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



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Something's Strange: (Special Needs) Education in Japan (2)

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The other day, I received a call from a reporter working for a major newspaper who asked about my response to some recent data. According to the data, the percentage of children of foreign nationality living in Japan and attending special needs classes at a local elementary or junior high school was almost double that of Japanese students*. The purpose of special needs classes is defined as follows.

"The purpose of introducing special needs classes is to enable children and students with developmental disabilities to successfully deal with and overcome difficulties in learning and everyday life and to spend as much time as possible enjoying a meaningful school life with other children and students in the same grade."
(Guidelines for Special Needs Classes, March 2021. Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, translated by CRN)

Explained in simple terms, it means that the ratio of children of foreign nationality with a developmental disorder is nearly double that of other children. However, this may seem rather strange given that up to now the prevalence rate of developmental disorders worldwide (autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and learning impairment) has been based on the established theory that the ethnic group or race are not factors in the prevalence rate.

As the reporter researched the issue, it became clear that when children of foreign nationalities experience difficulties at school due to differences in language and cultural customs, the schools attended by the students are unable to adequately respond. As a result of these circumstances, the children end up being placed in special needs classes.

When I was younger, I spent about three years doing research in the United States. In the region where I lived, classes in English as a Second Language were offered by local government organizations for children and adults whose native language was not English.

Here in Japan, a friend of mine after retirement is offering instruction as a volunteer to local children whose native language is not Japanese. I certainly have respect for his work as a volunteer, but shouldn't local schools take responsibility for such activities?

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) later acknowledged this situation. The journalist's report indicates that approximately half of the children of foreign nationality who take these special support classes show typical development and no symptoms of developmental disorder. Nevertheless, they are required to attend special needs classes. Should education in Japan, a country that celebrates internationalization and globalization, be this inward-oriented?

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.