YOKOHAMA – Officials at Yokohama City Hall said Monday the city has reduced the number of children on nursery school waiting lists to zero from 179 as of April 1, meeting its 2010 target of doing so in three years.
City officials credited the reduction of the lists, which at one stage were the longest of any municipality in Japan, mainly to efforts to increase the number of nursery schools by aggressively encouraging private companies to enter the business.
The city also promoted nonregistered day-care facilities that met the city’s standards, which are somewhat more relaxed than the national standard.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, similar problems exist in urban areas across the nation because an increasing number of households have both parents working, and most local governments are facing difficulty addressing the problem.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is willing to learn from Yokohama’s success and intends to address the problem as part of its growth strategy because it has become a major obstacle to women returning to the workforce after childbirth. He has proposed increasing maternity leave.
But some experts say the rapid increase in nursery schools could eventually lead to a shortage of qualified teachers and a deterioration in services, as well as increased pressure on local finances.
In Yokohama, children below the age of 5 on nursery waiting lists rose to a record 1,190 in 2004, the highest in Japan. In 2010, it broke that record with a figure of 1,552, prompting Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, former president of BMW Tokyo Corp. and chairwoman of Daiei Inc., to make solving the problem a priority.
As the city used the private sector to boost the availability of day-care services for children, the number of privately operated nursery schools in Yokohama doubled from its level in April 2010, and now accounts for about a quarter of the total.
The city also deployed special consultants at ward offices to advise parents searching for schools and the availability of convenient facilities in their neighborhood or on their way to work.
The city has spent some ¥49 billion since 2010 on setting up nursery schools and has allocated over ¥76 billion for the operation of such schools for fiscal 2013 through March 31 next year, it said, adding that it has hired about 2,000 new nursery teachers since 2010.
Abe vowed last month to increase the capacity of nursery schools by 400,000 in five years from now through 2017 and also reduce the number of children on waiting lists nationwide to zero.
According to the labor ministry, there were about 46,000 children on waiting lists nationwide as of last October, although the number of potentially eligible children who do not have places at nursery school places could even be as high as 850,000.
Stroller rules reviewed
The transport ministry is considering drawing up universal rules for the use of baby strollers on buses and trains, ministry officials said Monday.
At present, rules for the use of baby strollers vary significantly among public transport operators across the country.
The ministry plans to set up a committee of representatives from relevant ministries, public transport operators and support groups for child-rearing families to discuss ways to unify the rules, the officials said. They are also expected to adopt a universal sign to indicate priority spaces for baby buggies on buses and trains.