Something's Strange: Education in Japan (7) Regarding School Avoidance (2) - Director's Blog



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Something's Strange: Education in Japan (7) Regarding School Avoidance (2)


In my previous blog post, I introduced the remark saying that many causes for not attending school are due to the child's mental problems (mental illness or disorders). This remark was made by an internal medicine physician who runs a clinic specializing in school avoidance. The views of this physician may be biased as children who visit this clinic come here for school absenteeism, and it is possible that such discussion will not apply to all students who refuse to attend school.

However, I witnessed an incident which corroborates that the view that student absenteeism is a child's problem is not limited to the abovementioned doctor, but widespread in school and the classroom where education takes place. I would like to report on one such incident here.

I witnessed this at a related psychology conference. I attended because there was a roundtable symposium on how to deal with school avoidance. The roundtable discussion by four specialists was about preventive education to reduce "The Feeling of Not Wanting to Attend School". Four researchers in the field of educational psychology had proposed several preventive educational programs to reduce four factors that lead to absenteeism and reported on the current selective use in the curriculum. All the researchers involved focused on "attempts to reduce the feeling of not wanting to go to school" and let it be clearly known that their goal or desired end result aimed to achieve a reduction in absenteeism, that is, resulting in fewer students who feel "I don't want to go to school" and refuse to attend. However, I felt much discomfort as I listened to their presentation.

Four causes were cited: problems regarding poor academic performance, low self-esteem, peer relationships, and health. In sum, the feeling of "not wanting to go to school" that leads to non-attendance arises from (1) not being able to understand classes and cannot follow, (2) a feeling of low self-esteem, (3) difficulty making friends, (4) and health problems that arise from lack of sleep, etc. They stated that overcoming these issues will eliminate the feeling of not wanting to go to school and thereby prevent absenteeism.

In the presentations, each speaker enthusiastically talked about lessons and classes that helped overcome academic difficulties, the type of curriculum that can boost self-esteem, and also ways to smoothly establish friendships.

When it became question-and-answer time, I raised my hand immediately to ask a question about something that had been bothering me, but the person sitting in front of me raised a hand first. I was surprised that the question was exactly what I wanted to ask.

The first question was "Is it necessary to diminish the feeling of not wanting to attend school?" The second question asked, "Does this mean that there is absolutely no problem with how teachers handle this situation?" Even in surveys conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan, the teacher's behavior and dealing with children are cited as one factor in the refusal to attend school, and this was a question that sought views on this matter.

The subject that I had wanted to ask about had been brought up first, so I felt deflated, but also felt a sense of agreement with my view. They said they did not focus on school avoidance due to the teacher's behavior this time, but they did not reject the teacher as a possible cause. However, one of the speakers asked in a slightly annoyed tone "What's the problem with teaching children the fun of attending school?"

First of all, I addressed the feeling of not wanting to attend school as an expression of a normal and natural feeling among children. Furthermore, touching on the results of a questionnaire given in Shiga Prefecture which I have mentioned in a previous blog entry, I expressed my view that "it is important and necessary to examine the teacher's behavior or compatibility of the teacher and students."

The survey in Shiga Prefecture was conducted by a non-profit organization that provides support for absentee children, and as such, there may be a tendency (bias) to consider the children's views important to that extent. However, at the end of March, the Nikkei Asia Newspaper reported that the latest commissioned study by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan (MEXT) had produced nearly identical results.*1 In the commissioned study, when teachers, elementary, junior high, and high school students, and their parents and guardians were asked about the causes of absenteeism (multiple answers permitted), the teachers' responses for "victimization by bullying," "rebellion against the teacher," or "reprimand from the teacher" were around 2-4% respectively. However, these figures were in sharp contrast to the response from students and parents which ranged from 16%-44%.

According to the "FY2022 Survey on Problematic Behavior and School Avoidance among Students" released by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), "lethargy and anxiety" were cited as reasons for absenteeism by more than half of the schoolchildren, a result contrary to previous survey results. As factors to explain these results, the causes of school avoidance now appear to have been created as mental disorders of children and students, and the relation to schoolwork, self-esteem, and peer relationships seems to have been a mistaken premise.

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.