Education in japan(Natalie Collor)
For economic and political reasons, immigration to Japan has seen increases in the last couple decades. The influx of non-Japanese residents has brought along many social issues that Japan is facing for the first time. For example, many immigrants have children with them when they arrive in Japan or birth children while living in Japan. How to integrate these children into Japanese schools has recently generated a lot of press.
After elementary school students enter the fourth grade, they lose the opportunity for Japanese language support provided by the school. This means that students, Japanese or foreign-born, unable to comprehend everyday Japanese will likely struggle to understand what they are being taught and progress at a slower rate. In an attempt to prevent students from falling behind, a special classroom focused on helping students specifically with their Japanese language skills was established at Abeno Junior High School near the tallest skyscraper in Japan, the Abeno Harukas Building in Osaka. This “Center School” is led by volunteers, and is for students in elementary and middle school. They visit the school twice a week for two-hour visits and are instructed one-by-one to ensure their weaknesses are being addressed. In theory, students attending this school can acquire basic Japanese in about a year. However, upon completion of one year of study at this school, some students in junior high school still cannot fully understand all the words used in their classes. Staff of the Center School wish there was more time for instruction to allow students to acclimate completely, since higher levels of education will only be more difficult.
The creation of this Center School led to additional Japanese language centers aimed to help high school students who are not native Japanese speakers. One example is “Saturday Class” created in 2003 by Yoshiko Tsubouchi, a Japanese teacher at Abeno Junior High School, as a way to support children with experience living outside of Japan. Although Tsubouchi was originally a junior high school art teacher, she became a Japanese language teacher in the 1980s after seeing the distress a student from Brazil encounter when he entered her home room class. Watching him struggle inspired her to open a classroom that catered to foreign students’ every need. Tsubouchi, upon receiving permission from the school principal, started holding classes for students on Saturdays. Every Saturday, students from first to twelfth grade with roots places like China, the Philippines, and Thailand gathered at the school to study one-on-one with volunteer teachers. Eventually, word of Saturday classes spread, and in 2005, the volunteer staff began to include preparation for entrance exams in their support for these students.
Several former students attribute their ability to attend and graduate high school and get into college to the center school. Although many of the students were unable to initiate conversation in Japanese on their own or make a single friend when they first moved to Japan and started public schools, the staff at this language school was able to make all the difference. Ms. Tsubouchi believes that whether a student attends high school determines the rest of his or her life, and that passing the high school entrance exam changes students’ lives completely. In total, of the 150 students that had hopes of attending high school, every one of them was able to pass the entrance exam.
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare announced that as of October 2015, there were over 91,000 foreign workers in Japan, and it is predicted that children of foreign workers in Japan will continue to increase. According to MEXT records in 2014, nearly half of the nation’s cities, towns, and villages said they have at least one student with foreign citizenship needing special instruction. That totals to 37,095 students, and the study reported that 20% of them were receiving no special instruction at all. In some cases, schools are not given ample time to find ways to assist students with little Japanese language skills. In Iizuka City in Fukuoka, for example, the principal of Chikuho Elementary school was told days before the start of a new term that two students unable to speak Japanese would be attending the school. The school did not have room in its budget to adequately assist these students in their transition. The school and Chikuho Board of Education even requested special assistance from the Fukuoka Prefectural Board of Education, but no help was sent. This elementary school was forced to solve the problem within the school and with the current staff members.
Children of foreign workers are not the only ones for which special Japanese language instruction is necessary. There are even Japanese children with Japanese names and citizenship that need special instruction in Japanese. Example cases include biracial children using a language other than Japanese at home or Japanese-born children returning from living abroad because their Japanese parents were sent to another country for work.
Only time will tell how Japan and MEXT will handle social changes that greatly affect education in Japan. With the rise of many volunteer-run Japanese language classrooms, however, there is hope for uprooted children to attain an education in a language other than their mother tongue.
- YAHOO! JAPANニュース「外国ルーツの子どもたちが突き当たる「にほんご」の壁」,2017/1/24.http://news.yahoo.co.jp/feature/490
- 西日本新聞「いまどきの学校＜１＞外国人指導 進む国際化、教師は模索」,2015/11/10.http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/feature/attention/article/292390