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Japan aims for more junior high night schools

An estimated one million have never completed junior high education

Japan aims for more junior high night schools

The inaugural meeting of the multi-partisan Diet coalition. special correspondent, Tokyo

May 26, 2014

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Japan’s compulsory education laws require six years of elementary and three years of junior high school. In theory every child completes this between the ages of six and 15, but it’s said that, in reality, an estimated one million people in Japan have been unable to do so, with reasons ranging from poverty and social withdrawal to problems related to nationality.

These are the individuals targeted by ‘night junior high schools.’ After World War II, these institutions were set up for poor children who could not attend classes during regular hours, and later these programs were expanded to accommodate adults, both Japanese and foreign.

In recent years, the number of foreign residents attending these night schools has been on the rise, driven largely by international marriages and people migrating to Japan to work. But only 31 public night schools exist nationwide, and eight of those are in Tokyo.

To combat this problem and increase the number of night schools in Japan, 49 Diet (parliament) members from both houses have formed a new multi-partisan coalition. Their goal is to draft legislation to push for the establishment of at least one government-run night junior high school in each of the country’s 47 prefectures.

On April 24, the coalition’s inaugural meeting was held at the Diet Members’ No. 1 Office Building of the Lower House. It was attended by 39 people, including coalition leader Hiroshi Hase, 18 other Diet members and their secretaries.

At the meeting, attendees heard first-hand personal experiences of a diverse range of students who attend night junior high schools.

One student had dropped out of elementary school as a child because of bullying. Another’s mother had fled an abusive husband and had wished to conceal her whereabouts, so the student had grown up in a household with no official registry and no way to receive the compulsory level of education.

“I hadn’t continued school any further than the third grade of elementary school,” the meeting attendees were told. The speaker was Naomi, a 17-year-old girl who had recently graduated from a night junior high school and is now taking first-year high school courses.

This girl’s classmates were both native Japanese and foreign residents, and certainly not all were teenagers. In fact, many were in late middle age, and one was in his 80’s.

“Since starting night classes, I’ve had the opportunity to form good relationships, talk to other people, and even make some friends," Naomi said. "I would be very grateful if you would increase the availability of night instruction for people like me, who couldn’t complete our studies [while we were still within the compulsory education age range].”

The All-Japan Night Junior High School Research Center, which is comprised of night school faculty and staff, has been working to bring this problem to the Diet’s attention for some time now. In the past it has held symposiums on the topic, and last year it convinced some Diet members to visit one night school to get a first-hand look.

One member had previously had suspicions that night schools were merely places that foreign workers went to study Japanese to avoid paying for private institutions. That changed when he met happy students exclaiming, “It’s fun to learn!” and saw the core educational fundamentals being taught there.

Community groups have set up ‘self-study night schools’ in prefectures without public night schools. However, operating such programs is always difficult. At the Diet coalition’s meeting, Tomio Suda, secretary-general of the night school research center, urged those present to increase support given to such community groups.

Yasutaka Sekimoto, who has worked at a night school for many years, had this to say: “Even after the laws are passed, there will be many problems that need to be surmounted, such as continued budget allocations and pressure on the administration. This is just the start, but the formation of this coalition is a major step.”

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