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Displaced Ukrainian children join schools in Japan

This week, public schools welcomed a handful of Ukrainian children who have recently arrived in Japan after fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Among them were Mariia Boiko, 12, and her younger brother Yaroslav, 9, who joined students at a ceremony Thursday to mark the start of the academic year at a municipal elementary school in Obu, Aichi Prefecture.

The siblings left Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv, with their mother and grandmother, and the family of four arrived in mid-March in Obu, where the children’s aunt lives.

On Thursday, fourth-grader Yaroslav introduced himself to his classmates using a portable translation device. “I like sushi, and I like boxing,” he said.

Mariia will attend classes with sixth-grade students at the elementary school while she is learning Japanese, even though Japanese students her age are starting the first year of junior high school.

The siblings will be able to interact with the other students during physical education and English classes, and during lunch breaks.

They will receive Japanese lessons in classrooms apart from the regular students.

Students at the elementary school all receive tablet computers. The siblings will have access to devices with Ukrainian language settings.

Another Ukrainian child joined a municipal elementary school in Yokohama on Thursday. Interpreters assigned by the Yokohama city board of education will be on hand to offer language support to the child during classes.

The Osaka city board of education has secured several Ukrainian interpreters. However, no Ukrainian children had joined municipal elementary or junior high schools in the city as of Thursday.

If Ukrainian children join schools in Osaka, the board will consider teaching students about Ukrainian culture and language so that the new arrivals do not feel isolated.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry wants to ensure that learning opportunities are available for displaced Ukrainian children in Japan.

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of children in Japanese schools who need supplementary language education, and the ministry is making efforts to assign more Japanese language teachers to schools.

In some municipalities, students take a month long intensive course to learn Japanese and about school life in Japan, among other things. The ministry has earmarked about ¥1.1 billion in this fiscal year’s budget to improve such education through the use of multilingual translation systems, among other measures.