As the number of foreign children attending Japanese schools without sufficient language skills grows, a Tokyo-based nonprofit is streaming classes taught by Japanese language education specialists online to help students keep up -- in the first attempt of its kind in the country.
The "YSC Global School" is operated by the nonprofit Youth Support Center, based in the suburban Tokyo city of Fussa. During a visit by the Mainichi Shimbun in January, students with roots in other countries, who had arrived at the school after finishing regular classes, sat at their desks, divided into their respective courses.
What separated the scene from other extracurricular cram schools was a camera facing the whiteboard, broadcasting a live stream of the lesson. The stream is available online, so that children can also take classes from home. A monitor positioned in front of the teacher shows the faces of students at their computers, and the students can communicate with the instructor during the class.
On this particular day, two Filipino junior high school boys living in Chiba Prefecture were participating in a math class. While the instructor taught the students who were physically present how to solve a system of equations, students participating from home were asked, "What does x equal?" Coming up with the right answer, a student on the other end shouted, "Hooray!"
At the school, teachers certified as Japanese language instructors teach every subject. Roughly 100 students from some 20 countries such as China and Pakistan attend the physical classes, while some 20 students, mostly in junior high, now attend remotely since the nonprofit began seriously implementing the live stream last fall.
There are five courses ranging from introductory level Japanese to those for students looking to enter a Japanese high school. Four of the courses teach Japanese language exclusively, while the fifth teaches math, science, social studies, English and other subjects in Japanese. Each 45-minute class can be taken for 150 yen, and there is a system in place to lower or waive the cost based on family income and other factors.
"If a student is in a class where only they can't understand Japanese, then it can lead to the child being isolated from their peers," says school manager Iki Tanaka, 39. "Through the online classes, I want them to know that there are other kids like them while also having them acquire the basic academic skills they need."
A fiscal 2016 survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology found there were 43,947 students, foreign or otherwise, in public elementary, junior high and special-needs schools who needed Japanese language instruction. It was the first time for the number to climb over 40,000 since the survey began in 1991.
Among schools with students requiring instruction in the Japanese language, only around 20 percent have five or more of these students -- a large enough number to teach them together in a group. Most students in need of support are scattered across schools in smaller numbers.