Record Number of Truancies: Conventional Schools, Free Schools Should Strengthen Their Cooperation

The number of children who are truant from school continues to increase. Cooperation between conventional schools and free schools should be strengthened, and the educational environment must be improved so that children who do not go to school can develop their personalities without being isolated.

The number of elementary and junior high school students who were truant reached a record high of 300,000 last school year. This is an increase of more than 50,000 from the previous year, and it means that there is an average of one child in each class who is absent for 30 days or more a year.

One factor likely behind this is the law to guarantee access to supplementary learning, which came into effect in 2017 to allow a variety of learning styles outside of school. The law contributed to the spreading recognition in society that students should not have to force themselves to go to school.

In the past few years, many children have tended to miss school due to their circadian rhythms being disrupted by COVID-19. However, where these children are and what they are doing while not at school is not comprehensively understood.

In addition to bullying and poor academic performance, there are also cases in which the trigger for truancy is unknown even to the students involved, who are unable to give any explanation. Cases such as being unable to wake up in the morning are also prominent. It is important to find the causes.

Free schools run by nonprofit organizations and private businesses are taking on the role of accepting children who have stopped attending school. While some types of schools emphasize experiencing nature and living together, others offer basic learning, computer programming, art and other subjects.

However, these free schools are not conventional schools as defined by the School Education Law. Also, even students who are not attending school are officially enrolled in their respective elementary or junior high schools.

Schools and boards of education have a responsibility to pay attention to whether truant children are learning sufficiently. It is important not to leave matters in the hands of free schools, but rather to work in close cooperation with them.

Conventional schools should hear from free schools about the truant children’s situations and learning statuses, and be prepared for a child to return to school at any time if he or she is able to attend.

Some schools have set up places on-site where truant students may come and go as they please. These examples may also be helpful for other schools.

Last month, the mayor of the city of Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture, said, “Free schools could undermine the foundation of the nation” — a remark that drew criticism for “serious misunderstanding and prejudice.”

The mayor has since apologized, and there is no doubt that his comments were inappropriate. However, in some respects, the incident provided an opportunity to reflect on the background of the truancy problem and the state of compulsory education.

The increase in truancy may be partly a rejection of the uniformity of compulsory education. It is time to have a thorough discussion on how to guarantee learning outside of school.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 7, 2023)