Something's Strange: Inclusive Education in Japan (2) - Director's Blog



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Something's Strange: Inclusive Education in Japan (2)

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In the past, in most countries, including Japan, children with disabilities were educated in special schools that were separate from the regular educational system. In the 1970s, with the support of the United Nations, the concept of normalization began to take root, calling for eliminating discrimination in the participation of society based on disability. This trend has led to "comprehensive education" or "integration education" in which children with and without disabilities both study together. Italy decided to make integration education a fundamental national policy, and by 1992, it had closed its schools for special needs education and other facilities for special education. The U.S. and Canada, which I covered in my previous post, still have special education facilities, but it can be said that the final goal is to achieve an educational system like that of Italy.

After the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006, integration came to be called "inclusive education." The CRPD, Article 24.2a on Education states that "persons with disabilities are not [to be] 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." As the opposite of "exclude" is "include," this became known as "inclusive education."

Japan also signed the CRPD in 2007 and ratified it in 2014. As a signatory, it is obliged to carry out its stipulations. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) set up a special committee to promote inclusive education in Japan, and Japan's basic policy on inclusive education today was drawn up on the basis of its discussions.

However, this inclusive education system is precisely the very reason why I feel "something's strange." I'd like point out to two particularly odd aspects.

(1) Special needs schools have been considered part of "the general education system."
If we consider that inclusive education started out as normalization, and furthermore, if the objective of normalization is to eliminate segregation in education, then special needs schools should not be thought of as general education, but rather as special education. Italy was the only country to fully comply with this provision of the convention at the time of its ratification. The UK held off on the agreement, and after intense discussion, decided to ratify it, declaring that it would lead to further development of "an inclusive system where parents of disabled children have increasing access to mainstream schools and staff, which have the capacity to meet the needs of disabled children." Inclusivity was not yet complete, and it vowed to make further efforts to increase access.

In Japan as well, there have been discussions at the committee level stating that question whether special needs schools are a part of the general education system. Looking at the minutes of the committee meetings, we see from the very first meeting that those involved with schools for special needs education have strongly supported their continued existence within the general education system: "Inclusive education means that special needs schools function within the system," "We are proud that up to now they (special needs classes) have been offered within the system of inclusive education," and "Parents are now even afraid that special needs schools will no longer exist." I think, however, that the important function that special needs schools have fulfilled in the special needs education system and whether special needs schools will fulfill in the same function within the coming inclusive education system are two separate issues. Under strong pressure from this appeal by some committee members and the position taken by others who support separating special needs education by the type of disability, MEXT declared that special needs schools are included in general education. However, MEXT does not cite this position as one it takes itself, but rather cites those at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of ratifying the CRPD.

Regarding the general education system in Article 24 Education on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an inquiry was made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the following reply was received.

The "general education system" set forth in Article 24 of the Convention refers to public education provided by the educational administration in each nation, and in talks regarding the Convention, this was understood to include education at special needs schools. As such, the "general education system" is understood to include special needs schools. (Fifth Committee Meeting, Report 2)

Consequently, conforming to the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, special needs schools were recognized as being embraced within "inclusive education," and educating children with special needs in special needs school or classes "separately" could also be called "inclusive education."

Because identifying children with disabilities at an early stage through examinations at the age of five and then sending them to special needs classes or special needs schools can be seen as inclusive education, promoting inclusive education has led to more and more children attending special needs schools every year.

According to recent data * on the number of students now attending special needs schools in Japan, the number reached a historic high of approximately 140,000 in 2015 and increased 36% in the past ten years. The number of children in compulsory education has continued to decline due to the falling birthrate during this time, and as a result, there has been a relative rise in the number of students attending special needs schools.

Even though the system is said to be an inclusive one, strangely enough, the number of children who are educated separately, not in regular classes, has been increasing in Japan. On the contrary, the system could be ironically characterized as becoming "exclusive."

I'm running out of space on my blog now. Although I said that I would write about this topic twice, two posts don't seem to be enough. In my next post, I will write more about this "something strange," as the concluding article of this series.

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* Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (2015), School Basic Survey (Prompt Report)
Sakakihara_Yoichi.bmp Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Vice President, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, 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 assuming current post.