Photo/IllutrationForeign children practice writing hiragana for school installations, such as “zuko-shitsu” (room for manual arts) and “komon” (school gate), in Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture, on June 17. (Hiroyuki Maegawa)

The education ministry plans to improve schooling for foreign children in Japan, starting with a survey to determine just how dismal the education situation is for the youngsters.

Under its plan released on June 17, the ministry will promote the distribution of multiple-language materials that provide information about preschools and schools in the area, offer help with the Japanese language for foreign students taking entrance exams, and dispatch assistant language teachers or interpreters to schools for disabled people.

However, the ministry recognized that its first and foremost task is to find out what percentage of foreign children are actually attending school through a survey conducted by boards of education across Japan. The boards have already started the survey operation, and the results are expected to be released in summer at the earliest.

According to one estimate, the number of foreign children in Japan whose school attendance was unknown has already reached tens of thousands.

Parents of foreign children are not obliged to send them to elementary schools or junior high schools. And many schools are not prepared to receive foreign children and do not promote themselves to families from abroad.

With a new working visa program now under way, the government expects the number of foreign children to continue increasing.

The education ministry has been consulting with experts and conducting field studies to figure out how to secure educational opportunities for foreign children.

One big hurdle is the language barrier.

The ministry will encourage educational institutions to use multiple-language translation systems or communication lines to enhance “remote education” between classes in areas with numerous foreign students and those attended by just a few foreign students.

For foreign students taking high school entrance examinations, the ministry intends to encourage prefectural governments to consider measures to help them overcome language problems. The steps could include adding phonetic hiragana characters beside kanji written in the exam questions, allowing the students to use dictionaries at the test site, or setting a passing quota for foreign students.

An executive of the ministry also noted that foreign children who are disabled “face a double problem.”

The ministry intends to heighten support measures for such children by providing the first training courses for teachers to acquire skills in both teaching disabled children and educating foreign students.

The ministry will also increase the number of night junior high schools across the country.