THREE GREAT HURDLES TO HOMESCHOOLING
Here in Japan, unconventional methods of education such as homeschooling are still relatively unknown. Apparently, homeschooling is not considered mainstream enough to have merited any studies or research on the topic thus far. There is no available literature or published research on the numbers of homeschooling families in Japan.
Is homeschooling or home educating your child in Japan a viable alternative to formal public and private schools? Knowing the law and the right to educate one’s own child is the parents’ first hurdle to home educating children. Before leaping into homeschooling, parents need to understand the complex issues of the legality of homeschooling, their children’s right to an education and their corresponding duties to provide it, the possible bureaucratic interventions that may arise and how to deal with them as well as what may be required of them. Generally, this is true of the homeschooling scene no matter where one lives, whether in the US, UK, Singapore or here in Japan.
The first great hurdle to homeschooling: understanding a) your child’s right and entitlement to education b) the legal position and the parent’s responsibility under the law and whether there are any exceptions or any practices that may vary that legal position.
There are several laws that you will have regard to: the School Law on Education or Gakkou Kyouiku Hou 学校教育法; or the Constitution and Fundamental Law on Education (Kyouiku Kihon Hou), the UN Convention on the Child’s Right to Education (CRC) which Japan has ratified. Notes: The Fundamental Law of Education, as the name suggests, is a law concerning the foundation of Japanese education. Brought into effect one month before the constitution of Japan, it acts as the basis for the interpretation and application of various laws & ordinances regarding education and as such is also known as “The Education Constitution” (教育憲法, kyōiku kenpō?) and “The Charter of Education” (教育憲章, kyōiku kenshō?). The law is short, consisting of a preamble, 11 regulations, as well as supplementary provisions. MEXT’s discussion on the amendments to the Fundamental Law on Education may be found here. Other discussions critiquing the amendments are found here and here.
Here are the relevant legal provisions and bylaws:
What the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake furthermore to formulate, develop and apply a national policy which, by methods appropriate to the circumstances and to national usage, will tend to promote equality of opportunity and of treatment in the matter of education and in particular:
(a) To make primary education free and compulsory; make secondary education in its different forms generally available and accessible to all; make higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity; assure compliance by all with the obligation to attend school prescribed by law;
Article 4. Compulsory Education
The people shall be obligated to have boys and girls under their
protection receive nine years’ general education.
No tuition fee shall be charged for general education in schools
established by the state and local bodies.
Art 5 (1) The States Parties to this Convention agree that: 1(b) It is essential to respect the liberty of parents and, where applicable, of legal guardians, firstly to choose for their children institutions other than those maintained by the public authorities but conforming to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities
Japan has ratified the CRC along with all other UN members, with the exception of the US and Somalia. This is significant because the US non-ratification of the CRC is due to homeschooling factions’ opposition. For a fuller understanding scroll down to see footnote below.
What Japan’s Constitution says:
Under Japanese Constitution Chapter 22-1, Japanese nationals are under a duty to ensure that their children receive a good education and compulsory education is free.
What the Fundamental Law on Education says:
What the School Law on Education 学校教育法 says:
— point 1 under Chapter 22 says that parents, legal guardians or person to which the custody of all children is entrusted are obligated to send all children 6 years of age to school from the beginning of the school term of first grade until the completion of the completion of the grade they are in when they become 12 years old. This section deals with grades of ages between 6 and 12 years old. All children must attend elementary school whether they be blind, deaf or disabled in anyway, or the ones that are in the protective institutes in Japan. So it seems that children must complete elementary school. And if parents or guardians continue to refuse, there is a provision for penalties see article 21,22,39.
And if for some reason they stay back or have to miss some years of school, they are compelled to stay in (elementary) school until they are 15 years old and the term ends while they are 15 years old, it is compulsory for them to stay in elementary school to complete it. So when children complete the 6th grade they are compelled to stay in (elementary sic) school until they are 15 years old and the term ends while they are 15 years old.
