There are many children in Japan with foreign roots who, because they don’t speak Japanese well, cannot take regular classes at school.
One in 20 public primary and junior high school students across the country who need Japanese language lessons have been put in classes originally intended for children with disabilities, a national survey recently found for the first time. The figure for primary and junior high students overall is one in 30.
Instruction in these classes is designed for children with disabilities, so there is no reason to put students with foreign backgrounds in them simply because they are not proficient in Japanese. The problem is that the schools are not prepared to teach Japanese.
Some of these students were recommended by the schools themselves to go into special needs classes because they didn’t have the capacity to put the children into regular classes. There were also cases of schools and education boards labelling foreign children as developmentally disabled because they were “slow learners,” ignoring the impact of the language barrier.
The national and local governments have a duty to advance Japanese language education for foreign residents. This was spelled out in law in June 2019, but there is a great deal of regional disparity when it comes to the law’s implementation.
There are some local governments that have Japanese language classes at every public school, and which post Japanese language teachers and volunteer interpreters. But there are places that do not provide enough language support because they do not have enough staff to fill this need.
First, we would like to see the teachers and volunteers that are available used effectively, and methods developed to teach Japanese to as many children as possible. There are already practical examples of language teachers and others going from school to school, or teaching students from multiple schools at the same time online. These are worth considering.
A Japanese language education system must be created ahead of the expected increase in the number of children coming to live in Japan from overseas.
What is needed is an environment that equips these children with a certain level of Japanese that will allow them to join regular classes. It is important for the education system to create training programs that produce skilled teachers who understand the diverse backgrounds of the students.
While almost all junior high graduates go on to high school or vocational schools, the figure for students who need Japanese lessons is under 90%. It is very important that every child in Japan be afforded the chance to learn, without discrimination. And their futures must not be limited simply because their schools were unprepared to accept them.