a lot of translation work for the company and helped with their website and social media fees. Mina was surprised at the lack of fluent English speakers in the industry, especially since companies work with foreign students. Many OIS students are bilingual (Japanese-English) which opens many doors for them in Japan and in the future, there will be even more of a need of English.

Mori Kosan believed having the two high school students gave them a fresh perspective and enjoyed having them complete the internship. I would like to thank Alberto Servin and everyone at Mori Kosan for hosting OIS students!

Supporting Sabers Athletics

One of the reasons I went into education is the opportunity to coach and be involved in interscholastic sports. Participating on a team in a competitive situation is valuable for young people. It teaches ideas such as being part of something that is bigger than you, emotionally dealing with winning and losing, playing a role for the good of the team, develop physical fitness habits, etc. I always try to support the sports teams.

This weekend our school hosted the Association of International Schools in Asia (AISA) Cross Country Meet and schools from Seoul and Yokohama competed with our school. I am glad to have played a role as the official starter for the races.

“Humanizing” Online Education

pamoja one
Pamoja Education Model on Online Education

On the train to Tokyo earlier this week, I listened to an excellent EdSurge podcast about online courses. It made me look at digital learning in a new light.

OIS offers online courses in the Diploma Programme through Pamoja Education, the only IB-approved digital education provider. I was excited to be able to offer students more choice, especially in languages and group 3, Individuals and Societies. In our second year of offering Pamoja courses, students are taking psychology and business management. Online education intrigued me and the OIS leadership team did a Massive Online Open Education (MOOC) history course in 2105 from Harvard & MIT, called Visualizing Japan (1850s – 1920s). OIS faculty also often do the IB online courses rather than travel to workshops. Working parents appreciate not having to leave their children for several days, the workshops save the school money and there is no need for substitute teachers. I also completed many online courses in my doctoral studies at Lehigh University.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock, faculty mentor for the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative and @ONE (Online Network of Educators) summarized the research showing a lower performance in online learning than in the regular classroom. As I found in my experiences with online learning, a lack of live interaction with the teacher and other students makes for a dull learning experience.

Pacansky-Brock is leading an initiative in the California Community Colleges to “humanize” online learning. Online education can be thought of in two dimensions. First, there is the course design, which features content and methods of accessing the content. The second dimension, and in my opinion the more important one, is the online instruction. Most teachers do not have experience with digital teaching and their self-efficacy for using video is low. Short videos, with clear, accessible language are needed including using social media and video conferences. Online instruction is a different skill set and should be considered just as important, but very different, from classroom instruction. The key to quality online education is to make the student feel they are valued and connected to the teacher and their classmates, just like classroom education. Teachers should be asking, “how can I relate to my students? “

The podcast made me consider how Pamoja Education is addressing the instruction part of online education. This trimester I will be meeting with and shadowing our online students to see how they feel about their experiences.

Earthquake & Fire Evacuation Practice

fire drill
OIS teachers complete accounting for all students during our evacuation practice today. 

Every trimester we conduct an emergency drill. The guiding principle for our Crisis Response Team (CRT) is to practice our safety procedures enough so it becomes automatic. In a real emergency when nerves may be shaken, the automatic part of the brain will tell your body to do what has been practiced so often.

In today’s drill, we practiced our earthquake followed by an evacuation due to fire. Fires commonly break out after an earthquake, so it is good to practice them at the same time. Today’s exercises had a certain sense of import, with the memories of the Northern Osaka Earthquake of 6/18 still fresh in our minds.

My big takeaway from today was that focus on timing and trying to get out of the building and everyone accounted for is really not necessary. It is better to get it right, so rushing an attendance count or hurrying to get out of the building increases the chances of a mistake.

The leadership team takes feedback from our stakeholders after every crisis response drill and reflects on what we can do better. Today I am thinking a lot about accounting for everyone at school, including part-time teachers and office staff. It is also tricky to take accurate attendance when students are absent or arrive at school late. We need to build in redundancies in attendance to make sure we are not making mistakes. It would also be good for the CRT to have checklists available so we do not forget anything.

Thanks to the student, teachers and staff for their performance today!