— Chapter 22 Number 2 says the children who fall into this category of 6 to 15 years are called school age children. All citizens have a duty to give provide [this] education (reference to the Chapter 26 of the Constitution) to children who are in the correct age brackets of 6 to 15 years. This education will be provided free of charge.
— Chapter 9 is a provision dealing with the penalties. People who fail to comply with these regulations after an official warning and still do not comply by sending their school aged children to school are to be fined less than 1000 yen. This law was introduced more than 40 years ago and has never been amended in any way since – except that the penalties for increased to around 10,000 yen.
Among the stated goals of education, is School Educational Law Chapter 7, Society Education: Any educational programs within the family or at the job or any other place should be encouraged by the local government. This aspect has actually been emphasized in recent educational reforms by MEXT.
Various interpretations on the legality of homeschooling exist.
1) What the general population believes: Since the law provides for compulsory schooling it goes to say that homeschooling is illegal. This is the traditional and mainstream view which is supported by taking a straight forward reading of the meaning of compulsory schooling. See the Yokohama Educational Board’s website which states
2) The most outspoken of homeschool advocates assert that parents have an unqualified right to homeschool and that homeschooling in Japan is definitely legal. For this view see Kumagai and Keiko’s views.
3) What MEXT says: This is the law on compulsory schooling as found in Monbusho’s website: “All children in Japan from the age of six to fifteen are required to study at elementary and lower secondary school or a school for the blind, deaf or other disabled children. Children aged between six and twelve attend elementary school, where they are taught the six years of general elementary education suited to the relevant stage of their physical and mental development. Lower secondary school aims at providing children aged between 12 and 15 with the three years of general secondary education suited to the relevant stage of their physical and mental development, based on the education they have received in elementary school.”
4) What local educational board authorities say:
Local education boards tend to take their own individual stances or positions when presented with parents’ requests to take their kids out of school to homeschool either part-time or totally. In some prefectures, some boards will respond to parents’ requests to homeschool with a hardline response that children must attend an “accepted” school as stipulated by the compulsory schooling provision. For example, when inquiries made at the Kashiwa city’s local kyoiku iinkai (education board) in Chiba prefecture, the official response was that if the child is a Japanese national, then he or she has to either attend a Japanese public/private school or the one and only free-school in the city.
Failure to comply with this directive will result in the child being be treated as a “futoko” or “school refuser” so that he or she will then be directed to either the Tekiou-Shidou Kyoushitsu (adjustment guidance room), specially set up classes for school refusers, or one of the free schools.
In other prefectures, the boards may allow homeschooling to take place with the provisos that:
a) they either stay registered with the local school;
b) they sign yuyo-deferment form OR the menjo-exemption form provided for under the School Law on Education / 学校教育法第二三条(gakko kyoiku-ho nijusan-jo) , i.e. the by-law exempting children from the compulsory school requirement, as well as a special exemption form known as 就学免除願 (shugaku menjo negai). The form is apparently the same one that parents of children attending international schools and other non-government institutions complete. The boards sometimes insist that homeschooling parents fill out 猶予yuyo-forms instead of the 免除 menjo-exemption forms which sometimes worries parents…although differences between these two practices have not surfaced thus far. Read this account by a homeschooling family using the yuyo form.
c) that the children also attend the classes at the Tekiou-Shidou Kyoushitsu (adjustment guidance room) that are specially set up classes for school refusers, or one of the free schools.
d) that parents assure the board officials that the children will be supervised and doing classes under some educational program especially where there is evidence presented of supervision by an accredited correspondence school/online/distance learning school or homeschool support or umbrella organization or correspondence school
5) What local school authorities say:
Like education boards, local schools vary in their responses to requests to homeschool by parents. A few will insist that homeschooling is illegal but because of the history of futoko (school-refusing children) in Japan, schools have become used to dealing with school refusal and in most cases will treat homeschoolers as falling within the same category.
