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Education boards claim shortage of at least 357 elementary, junior high teachers

This July 1, 2016, file photo shows students responding to a question about a newspaper article. (Mainichi)

The number of teachers working at public elementary and junior high schools in Japan was at least 357 short of the necessary quota at the start of the 2017 academic year, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

One of the factors behind the shortage is thought to be a decrease in the number of temporary teachers available to plug the gap caused by the mass retirement of "baby-boomer" teachers.

Upon conducting interviews with 67 boards of education in the country's 47 prefectures and 20 major cities, the Mainichi Shimbun was told by 52 boards that they have either been unable to fill vacancies, or have struggled to find replacement staff in a timely manner. Of these, 24 boards revealed the specific number of shortages in teaching staff as of April and May this year, which totaled 357. The remaining boards replied to say that they either had enough teachers or had not compiled the necessary data.

In looking at the responses from the 52 boards of education, it was found that even if there were enough teachers at the start of the academic year, teachers subsequently taking sick leave made it difficult to find replacements -- more so than for maternity or child-rearing leave, which can be predicted in advance.

It was also recognized that the recurring retirement of "baby-boomer" teachers since 2010 has led to the employment of many people originally registered as temporary substitute teachers, who had not yet passed recruitment exams. Consequently, with many of these backup teachers being snapped up, there is now a shortage of available temporary teachers.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the number of teachers employed at public elementary and junior high schools has been increasing since the 2000 academic year. However, boards of education have struggled to cope fully with the drop caused by baby-boomer retirees.

"The boards of education think that there might be a surplus of teachers in the future due to the falling birth rate. Therefore, they appear to want to depend on non-regular employees to cope with the shortage," a source close to the education ministry said.

Moreover, the increasing number of university students who want to work in the private sector due to the favorable economy in recent years has led to a drop in the number of people wanting to become teachers. According to the education ministry, the rate of competition for elementary school teaching positions has dropped from 4.6 to 3.6 and that for junior high from 9.8 to 7.1 over the past decade.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Board of Education, which reported a shortage of 29 teachers, said, "There has been an increase in cases of quotas not being reached."

Meanwhile, the Osaka Municipal Board of Education, which revealed a shortage of 13 teachers, commented, "There has been no change in the situation concerning registered temporary teachers. However, there has been an increase in teachers taking time off due to illness."

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