National

Education ministry works to curb excessive overtime by teachers

JIJI

The education ministry has kicked off full-scale efforts to curb overwork among schoolteachers and address a longtime problem for educators.

A fiscal 2016 survey by the ministry found that about 30 percent of public elementary school teachers and some 60 percent of junior high school teachers worked more than 60 hours per week, with work hours increasing in all job categories from the previous survey in fiscal 2006.

That equates to 20 hours of overtime per week, or 80 hours per month. The finding came as a shock because the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry defines more than 80 hours of overtime a month as the risk threshold for karōshi (death by overwork).

Late last year an advisory panel to the education minister recommended that 14 activities customarily performed by teachers should be classified into three categories: those that should be outsourced, those that should not necessarily be carried out by teachers, and those that should be conducted by teachers but to a lesser extent.

The 14 areas include coaching for students’ after-school sports and cultural activities, watching over students on their way to and from school, and class preparations. In line with the recommendations, the ministry plans to draw up model rules for school administration that clarify the standard duties of teachers and propose these to local boards of education.

Some local governments have already started addressing the problem of teachers’ heavy workloads. For example, the municipal government of Noda, Chiba Prefecture, introduced a program in fiscal 2017 to allow parents and other community volunteers to assist teachers with straightforward tasks, such as distributing handouts to students and scoring quizzes, in response to teacher requests.

The program has enabled teachers to spend more time preparing for classes and dealing with students, said an official of the Noda Board of Education. A survey conducted by the municipal government in October found that the share of elementary school teachers working 80 hours or more of overtime per month had dropped to 56 percent of the level seen in fiscal 2016. The result prompted the education ministry to decide to start the nationwide dispatch of “school support staff,” according to its budget plan for fiscal 2018, which begins in April.

Coaching students in after-school sports and directing cultural activities are the main reasons for teachers’ overwork. The city of Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, has since fiscal 2002 cooperated with “junior clubs” operated by parents and local volunteers in each junior high school district, to provide opportunities for children to enjoy sports and cultural activities. After-school activities under the guidance of teachers are now limited to set hours on weekdays, and junior club coaches take the lead at other times on weekdays and for weekend activities.

Despite initial opposition, the program has taken hold “thanks to understanding and cooperation from parents,” said an official at the Tajimi Board of Education.

The ministry plans to work out guidelines for limits on school teachers’ work hours while informing local education boards and schools of successful attempts to reduce teachers’ work burdens, such as those adopted by the Noda and Tajimi Municipal governments.

“I hope cutting teachers’ long work hours will enable them to improve efficiency in education,” said education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.