First nationwide survey in Japan of foreign children’s educational situation : Almost 20,000 kids not in school

In the first nationwide survey on the school enrollment of foreign children living in Japan, it was found that 19,654 children, about 15.8% of the total number who should be receiving compulsory education, may not be going to school or even enrolled in school. This is according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s recent announcement of the survey results.

With the increasing number of foreign workers coming to Japan, there is concern about whether foreign families and children are receiving the support they need in order to enroll in school and to get adequate instruction in the Japanese language. The results of the survey suggest that this will be a growing issue, as Japan continues to open its doors to foreign workers and their families.

On April 1st this year, Japan made a major change to its immigration policy by officially allowing in significant numbers of lower-skilled workers through two new residency visa statuses. Over the next five years, two Specified Skills Visas will allow about 345,000 foreign workers into the country over the next five years, in 14 industries, as part of an effort to alleviate severe labor shortages. For more on this, please see: How ready or not is Japan to receive new foreign workers?

Survey Results

In the recent survey, the Ministry of Education asked local boards of education to report on the school enrollment situation of foreign children in Japan as of May 2019. Nationwide, 124,049 foreign children should have been receiving compulsory education. The local boards of education were able to report on 114,214 of those kids and found that 101,399 (82%) are actually enrolled in either Japanese public schools or private international schools.

Local school boards reported that they were able to confirm that 1,000 children are not currently going to school. They were unable to confirm the actual enrollment situation of 8,767 children and another 9,886 children were registered foreign residents but fell outside the scope of the survey due to their residence status. The total number children not enrolled or whose enrollment was unclear came to 19,654.

In Japan, children are required to attend school through the last year of middle school (nine years in total), but almost all children continue through to high school. According to the Ministry of Education’s guidelines and in accordance with international human rights standards, any child in Japan who wishes to enroll in a public school can do so.

By Prefecture

The following prefectures had the highest number of foreign children either not going to school or whose school enrollment status was unclear:

  • Tokyo (7,890)
  • Kanagawa (2,288)
  • Aichi (1,846)

Sufficient support for foreign families and children?

Nationwide, there are 1,196 cities, towns, and villages were there is at least one child who is a foreign registered resident. This is about 68.7% of all municipalities in Japan. The survey results suggest that local school boards may not be doing enough to help these foreign families and their children to actually enroll.

About one third of local school boards reported that they did not send any information about enrolling in elementary or middle school to the families of children who were registered residents in the school district.

Five hundred and two (502) local school districts have Japanese language instructors working specifically with foreign children. Nationwide, there are 4,252 Japanese language instructors in public schools working with foreign kids, but only 6% of them are regular employees. The majority are part-time workers and volunteers.

Why don’t your kids go to school?

The scope of the survey above did not cover the reasons for why some foreign children do not attend school, but the Ministry of Education has conducted other surveys on this issue. The survey results below are from a survey conducted in 2006 in Osaka prefecture. The government surveyed 621 foreign resident households with school aged-children and received answers from 207 families (34.5%). The data is a little dated but may provide insight into some the issues affecting foreign children in Japan.

In answer to the question: “Why don’t you send your children to school?” (multiple answers ok). A total of 135 responses were received.

  • Not enough money (15.6%)
  • Don’t understand Japanese (12.6%)
  • Will be returning to home country soon (10.4%)
  • School life/customs are different than those in home country (8.9%)
  • Don’t know how to study (8.1%)
  • Working/doing part time job (8.1%)
  • Bullying (7.4%)
  • Can’t make friends at school (5.2%)
  • Have to take care of brothers and sisters at home (3.0%)
  • Other (17.0%)

You may also be interested in: List of free and affordable classes near you in Japan – By Prefecture

Sources: Nikkei Shinbun, September 28, 2019 and Ministry of Education survey (2006)

Lead photo via