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Legal measures needed to boost school attendance of foreigners in Japan: education ministry

A panel of experts is seen discussing the outline on how to secure opportunities for children of foreign nationalities residing in Japan, at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, on Jan. 21, 2020. (Mainichi/Haruna Okuyama)

TOKYO -- Japan should consider legal and other systematic measures to ensure some 22,000 children of foreign nationality, who are registered residents but whose school attendance status is unknown, are able to receive an education and Japanese language learning programs, an education ministry report outline compiled on Jan. 21 says.

The draft, based on recommendations from an appointed panel of experts, places the responsibility for ensuring foreign children are taught Japanese on the central government and local bodies. It further lists five basic pillars to be incorporated into the basic principles of a law on the promotion of language education that was passed in June 2019.

The five pillars include the securing and improvement of instruction frameworks; the creation of an environment that provides more support for students' learning and boosts the skills of teachers heading Japanese language education programs; and the encouragement of work to understand the various positions of children seeking enrollment.

Currently, foreign national children residing in Japan are not subject to the same compulsory education that Japanese children are. This exemption has left municipal authorities to devise their own responses, which in turn has led to the education ministry's petitions for the national government to provide solutions grounded in law.

Under the section on instructional frameworks, the outline states that by the 2026 school year there must be one teacher for every 18 students. As part of its supportive environment proposals, and with consideration for the higher proportion of non-Japanese than Japanese students being placed in special education classes due to their difficulties with the language, the outline states that children in such classes will be assessed academically.

As part of the promotion of school attendance, meanwhile, a national survey on school attendance of foreign children should be continued, the report outline says. In September 2019 the survey revealed that some 22,000 foreign students' status of attendance was unknown. The draft also called for collaboration between the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, and the departments of local bodies in charge of managing Basic Resident Register, which compiles data on people living in Japan.

The outline further seeks a fixed level of commitment from the national government. As part of efforts to end non-enrollment in March 2019, the education ministry petitioned municipal governments to put together and manage documents on foreign nationals of school age based on the way registries of Japanese children of elementary and junior high school age are compiled. However, just 46.7% of the administrative bodies were able to muster data on all of the foreign national children of school age residing in their relevant jurisdictions. This revealed that around 10,000 of the children found by the ministry's survey to have an unknown enrollment status were present on records relating to the basic resident register, but even so, local education boards weren't able to ascertain that they existed.

For this reason, the outline requests the central government to set guidelines for the creation of documents based on the registries of foreign nationals of school age and ways to confirm their status in school enrollment, thereby encouraging the state to take responsibility for promotion of education for children of foreign nationals.

The outline will be compiled into an official written report within the 2019 fiscal year ending March 31, and will be presented to the Central Council for Education and subsequently reported to the education minister.

A survey by the Mainichi Shimbun on the state of non-Japanese children's enrollment in schools, targeting the 100 municipal areas with the highest number of foreign national residents, revealed that over 16,000 children's state of enrollment was unknown. The results led the ministry of education to proceed with its first national survey on school enrollment.

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

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