Okinawan municipalities conduct Japanese language assistance for students with foreign citizenship

March 4, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

On March 3, Ryukyu Shimpo found that 18 municipalities in Okinawa implemented programs of Japanese language assistance and guidance to public school students who have foreign citizenship, foreign parents, and roots overseas. The results came from a survey of 41 municipalities conducted by Ryukyu Shimpo. A total of 11 schools in five municipalities set up Japanese language classes. Six municipalities provided Japanese language assistants to accompany and support students. The number of children with foreign citizenship and their roots in foreign nations, who attend public schools and need language assistance, reached at least 107.

Ryukyu Shimpo sent the survey slips to local education boards of 41 municipalities from January 6 to 8 and received responses from all municipalities by January 28.

According to the best available municipality records, Okinawa City was the first to implement an accompanying assistance program, in 1991, and set up language assistance classes, in 1999.

With regard to the request for Japanese language education, five municipalities asked the prefectural and central governments for a budget to set up Japanese language classes and provide language assistants. There are also municipalities that have been asked by guardians to set up an assistance program.

Municipalities in neighboring islands claimed the target students are becoming more diverse with multinational backgrounds and it is difficult to have assistants who speak foreign languages other than English.

This year, Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) and Ministry of Education will place eight Japanese language assistants in eight schools in Chatan, Ginowan, Okinawa, and Onna, and plan to continue the placements beyond 2016. According to the OPG Compulsory Education Division, which trains teachers, there is no scheduled budget on developing human resources for language assistants in the fiscal year of 2016.

According to the survey results revealed by the Ministry of Education last year, the number of students with Japanese citizenship who registered in public schools in Okinawa on May 1, 2014, and need Japanese language assistance, was 129 in all elementary, junior high, high, and special-needs schools. Seventy-three students use English as their native language; 36 students use Japanese as their mother tongue. Meanwhile, the number of students with foreign citizenship who need Japanese language assistants was 87. Forty-nine students use English as a native language; 19 students use Filipino. The number of students needing Japanese language assistance reached a record high of 29,198 nationwide.

Students in need of assistance exceeds the number in the survey: Minako Takahashi, Associate Professor of the University of the Ryukyus

Characteristic of Okinawa’s situation is that more students with Japanese citizenship are needing Japanese language assistance than those with foreign citizenship. It is still questionable whether school-related people understand who are “the students in need of Japanese language assistance.” Some students who have no problem communicating with teachers and friends but are left behind in class are often considered to have “no language skill problem.” Therefore, there must be more students who really need assistance than the number the survey result shows.

Also, it is a problem when students in need of Japanese language assistance have not necessarily received support. The School Education Act revised in 2014 consolidated the systems to form and implement a special educational program for students who do not understand Japanese. Some schools in Okinawa do not know about the program. Other schools may know the system but do not know what to do. It is expected that the rate of implementing the program in Okinawa will be lower than the nationwide rate.

(English translation by T&CT and Megumi Chibana)

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