Academic ability, poverty, dropouts all linked, high school study says

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo News

SAITAMA — High schools with less academic prestige are likely to attract more students from poor families and suffer a greater degree of dropouts unless educational and economic steps are taken to reverse the trend, according to research conducted by a former high school teacher.

“It has become extremely difficult for high school dropouts to lead decent lives in the midst of the economic slump, and they are inevitably involved in a ‘chain of poverty’ running from their parents to their own children,” said Yasushi Aoto, who taught social studies at Saitama Prefecture high schools.

In a study described in “High School Dropouts,” published by Chikumashobo Ltd. in October, Aoto, now a lecturer at Kanto Gakuin University, grouped some 150 Saitama-run high schools into five categories (G1 to G5) based on their average entrance exam scores to compare dropout rates and rates of tuition reduction or exemption in each category.

Aoto found clear correlations.

For students enrolled in April 2004, dropouts stood at 2.3 percent for elite G1, followed by 3.4 percent for G2, 8.1 percent for G3 and 20.3 percent for G4. The rate for G5, the least academically talented group, came to 33.3 percent.

“Up to around 1990, even high school dropouts could be employed, particularly in the manufacturing sector. However, it is almost impossible for them to find jobs in a deteriorating economy,” Aoto said.

Data on tuition reductions or exemption rates, meanwhile, highlighted financial gaps among the students and how they expanded over the past several years.

In 1999, the rate stood at 2.1 percent in G1, 3.3 percent in G2, 5.3 percent in G3, 7.7 percent in G4 and 10.0 percent in G5.

Seven years later, it rose in every category and the gaps expanded, coming to 3.6 percent in G1, 6.5 percent in G2, 11.7 percent in G3, 16.4 percent in G4 and 19.8 percent in G5 — or more than fivefold more than the G1 rate.

“The rise from 1999 to 2006 clearly reveals the insufficiency of Japan’s social security system,” Aoto said. “It is obvious that the government needs to take certain measures to address it.”

As for the employment status of the students’ fathers, 87.3 percent of those in G1 were regular workers. But in G5 the rate came to 52.5 percent, the research showed.

It is noticeable that 14.9 percent of G5 students did not know what their fathers did for a living and that 14.4 percent of them said their fathers weren’t in their lives at all.

“They don’t know their fathers’ jobs mostly because the fathers are unemployed or are changing occupations frequently, which means their employment status is unstable,” Aoto said.

Of the G1 students’ fathers, 54.2 percent advanced to college, compared with 12.9 percent among G5, according to the study.

Housing data also revealed conspicuous differences, with 89.9 percent of G1 students’ families living in owner-occupied housing, compared with 56.4 percent of G5 families.

Only 9.7 percent of G1 students live in rented accommodations, compared with 41.6 percent of G5 students.

To fill the gaps, Aoto suggested that schools — particularly elementary and junior high schools — try to function not only as educational institutions but also as welfare facilities. One way would be by allocating social workers to every school.

More data showed that 40 percent of G5 students are not provided breakfast and 20 percent do not have dinner, Aoto said.

“I think it may be necessary to provide school breakfast to students in need,” he said.

Based on the research and interviews with around 100 dropouts, Aoto has proposed that high school programs be included in compulsory education “to terminate high school dropouts systematically.”