Review Excessive Workload Carried by Nation’s Educators

School teachers are exhausted from working long hours as a result of the large amount of work they have been tasked with. It is important to identify less necessary tasks and cut down on them drastically.

According to a survey of teachers’ working hours by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, in the 2022 school year, more than 60% of public elementary school teachers and more than 70% of public junior high school teachers worked overtime in excess of the 45-hour monthly limit set by central government guidelines.

Nearly 40% of teachers at junior high schools did more than 80 hours of overtime per month, which is considered to be the danger line for death from overwork. Although these figures have improved since the previous survey six years ago, teachers’ long working hours remain a serious problem.

To improve the situation, the first step should be to scrutinize the work that can be done by non-teaching staff and the less important tasks. Wasteful meetings should be abolished, and supervising club activities and administrative work such as printing handouts should be entrusted to local personnel or private support staff.

When taking such measures, the leadership of principals will be crucial. Hopefully, they will work on drastic reforms without being bound by convention. It is advisable for boards of education to collect advanced examples and share them among schools.

It is said that education should be promoted through the collaboration of school, community and home. In recent years, however, the demands placed on schools appear to have become too great. It is hoped that local communities and parents and guardians will cooperate in reducing the burden on teachers so that they can concentrate on teaching and guiding students.

Long working hours are one of the reasons for a shortage of those who wish to be teachers. The number of applicants for examinations for teacher recruitment has been decreasing year by year, as students and others tend to avoid the heavy workload of teaching.

Partly because the number of new hires for elementary schools has increased as teachers who were hired in great numbers in the 1970s and 1980s have been reaching their retirement age, the ratio of those recruited in the 2022 school year to applicants in tests for elementary school teachers dropped to a record low of 1 in 2.5.

In some local governments, the ratio has already fallen below 1 in 2. If this trend continues, it could lead to a decline in the quality of teachers.

It is not uncommon for schools to have vacancies because they cannot secure the necessary number of teachers. In some cases, vice principals and others in managerial posts have been assigned as classroom teachers or classes have been postponed.

Efforts should be made to secure a wide range of human resources through such measures as finding “latent teachers” who hold teaching licenses but are working in other fields. Relaxing the age limit for recruitment examinations for teachers is also worthy of consideration.

Education minister Keiko Nagaoka has asked the ministry’s Central Council for Education to consider measures to curb the long working hours of teachers and increase their salaries, among other steps. The advisory panel intends to discuss these issues over the next year and indicate a direction.

The current situation is distorted in that even though the number of children is decreasing due to a declining birth rate, there is a serious shortage of those who want to become teachers, as teachers are too busy. This situation must be changed as soon as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2023)