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Something's Strange: Inclusive Education in Japan (5) A Major Misconception

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In this blog, I have expressed my views on issues regarding inclusive education in Japan. The other day, I gave a lecture on issues very similar to what I have been writing here, and afterwards, a woman came up to say "I don't agree with your views." She went on to say, "My daughter, who is autistic, attends a school for special needs, and there she is very well taken care of. I would not think of sending her to a regular school. I think it would be too stressful for her."

My response to her is written below, after my thoughts on a certain article.

One article appeared in a journal for special needs education. It was written by a teacher at a special needs school in the form of dialogue on inclusive education between two teachers at a special needs school, and the following summarizes the conversation (with some modifications).

Teacher A: If we allow a child with special needs to simply sit in a regular class when we still don't have lesson plans and content that meet the child's needs there, aren't we really ignoring what it means to teach, in the name of education?

Teacher B: Those who support fully inclusive schools seem to be saying that sending children to special needs schools is a form of discrimination, and this makes me sad. If the students at my school attended regular classes for their grade, the majority would panic.

The view expressed by the woman at the lecture and the ideas stated in the article are both founded on a misconception. But I wonder if this misconception is clear to others.

In response to the view expressed by the woman at my lecture, I answered as follows:

First, let me make a clarification. I am not saying that it is good for a child like your daughter to enter the currently offered regular curriculum classes as they now exist. The true inclusiveness that I am talking about will be realized only after the regular curriculum classes are remade into something completely different from what they currently are. This means that all children in the district will attend "regular classes" that have the necessary teachers and facilities for children with various needs, including children with developmental disorders. This first means undertaking a major overhaul of the present-day school system and reform of the system, which will require considerable time and funding.

I am not sure if the woman who gave that opinion was convinced by my explanation, but the views expressed in the teachers' dialogue that appeared in the magazine reflect a way of thinking based on a similar misunderstanding. Going a bit further, I would say that they distort the true intention of "people who seek full-inclusiveness," like myself. The reason is that simply transferring students in special needs schools (classes) to regular classes is not really the objective of inclusiveness, and the teacher who wrote the article above on special needs education is probably well-aware of that.

In an earlier blog, I stated that inclusive education in Japan was deprived of any substance when the system was in the design and planning stage. The two cases introduced here are strangely similar to a statement made by one committee member of the deliberation council. The committee member emphatically supported separating children based on his experience that autistic children panic when placed in a regular class. This committee member also made the serious mistake of defining the regular class in inclusive education in the future as no different from the current regular classes today.

In the end, the assertion that inclusive education is being carried out in Japan is supported by a strong determination not to change the existing education system with the peculiar logic (?) that special needs schools are one part of an inclusive educational system and that inclusive education in Japan is partially inclusive. In face of such an educational system, I feel a sense of emptiness.

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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.
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