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[Japan] Parents' Perceptions Towards Free Preschool Education and Care: Regional Differences in Parents' Aspirations (Part II)

Summary:
The implementation of the free preschool education program is fast approaching. A survey conducted in three metropolitan areas shows that awareness of the program has had an effect on parents' perceptions of childrearing practices such as "At what age can I start leaving my child at daycare?" and "Until what age should I raise my child by myself?" This, as a result, affects their way of working and life course as well. Parents need to choose childrearing and working practices appropriate for their lifestyle, considering their living conditions and relevant issues. The survey also reveals that their choice is affected by certain issues peculiar to their place of residence. In Part II, I will discuss the differences in perceptions among parents in three areas where the free preschool education program is to be implemented for children aged between 0 and 2.

Keywords:
Free preschool education program; childrearing; enrollment timing; choice of life course; comparison survey
Japanese
Results and Discussions (Continued from Part I)

Timing of Enrollment in Childcare Facilities If Free Preschool Education and Care Is Implemented for Children Aged 0-2 Years

Next, we asked the respondents at what age they wanted to enroll their child at a childcare facility if Free Preschool Education and Care is implemented for children aged 0-2 years. We summarized their answers by area as follows (Figure 4).

When compared to the enrollment of their second child (actual), in all three areas fewer respondents answered that they wished to enroll their first child when he/she was under one year old. More respondents in all three areas wished to enroll the first child when he/she was one year old or more.

Similarly, when compared to the enrollment of their first child (actual), more respondents in all three areas answered that they wished to enroll the second child after their maternity leave ends and the percentage of such respondents was similar in all three areas (Area A: 14%, Area B: 11%, Area C: 12%). Although the percentage of the respondents in Area A who wished to enroll their child when he/she is under one year increased from 32% to 39%, the percentage of such respondents in Area B and Area C dropped on the premise that Free Preschool Education and Care was implemented, when compared to the percentage of the respondents who actually enrolled the first child when he/she was under one year (Area B: from 39% to 31%, Area C: from 56% to 52%). Therefore, the survey reveals interesting results where more respondents in Area B and Area C wished to raise their child by themselves until he/she was one year old and then enroll the child in a childcare facility, when compared to the percentage of the respondents who actually enrolled the first child when he/she was under one year, on the premise that Free Preschool Education and Care was implemented (Area A: decreased by 7%, Area B: increased by 8%, Area C: increased by 4%). These results indicate that the respondents in Area A, where the annual household income is lower than that of the other two areas, wished to start working as soon as possible after the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care. In contrast, the respondents in Area B and Area C, where the annual income was relatively higher, seemed to have the leeway to "choose" or consider how and until when they wanted to raise their child by themselves when they were exempt from the burden of childcare fees. The respondents of this survey are childrearing parents; therefore, the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care may have led them to feel they wanted to stay longer with the child at home, if they were to have another child after the implementation of the program.



Figure 4: Timing of Enrollment in Childcare Facilities If Free Preschool Education and Care is Implemented


Fuyuki(2015)*1 argued about parents' choice for the use of childcare facilities as well as relevant factors, and indicated that the "till-3-year-old" Myth affects the choice of parents who think "Mothers should stay at home and concentrate on raising their child until the child becomes three years old" when making a decision on the use of childcare facilities. According to the Annual Health, Labour and Welfare Report 1998*2, there are no reasonable grounds for the "till-3-year-old" Myth (meaning that a child should be raised at home and always taken care of by his/her mother otherwise the development of the child will be negatively affected). This survey revealed that the respondents, especially those in Area B and Area C, wished to stay at home with their child until he/she was one year old, if not until three years old, if Free Preschool Education and Care was implemented.

Meanwhile, there are no regional differences among the respondents in three areas who wished to enroll their child in childcare facilities when the child was younger than two years old. These respondents accounted for about 80% of the overall respondents in each area. In total, there may be areas where the enrollment of children under one year old will decrease and the enrollment of those aged one year or more will increase if Free Preschool Education and Care is implemented for children aged 0-2 years. About 80% of the respondents, who wished to enroll their child in childcare facilities, intended to enroll the child when he/she was less than two years old. Therefore, it is assumed that most of the respondents still wished to enroll their child at an early age. In areas such as Area A where the majority of parents (mainly mothers) are part-time employees and their annual household income is relatively low, the enrollment of children aged 0-1 year is expected to increase from the current level. It is also estimated that the enrollment of children aged four years or older, which accounts for about 7% of the actual enrollment of the first children and is observed in Area A only, may cease to exist after the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care. This indicates, as Kinbara (2011)*3 pointed out, that parental attributes such as income and employment status may be obstacles to the use of preschool facilities.

