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Programming courses to be introduced at Japan juvenile detention centers from FY2022

Takehiro Hagiwara is seen teaching youths about programming at Niigata Juvenile Training School in the Niigata Prefecture city of Nagaoka in October 2021. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Starting fiscal 2022, the Ministry of Justice will hold programming lessons at juvenile detention centers as part of career guidance to help youths become socially independent, while the age of majority in Japan will be lowered to 18 from April.

    To coincide with the lowering of the age of adulthood to 18 under the Civil Code starting in April this year, the revised Juvenile Act will also come into effect on April 1, toughening penalties on teens aged 18 or 19 who commit crimes. As many youths at juvenile detention centers will be considered adults, the Justice Ministry decided to set up a new ICT (information and communications technology) skills course to facilitate proactive learning that departs from previous methods.

    On Oct. 12, 2021, a mock lesson for computer programming was held at Niigata Juvenile Training School in the Niigata Prefecture city of Nagaoka. The class used a tablet and an electronics kit with seven wireless "electronic blocks," which each have different functions, including a power switch, LED, and sensor. By controlling the tablet and combining the blocks, the students were able to send out various commands, such as making the LED light up when it detected a person's presence.

    "Today's theme is to make Niigata Juvenile Training School a fun place. Let's give shape to our ideas," said Takehiro Hagiwara, an electronic blocks developer who served as the class's guest lecturer. Although they first appeared nervous, once the six youths picked up the blocks and tablet, they began to voice ideas such as "We can create a system where we can tell whether someone is in the bathroom, while staying in another room," and "If we put it on glasses, we can read books even in dark places." As the young adults brainstormed various ideas, they learned that creativity could change their daily lives.

    Hagiwara concluded the class by saying, "It's important to notice things you can do to make it more convenient to live in society. Programming is one method to solve problems. What you did today is the first step toward invention." Such programming lessons will apparently be recognized as an official career guidance course at several juvenile detention centers, including Niigata Juvenile Training School, from fiscal 2022.

    Why programming education at juvenile detention centers? A senior Justice Ministry official said the new program is a "departure from education where youths are forced to learn."

    Education for former juvenile delinquents in Japan has mainly focused on correcting youths' problematic behavior. The characteristics of perseverance and conscientiousness were valued, and instructors tended to spoon-feed the youths and fit them into stereotypes. Though society is facing great change with the development of technology, occupational training programs for construction and public works are mainstream at juvenile detention centers.

    However, following the legal revisions, youths aged 18 or older will be regarded as adults and be subjected to criminal trials for more types of crimes, and may end up in prison if they relapse into criminal behavior.

    The senior official at the Justice Ministry pointed out, "Learning where youths set up their own objectives and map out how to reach the solution leads them to think about what they should do to become who they want to be."

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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