Current concerns (3)

— continuing our series of educational news highlights —

20. Parents, teachers at odds on early English, Eiichiro Matsumoto Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

While nearly 80 percent of parents are in favor of education ministry plans to make English compulsory for primary school students, nearly 60 percent of teachers are opposed, according to two related surveys by a major education services company.

In April last year, a panel on foreign-language education under the Central Council for Education, an advisory body to the education, science and technology minister, proposed making English compulsory starting from fifth-year students. Following the move, Benesse Corp. conducted two surveys between July and October: one on about 4,700 parents of students at 31 public primary schools nationwide; and the other on about 3,500 public primary school teachers.

The survey of parents showed that a large majority of respondents were in favor of the change–35.2 percent said they strongly agreed with the proposal and 41.2 percent tended to agree. Just 14 percent disagreed or tended to disagree.

Asked about the timing for starting classes, parents’ responses suggested they thought the sooner, the better. The first year of primary school was the grade chosen by 47.8 percent of the respondents, followed by the third year, chosen by 13.5 percent.

The survey of teachers, meanwhile, showed that only 8.7 percent of them in clear agreement with the proposal to make English compulsory at the primary school level, with 28.1 percent agreeing on balance. Of responding teachers, 56.9 percent of them disagreed or leaned toward disagreement with the proposal.

The survey also asked teachers who worked at schools that already offered some form of English lessons–for example, as part of general studies classes–to point out issues their schools were facing in conducting such lessons.

In multiple-choice answers, 40.6 percent indicated that problems were apparent in “the English abilities of the teachers who taught it.” “Lack of time for preparation and development of the necessary teaching materials” was chosen by 38.2 percent, while 32.9 percent pointed out that “no curriculum had been developed for teaching” English at primary school.

The survey asked senior teachers who supervised the overall education of their respective schools to answer the questions. When asked if their colleagues in charge of English education seemed burdened by the assignment of teaching English, 54.8 percent of respondents said they found their colleagues did feel some kind of burden.

Their answers suggest that primary school teachers feel they lack the resources needed to teach the language. At Japanese primary schools, homeroom teachers usually teach their assigned classes most of the subjects they study. Therefore, should English be made compulsory, it is likely that homeroom teachers will be expected to teach English in addition to such subjects as Japanese and mathematics because there is an insufficient number of native-speaking assistants employed.

Kensaku Yoshida, a professor of applied linguistics at Sophia University who was among the experts involved in the surveys, pointed out that primary school teachers were generally not confident about teaching English to students.

“Primary school teachers feel anxious that they will face a larger burden should English be made compulsory without the implementation of measures to support them,” said the professor, who also serves as a member of the panel on foreign-language education under the Central Council for Education. “It’s crucial for the ministry and local boards of education to secure enough training time for the teachers and offer them instruction on various themes, including how to use teaching materials.”

Regarding such materials, a ministry official pointed to the need to consider a range of materials.

“Taking into account the pronunciation skills of primary school teachers, the development of audio materials using CDs and videos should also be under consideration,” the official said.

(May. 31, 2007) Daily Yomiuri
21. This story focuses on the phenomenon known as *hiki-komori*, literally
“locking oneself away,” in Japanese. An alarming number of Japanese
youths seem to be undergoing this emotional crisis now and the “experts”
seem almost at a loss as to how to deal with it.

This article does a good job of covering the issue in general. But
unfortunately, the story stops short of investigating the undeniable
links between *hiki-komori* and school. Perhaps the “experts” just
haven’t gotten around to researching that particular connection yet.

In the meantime, Japanese children in droves are losing their very spirit
and direction in life…. – Brian Covert, (KnoK NEWS)
in Osaka, Japan
– 5 October 2000

In early August, more than 100 parents gathered at a community center in
Omiya, Saitama Prefecture, to discuss what was wrong with their children.
One 59-year-old mother spoke about her 32-year-old son who had hardly
ventured out of the home for 10 years, bathing only once a month, rarely
speaking to his family and sometimes behaving violently.

The mother said she had consulted public health officials and hospitals,
none of which were able to come up with convincing explanations or
suggestions for treatment.

Another parent complained about a 29-year-old son, whose only
communication over the previous five years had been in the form of
written notes left on the kitchen table with instructions such as: “Get
me a video-game magazine” or “Do something about the dog that keeps
barking all day.”

Yet another parent spoke of her teenage son washing his hands so
frequently that they were always raw, and who refused to attend school
because both the school and its students were “dirty.” He even admonished
his mother to keep her hands clean.

This tendency toward reclusiveness among young people — a phenomenon
known as *hikikomori* (social withdrawal) — seems to be rising at an
alarming rate. The meeting in August was part of a growing movement by
confused and troubled parents to seek mutual support and professional
help. Late last year in Saitama Prefecture alone, four separate groups of
parents joined together in mutual support organizations.

