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Survey reveals barriers to foreign-born students trying to enter Japan high schools

Students with foreign nationalities are seen studying to enter Japanese high schools at "Tabunka Room Kibou" (Multicultural room hope), a study support classroom in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture, on May 23, 2019. (Mainichi/Atsuko Ota)

NAGOYA -- The public high school entrance examination process for foreign nationals varies hugely from local government to local government, a national survey carried out by a student support group has revealed.

Having a high school diploma -- or not -- has an enormous impact on young people's employment prospects in Japan, and "the system should be improved so that everyone can have the same chances," the group stated.

The group, which comprises foreign student education experts like Shukutoku University associate professor Yoshimi Kojima, supports foreign children and students returning to Japan from China, among others, take Japanese high school exams. It conducted the survey in prefectures and ordinance-designated cities.

The probe asked questions in relation to the spring 2018 high school entrance examinations. These included enquiries about whether there were spots allocated specially for foreign students, as well as additional measures such as whether foreign students were given extra time to sit the tests, or if their question sheets included "furigana" phonetic characters to assist in reading the many kanji characters that appear in Japanese texts.

Among standard full-time schools across Japan, only those in 23 of the country's 47 prefectures had introduced assistance measures of any kind. Only 16 had special allocated spots.

In the 10 prefectures said to have many students who need Japanese language support, those with additional measures in place at standard institutions included Kanagawa, Osaka and Shiga prefectures as well as Metropolitan Tokyo. However, prefectures such as Shizuoka and Aichi did not.

Prefectures other than Shiga have specially allocated spots, but pass rates vary considerably, with 116 making the grade in Metro Tokyo, 111 in Kanagawa Prefecture, down to 85 in Osaka Prefecture, and then even lower with 26 in Aichi Prefecture and just 21 in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Qualifications for sitting the tests differ, too. Whether to allow graduates of Brazilian schools and other students of foreign junior highs to take Japanese high school admissions tests is left up to prefectural boards of education. This eligibility is recognized in Metro Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, but not in Aichi or Shizuoka prefectures. In Osaka Prefecture, it is granted on a case-by-case basis.

Despite Aichi Prefecture having the highest number of children in need of Japanese educational support nationally, the ratio of those who enter high school is conspicuously low. An individual connected to a nonprofit organization (NPO) that provides study support told the Mainichi Shimbun, "There are many students who are forced to give up on taking the tests due to their Japanese ability and eligibility issues."

However, the prefectural education board responded, "There are cases of children not needing extra Japanese language assistance after receiving generous Japanese language education prior to high school," emphasizing the accomplishments made in elementary and junior high schools. Associate professor Kojima said, "We can't have a situation where the starting line differs by community."

In Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, home to the country's largest population of Brazilian residents, there are 12 schools for Brazilians, with approximately 1,200 students enrolled. Some want to study at high school with Japanese pupils, but those wishing to do so without recognized junior high school graduate qualifications face considerable hurdles.

Josefa Duarte de Castro dos Santos, 59, a company employee living in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture, sends her 16-year-old son to a school for Brazilian students in the prefecture. Dos Santos said, "I really wanted to enroll my son, who will continue to live in Japan, in a Japanese school." Following the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial crisis, the family moved back to Brazil, returning to Japan 2 years ago. As a child, dos Santos's son was enrolled in a Japanese elementary school, but he forgot much of the language following the move to Brazil. Timing wasn't on his side, either, and he ended up enrolling in a junior high school for Brazilian students.

He also wanted to advance to a Japanese high school, and attended support study classes, but abandoned the idea due to lacking the qualifications to take the test. He continued on to the high school section of his Brazilian school instead. Dos Santos said this has "reduced the possibilities for his future."

Kiyoe Ito, a representative for Torcida, an NPO dedicated to supporting children of foreign nationalities based in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, told the Mainichi, "If the aim when enrolling in a school for foreign pupils is to return to their home countries for university or to study abroad, then it's fine. But we've seen more than a few cases of people who continue to work in Japan after graduating who don't sufficiently understand the language or society's rules, and end up drifting from job to job."

(Japanese original by Atsuko Ota, Nagoya News Center)

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