The education system is not taking adequate care of the increasing number of foreign children living in Japan. According to a recent Kyodo News survey, 41 out of 72 municipal governments have failed to confirm the whereabouts of more than 10,000 non-Japanese children not attending school. That lack of oversight does not happen with Japanese children, whose truancy is typically tracked and investigated by boards of education.

The number of students potentially left out of the system is roughly 10 percent of the 100,000 school-age children of foreign nationality in Japan. These kids are not receiving an education, or even any attention, during their most important years. Such negligence violates the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a United Nations treaty that went into force in 1990 and stipulates that all children have the right to attend school.

The central government and education ministry is handling non-Japanese children differently from Japanese children. The survey found that many municipalities, including the cities of Chiba, Yokohama, Osaka and some of Tokyo’s 23 wards, had many children of foreign nationality whose school attendance was not being tracked. Many others only superficially follow the attendance of non-Japanese students by sending questionnaires to families without any follow-up.

Usually, when Japanese children are not enrolled in school, local officials investigate the reasons. These officials should be sent to talk to all families, regardless of nationality, to find out why students are not attending.

That is not to suggest that the causes or solutions are simple. For non-Japanese, two of the biggest reasons for not going to school are weakness in Japanese-language skills and fear of being bullied. The education ministry needs to ensure that non-native speakers have sufficient support networks to catch up and study together with Japanese students.

Measures taken against bullying in schools have been slightly effective. However, non-Japanese students may require specialized assistance in this matter both linguistically and culturally. If school life is difficult for Japanese students, it is even more so for non-Japanese.

It is also important that Japanese students have the experience of being in the same classroom and perhaps being friends with non-Japanese. The presence of non-Japanese students should encourage interaction between people of different linguistic, cultural and social backgrounds.

Successfully integrating non-Japanese students into the school system is complex and challenging, but a basic first step is to seek out the non-attending students and find ways to get them in school. As more non-Japanese families come to Japan, the issue will only increase in the future. Practical solutions should be found to ensure that all children residing in Japan receive an education as a basic human right.

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