MEXT’s position: This is the law on compulsory schooling as found in Monbusho’s website: “All children in Japan from the age of six to fifteen are required to study at elementary and lower secondary school or a school for the blind, deaf or other disabled children. Children aged between six and twelve attend elementary school, where they are taught the six years of general elementary education suited to the relevant stage of their physical and mental development. Lower secondary school aims at providing children aged between 12 and 15 with the three years of general secondary education suited to the relevant stage of their physical and mental development, based on the education they have received in elementary school.” – Monbusho’s English website.
MEXT’s chief concerns have hitherto been with ensuring that school refusers are re-integrated back into mainstream schools or that they are provided with a proper education. Source: Monbusho’s English website.
On school refusers: Monbusho states its concerns on its official website as such: “In terms of problematic student behavior in recent years, Japan has seen a large number of occurrences of violent behavior, while the problem of bullying remains as alarming as ever. Maladjustment to school life has surfaced in the fact that the number of students refusing to attend school is rising annually and currently stands at an all time high, and the number of students dropping out of upper secondary school is also increasing considerably. The sources of and background to such behavior involve interrelated factors in the home, the school and the community, and concerted efforts will have to be made in all three areas in order to deal with these problems successfully. In order to effectively deal with bullying, refusal to attend school and other problems, Monbusho is among other things, working on …the commission of comprehensive research and study into appropriate instruction for students who refuse to attend school.” At the same time, its stated official educational policy goals are to encourage life learning among school aged children and most recently, to encourage the increased role of parents in their children’s education.”
So, MEXT or Monbusho at its website says “Monbusho is among other things, working on …the commission of comprehensive research and study into appropriate instruction for students who refuse to attend school.” However, in the final analysis, MEXT still lacks an official position on homeschooling though it encourages parents in general to take a greater role in educating their children.
While many homeschoolers are gung-ho about homeschooling and sincerely believe they have a legal right to homeschool, the shock and stigma can come of being hauled to court to pay fines for not sending their kids to school…as has been the case for some families … though for the most determined of families, the fine is truly a small price to pay.
The legal provisions clearly require compliance with compulsory schooling. Consider the facts: MEXT at face value states that all schooling aged children are “required to study at elementary and lower secondary school or a school for the blind, deaf or other disabled children.” Secondly, the fact that there exist penalties under the School Education Law for not complying with the compulsory schooling requirement.
Exceptions to the rule:
However, in interpreting laws according to principles of jurisprudence, two things are usually taken into account. First, is the spirit behind the laws – or whether the purpose for the legislating provision is served by the interpretation. Secondly, the exceptions that have been made to the key provisions. Thirdly, whether any local and repeated behaviour or practices which have become accepted as the norm or by the authorities that can be said to have either modified the strict interpretation of the law or to have provided an exemption to the strict interpretation of the legal provision.
1) The spirit of the law on compulsory schooling and the right to education: Historically, the right to compulsory education has been a political one and at one point groups of Japanese parents (mother) were known to have fought hard for the entitlement of their children to free public schooling, and had demanded the establishment of public schools from the government as their dues in supporting that constitutional right and entitlement. Also Japan has ratified the CRC which provides that governments are to support the parents’ efforts to educate their children.
Though the right of a parent to homeschool has not yet been contested or battled out in court. It is not unlikely that parents could win such a battle on both grounds. It is a basically accepted right of parents to ensure that their children are schooled in “an exceptable manner”, making sure that their educational needs are being met. And this right of their children’s education is an accepted concept of Japanese life Japanese Constitution Chap 26-1 recognises this right. Hence, one could construe that the spirit behind the law on compulsory schooling is to ensure that each child receives an education. Historically, the right to an education is regarded as an entitlement to free public schooling and in line with the CRC, the government is seen as having a duty to support that constitutional right and to ensure that every child receives that entitled education. On the other hand, the implied corresponding duty of parents to comply with compulsory schooling has generally not been coerced by the courts despite the few instances known of penalties dealt out under the School Law Art 9 provision(no details of those cases are known to make much out of them). Hence it could be argued that the right to compulsory schooling means the entitlement to receive an education which means that as long as parents prove they are providing an adequate and an education not inferior to that of public schools, that homeschooling parents would be well within the law.