Main Reasons for the Timing of Enrollment in Childcare Facilities If Free Preschool Education and Care is Implemented for Children Aged 0-2 years

Table 2 shows a summary of the main reasons provided by the respondents in the form of free description about the timing of enrollment in childcare facilities in the case where Free Preschool Education and Care is implemented. In Area A, 48 out of 117 respondents provided their reasons in the form of free description. Of them, 25 respondents stated financial burden such as "To return to work," "To start working and earn money for my family as soon as possible if childcare fee is going to be free" and "Need to work because childrearing costs a lot of money." These account for 52% of the overall reasons for enrollment. In Area B, 64 out of 106 respondents provided their reasons in the form of free description. Of them, 17 respondents stated financial reasons such as "To return to work" and "To work and earn money for my family," which account for 28% of the overall reasons for enrollment. In Area C, 37 out of 86 respondents provided their reasons in the form of free description. Of them, eight respondents stated financial reasons such as "To return to work," "To return to work and society as soon as possible" and "To earn money for my family because we have a low income," which account for 22% of the overall reasons for enrollment. It is revealed that more respondents in Area A, in particular, of those who wish to enroll their child under one year after maternity leave ends, have financial reasons for enrollment, compared to those in the other two areas. At the same time, a certain number of the respondents in three areas, in particular, in Area C, have reasons to raise their child by themselves until he/she reaches a certain age, such as "To stay with my child as long as possible," "To take care of my child by myself," "To observe the growth of my child" and "To raise my child by myself when he/she is very young" (Area A: 8 out of 48 respondents (17%); Area B: 23 out of 64 respondents (36%); Area C: 14 out of 37 respondents (38%)).

This survey also shows a regional difference in the reason given "To secure my own time." The respondents in Area C stated that they wanted "to secure their own time" as the reason for enrollment, which was not observed among other respondents in Area A and Area B. In contrast, the respondents in Area A and Area B stated reasons for enrollment such as "To let my child play with other children rather than keeping him/her with me" and "To have my child acquire social skills," which indicate that they wish their child to acquire social skills through group living. These reasons are not observed among the respondents in Area C, which has the highest population and the highest number of wait-listed children compared to the other two areas.



Table 2: Main Reasons for the Age of Enrollment (what age) in Childcare Facilities If Free Preschool Education and Care Is Implemented (by area)



Conclusion

The results of this survey indicated that the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care will increase the number of respondents who wish to enroll their child in childcare facilities after their maternity leave ends and also those who wish to stay with their child until he/she becomes one year old. Those respondents who wished to enroll their child after maternity leave intended to earn money as soon as possible if they could leave the child at childcare free of charge. In contrast, those who answered they wished to stay with their child intended to keep the child with them when he/she is very young rather than leaving the child at childcare and start working, as long as they could enroll the child in a childcare facility at a desired time. These respondents account for more than 35% of the overall respondents in Area B and Area C.

Some parents wish to enroll their child in a desired childcare facility at a desired time while maintaining their working style. After the revision of the Act on Childcare Leave, Caregiver Leave, and Other Measures for the Welfare of Workers Caring for Children or Other Family Members*4, childcare leave can be extended to a maximum of two years if the child is still on the waiting list. Furthermore, there is the question whether or not the availability of childcare leave is ensured in the current working environment.

The results of this survey showed regional differences in parents' perceptions of childrearing towards the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care. It is considered that these differences are due to the respondents' working style, availability of childcare leave system, the number of children, and annual household income. In one area, where the majority of the respondents are part-time employees and hoping to become full-time employees, the survey indicates two conflicting feelings. One is that they prefer to raise their child by themselves while the child is very young (ideal parenting). The other is that they also want to earn and save money for the child's future because childrearing costs a lot of money (real-world problems). However, it is not easy to obtain a desired job for parents who are part-time employees and raising children.

Shi (2015)*5 argues the relationship between Japan's regional differences in birthrates and childrearing environments, pointing out that mothers who are working part-time tend to have more children than mothers who are a full-time homemaker; while mothers who are a full-time homemaker tend to have more children than mothers who are working full-time. Kamata and Iwasawa (2009)*6 argue that there are regional characteristics in differences in birthrates by place of residence that cannot be applied uniformly across the country, focusing on residential factors such as women's employment rates and the number of childcare facilities. They pointed out that regional blocks based on administrative divisions or conventions are not necessarily appropriate, for boundaries of diverse phenomena peculiar to a certain region since childrearing practices are significantly related to historical or cultural aspects and that it is of frequent occurrence that a global model does not locally fit.

It is difficult to conclude that the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care across the country can solve the issue of declining birthrates and boost economic development in all communities. Each community where families are raising children has unique characteristics and each parent has different problems. What do parents wish and desire to do? What would make childrearing more enjoyable? It seems that parents cannot afford to think about these things because they need to deal with problems at hand one by one, keeping their heads above water while raising their child.

