Education woes beset Brazilian children

Symposium highlights the need for comprehensive planning in the face of growing immigration


Securing employment for Brazilians and making sure their children receive a proper education are crucial issues the government must work out with municipalities and the private sector, according to experts involved in the Brazilian community in Japan.

At a Sunday symposium in Tokyo sponsored by the Brazilian Embassy, panelists also discussed the need for a more comprehensive immigration policy as Japan allows in more foreigners amid the rapid aging of society.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Japanese migration to Brazil, and the Japanese-Brazilian community has grown to 1.5 million people. Nearly 320,000 are now registered as residents of Japan, making Brazilians the third-largest foreign community, after Chinese and Koreans.

Of 33,000 Brazilian children here between the ages 5 and 14, 10,200 are enrolled in public schools and another 10,000 are studying in Brazilian schools in Japan. This means more than 10,000 are not receiving an education.

“Japanese schools or Brazilian schools must provide some support for them so they can receive an education for their future,” said Julieta Yoshimura, president of the Association of Brazilian Schools in Japan.

The symposium, titled “Brazilians in Japan: The next 100 years,” was also sponsored by the International Organization for Migration and the Japan Immigration Policy Institute and supported by the Immigration Information Organization, Vector Design and The Japan Times.

Yoshimura said the number of Brazilian schools in Japan jumped to 110 in 2008 from 45 in 2001.

Many children transfer from Japanese public schools because they can’t keep up due to their lack of Japanese-language skills or because of bullying, she said.

But Brazilian schools are not necessarily a safe haven because most are not accredited by the government, so their students do not have access to the same privileges as those attending Japanese schools.

For example, their students are unable to receive the regular health checkups available to kids in Japanese schools.

What’s more, Yoshimura said pupils in Brazilian schools can’t buy commuter passes at the cheaper student fare.

Public transportation companies only offer the lower fare to students who attend accredited schools. The cost of commuting on top of tuition causes some students to drop out.

There have been cases in which underage Brazilian dropouts have been hired illegally for low pay. In Japan, companies are not allowed to hire workers under the age of 16, or before they finish compulsory education.

“We are all very concerned about the future of these children,” Yoshimura said. “Everyone’s right to education must be secured.”

Despite the problems raised in the symposium, the government’s ability to act is limited because they are not Japanese citizens who are obliged to receive compulsory education, said Masahiro Takasugi, director of the South American Division at the Foreign Ministry.

“The government cannot force (Brazilian parents) to send their children to school,” Takasugi said.

He added that the government encourages parents to send their children to public schools. He also suggested that more Brazilian schools should apply for government accreditation, as the criteria has recently been eased. But so far only four Brazilian schools have been accredited.

The Brazilian children who do attend public schools lack sufficient support to adjust to an alien environment, said Kenji Mizui, head of the board of education in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, where foreign residents make up 5 percent of the city’s population.

Mizui said the board has been providing special support to Brazilian children in public schools, including bringing in Portuguese-speaking teachers or developing new Japanese-language education materials.

However, they cannot keep up with the increase in the number of Brazilian children. Other cities with similar demographics are facing the same problems.

“We need the central government to provide support,” Mizui said, stressing that providing a proper education is a human rights matter.

Meanwhile, panelists in the second part of the symposium discussed policies necessary to stabilize the status of Brazilians. They agreed that Brazilians represent a pilot case for the rest of the foreigners who will be migrating to Japan in the future.

The Brazilian presence has been on the rise since a 1990 revision allowing foreigners of Japanese descent to work here to meet a labor shortage. Mostly descendants of Japanese who immigrated to Brazil over the past century, many have taken up jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries.

Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, said Japan should be prepared to raise the ratio of foreign immigrants to 10 percent of the population in the next 50 years as the population rapidly declines.

Sakanaka stressed that immigration policy should place importance on nurturing the talents of newcomers by providing more education and training opportunities.

“There is also a need for a change in the Japanese mind-set toward foreigners,” Sakanaka said.

Brazilian lawyer Etsuo Ishikawa, who provides legal advice for the Brazilian community in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, which has the largest population of Brazilians in Japan, said the primary cause of problems besetting the immigrants is the lack of social welfare coupled with unstable employment conditions.

“When the basics of working conditions are met, more parents will be able to appreciate the importance of providing education for their children,” he said.

Ishikawa stressed that direct employment by companies must be promoted as many Brazilians are temporary workers in unstable conditions without social security.

“The government must implement policies that secure the fundamental rights of the people who lead their lives here,” Ishikawa said, adding that giving voting rights to non-Japanese residents in local elections is another important issue that needs consideration.