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Volunteer-run night school in east Japan prepares to resume classes for foreigners

Vietnamese nationals who study at night classes run by a local group of volunteers in the eastern Japan city of Chiba are shown in this photo provided by the president of the company where they work as technical interns.

CHIBA -- A night school attended by foreign residents and run by local volunteers in this city east of Tokyo aims to resume classes from July 2 after being closed since March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The school, located in the city of Chiba's Mihama Ward, was established in 2018 in order to offer junior high education for those who were unable to study due to certain reasons as well as to foreigners who live in Japan. Foreign residents account for about half of the students at the school.

The night classes are managed by a nongovernmental organization headed by representative Etsuko Takeuchi. The group is demanding the establishment of night classes at a public junior high school in the city. The volunteers have been holding three class periods every week on Thursdays at the Takasu Community Center in Chiba's Mihama Ward. Before the temporary closure of the school, about 60 students aged between 10 and their 80s had attended the classes, with half apparently being foreigners.

Among the foreign students who are devoting themselves to studying at home while anticipating the restarting of classes are 29-year-old and 32-year-old Vietnamese nationals, who both said that they look forward to classes starting again. The two arrived in Japan in February 2019 as technical intern trainees, and work at an equipment construction company located in the city's Inage Ward. Before the school became closed due to the coronavirus, they had taken one hour of Japanese language classes from 7 p.m. after finishing work at 6 p.m. Although the pair had studied the language before coming to Japan, they say that there are still words that are difficult to catch in conversation.

The 32-year-old who is currently continuing to study on his own expressed concern and commented, "I'm having trouble as I can't ask the teacher about what I don't understand on the spot." The 29-year-old commented, "I wish to work at a Japanese firm after I finish the training period and return to my country." The man is also considering taking the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. He said, "I'm looking forward to the reopening of classes as I had always chatted about various topics like soccer and my personal life with my teacher."

Representative Takeuchi commented, "It is difficult to assign homework to everyone at once as each student's curriculum is different, and students often study with teachers one-on-one. Our greatest priority is to ensure an environment that avoids infringing on the 'three Cs' (of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact with others) once classes resume." The organization has also discussed measures including reducing the class size to half its original number of students.

(Japanese original by Tatsuya Naganuma, Chiba Bureau)

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