A history of returnee education

The subject of education for returnees began being addressed shortly after World War II as part of a look into what was missing for Japanese children in terms of their Japanese language education overseas.

Since the 1970s, when the central government began allowing private firms to make foreign direct investments, the number of Japanese families living abroad has increased dramatically. The number of schools accepting returnee students, however, has not kept pace.

“At the time, returnees felt like they couldn’t speak in the other languages they’d learned if they were going to assimilate back into Japanese society. It was as if the government was supporting these wayward children to become decent Japanese,” said Akiko Kataoka, a representative of Kakehashi, a Kansai-based support group for returnees.

Two middle schools in the Kansai region–Momoyama Junior High School attached to Kyoto University of Education and Sumiyoshi Junior High School attached to Kobe University–were the first schools to start accepting returnees around the time.

With the 1985 Plaza Accord, in which finance ministers and central bank governors of the then five most advanced nations intervened in the currency markets to depreciate the U.S. dollar against the Japanese yen and German mark in 1985, more Japanese manufacturers established branches overseas, further increasing the number of Japanese workers and their families who moved abroad.

Internationalization became a buzzword, and Japanese children overseas were suddenly considered the future elite back in Japan.

Hoping to help returnees become future leaders of international society, many schools in Japan began accepting returnees, giving them preferential treatment from around 1984 to 2000.

Even in cases in which returnees did not meet certain academic levels, they were accepted by schools on the grounds that they might encourage other students to learn English or become more internationally aware.

It is not the case any more, Kataoka said.

“Many parents still think their children can get into good schools when they return to Japan because they speak English well. But the schools don’t give returnees special treatment as they used to in the late 1980s,” she said.

“Compared with 20 years ago, when returnees were like a symbol of the schools’ internationalization, more schools began treating returnees as regular students with a certain character, not special students,” Kataoka said.

“Therefore, the top schools demand returnees with above average academic ability,” she said.

Central government subsidies for returnee education were terminated in 2000 on the grounds that the students’ basic education had already been completed.

Through the then Koizumi administration’s educational revision, a section in charge of returnee education at the ministry was merged with others and now handles issues related to education for returnees and non-Japanese children.

(Nov. 26, 2009 Daily Yomiuri)

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