Expand framework to support Japanese language education

A situation must be avoided in which children with foreign nationality are unable to keep up with school classes or integrate into society due to a lack of opportunities to learn the Japanese language.

According to a survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the number of students at public elementary, junior high and high schools who have foreign nationality and need Japanese language guidance in addition to regular classes passed 47,000 in the last school year. The figure is the highest since the survey began in 1991.

Among students who are Japanese citizens, such as those with one Japanese and one foreign parent, the number who need Japanese language guidance also reached a new high, topping 10,000.

The number of such children is certain to grow for reasons such as increased acceptance of foreign workers. A law to boost Japanese language education that came into effect in 2019 states that the central and local governments are responsible for improving Japanese language education for foreigners. There is a growing need for them to establish systems under the law.

The education ministry has set a guideline for the placement of teachers at elementary and junior high schools, with a ratio of one teacher for every 18 children who need Japanese language guidance. The ministry intends to introduce a similar system at high schools.

The reality is that the response of educational institutions on the front line varies from region to region. According to an education ministry survey, many local governments have failed to put such a system in place due to a lack of staff capable of providing the necessary guidance.

Each student’s Japanese language ability is different. Schools must accurately assess their abilities. Schools need to take measures to ensure that students who need guidance are not neglected.

The high school enrollment rate of children who need Japanese language guidance is nearly 10 percentage points lower than that of all junior high school students, and their high school dropout rate tends to be high. It is important to provide thorough guidance at elementary and junior high schools so that students can acquire Japanese language skills according to their stage of growth.

There is a limit to what local governments and schools can do. An increasing number of universities are adding Japanese language guidance courses to their teacher-training curriculum. Local universities, companies, international exchange organizations and other entities should cooperate to expand the framework for supporting Japanese language guidance with the use of volunteers.

The city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, home to about 25,000 foreigners, has made use of external human resources to help foreign nationals — children and adults alike — learn the Japanese language.

Some parents and guardians are reluctant to send their children to school because they do not understand Japanese themselves. Creating an environment in which parents and children can study Japanese together will reduce the number of children who do not attend school.

An environment in which Japanese and non-Japanese children interact on a daily basis by communicating freely in Japanese promotes mutual respect and understanding of each other’s culture. It is hoped that this perspective will be applied in the future when Japan expands its acceptance of Ukrainian people amid the humanitarian crisis.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 15, 2022)