Spouse rule axed for overseas teachers

Step aims to ease staff shortage at Japanese public schools abroad

Kyodo

The education ministry has scrapped a rule stipulating that teachers transferring to Japanese public schools overseas must be accompanied by their spouses, sources revealed Saturday.

The change, implemented in April, is aimed at increasing the number of applicants amid a severe teacher shortage at such schools, the sources said.

The rule was originally intended to ensure teachers had sufficient support while abroad.

The number of elementary and junior high school students at Japanese public schools in Asian countries is rapidly increasing as Japanese businesses expand overseas, and the trend is expected to continue.

In contrast, the number of Japanese students living in Europe and the U.S. has declined amid the global economic downturn.

The ministry is supposed to dispatch 80 percent of the teachers working at such schools and pay their salaries, while the number of teachers at each school is based on student enrollment.

But fewer teachers are applying, mirroring the declining number of educators in Japan due to the shrinking birthrate. The rule on spouses compounded the problem.

The ministry dispatched about 350 teachers to overseas schools in fiscal 2011, down 100 compared to five years earlier, due to the declining number of applicants, officials said.

The education ministry previously ditched the age limit for teaching abroad and has tried to recruit retired teachers. Despite these efforts, 75 of 88 Japanese schools overseas are experiencing teacher shortages and have started combining classes.

At the Suzhou school in Jiangsu Province, China, only 14 of its 31 teachers have been dispatched by the ministry.

Principal Takashi Onoe said the school recruited and is paying for the remaining 17 teachers. The student body stands at 387, up sixfold from when the school opened seven years ago.

“We cannot debase the quality of education here as we are educating children who will become a bridge between Japan and China,” Onoe said.

“We really hope the ministry will increase the number of teachers it dispatches. The budget for salaries for the teachers (we are hiring) is a big burden.”

According to the ministry, about 19,000 elementary and junior high school students were attending Japanese public schools abroad as of April 2011, up 800 from the year before. Including this tally, a total of 65,000 such students with Japanese parents were living abroad, up 6,000 from five years earlier.