Children in Crisis:
- the absence of the right to education in Japan
by Kyoko Aizawa. Otherwise Japan
(with special thanks to Janie Spencer)
The school system in Japan is rife with problems, from teachers using physical violence to student bullying.
The Japanese government education monopoly has created this terrible situation. Japanese parents need the right to choose the form of education their children receive free from discrimination against children and families who choose alternatives. If we do not obtain these rights, many more children in Japan will hide in their homes for the rest of their lives or even commit suicide.
Currently, we do not have the right to choose alternatives to the National Curriculum. Far too often the government education monopoly confines children who have encountered serious problems at schools and makes them ill. Many later become adults without overcoming their difficulties. Tragically, some even commit suicide.
The Tokyo Times, (May 10, 2001) said that in Japan the number of such voluntary ‘shut-ins’ are thought to be more than one million.
“Mom strangles her 13 year son with skipping rope” last year (The son refused to go to school, shut himself in his home and used violence to his mother. His mother believed "He should return to school." Confused with his violence and killed her son)
“On November 30, a 14-year-old girl leaped onto the railway and died”
“On December 6, a 16-year-old boy hanged himself because he was the victim of repeated bullying”
“Shut-in says he killed family because they took his space” 1
Even The Herald printed a story about problems in the Japanese education system:
‘Is Japanese education killing its young pupils?’2
Families are ashamed if a child stops going to school. Children, who can’t face going to school due to school refusal or school phobia, are discriminated against in Japanese society yet the number of such children is, huge as the headlines show:
‘Truants dip 0.01% to123,000’ 3
Because many Japanese do not know that alternatives exist, they think that education equals schooling. Japanese parents feel stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Even if their children are confronted with terrible problems in schools, most parents do not know they should have the right to educate their children according to their (the parents’) wishes in consideration of the best interests of the child.
Our Constitution states that children have the right to an education. The Constitution and the Fundamental Education Law both state: “Citizens shall be obliged to ensure that all boys and girls under their protection receive a standard education as provided for by law.” Nothing stipulates where this education ought to take place, or what standard education is.
However, Article 26 of the Constitution states: All people shall have the right to receive an equal education corresponding to their ability, as provided for by law. All people shall be obliged to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law. Such compulsory education shall be free.
We have an education law on the one hand and a school education law on the other. In accordance with the Constitution, we have to obey the lower law, which effectively means we have to obey the school education law. This states that parents “have an obligation to see that their children attend school” from the age of 6 to 15. So we do not have any alternative ways to educate our children other than by sending them to school.
In May, 2003 the Japan Federation of Bar Associations presented an Alternative Report to the Second Report of the Japanese Government on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.4
In its report Freedom to choose forms of education, establish and direct educational institutions, the report says:
“In its last report, JFBA suggested, places of education should not be limited to schools; rather, alternative forms of education such as home based education, i.e. learning at home, should be approved in spite of which there have been no changes to Japan’s educational system.”
Article 29 Paragraph 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates, “No part of the present Article or Article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in Paragraph 1 of the present Article and to the requirement that education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.”
This guarantees the freedom to establish educational institutions under certain fixed requirements. However, in Japan, places of general education are limited to schools as provided under Article 1 of the School Education Law and all school education must be conducted according to the Courses of Study officially announced by the Ministry of Education. Furthermore, textbooks, which have passed screening by the Ministry, must be used, limiting both the freedom to establish schools and parental choice over forms of education.
The Government Report, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed various concerns about Japan’s education program. They noted as problematic that developmental disorders and a significant number of school phobia cases due to stress were brought on by an acutely competitive educational system, lack of time for leisure, physical activities and rest.
In Japan anyone seeking to exercise a right to alternative education is still faced with major legal obstacles, because of the School Education Law which provides for fines for those who fail to obey. In addition, if children do not follow the National Curriculum they have difficulty in accessing higher education.
School refusers and their treatment
In 2004 123,000 elementary and junior high school students were absent
from school for 30 days or longer in the 2004 school year, down about
3,000 from the previous year, the education ministry said. The headlines read:
‘Truants dip 0.01-point to 123,000’’3
Despite a 3,000 decline, there were still 123,000 children who refused to attend class. Officials from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology attributed the decline to an improved support system for children struggling with school, but added they would continue to work toward eliminating the problem.
