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Japan education ministry's social media teacher recruiting campaign blasted... by teachers

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The education ministry's social media campaign to spur interest in becoming school teachers has come under fire from those already in the classroom, pointing to the severe working environment of Japan's educators.

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology launched the campaign on Twitter and the Japanese social network platform "note" to tell young people aspiring to become teachers about the appeal of the job. The campaign comes as fewer young people express interest in taking up the profession.

    Education minister Koichi Hagiuda told a March 30 news conference after a Cabinet meeting, "I felt confused by opinions expressed (online) like, 'Young students had better avoid coming to such a workplace.'" He added, "I've underlined my resolve that we have to take seriously how teachers are feeling, and move ahead with work-style reforms at schools."

    The campaign, launched on March 26, is dubbed the "Teachers' Baton Project." Young employees at the education ministry came up with the idea to get information including teachers' passion for their educational activities out to students and working people considering becoming teachers.

    The initiative was originally intended to have teachers post scenes of daily school life and creative endeavors, and hashtag the positive stories with "Teachers' Baton." However, the ministry's call for posts has attracted instead a flood of comments from teachers about their distressing circumstances at schools.

    Such comments included:

    -- "Sitting height measuring and pinworm tests; they are the only burden that has been reduced in the last 20 years." (They were conducted at schools in Japan until the 2015 academic year.)

    -- "I'll retire tomorrow. I've worked from morning until night. Now I think I've lost too much."

    One comment criticized the education ministry's responses, saying, "(The ministry) took advantage of teachers' goodwill, surmised the desires of guardians and society, and did not protect teachers."

    After the criticism, on March 29 the ministry posted on social media, "We have re-confirmed the harsh situation teachers are in, and we strongly feel that we need to accelerate reform," and, "We will analyze the opinions expressed, and would like to use them for essential reform."

    An academic 2016 survey by the ministry revealed that more than 30% of teachers at elementary schools and nearly 60% of teachers at junior high schools worked 80 hours overtime per month, which is considered a death from overwork redline.

    To ease the burden on teachers, the ministry will end junior and senior high school supervision of weekend club activities, and start shifting them to community activities in stages from academic 2023. It is also consulting the Central Council for Education about a fundamental revision of the system to renew teaching licenses, which currently requires teachers to take a renewal course once every 10 years.

    (Japanese original by Akira Okubo, City News Department)

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