Traditionally viewed as a domestic problem caused by poor parenting,
*hikikomori* has been neglected by the government and social service
organizations alike. While they are now finally starting to address the
problem, they have yet to come up with much in the way of effective
solutions or treatments.

“This is not a problem that can be solved by the family alone,” said
Masahisa Okuyama, 55, one of the organizers of the August meeting, who,
along with his wife had been forced to move from their house into an
apartment 18 months earlier by the growing violence of their 25-year-old

“Even though we need support from public institutions, when parents seek
advice from public health offices, children’s welfare agencies, hospitals
and police, they end up just getting the runaround, and find themselves
feeling isolated and exhausted,” he said. “We want the government to set
up facilities that we have access to and that we feel we can turn to for
help,” he added.

Takehiko Yoshikawa, the director of the mental health institute of the
National Center for Mental Health and Neurology, takes the crisis
seriously. He calls *hikikomori* “a mental health problem that concerns
everyone,” arguing that if it isn’t addressed now, there will be dire
consequences in the future.

“Perhaps the hijacking (of a bus by a 17-year-old boy from Saga
Prefecture last May) left a strong impression. There is a growing trend
to regard reclusive young people as future criminals,” he said. “This
perception is wrong and dangerous. *Hikikomori* is a national mental
health problem.” The teenage hijacker had a history of reclusiveness.

Psychiatrist Tamaki Saito, an expert on *hikikomori*, defines the
condition as young people who show no other signs of neurological or
psychiatric disorders, who shut themselves up at home and refuse to take
part in social activities for six months or more. The condition usually
starts with a refusal to go to school and often continues into the 20s or
30s. Afterward, sufferers may re-emerge into a normal adulthood.

No one — neither parents nor specialists nor the youths themselves —
can explain the causes of *hikikomori* or how to recover from it. The
condition varies from case to case and there is no set cure. Some people
are able to return to society after spending time at private
institutions, while others react better to medication.

A 21-year-old man who seems to have made a dramatic recovery from a few
years ago, recalled the period when he started to stay away from school.

“One year in June when I was a third-year junior high school student, I
found myself simply unable to go to school,” he said.

His inability to get up and go to school had been growing for about a
year. Even when he did force himself out of bed, it took him longer and
longer to leave the house.

He lingered in the bathroom, spending 15 minutes washing his hands, and
up to three hours in the bath.

Although he managed to graduate from junior high school and enter a
private senior high school, for the first 10 days, he was unable to
summon up the courage to attend.

Finally, at the urging of his father, the boy saw a neurologist who
diagnosed him with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. His parents arranged
for him to enter a private institution in Chiba Prefecture for children
who refused to go to school. The boy left his parents’ home and moved
into an apartment.

At the institution, the boy met other children who shared similar
problems. He found them easier to communicate with than his school peers.
No one thought his tendency to spend long periods in the bathroom was
strange. Gradually, his condition improved.

A young man who shut himself up in his home for about six months during
his final year in junior high school tells a similar story.

“I hardly remember anything from that time,” he said. “A lot of things
seemed to be happening at once.”

Two and a half years ago, the 18-year-old boy moved from his home into a
dormitory run by a private organization to help troubled youth live

He began to feel more comfortable in this environment, since the people
he met knew nothing about him. His confidence returned and a year later
he applied for a part-time job.

Looking back on his more reclusive days, a 25-year-old college student in
the Kansai region who lives with his parents and younger brother, thinks
all he really wanted was for his parents to recognize and appreciate him.

He says that, at the time, about once every two weeks he reacted
violently to trivial remarks by his mother by punching holes in the wall
and breaking furniture.

For three years, until recently, the man rarely left his room, and
although he managed to enter college, he was unable to make friends or
work with others.

“It was painful staying home all day doing nothing,” he said. “Even
though I wanted to go out, I couldn’t.”

Eventually his parents advised him to see a psychiatrist, who prescribed
a course of medication. The man’s condition improved and he returned to

Michizo Miki, a school counselor in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, who offers
counseling to the parents of troubled children says that an important
element of a successful outcome is simple listening.

“When people come to me for advice, I give them a full and attentive
hearing,” said Miki. “But since the symptoms of the condition differ from
person to person, there is no set formula to deal with every case.”

A 25-year-old man in Aichi Prefecture who has made giant strides in
recovering from *hikikomori* has begun writing to children with similar
problems. The names were supplied to him by a parents’ association.

“Why not get together with people who share the same problem,” he wrote.
“It might be helpful to meet older people who have overcome it.”

None of the recipients of his letters has yet replied, but the man is

“I know that in their hearts, every one of them wants to be understood by
others,” he said.

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