Improving Teachers’ Conditions: Their Long Working Hours Must Be Reduced

As the saying goes, “Education depends on people,” and teachers hold the key to the success of education in schools. It is important to improve the conditions for teachers and create a comfortable working environment to increase the number of quality teachers.

One way to do that is through an “overtime allowance.” A special subcommittee of the Central Council for Education of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has compiled a list of measures to improve the conditions of public school teachers. It calls for raising the teaching adjustment allowance, which has been uniformly paid at 4% of a base salary in lieu of overtime payment, to 10% or more.

The teaching adjustment allowance was set at 4% under a special measures law on salaries and other matters for public school teachers enacted in 1972. At the time, overtime work was about eight hours per month, and the figure was based on this.

In the past half century, however, the challenges faced by schools have become more complicated and diverse. According to a survey by the ministry, 65% of teachers at elementary schools and 77% at junior high schools were working overtime in excess of 45 hours per month, the upper limit of overtime work set by the government.

The 4% payment is far removed from the current situation and cannot be said to be commensurate with the actual working conditions. It certainly is appropriate to increase the adjustment allowance from the viewpoint of securing human resources, as people are shying away from becoming teachers due to the long working hours.

The ministry aims to revise the special measures law to raise the adjustment allowance in or after 2026.

There are some calling for the abolition of the law and for overtime payment to be paid in accordance with actual overtime work hours. However, this could cause a sudden expansion of expenditures. Considering the severe financial situation of the central and local governments, raising the teaching adjustment allowance can be said to be a realistic and reasonable choice.

However, this does not mean that teachers can be forced to work a massive amount of hours. What is important is to improve work efficiency and reduce working hours.

The special subcommittee called for expanding the “subject teacher system” now introduced for fifth and sixth graders at elementary schools to include third and fourth graders, and for increasing allowances for serving as homeroom teachers, who bear a heavy burden. The subcommittee also proposed that student guidance teachers should be deployed at all junior high schools.

It is also necessary to review the operations of each school, such as by reducing inefficient meetings and simplifying school events. The use of outside coaches and advisers to provide guidance in junior high school club activities should also be promoted to reduce the burden on teachers.

Improving the working conditions and environment for teachers will also lead to schools being able to attract excellent human resources and thus improving the quality of education.

In the private sector, competition for securing human resources is intensifying and momentum is building for wage increases. If this opportunity is missed, the current situation in which young people do not want to become teachers may get worse. The government must get serious about this issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 17, 2024)