Scores of municipalities struggling to aid foreign students with few or no Japanese language skills: survey


Numerous municipalities nationwide are struggling to aid foreign students who are learning at local public schools but cannot understand the Japanese language fully or at all, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday.

In a questionnaire survey on issues facing foreign children living in Japan, 46 percent of the 1,612 municipalities that responded said that learning the Japanese language and other subjects, which are taught in Japanese, remain a challenge for foreign students.

The survey, conducted from May to July, also highlighted another stumbling block in aiding foreign students: many are dispersed in small numbers — sometimes one or two — in public schools nationwide.

In the survey, the city of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, said foreign students who speak 14 languages, including Vietnamese and Thai, are scattered across 39 of its 93 public elementary schools and junior high schools.

In the southwestern city of Kagoshima, some of the foreign students cannot maintain the pace of classes with their Japanese peers and struggle in understanding tests, the questionnaire showed.

The education ministry says the number of foreign students in need of Japanese language skills or assistance at public schools across the nation is rising, totaling around 29,000 as of May 2014.

According to the survey, 16 percent also said foreign students struggle with making a decision to enter high school here, while 5 percent said job-hunting is a challenge.

In Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture, the survey pointed to many cases where foreign students opted not to attend high school due to their lack of or poor Japanese skills.

Many survey respondents said there was simply a limit to what local governments could come with, citing a lack of employees with foreign language skills.

Mizunami, a city in Gifu Prefecture, said that the central government should establish a facility where children could learn the Japanese language and the country’s customs before starting schooling.

At the end of 2015, foreign residents in the country hit a record-high 2.23 million, up 110,000 from a year earlier, according to Justice Ministry data.

Nationwide, there are a diverse range of mother tongues spoken by students including Portuguese, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Among the areas hosting high concentrations of foreign students, Aichi, Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures top the list.

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