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Editorial: Reduce teachers' tasks as part of long work hour reforms at schools

A special committee of the Central Council for Education has compiled an emergency proposal demanding a prompt reform of how teachers work in Japan. It included examples of what could be done to improve working conditions for teachers, such as a system to visually check how many hours they are working by introducing time cards and information communication technology, as well as setting up voice message machines at schools and establishing days off for school club activities. The committee demands the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and education boards to quickly carry out reform measures that can be promptly implemented.

    According to an education ministry study, the average work hours of teachers at public elementary and junior high schools surpass 11 per day. Roughly 30 percent of primary school teachers and 60 percent of junior high school teachers are working 60 hours of overtime or longer per week -- reaching the yardstick of overtime hours that could cause "death by overwork."

    Despite such working conditions, teachers do not get paid for overtime hours. Instead, they receive an across-the-board additional allowance of 4 percent of their monthly base pay. This is set under law because it is difficult to draw a clear line between work and non-work activities due to the character of teachers' jobs, which is to educate and raise children.

    Many have pointed out that this working environment, in which schools can utilize teachers without worries about human resource costs, is facilitating their long work hours. Japanese school culture promotes the belief that there is no clear distinction between teachers' working hours and their off time, and those in supervising positions are little aware of work-hour management. In fact, at 60 percent of elementary and junior high schools, principals and others in managerial posts confirm what time teachers leave their schools, while 10 percent do nothing at all about teachers' work hours. The introduction of time cards and information communication technology could be effective in raising awareness among those in management.

    Long work hours among teachers could also negatively affect the quality of education.

    According to research conducted by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), teachers' annual work hours in Japan are 200 hours longer compared to the average of the organization's member countries. Of those long work hours, however, only 30 to 40 percent are spent on actual classes, lower than the OECD average. This is because in Japan teachers spend long hours on supervising club activities, doing paperwork and at meetings.

    In addition to work-hour management, it is crucial to implement reforms in club activities, which are believed to be the main cause of teachers' long work hours at junior high schools. Measures such as setting up days off for school clubs and seeking help from outside coaches should be worked out.

    Apart from the number of teachers, the number of secretarial staffers, who take care of paperwork, and school counselors should be raised. The expansion of school attorneys who give guidance to schools over bullying cases and other issues is also desired. These professionals are necessary to divide up the burdens placed on teachers.

    Starting in the 2020 academic year, English will become an official subject at elementary schools and class hours will increase. To provide children with high quality lessons, it is most important to reduce teachers' tasks.

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