In this survey, we heard the voices of parents such as "I want to stay with my child when he/she is very young as long as I can enroll him/her in a childcare facility at a desired time," "I want to enjoy the adorable stage of childhood," "I need to secure time for household work" and "I want to earn more money." Some parents wish to get a job with desired income, or to take childcare leave while maintaining the status of full-time employee and spend more time with their child. This indicates that, when parents enroll their child in childcare facilities, they give priority to the timing of enrollment in order to ensure their returning to work, rather than how long they wish to stay with their child.

What step should be taken next? We must address issues specific to each community and satisfy the needs of parents who are raising children in the community, such as solving the issue of children on the waiting list, ensuring the sufficient use of childcare leave systems, and creating a working environment where parents can choose a working style with flexible working hours. We hope that the implementation of Free Preschool Education and Care will help many parents enjoy their childrearing and choose a satisfactory course of life.

In this survey, we shed light on parents' aspirations for childrearing. Some parents wish to enroll their child in childcare facilities, while others wish to stay with their child at home when he/she is very young, wishing to keep up with the times in terms of business or skills. We urge the government to take quick and appropriate measures that realize these aspirations and new ways of working for parents raising children.



Acknowledgment

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Ms. Futaba Nishiwaki (School of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, Tokyo University of Social Welfare) and Ms. Yoshiko Bekki (School of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, Tokyo University of Social Welfare) for their valuable assistance in this survey. This article has been revised and edited based on the presentation published at the Poster Exhibition at the 15th Conference of the Japanese Society of Child Science (Yoko Seki, Futaba Nishiwaki, and Yoshiko Bekki in 2018) and the paper titled "Parents' Perceptions Towards Free Preschool Education and Care: Comparison Analysis on the Selection of Childcare Facilities in Three Areas," vol.9, Annals of Tokyo University and Graduate School of Social Welfare (2018) (currently being printed) (Yoko Seki, Futaba Nishiwaki, and Yoshiko Bekki in 2018).

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  • *1 "Research Study on Parents' Choice and Satisfaction with Preschool Childcare Facilities," Haruko Fuyuki, 2015, pages 39-9 of the Participants' 2015 Working Papers on Childrearing Support and Families' Choice, the Secondary Data Analysis Workshop (March 2016) by the Center for Social Research and Data Archives, the Joint Usage/Research Center, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
  • *2 "Annual Health, Labour and Welfare Report 1998" by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (In Japanese)
    https://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei_hakusho/hakusho/kousei/1998/dl/04.pdf
  • *3 "Environmental Changes in Families Raising Children and Their Choice of Preschool Facilities," Akane Kinbara, 2011, pages 26-41 of "Seikatsu Fukushi Kenkyu" [Life and Welfare Studies] (77)," Meiji Yasuda Research Institute, Inc.
  • *4 "Act on Childcare Leave, Caregiver Leave, and Other Measures for the Welfare of Workers Caring for Children or Other Family Members" by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
    https://www.mhlw.go.jp/file/06-Seisakujouhou-11900000-Koyoukintoujidoukateikyoku/0000165876.pdf
  • *5 "Family Formation and Regional Characteristics: Relationship between Childrearing Environments and Number of Children," Shi Liping, 2015, pages 241-251 of the Participants' 2015 Working Papers on Childrearing Support and Families' Choice, the Secondary Data Analysis Workshop (March 2016) by the Center for Social Research and Data Archives, the Joint Usage/Research Center, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
  • *6 "Spatial Variations in Fertility: Geographically Weighted Regression Analyses for Town-and-Village-level TFR in Japan," Kenji Kamata and Miho Iwasawa, 2009, Population Association of Japan, 10.24454/jps.45.0_1
Profile

Yoko_Seki.JPG Yoko Seki
Ms. Yoko Seki is a lecturer at the School of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, Tokyo University of Social Welfare. She acquired a master's degree in Human Life Sciences at the Graduate School of Studies in Human Culture, Otsuma Women's University. Her previous experience includes working as a kindergarten teacher, a lecturer for classes of children aged 2-3 years at the YMCA, and a counselor at the Gunma Prefecture Department of Child Rearing and Adolescence Support. She specializes mainly in General Theory of Childcare, Childcare Environment, and Practical Training for Childcare.
Her major publications include "Parents' Perceptions Towards Free Preschool Education and Care: Comparison Analysis on the Selection of Childcare Facilities in Three Areas," vol.9, Annals of Tokyo University and Graduate School of Social Welfare; "What makes parents select a child care facility?" 2018, International Journal of Human Culture Studies, Otsuma Women's University; and "A means of collecting data on factors in selecting childcare facilities," 2017, International Journal of Human Culture Studies, Otsuma Women's University.
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