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Education ministry considering surveying foreign kids' school attendance

This screen capture shows the website of a signature-collection drive seeking the introduction of a law guaranteeing Japanese-language education for foreigners.

TOKYO -- A senior education ministry official told an out-of-session Diet hearing on Jan. 23 that the ministry is considering surveying the school attendance of foreign children in Japan, as an earlier Mainichi Shimbun probe found that the educational status of more than 16,000 such kids are not known.

Mizue Shiomi, deputy director-general for promotion of social education, told the House of Representatives Committee on Judicial Affairs that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology "set up an in-house team and started a detailed review to study the current situation of children whose school attendance remains unknown."

The statement came in response to a question from independent lawmaker Yosei Ide, who urged the government to ascertain the current educational status of foreign children. He pointed out that some local municipalities have managed to become fully aware of the status of all children in their jurisdictions. "The entire nation should tackle this issue," said Ide.

Shiomi replied that the ministry has established a team to review the promotion of education, headed by state minister for education Tomoko Ukishima, the No. 2 political appointee at the ministry. The group will try to find out the schooling situation of the nation's children, she explained.

Ide also pointed out that Japan has ratified the International Covenants on Human Rights and taken a stance that all children should receive an education, although foreign youngsters are not covered by the country's compulsory educational program. The lawmaker then asked Shiomi about the ministry's measures to give foreign children access to the program.

The education bureaucrat answered that the ministry is urging local authorities to make sure that enrollment information reaches foreign children, adding that it would introduce multilingual notices when dispatching such information.

--- Signature-collection drive seeking Japanese language education underway

Meanwhile, an online signature-collection drive is underway, seeking an early introduction of a law obligating the central and local governments to provide Japanese-language education. As of Jan. 23, more than 5,500 people have signed up, and people promoting the drive say that the law is needed as part of efforts to accept foreign residents to Japan, whose number is expected to rise after April because of the introduction of new residency statuses for foreign workers.

A bill for the promotion of Japanese-language education was compiled by a group of national lawmakers headed by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura. The draft set the purpose of the language education as contributing to the creation of an active, inclusive society that respects various cultures. Its basic ideals include the provision of Japanese-language education opportunities to foreigners who want to receive it, and the improvement of educational standards. The group intends to submit the bill during the ordinary session of the Diet to be convened on Jan. 28.

The signature-collection drive was started by a group of 73 people including Eriko Ishii, who heads the Society for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language.

(Japanese original by Haruna Okunaya, City News Department)

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