One interpretation: foreigners obliged to ensure their kids receive compulsory schooling

Editor’s comment:  The view on the right to education of foreign children taken by the writer below is increasingly also the one expressed by boards of education in Japan.

However, the move proposed by the writer makes no room for many foreign parents who desire an alternative education route for their children, such as homeschooling via a number of resources available via online or correspondence schools, home tutors, or tutoring them themselves.

Families with foreign nationality, bicultural children often have special needs or have vastly different requirements of education, methods or resources. They may at some point uproot to another foreign country, require the flexibility of different educational resources, materials, teaching methods or approaches in order to fulfil their special needs. Often bilingualism and multiculturalism are important aspects of their education, the children do not fit in easily with local schools, nor is international schooling always an affordable or viable option for such families. 

Already there are many cases of bicultural families have found the interference of education boards and school authorities and their lack of understanding of their special requirements to be highly intrusive and problematic. Such a new provision or clause as envisioned to be added to the Fundamental Law of Education would indeed be an oppressive move and run counter to the right of parents to provide such education as they saw fit for the needs of their children…  

POINT OF VIEW/ Takaaki Kato: Non-Japanese kids deserve an education, too THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, 2008/11/20

Among non-Japanese families residing in Japan, there are too many that do not enroll their children in public or other schools here. Whatever their reasons, this is a serious problem. These children of foreign nationality, some of whom were born in Japan, are being deprived of their right to an education.

As a Japanese-language teacher at an elementary school, I find this situation distressing. Not only do these kids lose out, but so do their families and the community in general.

The Council for Cities of Non-Japanese Residents, which comprises representatives from municipal governments that have a high concentration of foreign residents, has made proposals to the national and prefectural governments on how best to educate the children of foreign nationality.

I believe the main reason many children of foreign nationality are not enrolled in school is because Japanese law does not oblige them to receive compulsory education.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology says that when such children apply for enrollment at public elementary and junior high schools, they are accepted free of charge and are thus guaranteed educational opportunities.

However, that doesn’t prevent their parents or guardians from failing to enroll them, the first main problem.

Some non-Japanese parents or guardians prefer to send their children to international schools, such as those for Brazilians living in Japan. That is fine.

But others who don’t send their children to international schools also do not apply for their children to enter the Japanese school system. In some cases, they have pulled their kids out of school to baby-sit younger siblings.

This brings us to a second problem. Even when school officials try to persuade guardians to enroll their children, they fail because there is no law requiring enrollment. The School Education Law is not clear on whether children of foreign nationality fall within the definition of “mandatory school-age pupils and students.”

Still, Article 26 of the Constitution states: “All people shall be obliged to ensure that all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law.”

But since foreign residents are not Japanese citizens, they are not obliged to ensure their children go to school. That seems to be the general interpretation.

Does this mean children of foreign nationality in Japan have no right to an education?

No, it does not.

Under the spirit of the Constitution, under internationally accepted universal human rights principles and under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Japan has ratified, every human being, regardless of nationality, has the right to a basic education.

Thus, a child’s right to an education means their parents or guardians are obliged to ensure they receive such schooling.

Therefore, foreign residents in Japan must be legally required to ensure the children under their care receive compulsory education.

So it seems obvious that a new clause must be added to the Fundamental Law of Education, for example, to ensure such children receive the education that is rightfully theirs.

If children of foreign nationality are legally obliged to receive compulsory education, local governments would have to check to ensure they have been enrolled in school.

The authorities would of course let guardians decide whether to enroll the children in international schools or Japanese public schools, but either way, they would have to ensure the children were actually attending school.

A revised system like this would also improve awareness among foreign residents about their children’s right to an education.

The government must tackle this problem seriously and implement measures to promote enrollment of foreign children in public or other schools.

Such steps might include providing subsidies to international schools, producing and distributing free Japanese-language learning textbooks and assigning Japanese-language teachers to teach Japanese as a second language to children of foreign nationality.

The future of these children is at stake. I strongly urge the government to make elementary and junior high school education compulsory for children of foreign nationality, too.

* * *

The author teaches international students at Imawatarikita Elementary School in Kani, Gifu Prefecture.  (IHT/Asahi: November 20,2008)

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