Among elementary and junior high school-age children of foreign nationality registered as residents in Japan, 21,701, or about 17%, may not be attending school, according to a survey the education ministry conducted on Japanese municipalities. The survey, the first of its kind ever, also confirmed that 1,000 foreign children are not attending school. The government should swiftly grasp the situation regarding foreign children’s school attendance.
The number of immigrants from Central and South America to Japan sharply increased after the government began to grant third-generation foreign nationals of Japanese descent permanent resident status under a 1990 amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. In recent years, the number of those from Asian countries, including China and Vietnam, has been growing. Under these circumstances, problems involving foreign children not attending school have emerged as a social issue.
Some local bodies have been taking measures to help ensure that children of foreign nationality attend school. Officials of the Gifu Prefecture city of Kani in central Japan, where many foreign nationals work at local manufacturers, have for the last 16 years visited households in the city that have children of foreign nationality to get a grasp of their family situation and provided Japanese-language education.
In contrast, the survey revealed that 65% of local governments have not made any particular efforts to check if children of foreign nationality attend school. It is unreasonable that the environment for foreign children’s school attendance differs from one local body to the other.
The central government, which had long left the issue of foreign children not attending school entirely up to local governments, finally began to address the matter at a study team set up within the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry this year.
In March, the ministry sent a directive to the country’s 47 prefectural governments and 20 major cities, instructing them to promote the enrollment of foreign children at schools. The study team compiled a report in June underscoring the need to grasp the situation of foreign children’s school attendance and to enhance Japanese-language education. However, the move comes too late.
School education is the starting point for foreign children registered as residents in Japan to live in the country. Unless they receive an adequate education, their job opportunities will be limited and they could even be left isolated in society.
Non-Japanese nationals are not subject to Constitution of Japan provisions for the right to receive an education and the obligation to have their children receive an education. However, the International Covenants on Human Rights, which Japan has ratified, states that “everybody has the right to an education.”
Based on the outcome of the latest survey, the education ministry says it will identify challenges to promoting the enrollment of foreign children at schools and consider specific policy measures to achieve this goal while taking into consideration discussions at a panel of experts.
Japan has expanded its acceptance of foreign workers under the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that came into force this past April. If a growing number of foreigners are working in Japan, the number of children of foreign nationality living in Japan will increase accordingly.
The national government should take the initiative in promptly implementing measures to ensure all foreign children attend school. Needless to say, schools will also be required to increase their readiness to enroll children of foreign nationality such as by improving their Japanese-language education.