2) Falling within an exception to the law: We know of homeschooling families that have been allowed to homeschool with the above mentioned provisoes being satisfied. With regards, to homeschoolers and not school refusers perse, local boards have sometimes asked them to sign yuyo or menjo forms as a means of falling under the exception to the compulsory schooling requirement. (Compare this to the situation in other countries such as Singapore, where the application for permission to homeschool under the exception proviso is filed and made to the central government Ministry of Education itself.)
3) The practice and reality: Since school refusal is a phenomenon in massive numbers, local authorities have not practically been able to haul all the parents of such school refusers to court, and in practice has no intention of taking homeschooling parents to court either.
The second great hurdle to homeschooling: The bureaucratic hurdles are by far the strongest deterrent factor to the local homeschooling movement.
While it is important to know the reality and the position on whether homeschooling is legal, it is also equally important for parents to know how the system really works, who holds the reins of authority locally and who can deny the family the right to homeschool.
We know (from the stories and experiences of our own homeschooling community here made up of around 400 members or so) that local education boards and schools in different places take their own individual stances on whether there is a right to homeschool in the face of the compulsory schooling law, and that at the same time, there are already substantial numbers of homeschooling families who are homeschooling all over Japan, yet the problem is that the granting of permission to homeschool has always been on a case-to-case basis with the exception of just one press report of one family having been officially granted official permission to homeschool with the school teacher being sent to the home to homeschool the student.
Notwithstanding the menjo and yuyo forms and exceptions, more often than not, the stubborn position taken by both local school and education boards has been the insistence that homeschooling families home-educate their child only while continuing to have their child registered in the local school.
Sometimes ignorance of local authorities has been the hinderance to a family gaining permission to homeschool their child. One problem has been that all of these cases of homeschooling families have been anecdotal (although if you had to, you could make the school boards produce in court evidence of all the menjos and yuyos that have ever been signed). This presents a great challenge and difficulty for each homeschooling family that decides to homeschool and that has to approach the local school or educational board. The family is always at the mercy of the decision of the local education board or school official since there is no record or precedent or evidence that parents can present that homeschooling has ever been allowed.
In Japan, homeschoolers have succeeded in gaining acceptance for homeschooling are usually not those who gone headfirst into battle over their rights to homeschool (unlike in the US and other western countries) either in court or or taken a combative approach or with MEXT (the Education Ministry) or with the local education boards. Success usually lies with those homeschool families that have learnt to negotiate with the local authorities and officials and to worked with the system’s requirements and in a few instances by working around it (circumventing the rules and bylaws).
The key to gaining widespread acceptance of homeschooling is via the local public school and persuading its authorities into seeing their homeschooling activities as legitimate. That could entail hosting visits to the home to see the homeschool in progress. One Japanese distance learning school requires that parents obtain permission from the local public school before its students are able to pursue its junior high school program’s courses. This deference to local school authorities is actually not so different from that in the US, UK, and elsewhere in the world: no matter how well we as parents home-educate our own children, we should be mindful that we may always be accountable to some public school employee, some agency, superintendent, for inspections, proof of learning activity, various records, tests, inspections, etc.
Local boards of education can be less accommodating but the situation varies from prefecture to prefecture. In some cases, local authorities have been persuaded to regard homeschools as in the category of international schools or private schools (a stronger case for this may be made if your child is enrolled with a correspondence school of some sort). However, a phone enquiry to the local kyoiku iinkai (branch established at the Kashiwa city office shiyakusho) elicited the response that my son as a Japanese national has the option of either attending a Japanese public/private school or the one and only free-school, but it stopped short of making a declaration on its position on homeschooling. If it comes to it that the parent has to answer to kyoiku iinkai authorities, then it is best to make it clear from the start that your child is not a “school refuser” otherwise, local officials will likely direct you to either their Tekiou-Shidou Kyoushitsu (adjustment guidance room) specially set up classes for school refusers, or one of the free schools. Diane Wiltshire (as mentioned in previous issues) has recommended in her book “Japan for Kids” that parents file basic information on homeschooling in Japanese with their local ward office or city hall each year. Parents should state that they have found a suitable educational program for their child and that he or she has been “registered” for the year with whatever program chosen.
