In a landmark development, the government has dictated a drastic easing of admission requirements for night junior high school, paving the way for victims of childhood abuse and bullying to take the classes again, only this time actually benefitting from them.

The move will change the way municipalities operate the yakan chugaku night school system, which has traditionally catered to older people who couldn’t graduate junior high school due to postwar poverty or non-Japanese who aren’t fluent in the language.

The government long remained ambiguous about whether individuals who seldom attended school due to childhood abuse or bullying but were given a junior high school diploma only for the sake of following set rules would qualify to enroll in such institutions.

But in a notice sent to boards of education nationwide Thursday, the education ministry finally clarified its position, declaring that junior high graduates who “in reality couldn’t enjoy sufficient compulsory education” for reasons such as domestic abuse, bullying and illness are eligible to enter night school.

“It is extremely important to grant everyone access to compulsory education in order to foster their ability to survive society independently,” the ministry said in the notice.

Ministry official Yushi Mariko said the notice was issued after the ministry discovered in a survey last year that all 31 night schools nationwide customarily refuse to admit prospective students if they have a junior high school diploma.

According to the ministry, 1,849 students as of May 2014 were in night junior high school, which is often considered something of an educational foothold for foreigners and the poor.

About 80 percent of such students are foreign residents and immigrants who, after exiting compulsory education in their home country prematurely for one reason or another, came to Japan and are striving to learn the language from scratch to build a better life here.

Others include the elderly who, after retirement, want to end their illiteracy caused by a lack of childhood education due to postwar poverty.

Yasutaka Sekimoto, a retired teacher who has strenuously campaigned for empowerment of night school students, heralded the ministry’s move as a “historic” shift in policy.

“People who graduated from junior high school have been disqualified from entering night school no matter how little they actually attended classes. This is a great step to give such people an educational opportunity,” Sekimoto said.

At the same time, he urged the government to follow through on its vow last year to increase the number of night school facilities so they will at least be installed in every prefecture — compared with the current eight prefectures.

Amid rising demand, the government last year made an about-face in policy and publicly acknowledged the importance of night schools in empowering the educationally unprivileged.

The education ministry set aside ¥10 million for this fiscal year to undertake a raft of projects to encourage more municipalities to consider opening night schools.

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