Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Will Japan be a country of opportunity?
EBIHARA Shuko / Founder/Director, NPO kuriya

March 22, 2024
Five years have passed since Japan changed course and began accepting foreign nationals as residents in 2019. The plight of high school students with foreign roots, thus far liable to be overlooked, came under focus. The Japanese government has since been taking measures to address the need for Japanese language instruction and career-related education for them. The circle of support for those high school students is widening across Japan.

The survey conducted in 2018 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) showed that the dropout rate of high school students with foreign roots in need of Japanese language instruction was seven times higher than that of Japanese students. A recent survey indicates that the difference has dropped to five times. In choosing a career path, students with some residency statuses were restricted in their path to regular employment due to restrictions on working hours. However, it has been made possible for them, after graduation, to switch to a status of residence with no restrictions on working hours, and the opportunities for regular employment have been expanded.

I work to support high school students with foreign roots through running career education programs at high schools and making policy recommendations. In the past few years, I have been encouraged to see how several barriers faced by high school students with foreign roots were overcome one by one with the enthusiasm and cooperation of various parties involved. However, if their status of residence is “family stay”, they are not eligible to apply for scholarships from the government. This makes it impossible for students with foreign roots who are financially challenged to receive higher education. Thus, barriers to entering universities still remain. We have been making policy proposals to overcome this for several years, but we have not reached immediate concrete solutions. While making feeble attempts at persuasion of the parties concerned, we have continued to agonize over the issue.

Amidst all this, it was recently reported that the MEXT has begun to study the possibility of revising the scholarship system in order to expand the number of students eligible for scholarships, subject to certain requirements. This is designed to cover students with foreign roots who have come through all the primary and secondary (middle school and high school) stages of the Japanese educational system and intend to find employment after graduation from university and settle in Japan. As one who has spent the past 15 years working with high school students with foreign roots, I am pleased to see the scholarship system revised. But I also believe that the number of children with foreign roots will continue to increase in the middle to long term as the population of Japan declines. From this perspective, I see the expansion of scholarship eligibility as a step of significance way into the future.

It is hoped that the scope of scholarships will be expanded in the future to include high school students with foreign roots who have not finished all the primary and secondary parts of education in Japan. In light of my experiences over the years, I feel, however, that such an expansion of scholarships will need to be undertaken in parallel with the efforts to improve the quality of Japanese-language instruction at high schools and train supporters who can provide career counseling to those students. High school students with foreign roots who come to Japan mid-way through middle school or from high school must learn Japanese within a limited period of three to five years. High-quality Japanese-language instruction is necessary to advance their Japanese language proficiency intensively.

The MEXT has been working to educate high school students with foreign roots through curriculum operation and training programs for Japanese language instruction, and we hope that such efforts will continue. The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education has a system to dispatch Youth Social Workers (YSW) to high schools. In the past, these workers mainly supported Japanese high school students, but in recent years, through multicultural training, they have also begun to support high school students with foreign roots in their career paths. I hope that these efforts will spread to other regions and scholarships will be gradually expanded.

As I interact with children and youths with foreign roots, I sometimes am confronted with barriers built into the systems. Some of these barriers are common to Japanese children and youths as well, and these are difficult to challenge on their own, no matter how hard they try. It is our job as adults to overcome these barriers and solve those challenges.

The revision of the scholarship system referred to above may be a small step, but I do think that it is a big step forward not only for children and youths with foreign roots but also for guaranteeing the diversity and inclusion of the Japanese educational system.
When children wish to “study and learn more”, can they have the opportunity to receive education, regardless of their roots or origin? Will Japan be a country of opportunity, where children can truly benefit from diversity and inclusion in education?

Shuko Ebihara is Founder/Director, NPO kuriya
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

海老原 周子 / 一般社団法人 kuriya 代表

2024年 3月 22日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Will Japan be a country of opportunity?