The Japanese government is expected to set standardized requirements for the establishment of special needs schools, such as the size of the school building and the variation of facilities depending on the number of students -- just as in regular elementary, junior high and high schools.
The number of students in special needs schools in Japan has increased by 1.2 times over the last 10 years, and the issue of overcrowding and the lack of classrooms is becoming worse. Public special education schools were lacking a total of 3,162 classrooms by the end of the 2019 school year, or a shortage of an average of three classrooms per school.
This is because the pace of the establishment and expansion of special needs schools is not keeping up with the increase in the number of parents and guardians seeking special education that suits the characteristics of certain disabilities.
For the reasons above, such schools have been forced to take desperate measures.
It is not rare to see, for example, a classroom being partitioned using curtains to conduct a math lesson on the one side and a music lesson on the other. Obviously the sound can be heard from both sides. There are schools that have to use the library as a classroom, and have no choice but to stock up the books in the hallway as there are no rooms for them.
There are increased concerns about the issue of overcrowding in special education schools amid the spread of the coronavirus. There are quite a few children with underlying diseases who attend such schools. Teachers must keep their eyes on the students more carefully than in regular classes.
The establishment of official requirements is expected to be a major step in improving such an educational environment.
The Japanese government had an indecisive attitude on the issue until now, with its reason being the unique condition of special needs schools, where children with various kinds of disabilities attend. It is not easy to set a standard that fits all types of disabilities including visual and hearing impairments as well as intellectual disabilities. When setting requirements, the government needs to provide consideration to people with different kinds of disabilities.
Not only is the central government urged to set requirements, it must also provide enhanced financial support to local governments that host special education schools, as well as encourage acquirements of more land for the schools and support the use of abandoned school buildings that have been renovated.
The national government is promoting "inclusive education," where all children can learn together, whether they have disabilities or not. However, in reality there are issues in the system to accept children with disabilities in regular schools, such as the lack of teachers with expert knowledge.
When children and their parents or guardians choose whether their kids should attend a regular or a special needs school, it is difficult to say that a freedom of choice is guaranteed if a feeling of hesitation and anxiety comes before any other emotions.
Japan must look into the future and proceed with creating an environment where all children can have access to an education without concerns.