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Brazilian groups survey nationals in Japan special ed amid crisis fears

The then Brazilian Ambassador to Japan Andre Aranha Correa do Lago, far left, is seen with SABJA's director-presidente, Norberto Shinji Mogi, third from left, at the Embassy of the Federative Republic of Brazil in Japan, to mark the start of a survey on Brazilian children in special education in public schools on Oct. 31, 2018, in Minato Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi/Haruna Okuyama)

TOKYO -- Issues concerning the much higher rate of Brazilian pupils at Japanese schools enrolled in special education classes compared to their Japanese peers has been a concern among the country's communities at home and here for years.

In an attempt to sound the alarm, the Embassy of the Federative Republic of Brazil in Japan commissioned a Japan-based nonprofit organization to carry out a fact-finding survey in seven municipalities with high concentrations of Brazilian residents and its work is ongoing.

Close attention began being paid to the large numbers of Brazilian students in special education around 2014. Following the 2008 global financial crisis in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, many parents in Japan lost their jobs and had to stop sending their children to Brazilian schools.

As more of the children were transferred to public schools, reports of Brazilian children being placed in special education became rife. In the Brazilian media, there were reports including one about an elementary school in Japan where 11 of its 14 special education pupils were from Brazil.

The nonprofit organization Action for a Better International Community (ABIC), based in Tokyo's Minato Ward, received the reports, and carried out an extraction survey in 2015 on special education classes in four prefectures: Aichi, Mie, Shizuoka and Gunma.

It found that of a total of 1,886 children of foreign nationality, 116 of them were enrolled in special education. It was equivalent to 6.15% of all enrolled foreign children, more than four times greater than the 1.48% of Japanese pupils placed in the classes.

After Brazilian authorities became aware of the results, a Brazilian foreign affairs bureaucrat at a meeting with Japanese counterparts raised concerns about the large proportion of Brazilian nationals in special education in April 2016.

In October 2018, it was announced that a nonprofit organization, service for the assistance of Brazilians in Japan (SABJA), based in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, had been entrusted with carrying out a detailed survey on the issue.

The survey is being done in seven municipalities with high Brazilian populations: Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, Toyohashi and Toyota in Aichi Prefecture, Oizumi in Gunma Prefecture, Echizen in Fukui Prefecture, Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, and Minato Ward in Tokyo.

It plans to collect the data on rates of the students in special education, and analyze the results together with the outcome of hearings with children, guardians and experts. It says it intends to compile a report as early as this year.

The then Brazilian Ambassador to Japan Andre Aranha Correa do Lago emphasized that there was a need to judge if there is a difference in disability evaluations through both realistic and academic means.

At the time Brazilian authorities started the survey, they also consulted Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and made requests including for the ministry to act as a mediator with municipal authorities.

A survey by the Ministry of Education in February 2017 on 25 municipalities with concentrated foreign populations that was disclosed to the Mainichi Shimbun revealed that the rate of foreign students receiving special education was over twice that of Japanese students.

SABJA's auditor-secretary, Hiroyuki Shimizu, said, "The results of the ministry of education's survey broadly outline the same problems we are aware of. We want to compile our data as soon as possible, and put forward proposals to the Brazilian community and Japanese government on what can be done."

(Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama, City News Department)

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