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In bid to tackle teacher overtime, Japan government calls on boards to help schools secure support staff

JIJI

The education ministry has said it will step up efforts to encourage public schools to adopt reforms intended to tackle excessive overtime work by teachers, calling on local education boards to establish pools of support staff capable of leading extracurricular activities on behalf of teachers and seeking parents’ backing for such staff.

The initiative is among a set of measures recommended by a special committee of the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, on Jan. 25. These were put forward after a fiscal 2016 survey by the ministry found that roughly 30 percent and 60 percent of teachers at public elementary and junior high schools, respectively, worked more overtime than the so-called karōshi (death from overwork) risk threshold of 80 hours per month.

The fiscal 2016 survey also found that 81.8 percent and 89 percent of teachers at public elementary and junior high schools, respectively, worked more than 45 hours of overtime per month.

Major reasons for excessive overtime included academic assessments of pupils at elementary schools and mandatory responsibilities for overseeing students’ extracurricular activities at junior high schools, according to the survey.

In December last year, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry proposed that overtime work for teachers at public schools be capped, in principle, at 45 hours per month and 360 hours per year. Even in unusual circumstances, such as when confronting bullying problems, overtime should be curbed to less than 100 hours per month, the ministry said. Each municipality will be asked by the ministry to set overtime reduction targets in line with the guidelines by the end of fiscal 2020.

Recommendations by the advisory panel included an “integrated support system for school affairs” that involves the use of information technology for the management of academic grades and communication among teachers at elementary schools, as well as the assignment of support staff to oversee extracurricular activities on behalf of teachers at junior high schools.

According to the committee, the system could reduce teachers’ work by some 120 hours per year at elementary schools and, through the introduction of such support staff, by 160 hours at junior high schools.

The government has worked out a five-year plan to spend ¥180.5 billion per year through fiscal 2022 to promote the adoption of the integrated support system at public schools, and the ministry has set aside funds in its fiscal 2019 draft budget to double the number of support staff for extracurricular activities to 9,000 from the previous year.

But to meet the proposed cap, most schools will have to make drastic changes to their work methods.

Among elementary schools, to date only 50.6 percent have introduced the integrated support system, and there are differences between municipalities in terms of the introduction rate.