Something's Strange: Inclusive Education in Japan (7) What the Teachers Really Think that I Didn't Want to Hear - Director's Blog



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Something's Strange: Inclusive Education in Japan (7) What the Teachers Really Think that I Didn't Want to Hear


Over the past fifteen years, I have visited a number of Japanese schools in Europe and counseled students with developmental disorders and other psychological issues as well as their parents.
Recently, however, because the organization that has been supporting the counseling program will disband, we held our last counseling session.

This counseling work, which involves visiting five to six schools over a period of ten days, spending two to three days at each school, and providing nearly nonstop counseling from morning to night, is quite exhausting. What makes it very rewarding are the parents of the students who wait to receive counseling every year and the classroom teachers who look forward to receiving advice on dealing with the children.

Japanese schools in foreign countries are quite different from other schools in the area of special support education. One reason is the lack of accessible facilities (education center, public health center, etc.) where it is possible to receive counseling. While ordinary medical facilities are available, when it comes to consultation on behavior related to developmental disorders, the language barrier is high and difficult. One major reason for my visits is to offer advice and guidance.

Furthermore, perhaps because there are no schools for children with special needs, we could say in a sense that real inclusive education is taking place. In these schools for Japanese students overseas, there are students with a variety of special needs, so the burden on teachers tends to be greater than in Japan. On the other hand, for the children, it is an experience in a more inclusive environment that cannot be had in Japan.

The recent counseling session also turned into a daily round of explanations, from morning to evening, for parents who were eagerly looking forward to the opportunity for annual counseling and for homeroom teachers who wanted to hear the medical point of view and possible countermeasures.

This time, however, the situation was a little different at only one school. At the other schools, review sessions are always held to reflect on children, but here at this school, not one classroom teacher participated in the review session. Instead, there was one coordinator, a teacher with teaching experience at a special support school who, as representative, listened to my talk and then asked for advice on nearly twenty cases. In the past, the homeroom teachers had participated and enthusiastically asked about their own students, so this seemed strange and I asked if the classroom teachers would be participating.

With a confused look, the coordinating teacher responded, "Even if, as coordinator, I give advice about a student with special needs in each class, teachers are not happy to receive it. On the contrary, they seem to consider the advice a burden because it means that they have more to take into consideration." Hearing this, I was no longer surprised but sad. While these were the true feelings of some teachers, I felt that I did not want to hear such honesty, that is, how one group of teachers truly felt.

Certainly, responding sensitively to the special needs of children may be very difficult and trying work. However, a teacher's mission is to educate children impartially. This is comparable to a doctor's mission to cure illness and a firefighter's mission to extinguish fires. It would not be professional for a doctor to avoid flu patients because their illness is contagious or for a firefighter to be unwilling to go to the scene of the fire to avoid a burn. Teachers are supposed to be professionals in the field of education who are entrusted by citizens of the country to educate children.

I hope that what I experienced is only a rare exception.

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.