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Integrating Day Care and Preschool

Keywords: Child Care, New Child Care and Education System, Day Care and Preschool, Child Raising, Noboru Kobayashi

The government announced its final proposed design for the new child care and education system on July 5. The new policy is based on integrating the operations of day care center and preschools such as kindergartens and nursery schools. The government policy aims to reduce the number of children in metropolitan areas who must wait a long time before being accepted in the current facilities and provide education and child care for all preschool children. Day care centers and kindergartens will be integrated into a single institution called "Kodomo-en, (children's facilities)" but because both kindergartens and day care centers for 0-2 year olds will continue to operate separately, the true integration of day care centers and kindergartens will not be realized soon.

As I have mentioned on many occasions, child raising, child care, and education are all important and interrelated. This interrelationship depends on the particular region, family and child's age with each of them overlapping in different ways. With the diversity of child raising, child care and education, it will be a challenge to integrate day care facilities with kindergartens in a way will satisfy the wishes of parents and the requirements of day care professionals and kindergarten teachers.

During the Nakasone government in the mid-1980s, I had the honor of serving on the Special Council for Education. As a pediatrician, it is not surprising, but I was part of the Third Task Force in charge of studying elementary and junior high school compulsory education. The Chair was Kazuhisa Arita, the chairperson of the board, Nishi Nippon Institute of Technology. The topic of the integrating day care and kindergarten came up several times. We discussed lowering the age of elementary school matriculation, which in the end was not changed. We surveyed a number of people, and I remember those involved in kindergartens had the most vocal views. Day care and education are said to be different, but I wonder if I was the only one to have sensed some disdain for children who lack day care.*

Referred to as the unification of day care and kindergarten at the time, why has this plan been called the integration of day care and kindergarten since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power? "Unification" connotes bringing together disparate structures and parts into a single entity while "integration" implies combining two or more things into a single whole. The different terminology seems to point to a different kind of difficulty involved in integrating day care and kindergarten.

The current status of child raising, day care and education clearly indicates that child-raising skills and techniques in the family and home have declined, and this is borne out by the increase in child abuse cases. In order to supplement child-raising know-how in the home, it is necessary to strengthen day care and education as societal know-how, in particular, early childhood education. Supporting child-raising in the home requires improving the systems and techniques of day care and education, in particular, and this is what we need to do today.

Day care facilities were originally instituted for children who needed to be taken care of and represent a form of social know-how intended for this purpose. Together with increased workforce participation by women in the postwar period, day care has become an absolute necessity today for children whose mothers are working. The preschool education system has a long history started along with the establishment of the modern education system during Meiji government.

The increased necessity for day care means that we must approach it from new perspectives. Just as day care largely involves providing care in daily life, child raising is also largely concerned with education. As such, would it not be possible to, at least, create a theoretical basis for the increasingly educational content of day care by having preschool education incorporate day care, or vice versa? Raising children in daily life clearly includes the educating children. Even in special child-care institutions, each of these activities has an enormous educational effect. Whether child raising , day care or education , these terms in Japanese all carry the same Chinese character for raising , indicating this common aspect in raising children. In this meaning, all three can be unified in theory.

At the same time, insofar as parents raise their children in diverse ways, couldn't we say that institutions that care for children should also be diverse and include kindergartens, day care centers and Kodomo-en. What is important is that these institutions should be flexible. This means building an adequate number of these facilities, enlarging the everyday space for children, and allowing parents to make a choice. Of course, it will be necessary to ensure no difference in educational results in each facility. In any case, without making the system too rigid, the first step is to theoretically bring together child care and education.

*This refers to a situation in which neither the parent/guardian nor co-habiting relatives can care for the child.

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