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Relieving teachers' burden through work-style reform

Principals and other officials from elementary and junior high schools in Shizuoka Prefecture are seen at a gathering in Shizuoka, in November 2013. (Mainichi)

A survey released in April by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology found that nearly 60 percent of junior high school teachers had crossed the line of 80 hours of overtime work per month -- the standard used for judging death by overwork.

Why is this happening? In fact, Japan's Act on Special Measures concerning Salaries and Other Conditions for Education Personnel of Public Compulsory Education Schools, etc. does not allow overtime pay for teachers. Instead, teachers receive an adjustment allowance of 4 percent of their monthly salary. Yet this is based on the average overtime teachers worked in 1966, which was around eight hours per month. In light of current conditions, they should be paid about 10 times that amount.

To help cut down teachers' working hours, the Shizuoka Prefectural Board of Education started a trial, "Future School 'Dream' Project," centering on work-style reform at four schools in the prefecture. At first, teachers maintained that they needed time to be with children and their parents. They were unable to change their usual approach, and the project ran into trouble.

Nevertheless, the teachers gathered every month and held "work-style reform meetings." The principals of the four schools sat in on each other's meetings, and incorporated the workable points step-by-step.

One idea related to telephone messages. After school, there was a stream of calls from parents with requests and messages, which hindered teachers as they undertook tasks requiring concentration, such as marking tests and assessing work. This resulted in overtime and teachers taking work home. The school then introduced an answering machine, which was turned on at 6 p.m. and provided an emergency number in the message. As a result, teachers were able to pour their efforts into areas such as lesson preparation.

At one of the model schools, Fujimidai Elementary School in the city of Fuji, principal Uchida Shingo held a gathering with parents and members of the community and told them, "We'd like to proceed with work-style reform for teachers, and so we request your cooperation." In a questionnaire, some participants raised questions about the move, with one parent asking, "Is work-style reform among teachers designed to benefit children's education?" The principal underscored the fact that the move was designed primarily to create essential time for teachers to come face-to-face with students.

Now, more than 70 people in the Fujimidai Elementary School area -- including residents of areas without children -- volunteer to help with school work and keep the school property in good order. The average overtime for each teacher this June was down about 13 hours per month compared to the same period in 2016.

Yoshie Komuro

Takasu Junior High School in the city of Fujieda, meanwhile, did not get a single complaint after switching to an answering machine. Positive responses to subsequent questionnaire included, "The system reminds parents of teachers' working hours, and the information conveyed can be kept to a minimum," one respondent said, adding, "If parents want to contact teachers, they can do so before 6 p.m." As a result, the portion of their work that teachers were taking home fell from around 20 percent to less than 10 percent.

Transforming worn-out schools through collaboration among local residents, education board members, parents and teachers into schools that focus on the diverse abilities of students and nurture them is surely a true form of education reform, is it not? (By Yoshie Komuro, president of Work-Life Balance Co. Ltd.)

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