Asahi NP Op-Ed urges J to make education compulsory for NJ children too


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Hi Blog. Another column calling for the guaranteed education of NJ children. Good. Keep it up.  The more of these, the better. Previous one earlier this year here. Debito in Sapporo


POINT OF VIEW/ Takaaki Kato: Non-Japanese kids deserve an education, too


Among non-Japanese families residing in Japan, there are too many that do not enroll their children in public or other schools here. Whatever their reasons, this is a serious problem. These children of foreign nationality, some of whom were born in Japan, are being deprived of their right to an education.

As a Japanese-language teacher at an elementary school, I find this situation distressing. Not only do these kids lose out, but so do their families and the community in general.

The Council for Cities of Non-Japanese Residents, which comprises representatives from municipal governments that have a high concentration of foreign residents, has made proposals to the national and prefectural governments on how best to educate the children of foreign nationality.

I believe the main reason many children of foreign nationality are not enrolled in school is because Japanese law does not oblige them to receive compulsory education.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology says that when such children apply for enrollment at public elementary and junior high schools, they are accepted free of charge and are thus guaranteed educational opportunities.

However, that doesn’t prevent their parents or guardians from failing to enroll them, the first main problem.

Some non-Japanese parents or guardians prefer to send their children to international schools, such as those for Brazilians living in Japan. That is fine.

But others who don’t send their children to international schools also do not apply for their children to enter the Japanese school system. In some cases, they have pulled their kids out of school to baby-sit younger siblings.

This brings us to a second problem. Even when school officials try to persuade guardians to enroll their children, they fail because there is no law requiring enrollment. The School Education Law is not clear on whether children of foreign nationality fall within the definition of “mandatory school-age pupils and students.”

Still, Article 26 of the Constitution states: “All people shall be obliged to ensure that all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law.”

But since foreign residents are not Japanese citizens, they are not obliged to ensure their children go to school. That seems to be the general interpretation.

Does this mean children of foreign nationality in Japan have no right to an education?

No, it does not.

Under the spirit of the Constitution, under internationally accepted universal human rights principles and under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Japan has ratified, every human being, regardless of nationality, has the right to a basic education.

Thus, a child’s right to an education means their parents or guardians are obliged to ensure they receive such schooling.

Therefore, foreign residents in Japan must be legally required to ensure the children under their care receive compulsory education.

So it seems obvious that a new clause must be added to the Fundamental Law of Education, for example, to ensure such children receive the education that is rightfully theirs.

If children of foreign nationality are legally obliged to receive compulsory education, local governments would have to check to ensure they have been enrolled in school.

The authorities would of course let guardians decide whether to enroll the children in international schools or Japanese public schools, but either way, they would have to ensure the children were actually attending school.

A revised system like this would also improve awareness among foreign residents about their children’s right to an education.

The government must tackle this problem seriously and implement measures to promote enrollment of foreign children in public or other schools.

Such steps might include providing subsidies to international schools, producing and distributing free Japanese-language learning textbooks and assigning Japanese-language teachers to teach Japanese as a second language to children of foreign nationality.

The future of these children is at stake. I strongly urge the government to make elementary and junior high school education compulsory for children of foreign nationality, too.

* * *

The author teaches international students at Imawatarikita Elementary School in Kani, Gifu Prefecture.  (IHT/Asahi: November 20,2008)

4 comments on “Asahi NP Op-Ed urges J to make education compulsory for NJ children too

  • i dont think that it is the GOJ, choice to demand that all kids attend school until first they fix there crappy school system and make it more multi-cultural and stop all the bullying etc..i think it is my choice where and when my child enters school or not., or i may want to have my child home schooled, the GOJ really needs to keep there nose out of my house…

  • Mark MIno-Thompson says:

    I applaud the author for bringing this issue to light and getting it published in a large, daily newspaper. One hopes that it was printed in the Japanese edition as well so that can reach the intended audience.

    While Ms. Kato does articulate well one of the main reasons for a lack of enrolement for NJ children residing in Japan (that being no law demanding that they attend), she doesn’t really focus on the reasons why, other than one; that some parents (wrongly) opt to keep their kids out of the school system.

    Certainly, parents should be responsible for making sure their children receive an education, but overall the Japanese Government all levels has thus far failed to ensure that children whose second language is Japanese are having their special needs attended to at local schools. There have been far too many cases of minority children being bullied by classmates or teachers themselves, as well as schools outright refusing to accept them, citing either a lack of resources or hiding behind a strict interpretation of Article 26 of the constitution; that as foreigners they are not entitled to an education in the public school system.

  • Indeed, I would agree with Jim.

    For one thing, my (Japanese) husband is one among a lot of other Japanese that I met seems to regard the word “compulsory” not as the right of the child to get education but their obligation, – how does that sound?

    And after I have had now 5 years of my daughter going to the local public school, which is not the worst in the neighbourhood, I strongly wish that she had as little of it as possible, so that I could school her at home myself with all the textbooks that my father sends me from Russia. I hear that this year in Yokohama an alternative Russian school was opened for children from Russian-Japanese mixed families after the Russian conterparts (mostly wifes) have seen enough of Japanese education, but have not been able to afford to have sufficient (Russian) language grounding for their children so that they could attend the Embassy School… Obviously, it’s not only the question of the language, I personally was hoping that my daughter will be able to upgrade her Japanese by going to a local school – but now I find myself in search of proper reading for her in Japanese that would satisfy me – have you ever been to a school library and checked what sort of “books” are lined up there? We in Russia could go home at 1 p.m. while here they are kept well into the afternoon, and yet I see that a second grader in Russia knows for the most part what my daughter is now being taught in the 5th grade – do you call that education – with their time wasted so that she can only comes home at 5 p.m.? Oh, just don’t start me on this one! (Why don’t I go back to Russia? Well, unfortunately Russia is already not the same as it used to be and there are personal reasons that some people have not making it possible for them to make optimal choices – as there are many parameters to consider, so I have to give up a bit on the education… But I continue to tell anyone who listens about how we were taught back in Soviet Russia – not the ideology, of course, (of which I remember very little and certainly not in the elementary school, while here I often have to discuss such deeply biased issues with my 5 grader daughter) but science and arts (literature)… People are usually dumbfounded, especially when I show them the textbooks, because for the most part all they know about Russia is that problem with Northern Territories…) (Excuse me, I could not resist to comment on this one.)

  • Well… there`s nothing wrong with education and it is true that all children deserve it. As a JHS and ES teacher I see in many cases Japanese and foreign students spending time together and doing just fine. However, I also see foreign students hanging about with each other as if they were outcast by the rest of the population. In some cases this might be true but I have seen a great deal of rebelling and displays of bad attitude from foreign students, too (almost like they purposely don`t want to blend in with the other students). But who really knows the details? Whose fault is it?
    What I do know is that I often hear the word “gaijin” thrown around in lazy fashion at school and foreign students are ignored in group work and bullied. I can`t imagine what it is like for a child/teenager etc. to experience this. In addition I`m sure stress and loneliness don`t help the situation.
    This is a major problem in which we must find a remedy for. I`ll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best but the system needs to focus on tending to the needs of all students and treat them fairly. It`s definately an uphill battle…


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