“It’s a job anyone can do.”
So tweeted entrepreneur Takafumi Horie in October about nursery teachers, immediately triggering a firestorm online that put the issue of their low wages back in the spotlight.
Horie, once touted as a maverick business leader who could reform Japan’s clubby corporate culture, often makes remarks that get public attention.
His comment on nursery teachers was no exception, drawing mixed reactions and stirring discussions about tackling the shortage of nurseries and eliminating their waiting lists. The workload and stress nursery teachers are expected to shoulder, despite their low pay, has also been an issue.
Horie’s post was made in response to a Japanese news article asking readers about why the wages of nursery workers, who require national certification, are lower than those of other jobs requiring certification in the country. His comment was met with a barrage of criticism. “You look down (on the work of nursery teachers),” one Twitter user said, while another challenged Horie to try working at a nursery for a month. But there were many who shared his view that it is not hard to qualify as a nursery teacher.
After the tweet went viral Horie clarified his comment, saying he had not meant to make light of the jobs of nursery teachers.
He simply wanted to point out that anyone is capable of working at a nursery, which does not make suitable hires rare, and that just like others in similar roles — including those working part-time at convenience stores — their pay does not increase.
Experts lament that nurseries are often seen as a mere extension of child rearing at home, rather than a specialized profession.
“I understand that some people think that way. Nursery teachers are too busy to demonstrate their specialized skills,” said a 30-year-old male nursery teacher who circulates online the sentiments of his colleagues.
The man, who is known as Tei Sensei (Tei Teacher), said nursery teachers require the ability to adjust themselves to each child’s individual character.
But because they are overwhelmed with daily tasks such as writing reports about each child and preparing for events, nursery teachers barely have the time to polish their skills, he said. “Even internal office memos are written by hand,” the teacher said.
“We have to streamline our tasks; otherwise it will eventually have a negative impact on children. ”
According to a 2016 report by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the average monthly salary of nursery teachers was ¥215,800, while the average salary in all industries was ¥304,000.
To address the shortage of nurseries and their long waiting lists, the government decided in April on a 2 percent increase in the annual salary of nursery teachers, or around a ¥6,000 increase per month.
Those who have worked over seven years in the field will see ¥40,000 added to their monthly pay.
On Dec. 8, the Cabinet approved a ¥2 trillion package to broaden the scope of free child care services and education, as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal to foster human resources. Under the package, nursery teachers’ monthly pay will be raised by 1 percent, or by ¥3,000, from April 2019.
Hiroko Inokuma, a 52-year-old journalist who specializes in issues related to nurseries, pointed out that working in a nursery is still widely considered a woman’s job and the pay is low. Inokuma called for reforms to raise the qualifications for nursery teachers to the same level as those of nurses, and to increase opportunities for career advancement and promotion.
“Nursery (work) is quite different from child rearing since the teachers have to take care of many kids at the same time. It’s not something everyone can do,” said Inokuma.
Maiko Todoroki, the executive director of Poppins, an operator of more than 200 nurseries in Japan, shared a similar view.
“Child rearing is an honorable career,” Todoroki said.
Tokyo-based Poppins has been actively hiring mothers as nursery teachers and for other roles, drawing on their experience in raising children.
To further empower those involved in child rearing, Poppins has introduced “child rearing consultants” to give advice on child care to employees raising children. The firm also gives opportunities to experienced nannies to be certified as “Super Nannies” after undergoing training and an exam overseas.
“Our company is motivated from the experiences of our working moms,” said Todoroki. “I want more people to recognize the value of child rearing.”