Something's (Very) Strange! Inclusive Education in Japan (9) United Nations Survey Reveals Japan's Distinctive Interpretation - Director's Blog



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Something's (Very) Strange! Inclusive Education in Japan (9) United Nations Survey Reveals Japan's Distinctive Interpretation


Nations that have ratified a treaty with United Nations agree to accept the condition that they undergo regular inspection by UN committee members to ensure that they are honoring the agreement.

Japan, which has ratified the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), was scheduled to be inspected by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2020. After a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the inspection results were announced at the end of August this year.

In this blog and other writing, I have asserted that Japan's inclusive education is really not "inclusive education" as it is known, and for this reason, I had been eagerly awaiting the final results of the inspection and evaluation. The results that were announced on August 22 coincided with what I had expected.

The main points of the evaluation will be introduced here, but the headlines in the news by Kyodo News point them out very clearly. First, here is one such headline.

U.N. panel urges Japan to end segregated education of disabled kids

In sum, what is known as inclusive education in Japan is not at all the inclusive education that I have been advocating. It has been judged to be divisive or separate education, something that would be called "segregation" in English, the exact opposite of inclusion, from which the word "inclusive" comes.

Simply expressed, "Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school." (Cited from NPO Canada's website InclusionBC*1)

A good summary of this can be found in the following book by William Heward about children with disabilities who attend regular classes: Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education (2003) and its Japanese translation Tokubetsu shien kyoiku, Akashi Books.

The United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls this a "general educational system" and pursues the following.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 24.2*2
In realizing the right, States Parties shall ensure that:
(a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;
(b) Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.

Those in charge at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) surely knew, of course, that general education and compulsory early education are stated in the definition of inclusive education. However, as can be understood from the records below, at committee meetings organized by MEXT, representatives of special needs schools and organizations for persons with disabilities (shogaisha dantai) misunderstood inclusive education to be a system that would abolish or close special needs schools, and voiced strong opposition. Although the system of inclusive education was premised on a major structural reform that would transfer the function of current special needs schools to local schools, this was misunderstood as the abolishing and closing of special needs schools. Here are views that were expressed at the committee meeting.*3

"I am the chairperson of the National Organization of Special Needs Schools. It is an organization of about 1,000 special needs schools nationwide. Our numbers have been increasing recently. The number of children and students enrolled has now surpassed 110,000. With this mind, I would first like to consider whether special needs schools are functioning within the system of inclusive education. Inclusive education involves providing education that carefully meets each student's individual needs and develops abilities as much as possible. It also includes providing career guidance to live well with others in society, and improving early education to support entry into society. As this is the current education provided, special needs schools are part of the system of inclusive education."

"It is a fact that I was very surprised to hear parents expressing concern during the conference that the special needs school would close. In fact, my office even receives inquiries expressing concern that the schools will be closing. In my office, we also receive e-mails asking about what is happening, and some parents even express fear that their schools will close. Of course, I hope that the discussion will not become so extreme."

Perhaps because this sort of dissenting opinion was expressed although the treaty had already been ratified, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted an explanation of this peculiar Japanese interpretation of inclusive education and special needs schools that it is attributed to the interpretation of the English term "general education." Records of communication with the two ministries during this period remain.*4

(The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology: MEXT)
When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked about the "general education system" in Article 24 regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, the response was as follows.

(The Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
In Article 24, the content of the general education system is understood as public education offered by the administrative body in charge of education in each country. Furthermore, it states that a shared understanding reached during negotiations includes education at special needs schools. As a result, education at special needs schools is now understood to be a part of general education. (Article 4, 7th Special Committee Meeting)

This document by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states in one sentence that "It is recognized that the understanding shared in the negotiations also includes education at special needs schools." The three words "recognize," "share," and "understanding" do not have a subject. Without a definite subject, it is not clear who is responsible about this within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If it had been a report by one of my students, it would certainly have received a failing grade. (I suspect that the subject was also intentionally not used.)

I think this is where it all started. The policy in Japan does not seek inclusion, the shared goal of the world, but has rather sought segregation.

This "inclusive" education provided according to a peculiar Japanese interpretation was not to be recognized by the United Nations committee. Instead the committee concerned with the issue of rights focused on the increasing number of children enrolled in special education schools as a problem due to this sort of segregation. The request to improve the situation was (in my view) an entirely logical conclusion.

Mr. Ruskus, a committee member, also expressed concern to the committee chairperson about the regress observed as regards the education of children with disabilities. Some new national legislation promoted special segregated education of children with disabilities and subjecting them to a medical assessment, resulting in the denial of inclusive education. A specialist on the committee asked about policies or strategies for promoting accessibility in regular schools and inclusive education.*5

Unfortunately, I also anticipated these consequences. Once the assessment were to be conducted, the committee would acknowledge the situation, so I do not understand why reform of the educational system was not carried out in accordance with the agreement.

However, reading the UN report further, you will encounter the embarrassing replies of the representatives from Japan to questions from the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The situation in Japan is reported as follows.

Response of the delegation *5
In education, children with disabilities are given the opportunity to express their views. Children with disabilities are able to choose whether to attend regular schools or special schools. Many children choose to attend regular schools, where they receive special education from dedicated staff that is provided by government funding.

Reading this, my feelings go beyond embarrassment and approach anger.

At consultations prior to elementary school enrollment, the policies of the Board of Education are basically given precedence. Schools will occasionally make strong requests to children who are experiencing difficulties in regular classes to transfer to special needs classes. To the UN Committee that is already familiar with the actual situation due to surveys and studies, how can you so brazenly say things that are not in line with the facts?

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.