Photo/IllutrationA classroom operated by a nonprofit organization allows children of foreign nationals who don't attend school to study at their own pace in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Sept. 11, 2019. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The education ministry is trying to figure out ways to ensure that all children of foreign nationals working in Japan receive an education at a comparable level to the compulsory system in place for Japanese.

It released an outline of its plans to support schooling for foreign children on Jan. 21 amid fears that possibly thousands of non-Japanese children may be falling through the cracks by not attending school.

The ministry is trying to gauge the demographics of the situation with plans in fiscal 2020, starting April 1, to draw up “school age lists” with the names and addresses of foreign parents and children who are the same age as Japanese children attending elementary and junior high schools.

The ministry will distribute its guideline to local governments nationwide to promote the system. Local officials will then visit the homes of foreign students who don’t attend school to try to get them to receive a basic education.

Japanese law does not oblige foreign children to undergo compulsory education, and the matter is left to local governments to decide.

Last year, the ministry ascertained from its first nationwide investigation into the number of school-age children in Japan that there were 124,000, mainly in urban areas such as Tokyo, Osaka and Aichi prefectures.

Of that figure, 20,000 were feared not to be attending school.

Ministry officials said it requests local governments through written notifications and other measures to draw school-age lists and visit the homes of children who are eligible to receive an education but don’t go to school.

However, more than 20 percent of local governments have not complied with the request. Moreover, only some of them bother to make home visits.

The ministry outline was presented at a meeting of education experts who proposed that even foreign children who are not targeted for compulsory education should at least receive Japanese language education from an early age such as kindergarten level and career advice to prepare for the future.

Experts have been emphasizing the importance of career education, in which independence is taught, and vocational education which provides practical skills.

The outline also promotes improved Japanese language instruction.

The ministry said Jan. 10 that the number of children in public elementary, junior high and high schools who needed Japanese language instruction came to 51,126 in fiscal 2018. Of the figure, 40,775 children had foreign nationality, while 10,371 were Japanese.

More than 20 percent of them had not taken special instruction such as supplemental study sessions of the Japanese language.

Among measures in the works is for Japanese language teachers to undergo professional training.

The expert meeting will compile a final report on the issue by the end of March.