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Tokyo high schools work with NPO to boost Japanese skills of students with foreign roots

Students are seen participating in a special lesson held by nonprofit Katariba at Tokyo Metropolitan Hitotsubashi High School in the capital's Chiyoda Ward, on Sept. 14, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryotaro Ikawa)

TOKYO -- A nonprofit organization (NPO) has partnered with public high schools in Tokyo to hold special classes to support those with foreign backgrounds having trouble communicating in Japanese.

    Katariba, a nonprofit based in Tokyo's Suginami Ward which provides educational assistance, joined evening classes at Tokyo Metropolitan Hitotsubashi High School in the capital's Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 14. Of the 24 students who participated, about half had at least some foreign roots, including parents who are foreign nationals.

    At the seminar-style lesson, the students discussed their experiences and challenges surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. They raised issues such as the students' inability to pay for commuter passes due to a lack of part-time work, as well as how they viewed the national government's 100,000-yen cash handout to every resident in the country. From time to time, volunteer interpreters made additional comments for students not fluent in Japanese.

    Six seminars have been scheduled for between Sept. 7 and Oct. 19, and aim to enhance students' communication skills and problem-solving abilities through teamwork.

    Katariba has also been holding classes at two other high schools with large numbers of students with foreign roots. According to the Tokyo metropolitan education board, the number of high school students deemed in-need of Japanese language education rose from 292 in 2009 to 691 in 2019.

    Many students have apparently been unable to go to school or get their desired job as they are not fluent in Japanese, said Katariba. In schools where there are many students with roots outside Japan, the children apparently tend to stick with others from the same country, and do not talk with students from other places. The special lessons also aim to create opportunities for students from various countries to talk with each other, as well as helping them improve their Japanese.

    "Support to high schoolers with foreign roots still cannot be said to be sufficient. I would like to provide support so that they can achieve what they want to do without being affected by their environment," commented Chieko Miyagi, a support work manager at Katariba.

    (Japanese original by Ryotaro Ikawa, Tokyo Bureau)

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