When Lucan Toshio Suzuchi tried to find a job, the only option he had was being a dispatch worker in a factory. Now 23, the Japanese-Brazilian had quit junior high school when he was 14.
“I wanted to go to school,” he said. “I think I could have avoided … this kind of tough work if I had gone to school.”
Suzuchi, who came to Japan at 9, attended a private school for Brazilian children in Gunma Prefecture, but quit at 14 because his parents could not afford the tuition.
He wanted to attend a local public school, but his parents were reluctant because they worried he would be bullied. He ended up staying at home, and despite his absence, his family was not contacted by the local board of education.
Suzuchi is one of many non-Japanese children in Japan whose nonattendance at school may be due in part to the negligence of local governments.
According to a recent Kyodo News survey, 41 out of 72 municipal governments — prefectural capitals and cities with large non-Japanese populations — had left the school attendance of more than 10,000 foreign children unconfirmed. Approximately 100,000 such kids of compulsory school age are registered across the country.
The 41 local governments include big cities such as Chiba, Yokohama and Osaka as well as some of Tokyo’s 23 wards, each home to more than 1,000 children of foreign nationality whose school attendance had not been tracked.
Usually, when children are not enrolled at public schools, local governments look for reasons why, for example, a child may be enrolled in a private school.
But the Kyodo survey found many local governments do not track children of foreign nationality on the grounds that the mandatory education of children in Japan through the end of junior high school does not apply to them.
While some children may be attending private schools for foreign nationals, or may have left Japan with their families without informing local governments, “It is a big problem that so many municipalities have not even conducted inquiries,” said Eriko Suzuki, a professor at Kokushikan University who is well versed in issues surrounding education for foreign nationals.
Such negligence violates the International Covenants on Human Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and may force many children into social isolation, experts say, calling on those 41 municipalities to do more to deal with the issue.
The survey also found 17 municipal governments only partially follow the school attendance of non-Japanese children by conducting inquiries regarding first-year students and transferees. Nagoya said it sends questionnaires to families that do not enroll first-year students at local schools but receives no reply from many.
Some municipalities, however, do thoroughly track children of foreign nationals.
The governments of the cities of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture and Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, and 12 other municipal governments, follow the school attendance of foreign children. Some send officials to speak with families if their children are not in school to encourage attendance. And the Hamamatsu Municipal Government targets the school enrollment of all non-Japanese children.
The failure of many local governments to follow up on the enrollment of foreign children can be traced to the central government’s policy of applying mandatory school education only to Japanese nationals.
Some local governments claim they cannot readily survey the school attendance of foreign children due to manpower and budgetary constraints. But all municipalities in Shizuoka Prefecture, among others, have conducted surveys and encouraged parents to send their children to school, casting doubt on the claims of others.
Experts point out many children of foreign nationality reside permanently in Japan, and warn the presence of many uneducated foreign children, if not addressed, could have a destabilizing effect on society.
Many municipal governments said they accept foreign children in their public schools when applications are received. Yet some parents refuse to send their children to school for economic or other reasons. And that, experts say, could seriously affect their future and lead to a cycle of poverty among Japan’s foreign residents.
“I cannot be a full-time employee because I didn’t go to school, though I believe I’m more skilled than regular workers of my age,” lamented Silas Alves Okada, a 26-year-old Japanese-Brazilian who works with Suzuchi.
As a temporary plant laborer, “I feel disgusted because I have been repeatedly axed upon the expiry of my work contracts,” he said.
Okada came to Japan with his family when he was 6 years old and attended elementary and junior high schools in Gunma Prefecture. But he stopped going to school after moving to the dormitory of a Christian missionary in Sendai during summer vacation when he was a first-year junior high school student.
“I blame myself,” Okada said repeatedly. While his parents were unenthusiastic about sending him to school, Okada also said he was bullied at school and decided it would be “meaningless to study hard in Japan.”
Okada is determined to send his 1-year-old son to school in Japan in the future, and fears that many Japanese-Brazilian children will be unable to escape poverty without a proper education.
As Japanese society becomes more diverse due to the increasing presence of foreign nationals in various walks of life, it is imperative to ensure that young people are nurtured in such as way that they can become good citizens — and this means proper education, regardless of nationality.
“For children, mandatory education is absolutely necessary to learn social rules as well,” professor Suzuki said.