Aug 14, 2014

Parking bicycles

This is very typical of Japan. The white sign contains a warning that bicycles may not be parked here, yet there are almost ten of them and one is right next to the sign. These bikes belong to kids who are attending summer sessions at a juku, a prep school, that is in a building out of sight to the left. Almost all Japanese kids attend prep schools to practice for the entrance exams for the next higher level of education. Such entrance exams start for some kindergartens and get more frequent as the student's level increase. The college entrance exams have received a lot of attention in the international news.

Throughout much of my career I was involved in the English language portion of the entrance exams. When I was first in Japan, I worked at a school that was part of a system of schools run by a juku. While my school prepared students for jobs, I also did part time work for the prep school portion, writing study materials, recording study materials, writing examples of answers to the exams given at various universities, etc. I also prepared my school's entrance exam.

When I became a university professor, I was on the exam writing committee, although usually relegated to editing and correcting the students' tests. When I moved to a new university, I was usually in charge of preparing the English entrance exams and the grading process. This was a very stressful job since any errors were always big news and often made the national news, much to the dismay of the powers in the school. Luckily I had no such problems. Also for some reason, I was able to constantly generate tests that, when all the scores were plotted have a long tail on the high score side, a distorted bell curve. This was a useful quality because it meant that at the cutoff point there were only a few students with the same score. If the cutoff point were near the peak score there would be many students with the same grade making selection almost impossible.

After a few years, however, our university decided to use the standardized test that is given every year, so we no longer had to prepare our own. However, my nursing department accepted about ten practicing nurses every year. These prospective students already had a license but did not have BS degrees. They were able to obtain a BS in Nursing in about two years rather than the normal four. We tested these students ourselves. I was always in charge of preparing the test, for the approval of the Dean, of course. The Dean always approved. I worked with another native speaking professor and we were able to do a statistical study of the results after each test, something that was never allowed for the previous tests. Using these yearly analyses, we were able to improve the exams and they were statistically quite effective by the time I retired.

Returning to the bicycles, this parking in no parking areas is a big problem, especially around train and subway stations. In new stations or places were there is space, there are bicycle garages, where for a small fee, you can leave your bicycle for the day. However, in built up areas there is typically no place for a garage, so people just leave their bikes on the sidewalk, sometimes blocking it completely. The local governments are trying out many things to relieve the congestion, rent-a-bikes, taking the bikes to a collection point and charging the owner a fee for its return, etc. One other aspect of this is that many young people steal bikes, ride them to their destination, and just leave the bike. Since the owner does not know where the bike is, it will just stay there until it is stolen again or the city collects it. However, overall I think that progress is being made on this problem.

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