The third great hurdle to homeschooling: Inadequate support for the homeschooler
Families that are Japanese or bicultural often face great opposition from grandparents and other relatives to parents who opt out of the public/private Japanese school system. The community around the family will display disbelief, suspicion about the stability of the family and some ostracism may occur. However, Japanese parents can resort to a range of institutions in educational supplemention in Japan. They may seek support from various kinds of educational support organisations that make up Japan’s “shadow education” when home educating their children – but the organisations and support services are generally thinner than in the US or the UK. The institutions can be categorised into the following:
A. Distance Learning Schools (Japan / US ) and Distance Learning Support Organisations (local or overseas)
B. Online Internet Schools (local or overseas)
C. Cram Schools (for Japanese) (local)
D. Free Schools/Free Spaces (local)
E. Adjustment Guidance Rooms (local)
F. Tutoring Services (local or overseas-online)
G. Homeschooling Communities or Networks; Homeschool Support Organisations or Umbrella Schools
The position with regards to foreigners:
Where foreigners have children with only foreign citizenship, permission to homeschool is readily given. Where foreign parents with adopted children who retain Japanese nationality in addition to the nationality of their adopted parents, the following applies.
In cases in which one of the parents has a foreign nationality (citizenship), however, Education Board provides an exception, according to Article 22 marginal notes. See how one homeschooling family whose child has dual citizenship has complied with the requirements under the compulsory schooling law. Proof of intention to educate one’s child at home and/or support from a distance/correspondence program or homeschool support organization is usually all that is required.
UNESCO and Child’s Rights Treaty Eliminate Parents’ Rights
The First Lady has pledged the support of the United States to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Cultural & Social Organization) after forty years of abstaining from membership. This support came directly following UNESCO’s adoption of the Earth Charter as its primary statement of principle (or mission statement). The Earth Charter promotes the idea of global socialism, in which all decisions (legal, social, etc.) must be made for the ‘common good’ of the emerging world community; calling for disarmament of national defense weapons, income distribution within & among nations, worldwide contraception and reproductive health (abortion rights), gay rights, animal rights, etc. The Earth Charter will embody the “values” of the new ‘common world culture’, which will replace former world views (primarily traditional Judeo-Christian values).
UNESCO has developed a global educational curriculum based on the Earth Charter and intends to “change society through education of the children.” UNESCO intends to impose global standards on education in their “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development” agenda. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (created by UNICEF) will effectively remove parental rights over their children’s education and will give the UN free reign to disseminate their socialist curriculum in the schools. Private schools will be forced to teach the values of the Earth Charter in order to be certified. The Convention on Children’s Rights gives children freedom of expression, and unimpeded access to all forms of media – it removes parent’s rights to limit a child’s exposure to questionable materials or to limit their “expression of ideas”. The Convention also gives the UN jurisdiction over families and family services around the world. The US and Somalia are the only two signatures lacking full ratification of the Convention; and both countries have expressed their intent to sign.
Let Congress know we are NOT willing to give up our national sovereignty OR our children’s education to the UN! Tell them to urge the President to withdraw from UNESCO immediately and to refuse to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child!
The above passage was excerpted from the Soapbox page of Congress.Org and is a good summation of the arguments that have prevented the US from signing the CRC thus far, leaving it in the company of the repressive regime of Somalia. The arguments are a knee-jerk reaction to what is perceived as over-control by the UN. The arguments are based on an unrealistic view of how organisations work and the UNESCO is not a high-handed organisation that dictates how countries conduct their educational policies – in fact the CRC if read carefully clearly gives parents a great deal of say and control and design in the content and values of the education of their child.