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10,400 foreign kids lack Japanese language education amid instructor shortfall

A document disclosed to the Mainichi Shimbun shows one municipality's dire Japanese language education situation, including a remark on how there are too many students that need support, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on May 3, 2019. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Some 10,400 students attending public elementary, junior high, senior high and special needs schools across the nation who need Japanese language education did not receive such support, according to education ministry data collected in May 2016.

A majority of such children had foreign nationality, while some came to Japan after getting Japanese citizenship due to their parent or guardian's marriage, or other reasons. Adoption of country-wide measures is urgently needed, as children without support are dispersed across all 47 prefectures and not just in areas with many foreign residents.

Once every two years, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology collects data on the number of students attending public schools that are identified by their schools as requiring Japanese language education, and releases the final tally.

There are some statistical inconsistencies in the questionnaire between the final tally and answers submitted by prefectural governments to the ministry. The data were disclosed after the Mainichi Shimbun made a freedom of information request.

According to the May 2016 survey, 43,947 students in 8,396 public schools required Japanese language education. Among these, 33,547 children received support from teachers specially deployed for this purpose, part-time instructors, or volunteers. Meanwhile, 24%, or 10,400 did not receive such support -- 3,684 more than in academic 2014.

According to a Mainichi analysis of the questionnaires, prefectures with many foreign residents ranked high in the numbers of pupils that did not receive Japanese language education -- such as 1,343 in the central Japan prefecture of Aichi, followed by 1,129 in Tokyo, and 1,039 in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of the capital.

More than 20% of students that required Japanese language education did not receive support in 33 prefectures, including 61% in Nagasaki and 43% in Kagoshima, both in western Japan, and 39% in Mie, central Japan.

Lack of special Japanese language education teachers is one reason for the severe shortfalls. There are only 2,224 such teachers working across the nation, according to the ministry's figures. Some 2,491 public schools, accounting for 30% of the schools where students required language support, did not have special instructors.

The education ministry has announced it will seek to boost the number of such instructors to one teacher per 18 students requiring Japanese language help, but measures have fallen behind as more than 70% of public schools have less than five foreign students.

A Dialogic Language Assessment, which determines a student's Japanese language skills over the course of several days, is suggested by the education ministry. However, only about 20% of schools use this method as it takes a long time to get the results, among other reasons. A majority of schools determine a pupil's Japanese language skills in reference to their performance in class and how long they have been in Japan.

(Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama and Tomoyuki Hori, City News Department)

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