Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

'Prison camps for Brazilians': Foreign kids in Japan being ushered into special education

A Peruvian boy, 17, collects data from a questionnaire as part of his work training in Nagoya. He is currently enrolled in a high-school-level special education class, and is looking for employment. (Mainichi/Haruna Okuyama) (Image partially modified)

Many foreign children in Japan are being placed in special education against their wishes amid a lack of consensus building with schools and doctors as they have trouble understanding Japanese.

The finding comes in spite of a notice issued by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2013 regarding where children with disabilities should study, which states that "the opinions of the child and their parents must be respected as far as is possible."

In one case, a 14-year-old Brazilian girl who was born in Japan and is now in her second year of junior high school was placed in a special education class for her first four years of elementary school, without her or her mother being given a sufficient explanation.

The girl's mother came to Japan about 15 years ago, and soon afterward she began working at a car parts factory for about 11 hours a day. She didn't have enough time to check on her daughter's schoolwork, so she asked a home tutor to do so. One day, when the girl was in her fourth year of elementary school, it emerged that she couldn't do multiplication. When the girl was asked, "Don't you learn that in school?" she replied, "We dig for potatoes at school."

The school maintained that it was matching education to the level of the children, and argued, "We received a signature when she was enrolled." Thinking back, the girl's mother remembered signing a document saying that her daughter would enter a class in which difficult topics would be taught to the students individually. There was no IQ test or other screening method carried out in advance, and the girl's mother thought that she would be the same as other students, with the school teaching her the subjects she wasn't good at.

This image taken in Nagoya shows memos a doctor presented to the mother of a 6-year-old boy who had taken an IQ test to judge whether he should enter a special education class. (Mainichi/Haruna Okuyama)

When it came to study, however, the girl was taught hardly anything. Later, when she moved schools and took an IQ test in the sixth grade, she was judged to have the intellectual ability of about a 6- or 7-year old. In junior high school, she has remained in a special education class.

A Brazilian woman in her 20s who has already graduated described these special education classes as "prison camps for Brazilians," as she has seen many friends from her country as well as children being urged to join such classes.

One 8-year-old Brazilian boy now in his third year of elementary school was advised to enter a special education class in the summer of 2017 when he was in his first year of school on the grounds that he stood up and walked about during class. During an IQ test, he was found to have an IQ commensurate with his age, but was judged to have a slightly lower level of Japanese language ability. His mother stressed that he should attend a Japanese language class at school, but his teacher stood firm, saying it was an "intellectual issue."

The discussions continued, and the boy entered his second year of elementary school. He got a new teacher, and stopped walking around in class. The talk of him going into special education subsequently ceased. The boy's mother feels that his first teacher was trying to get her son put in special education due to an inability to instruct him.

When approached by the Mainichi Shimbun, the school's vice principal responded, "We decide whether or not a student goes into special education based on objective data such as hospital tests, and obtain parental consent." But the vice principal divulged, "When foreigners increase in number, the learning progress of Japanese students is delayed. As far as is possible, (foreign students) should go to classes to be taught one on one."

Even when it is recognized that a child has an intellectual disability, there are cases in which they are not given sufficient explanations about IQ tests.

One 17-year-old Peruvian national now living in Nagoya was given an IQ test when he entered elementary school, and was diagnosed as having a slight intellectual disability. An IQ test he took in Peru had produced the same result, so his mother did not object to him being enrolled in a special education class. But the Japanese doctor who saw him went no further than providing a verbal opinion. In Peru, his mother had received a diagnosis of 2 to 3 A4-sized pages, and so she asked for more, saying, "I want documentation explaining the diagnosis."

Upon completion of the diagnosis, she saw the "paperwork" via a nurse, and was lost for words. It consisted merely of two leafs of memo paper, containing basic phrases written in the simple hiragana script: "Intelligence test, about 4 years old." "Special education, slight delay."

(Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama, City News Department)

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media