Off The Shelf

31st May 1996 at 01:00
Much has been made in the business pages lately of the cultural gap between Japan and the West as experienced by British managers in Japanese companies. Some of the same contrasts undoubtedly exist in education - certainly there are many assumptions in the west about the rigidity of the Japanese system and the emphasis it places on academic success.

How valuable it is, therefore, for people with an interest in the comparison, to have Educating Andy by Ann and Andy Conduit. (Kodansha International Pounds 9.99).

Andy Conduit went to Japan with his Australian parents in late 1989. After some time in an international school, he started at a Japanese elementary school, where he stayed for four years. During that time he kept a diary and it is this, with additions by his mother, that makes up a large portion of this book.

It makes excellent reading, and is possibly a unique view of Japanese education. The rigidity is there all right, even down to the underpants. Andy liked to wear coloured underpants and his Japanese school friends, who wore identical white ones all the time, made fun of this. "On days when he wore yellow they called him 'kaminari' (lightning pants)'" Andy was also nonplussed by some of the health checks - the "poo check" for bowel movements at camp for example, and the check for intestinal worms which involved. . . well, perhaps not; you might be having breakfast.

Make no mistake, though, this is not a patronising book, nor does it make easy judgments. Rather is it a warm-hearted account of an experience that was valuable for everyone.

In Good Policy and Practice for the After-School Hours by Kay Andrews and Gwyneth Vernon with Mike Walton (Pitman, Pounds 18.95) the view is expressed that it is the out-of-school happenings that we all remember best. I'm not so sure about that, but there is no doubt about the value of after-school provision at a time when so many young people quite visibly have nothing to do between four o'clock and bedtime. As chair of governors,I am immensely proud that my own school runs a youth club, a bhangra dancing class, a Punjabi language class, a sewing group and keyboard lessons as well as the usual sporting activities. This book stems from the work of the Education Extra Network which exists to exchange ideas about such after-school activities. In it, the authors describe a host of initiatives across the country based on the arts, sport and culture, and involving industry and the local community in a wide range of social settings. (Information about the Network from Education Extra, 18 Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PF).

Sports teachers have always led the way in after-hours commitment. Physical Fitness and Athletic Performance by AWS Watson (Longman Pounds 20.99) now in a second edition, will be of particular interest to the secondary specialist who wants to make a close study of physiology of physical fitness. It would make good reading, too, for those primary heads who ran the London Marathon in search of sponsorship funding.

There is a chapter on physical talent in the clumsily titled Actualizing Talent, edited by Joan Freeman, Pieter Span and Harald Wagner (Cassell Pounds 14.99) In the main, though, the book is a collection of papers about the development of high ability in a range of creative and intellectual areas. Joan Freeman's chapter on early development, "Where Talent Begins" is particularly interesting. Shame about the title, though. How can anyone come up with such a word "Actualizing"?

Psychological testing has its place in the measurement of ability and aptitude. Teachers need to know, though, what are the strengths and shortcomings of various testing tools, particularly now that the study of testing, test construction and statistics seems to have largely disappeared from both initial and in-service teacher training. An Introduction to Psychological Tests and Scales, therefore, by Kate Miriam Loewenthal (UCL Press, Pounds 9.95) is effectively an excellent first textbook on the subject.

Finally, another excellent little publication from NASEN. Information Technology and Pupils with Moderate Learning Difficulties (Nasen Enterprises, Pounds 5). Produced in association with the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) this 28 page booklet provides a quick yet quite comprehensive overview of how IT can be used to support MLD pupils in special or mainstream schools. It also follows the general rule that any good resource for special education is also likely to be just as useful for mainstream pupils.

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