The Asahi Shimbun and NHK recently ran features about the changing job situation for high school teachers, specifically those who work for private institutions. According to education ministry figures, there are about 90,000 teachers working at private high schools nationwide, a number that has stayed about the same since 2001.

About 34,000 of these teachers were considered “non-regular” in 2011, meaning they were either hired directly by the schools on a yearly contract basis or obtained through temporary human resources companies. That number represents 36.8 percent of all private high school teachers, whereas the portion of public school teachers who are non-regular is 19.7 percent.

Furthermore, since 2001, the number of regular teachers in private high schools has decreased by more than 4,000, mainly the result of attrition through retirement, while the number of non-regular teachers has increased by 2,800. During the same period, the number of students attending private high schools has dropped by about 15 percent, while the number of private high schools hasn’t changed.

Private high schools are under pressure to maintain enrollment just to stay solvent, and one of their main incentives to attract students is student-teacher ratios, the smaller the better. So even as the number of students declines, these schools have to maintain staff numbers, a situation that puts more strain on their budgets. They have to cut expenses wherever they can, and since 70 percent of a private school’s expenditures goes to personnel, teacher pay is the obvious target for rationalization.

The Asahi article says that the average pay for a full-time, regular private high school teacher in 2010 was ¥8.27 million a year, which is 7 percent less than it was in 2001. Asahi interviewed a non-regular teacher at a private high school in Saitama who said she earns about ¥1.6 million a year teaching 16 classes a week. The pay for a teacher from a temp agency is about ¥2,800 per 50-minute class, and non-regular teachers receive no benefits, no bonuses, and no extra pay for overtime, even though many individually contracted teachers are compelled to do extra work such as coach sports clubs or participate in other “after-school activities” if they want to be rehired for another year.

NHK’s report focused more on the business side of the phenomenon, especially the sales growth for temp companies who specialize in providing teachers. In some of the private high schools that NHK studied, more than half the classes are taught by haken (dispatched) teachers. This was made possible by a 1999 law that relaxed standards for the type of work that temporary companies can service. Since then, education has become one of the main sectors for temp companies. Private schools have always relied to a certain extent on non-regular teachers, but they recruited and hired these teachers themselves on a contract basis. Now, these schools are increasingly turning to haken companies because it’s easier and cheaper.

For instance, there is no need to go through all the time and cost of interviewing teachers because according to the relevant haken laws, employers cannot pick and choose the people the company dispatches. If a school requests a teacher from such a company, it has to accept whomever the company sends. If the teacher is unsatisfactory, then the school can ask for a replacement. This is seen as a huge advantage for schools for a variety of reasons beyond cost. If a contract teacher doesn’t work out, the school cannot get rid of that teacher until his or her contract is up. And it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how schools might even prefer the haken system to regular, full-time staff, who are even more difficult to get rid of. As one temp company executive said in a very positive tone, the haken system provides schools with a “safety valve.”

The advantage of the haken system for teachers is that, unlike regular full-time and contract teachers, they don’t do anything except teach; no extracurricular activities, no home-room responsibilities, no extraneous administrative chores. In one school, they even have their own office space separate from regular and contract teachers. And young credentialed graduates intimidated by the recruitment mill often find it easier to just register with a temp company. The disadvantages, unsurprisingly, center on money and security. Haken teachers make 5-10 percent less than contract teachers do on a monthly basis. One anonymous 29-year-old haken teacher told NHK that he is constantly applying for full-time teaching jobs and has been told by some people who have successfully made such a transition that he will probably need to work 3 years as a haken teacher, then six years as a contract teacher before getting hired full-time, but even that isn’t certain.

Though the education ministry has yet to compile detailed statistics about haken teachers, NHK found that there are about 9,000 people in the Tokyo Metropolitan area alone who are registered as part-time teachers at various temp companies, though the program didn’t mention how many are actually working at any given time. This number includes not only young dedicated teachers but also retirees and full-time homemakers with teaching credentials. One haken company said that it presently dispatches 117 teachers to 51 different schools. Many of these companies have staff who make sales call to schools. One salesman is shown telling a potential client that his company “carries out maintenance” on a regular basis in order to “improve” its stock of instructors.

Private education has been big business for years now, as evidenced by the recent controversy surrounding education minister Makiko Tanaka’s initial reluctance to rubber stamp permission for three education institutions to become 4-year universities. The problem as Asahi and NHK see it is that the diminishment of the role of regular, full-time teachers in the secondary school system cheapens the educational experience for all students except those on an elite track to name universities.

Though there is nothing that says contract and haken teachers cannot perform classwork as well as regular full-time instructors, they also cannot easily forge meaningful relationships with students. However, since this latter aspect of school life is difficult to quantify, it’s also difficult to represent monetarily, and private schools are really about the bottom line.

NHK found that many private high schools channel their best students, meaning the ones with a chance to get into name universities (thus providing PR fodder for future recruitment drives), into tracks where all the classes are taught by full-time regular teachers, while students with less academic potential are taught chiefly by haken teachers. So in addition to creating a wage-based hierarchy among teachers, the increasing use of part-timers also intensifies the feeling of discrimination that many students already have to contend with in their studies.