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Editorial: Japan's teacher shortage must be solved by improving working conditions

A shortage of educators resulting from a lack of replacements for staff who go on parental leave or who are recuperating from illness has become commonplace at public educational institutions in Japan, including elementary, junior high and high schools.

    In its first national survey of the issue, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology found that as of the start of the 2021 academic year the proportion of schools with staff shortages had risen to 5.8% of the total -- or 1,897 schools. In all, 2,558 posts were going unfilled.

    There are some cases where managerial staff including principals and vice principals are inevitably filling in the roles of homeroom teachers. In some schools, classes have been temporarily suspended due to teachers of specific subjects being absent.

    There are concerns the lack of leeway in schools will have consequences for children's studies. Measures to improve the situation must be taken without delay.

    Behind the problems today is the withdrawal from the workforce of the huge numbers of educational staff hired in the 1980s. While the generations switch over and more young people take parental leave and other time away, it has become harder to hire temporary education staff to fill in the roles.

    The main candidates for this work are people still aiming to be teachers after not passing the hiring exam. However, fewer people are taking the tests, and this fall in the scale factor means fewer candidates are available.

    The system which voids teaching licenses for education professionals that don't undergo training once every 10 years has also been a contributing issue. The path to getting teachers who have left back into the classroom is narrowed as a result.

    It is expected that the system will be abolished in the 2022 academic year, but that won't be enough. This opportunity should be one to create a system that can flexibly accept a wider range of people as temporary education workers. Improved treatment for temporary teachers in uncertain positions is also indispensable.

    What is important to fundamentally solve the problem is an approach that encourages more people to want to become teachers. Some point out that the fall in people taking exams to become educators is because they feel the work itself is not attractive.

    Their working environment, which requires them to assume other duties and respond to parents and guardians in addition to teaching classes, must be improved. There is also an urgent need to review the present system in which long hours of overtime are not reflected in pay.

    At the same time, there must be efforts to more actively utilize a system that appoints a diversity of people including members of society with specialist knowledge.

    The solution to teaching staff shortages is imperative to maintaining children's studies. We want the national government, local authorities and schools to cooperate and concentrate their knowledge into creating an environment that can reliably secure human resources.

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