Many school refusers lose their self-confidence and hide in their homes, which is why so many children in Japan withdraw from society into the home. Children who don’t go to school are sometimes treated as if they have had mental breakdowns and given drugs such as Ritalin and Haloperidol! The Mainichi Shinbun published a story about the death of a girl who was given Ritalin because she did not go to school.6
The same newspaper revealed that the Government has tried to hide the fact that drugs like haloperidol have mortally harmful side effects. The Mainichi article began:
“A staggering 127 people died over a four-year period from the side effects of mental illness drugs, a figure the government knew but failed to reveal, the Mainichi learned Tuesday. See: Government hid massive scale of mental drug deaths.” (Jan. 21, 2003)7
In my opinion many of them are not mentally ill, but they are tired and stressed by school, in most cases due to violence from teachers or pupils or the pressure of the school system itself.
‘Free schools’ in ‘Structural Reform Specified Areas’
In a long line of government policies aimed at helping the failing school system in Japan without, of course, ever changing the standard National Curriculum requirements, ‘free schools’ are being created. But these are really refuges for children who refuse to go to school. Children who simply can’t face going to school, who are afraid to go to school because of bullying and violence, attend such “free schools.
Every child has to be enrolled at a National school, even if he or she goes to a ‘free school’. The exception is a few schools established by a recent Special Reform law. In Structural Reform Specified Areas, NPOs can set up schools for children and students who are recognised as having been absent from school for a considerable period of time due to difficulty in adapting to school life, or for those children who are recognised as in need of special educational guidance, due to developmental problems such as considerable learning or behavioural difficulties. These schools are intended to offer an education that copes with the special needs of these children, if an existing school in the relevant area does not offer such an education.
As long as I read article 13 of the law, so-called free schools set up by Structural Reform Special Areas are no different than schools for children with special needs. It is shameful to put children who would learn better outside schools or who can’t handle the violence of bullying or corporal punishment by teachers in the same category as children with learning problems and vice versa.
Government support for learning in the home?
In June 2000, the Education Ministry's Lifelong Education Council touched on the need to support learning in the home “in cases of chronic truancy”. However, the ministry has not abandoned its position that it is against the law for parents to educate their children at home.
On May 14, 2005 one newspaper announced that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MECSST) would grant around 100,000,000 yen (about £560,000) to a committee to create a special curriculum for children who refuse to go to schools. This curriculum is meant to be an effective way for school refusers to learn.
In my research I discovered that the so-called ‘free schools’ are actually members of this committee! Thus, I believe they are not really interested in supporting either free, alternative or home based education, but have their own agenda: the creation of their schools. Any viable committee which is really dedicated to helping children learn, without discrimination, should be composed of disinterested members with the children’s needs in mind.
On May 20, 2005, the newspaper announced that MECSST started discussing the possible approval of a program to recognise children learning at ‘free schools’ and at home as fulfilling the compulsory schooling requirement.
So far, ‘free schools’ do not have to follow the National Curriculum. But the Compulsory Education Special Session of the Central Council for Education has developed a way to control ‘free schools’ as well as children learning at home. They tell parents and children that by following the special curriculum for children who refuse to go to school, they will be able to receive a diploma from the compulsory school.
Because of the substantive lack of the right to education (as opposed to schooling) in Japan, children face serious problems, including:
the harmful effects of drugs like Ritalin and haloperidol
pressure to attend school (for children as well as the whole family)
the risk of being sent to institutions
being labelled as potential offenders and/or mentally ill
being faced with dire options like committing a crime or suicide
restricted access to jobs and higher education
It is difficult to support children’s rights without the legal right to alternatives to the standard National Curriculum and standard schools. The number of children who don’t go to school, the number of individuals who withdraw from society and seclude themselves at home and the number of suicides would decrease if people knew their rights and could exercise them to educate their children.
We need the right to a non-destructive education and to educate children outside the national school system.
We need alternatives to standardised education to help children and adults who withdraw from society. We need to give them choices and access to learning and to society.
(Journal 1st issue England ISBN 1-905614-004 2006 Feb)