The Yomiuri Shimbun
YOKOHAMA–Kanagawa prefectural Kanda High School in Hiratsuka disqualified 22 entrance-exam candidates in the 2004, 2005 and 2007 academic years based on their appearance or attitude, despite their passing scores, the prefectural board of education said.
The education board will allow those unfairly rejected examinees to enroll at the high school if they want. The board also plans to conduct an inquiry into other prefectural high schools to check whether similar cases occurred.
According to the prefectural education board, the school had teachers in charge note examinees’ attitude, grooming and appearance, including hairstyle, when they came to the school to submit applications as well as when the applicants took entrance exams.
In some of the notes, the examinees were described as “letting nails grow long,” “not buttoning up shirts” and “shaping eyebrows by shaving.”
Based on the notes, the school decided to reject the 22 examinees–six each in the 2004 and 2005 academic years, and 10 in 2007.
In the first of two entrance exams given in academic 2007, some applicants apparently failed unfairly. They include one who received a score that ranked 16th among 57 test-takers with cumulative scores that were high enough to pass the entrance exam when factoring the total score of their interviews and middle school academic records.
The screening system was devised by the previous principal who said he “did not want to have difficult-to-instruct students [due to their attitude] admitted to the school.”
Every year, out of nearly 3.5 million high school students in the nation, about 80,000 drop out, according to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry. Some of these children do so as a result of their families’ poverty, which often results in a decline in their scholastic abilities.
In fact, an increasing number of children have been exposed to unstable living conditions because of their parents’ divorce, unemployment, long working hours and other reasons. Those without a high school degree tend to be unable to find a place in today’s society, which requires highly educated people, and they eventually are apt to be socially excluded–an issue that was first recognized in Europe in the 1980s.
Saitama is one prefecture facing high dropout figures. There are a number of prefectural government-run high schools there that have an extremely high number of dropouts.
Twenty-year-old Kaori (a pseudonym) is one such dropout. Living with her 51-year-old mother in public housing in the prefecture, Kaori left her high school in March 2005.
The high school she attended has about 200 new students every year, but it is often the case that only about half of them remain there until getting a degree.
“I liked the school, but many of my friends there dropped out one after another,” Kaori recalled, adding her own reason for dropping out: “At the end of the first year, I was told that I would not be able to become a second-year-student as I did not earn sufficient credits in geography.”
Kaori smoked while talking about her high school days in the small living room of her home. At one stage, a dark expression crossed her face.
“Without getting a high school degree, I cannot get a job I’m interested in,” she said. “I didn’t expect that dropping out of high school would end up causing me so much trouble.”
Kaori is now attending evening classes at another prefectural government-run high school. Although this is her third year there, she has gained only half of the credits required to graduate because she has often skipped classes to have fun with her friends whenever she got the chance.
When she has no classes, Kaori works part-time at a convenience store and other places. She gives all her monthly pay–about 40,000 yen to 60,000 yen–to her mother. She hopes to work as a nursing-care worker after getting a high school degree, but she might not be able to continue her studies if her mother, who suffers a chronic heart condition, should fall sick.
Isao Shiratori, 62, worked at the high school from which Kaori dropped out and is very familiar with her family background and that of other students. The former teacher said it is not fair to blame students alone for leaving high school.
“It’s the poverty their families have been suffering that often lies behind why these dropouts have failed to build sufficient scholastic abilities,” he pointed out. “They often cannot get enough support from their families when they need it, making it difficult for them to get all the way through to their graduation.”
Kaori herself was also brought up in poverty. Her father was hooked on gambling and used violence against other family members. After her mother escaped from her husband, she moved to an apartment with Kaori when she was a third-grade primary school student.
Her mother had a daytime clerical job and, after returning home in the evening to prepare dinner, she would also work part-time at a ramen shop until late at night.
That meant that since the age of 8, Kaori has had to spend every night alone, fighting against loneliness by holding a stuffed doll tightly while sleeping.
Although her mother has been working day and night, her monthly salary has remained at about 140,000 yen to 150,000 yen.
“I got weary when we had meals with only rice and natto for three consecutive days,” Kaori recalled. “But I couldn’t be selfish as my mother sometimes went to work without eating.”
A few years later, Kaori began finding it difficult to keep up with classes at her school. When she had to deal with difficult problems that she could not solve in her homework, no one around her offered help. Her father, who was a craftsman, had placed no value in studying, while her mother, who herself had dropped out of high school, would just say, “I have no idea,” when the girl tried to ask her questions about arithmetic.
To make matters worse, when Kaori became a middle school student, she was told to take care of the baby daughter of her older sister, now 31, because the sister, who was working as a nurse, found that all the nurseries in the neighborhood were full.
While her mother took care of the baby in the daytime, Kaori took over in the evening. Because her niece often did not stop crying, Kaori became so stressed that she became more and more reluctant to study at home.
“I began to skip classes during my middle school days–that was all the disobedience I could show against my parents,” Kaori recalled. “Things did not allow me to prepare for tests at school, but they would scold me for my poor grades. I bet anyone would get mad when facing that situation.”
Shiratori pointed out that Kaori should have been able to graduate from her first high school “as long as she could have enjoyed enough support for her studies.”
“Her family did not have the ability to support the child, which resulted in making her unable to keep up with the school curriculum,” Shiratori pointed out. “Even worse, the social welfare system–which is supposed to offer help to improve the situation–did not reach her.
“If children like Kaori are excluded from society without being given any chance to exercise their abilities, it must be a big loss for society as well,” Shiratori said.
Tuition exemption cases rising
An increasing number of households with children have been pushed into poverty. This is indicated by the fact that in recent years, more and more households are being fully or partly exempted from paying their children’s high school tuition.
During the 2006 school year, 224,385 students at public high schools nationwide received such exemptions due to their families’ severe financial conditions, according to the education ministry. The figures accounted for 9.4 percent of all the nation’s students.
The ratio more than doubled compared to the 1996 school year, when the number of such students was 109,662, or 3.4 percent.
Yasushi Aoto, who works at Ageo High School in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, has observed that the poverty that students’ families suffer is directly linked to the children’s declining scholastic abilities and the probability that they will drop out.
To prove that, Aoto has conducted research, in which he first divided all 145 prefectural government-run high schools (except for art-oriented ones) into five groups based on the average scores on their entrance exams for the 2004 enrollment. Then he examined the ratios in each group of the number of students exempted from tuition fees during the 1999 and 2006 school years.
Aoto also looked into the ratios in each group regarding how many students admitted in 1997 and 2004 dropped out before graduation.
The data revealed that the lower the average entrance exam scores each group of schools had, the higher exemption and dropout rates the groups also showed.
Furthermore, the groups with poorer scholastic performances showed significantly higher exemption and dropout rates in recent years compared to a decade earlier.
“There’s a relationship between children’s scholastic abilities and their families’ poverty,” Aoto said. “The data clearly show that children from poorer families tend to have lower academic performances and eventually drop out.”
There are no official surveys as to what kind of careers young people take after dropping out of high school. According to interviews Aoto has conducted on his own with high school dropouts, many of them were suffering unstable employment and low pay, making it difficult for them to find a way out of poverty. Some even got involved in the adult entertainment business or crime.
Michiko Miyamoto, a professor at the Open University of Japan and an expert on youth issues, said it has been revealed that high school dropouts are trapped in unstable lives as the central and local governments have been implementing measures in recent years to help permanent part-timers and those who are not in education, employment or training, or NEETs.
“It has become more crucial to offer any help at a much earlier stage to prospective dropouts before they deviate from high school,” Miyamoto said.