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Mie Pref. offering online Japanese language classes to foreign students

Yoshiro Sambire Furukawa is seen participating in an online class at Nabari junior high school in the city of Nabari, Mie Prefecture, on Oct. 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Tatsuo Eto)

NABARI, Mie -- Online Japanese language classes have been made available to foreign students in the central Japan prefecture of Mie -- the first attempt of its kind at the prefectural level in Japan.

    According to the Mie Prefectural Board of Education, there were about 2,147 foreign nationals enrolled in public elementary and junior high schools in the prefecture who needed Japanese language instruction, as of May 1. The education board has provided support to schools by dispatching 14 counselors to assist foreign students. As an additional support measure, the board has reportedly adopted online Japanese language classes targeting students in regions that lack sufficient support systems and knowhow due to a small number of foreign students. The classes are scheduled to be held for around 20 children this academic year, starting with a student at municipal Nabari junior high school in the city of the same name.

    The language classes, conducted by a nonprofit organization in Tokyo, use an online meeting system so that the instructor and students can communicate with each other as they proceed with classes. Students of similar levels in language ability take the classes together, which apparently makes it easier for them to ask questions on parts they don't understand.

    Yoshiro Sambire Furukawa holds a whiteboard on Oct. 16, 2020, with illustrations of his friends that he drew at Nabari junior high school in the city of Nabari, Mie Prefecture. (Mainichi/Tatsuo Eto)

    Yoshiro Sambire Furukawa, 14, a Filipino national at Nabari junior high school, is among those taking the online language classes. Furukawa's paternal grandfather is Japanese, and the boy's father who arrived in Japan in November 2013, currently works at a factory. Furukawa came to Japan with his younger brother and sister in August 2018, and has attended Nabari junior high since the second term as a first-year student. The boy said, "I'm glad that I can learn Japanese with students around the same level."

    It was the first time for Nabari junior high school to admit a foreign student who can barely understand Japanese. Furukawa participates in the same classes as his peers for subjects including English, physical education, and art, while he receives individual lessons for Japanese, math, and other subjects.

    While counselors from the prefectural education board as well as Japanese language instructors from the Nabari Municipal Education Board have been sent to Nabari junior high school to support the boy's education, Principal Sanae Nakamori of the middle school expressed her appreciation for the online classes, commenting, "I'm very grateful for the classes offered by professionals who know the kind of order which should be taken to learn Japanese well."

    The 50-minute online classes taken by Furukawa are "pre-class" lessons targeting beginner-level students, and had been held for five periods every day from Sept. 28 to Oct. 23.

    Furukawa was seen practicing pronunciation of Japanese phrases, such as "Yesterday's test was hard," while listening to the teacher's instructions during an online class on Oct. 16. After the class, Furukawa commented, "Kanji characters are especially hard when learning Japanese." He also said, "I feel like my Japanese ability has improved," regarding the impact of the online classes. The boy intends to go on to high school, and aspires to become an illustrator by putting his drawing skills to use.

    (Japanese original by Tatsuo Eto, Nabari Bureau)

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