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Foreign middle-schoolers getting Japanese help still at high school disadvantage: survey

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TOKYO -- About 17% of foreign middle-schoolers who received special Japanese language lessons and graduated from public junior high schools in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, went on to study at high schools with evening classes, a higher proportion than the trend among student generally, according to a survey by the Kanagawa International Foundation.

    Although the prefectural government provides special admission slots to support foreign students' education, the study found the system may not serve pupils' actual situations.

    The survey took place between March and September 2020 on 72 public middle schools with "international classrooms." Responses were obtained from 97.7% of education boards and schools that were sent a questionnaire.

    "International classrooms" are set up for foreign students needing Japanese language lessons at elementary and junior high schools. A school with five or more of the students can apply to the prefectural government for dispatch of a teacher to be responsible for the classes, subject to approval.

    Generally, the students leave their homeroom classes for a few hours each week to learn Japanese and other subjects in the specialized classroom. In Kanagawa Prefecture as of March 2020, 15 municipal education boards, including the Yokohama education board, had set up international classrooms at a total of 72 junior high schools.

    The survey showed a record-high 381 foreign students graduated from schools with international classrooms in March 2020 -- up 41 pupils on the previous academic year. Of the graduates, 204 of them, or 53.5%, went on to study at public high schools with full-time courses, while 85, or 22.3%, went to private high schools.

    A total of 64 individuals, or 16.8% of those graduating from international classrooms, enrolled at high schools with evening classes. By contrast, 2.1% of all public junior high school graduates in Kanagawa Prefecture, including Japanese students, went on to such schools. It showed that eight times the number of "international classroom" graduates went to high schools with evening courses compared to graduates generally.

    Kanagawa Prefecture and the city of Yokohama have set up "special admissions spots for foreigners living in the prefecture" at 13 high schools to support admissions from students graduating international classrooms. Application requirements include "having resided in Japan for a total of three years or less, excluding the period before attending school," and "having foreign nationality, or having obtained Japanese citizenship within the past three years." For the entrance exam, applicants take tests in three subjects; Japanese, English and mathematics. Special considerations are made, such as including phonetic characters to assist in reading kanji characters.

    For the 2020 academic year, admission capacity for the special spots was 145, and 137 of 165 applicants passed. But, even though it appears a great number of international classroom students experience challenges with the Japanese language, of the 381 students graduating in March 2020, only 109 -- under 30% -- were eligible for the special admission quota. Furthermore, only about half of them -- 54 students -- were able to use the slots to go to high school.

    Multiple responses in the questionnaire's additional comments section described students whose circumstances were not compatible with the special admission slots but who still had difficulties in Japanese and other subjects, and that many students are not eligible for them.

    Another response read, "Although they have lived in Japan over three years, there are many students whose language ability has not improved, and because they face difficulties learning other subjects as well, they are not capable of taking entrance exams."

    Public interest incorporated foundation Kanagawa International Foundation said there are "many situations where support is also needed for foreign students not eligible for the special admissions that would open up their future possibilities."

    Haruki Fujiwake, a group leader at the foundation, said, "Though they may be able to engage in daily conversation, it takes quite a long time to acquire language used to study class subjects. It may be necessary to ease the criteria for special admission applications."

    (Japanese original by Shotaro Kinoshita, Tokyo City News Department)

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