WASHINGTON – Some public schools in Virginia are considering scrapping foreign-language immersion programs after more than 25 years because of their costs.
Fairfax County in Virginia operates programs under which regular school subjects are taught in foreign languages such as Japanese, with the aim of instilling a thorough understanding of the language and culture.
Currently, some 4,000 students at 17 elementary schools are taking arithmetic and other subjects in languages such as Spanish and French.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, visited Great Falls Elementary School in the county last April with U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. The school runs a Japanese immersion program.
The number of students in Fairfax County is up 10 percent since 2008, a rise attributed to better transportation and rising numbers of immigrants.
But the number of low-income households is also rising, and the county is therefore faced with higher costs for meals and English education. The Budget Task Force of the Fairfax County School Board proposed drastic budget cuts in November, including scrapping immersion programs.
The proposal has been met with resistance. Parents with children at public schools have launched a campaign of protest.
A meeting convened by parents last Tuesday drew around 500 participants, including children.
“The Japanese immersion program means a lot to us,” one parent said. “The knowledge of a language creates open-minded and diversity-tolerant individuals, (and) therefore unites social backgrounds and opens the boundaries between nations.”
The Japanese Embassy in Washington is urging that the programs continue on the grounds that they help to promote bilateral understanding. It sent a letter arguing this to the board of education, which then requested an increase to the education budget.
But the county has presented a smaller spending plan, making education cuts more likely.