Asahi Column: Tokyo JH school refuses education to NJ child


Hi Blog. What a shock for the parents, not to mention the child who is being refused Secondary Education in Tokyo just because she is foreign. Not to worry, as friend Matt noted elsewhere–I’m sure our Education Minister Mr Ibuki is hard at work on it, given his melting concern with human rights, bullying, etc. Thanks to the Asahi for providing a venue for exposure. Debito in Kurohime, Nagano.


POINT OF VIEW/ Daisuke Onuki: Fundamental flaw remains in education law

The people shall all be given equal opportunities of receiving education according to their ability, and they shall not be subject to educational discrimination on account of race, creed, sex, social status, economic position, or family origin. Thus, the Fundamental Law of Education guarantees the equal opportunity of education to all people of Japan.

However, it is necessary to note that the word “people” is the translation of the word “kokumin,” which literally means “nationals.”

Currently, the most important law on education in Japan, as well as the very Constitution, does not guarantee the right to education for children with foreign nationalities.

Our eldest daughter, who has only Brazilian nationality, was once denied entrance to a public junior high school in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, when trying to transfer from a school in Brazil at the age 15 in the ninth grade.

Officials said our daughter was a year older than the proper age for obligatory education. They explained that exceptions cannot be made because the obligatory education system does not apply to a child without Japanese nationality.

Our daughter started primary school at the age of 7 due to her special needs of having to learn both her mother’s and father’s tongues, rather than at 6, which is the usual age for Japanese children. She went to Brazil after attending school for three years in Japan and returned here at the age of 15.

“If the child is a Japanese who had reasons to be enrolled in a grade lower than the appropriate one, obviously he or she needs extra year(s) to finish his or her ‘obligatory education’ and will be granted an exception. However, obligatory education does not apply to you,” they said.

I certainly hope that such an outright denial to school is rare in this country. There are already too many children of foreign nationalities, perhaps numbering in the tens of thousands, who are dropping out or are not attending school.

Legally, the blame for foreign children staying out of school does not fall on any officials or on the parents for that matter. That is because there even does not exist credible statistics concerning the problem.

Both the prime minister and the education minister clarified in the Diet last spring that while the proposed revision of the Fundamental Law of Education does not refer specifically to foreigners, those who wish so will continue to be treated in the same way as Japanese concerning the right to obligatory education.

I understand those words as meaning that when the guardians do not seek education for a child with foreign nationality, it is not the government’s problem and that, when they do seek education for their children, the government will not take the responsibility to treat them according to their special needs.

The Diet approved the revised version of the Fundamental Law of Education on Dec. 15. The use of the word “kokumin” continues in the revised law.

I find it a “fundamental flaw” of the Fundamental Law of Education not to guarantee the right to education of all children residing in Japan.

Issue overshadowed

The Japanese don’t notice the difference unless it is pointed out by those who suffer from it. For myself, I needed a family member without Japanese nationality to notice this flaw.

The problem has not been sufficiently raised by either the conservatives or the liberals. The argument has been overshadowed by the heated debate over the inclusion of “nurturing patriotic attitudes” as a purpose of education in the revised law.

Two years ago, when the population of Japan started to decrease, the number of foreign nationals registered here surpassed 2 million. More than half are so-called newcomers who stay in Japan for the purpose of work. The number of people from Brazil, the country of origin of my wife and daughters, now exceeds 300,000.

They started coming to Japan when the immigration law was revised in 1990 to allow Japanese descendents to visit and live in Japan without restriction in the activities they may engage in. While the government, and society, of Japan are undecided about whether to accept unskilled foreign workers, Brazilians are the ones “experimentally” filling the needs for manpower in all corners of Japan.

Brazilians coming to Japan for work are called “seasonal workers” both in Japan and in Brazil. Quite contrary to the image of the term, and possibly contrary to their original intentions, Brazilian workers often end up staying for 10 or more years in Japan, bringing their families and bearing children here.

Those people are usually called “immigrants” in other countries–a word hardly used here. The immigrant children in Japan, at least those with Brazilian nationality, tend to suffer from difficulties at school.

A survey six years ago estimated that 3,000 Brazilian children between 6 and 15 in Japan had never been enrolled in school. More recent estimates indicate that more than 10,000 Brazilian children never entered school or dropped out.

Somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of Brazilian children are currently out of primary education. These figures do not include the 25 percent of children who go to expensive Brazilian schools that are not officially recognized as “schools” by the Japanese government.

Japan has enough problems with Japanese children dropping out. Official figures show that 3.3 percent of all ninth-grade students refuse to go to school.

Efforts to care for the dropouts and recluses in special programs, or “free schools,” are playing an increasingly important role. Some free schools have become officially recognized as “private schools” and have received government funding since 2005.

However, the 48 Brazilian schools in Japan that are officially recognized by the Brazilian government, and 50 or so that are not recognized, do not receive any private-school funding from the Japanese government.

The situation in which possibly tens of thousands of foreign children are out of school, mostly watching TV at home alone or roaming shopping malls with friends, must be recognized as “child neglect” on the part of society.

Neglecting the child’s right to education is one of the most aggressive threats to the physical, mental and social integrity of the individual. Children with Brazilian nationality have been three to five times more likely to be put in detention centers than the general population over the past six years. This situation has the making of a new form of “ethnic crisis” taking place right in front of our eyes.

In the bicultural family where our children grew up, the refusal to let our eldest daughter attend school was a blow to the effort to “nurture love” of the children for the Japanese culture and country.

I decided not to fight Setagaya Ward, and possibly worsen the situation, and instead chose to live in another city where our child was accepted at school.

How many Brazilian families would know how to handle a similar situation so that their children could continue to study in and to like this country?

A first step

In recent years, many European countries have seen a rise in extreme rightist movements. Our country should not wait for that to happen before taking serious actions.

Guaranteeing foreign children’s right to education in other education-related laws to be revised in the following years will be important steps to take. It has been 16 years since this problem started in Japan’s Brazilian community.

Another year lost in the childhoods of tens of thousands of immigrant children will require an incredible amount of work in the future to undo the damage done to the children, society–and the hopes to build a healthy internationalist Japan.

* * *

The author is an associate professor of international relations at Tokai University and a member of the Alliance for Multiculture Childhood.(IHT/Asahi: February 12,2007)

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