Outsourcing junior high school club activities poses numerous problems

With the chronically low birth rate and the growing burden on teachers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain club activities at schools. The government and boards of education need to deepen discussions on how to handle these activities.

The Japan Sports Agency is studying the possibility of detaching junior high schools’ club activities from the schools on holidays and outsourcing them in stages to local communities starting in fiscal 2023. The agency plans to compile a proposal by July next year, and it also plans to apply changes at junior high schools to reforms of high school club activities.

Club activities are clearly stated to be “part of school education” in curriculum guidelines. However, there is no legal obligation to conduct such activities and they are considered to be a task that does not necessarily require the guidance of teachers, so the status of club activities remains vague.

Nevertheless, many teachers feel overwhelmed when they are assigned to be advisers for clubs whose activities in which they have no experience. In addition to weekday practices, they also have to coach on weekends and take the team to competitions and events. There is an urgent need to improve the working environment for busy teachers. It is important to review the way teachers participate in club activities.

However, there are still many issues to be addressed in outsourcing these activities to local communities. The availability of personnel and facilities to provide guidance varies from region to region, and some local governments have voiced concern. Parents may also have to incur new expenses in remunerating those to whom the activities are outsourced.

In the past, corporal punishment by outside instructors has come to light. There is also the difficult question of who will be held responsible if an accident occurs during an activity.

This fiscal year, more than 200 schools across the country started to outsource club activities to local communities on a trial basis. The effect on teachers’ working hours will be examined, as will important issues related to supervising the students. The agency will have to assess the results and devise solutions to the mountain of issues involved.

In 2018, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry formulated guidelines to limit the hours spent on club activities and provide at least two days off per week. This was done not only to reduce the burden on teachers, but also because excessive practice exhausts students and increases the risk of injury.

On the other hand, what is the significance of conducting club activities on holidays and weekends with non-teacher staff in charge while limiting the hours spent on those activities? It is important to reexamine such issues as whether club activities should be held at all on schools’ days off.

Different students have different expectations regarding club activities. Enthusiasm regarding club activities likewise varies from teacher to teacher. Parents may also have different opinions about weekend club activities, with some parents approving and others not.

Boards of education and schools need to take into consideration the local situation and think about what club activities are for and to what extent they should be conducted.

Recently, due to the declining birth rate, an increasing number of schools have had to form joint teams with neighboring schools to participate in games because they cannot assemble enough students alone for club activities.

For club activities to change to meet the needs of the times, it is essential to first clarify their significance and purpose.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 23, 2021.