The government is considering proposing Japanese students in Okinawa be given allotted places at American schools located in U.S. military bases to improve their English language skills and better prepare them for university, government sources said Friday.
Tokyo is hoping the proposed step will improve the relatively high unemployment rate among Okinawa’s youth and cool long-running tensions between the central and local governments over the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within the island prefecture, the sources said.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono will unveil the education plan during his two-day trip to Okinawa from Dec. 1. He will request cooperation with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga in person and separately with Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. military forces in Okinawa.
The idea to integrate students into the U.S. military’s education system in Okinawa could see a backlash from islanders concerned that it could further entrench the U.S. bases in the prefecture, making it even more difficult for them to be moved.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan and a spate of crimes committed by soldiers and base personnel as well as accidents involving military aircraft have angered many residents.
The level of unemployment in Okinawa, especially among young people, is relatively high compared to many other prefectures across the country. The unemployment rate for those aged 20 to 24 hit 8 percent in fiscal 2016, above the prefecture’s 4.2-percent average.
According to the U.S. Department of State, there are two high schools on premises controlled by the U.S. military in Okinawa while most other facilities have elementary and junior high schools for children of soldiers and military personnel.
Currently, Japanese children are permitted to study at the American administered schools if there is vacancy but few have been accepted.