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Why so many Japanese children refuse to go to school, Hacker News

Why so many Japanese children refuse to go to school, Hacker News


        

                                 Children playing in Tamagawa Free SchoolImage copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                                                  

In Japan, more and more children are refusing to go to school, a phenomenon called “futoko”. As the numbers keep rising, people are asking if it’s a reflection of the school system, rather than a problem with the pupils themselves.

Ten-year-old Yuta Ito waited until the annual Golden Week holiday last spring to tell his parents how he was feeling – on a family day out he confessed that he no longer wanted to go to school.

For months he had been attending his primary school with great reluctance, often refusing to go at all. He was being bullied and kept fighting with his classmates.

His parents then had three choices: get Yuta to attend school counseling in the hope things would improve, home-school him, or send him to a free school. They chose the latter option.

Now Yuta spends his school days doing whatever he wants – and he’s much happier.                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Getty Images                                                      

Image caption                                    Japanese primary school children (file picture)                             
Yuta is one of Japan’s many futoko, defined by Japan’s education ministry as children. who don’t go to school for more than 40 days, for reasons unrelated to health or finances.

The term has been variously translated as

absenteeism, truancy, school phobia or school refusal.

Attitudes to futoko have changed over the decades. Until school refusal – then called tokokyoshi, meaning resistance – was considered a type of mental illness. But in 2010 the terminology changed to the more neutral futoko, meaning non-attendance.

On (October, the government announced that absenteeism among elementary and junior high school students had hit a record high, with 164, (children absent for) ****************************************************************** (days or more during (*****************************************, up from (*******************************************************************, (in

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                                                      
Image caption                                    A dog hangs out with pupils at Tamagawa Free School                             
free school movementstarted in Japan in the s, in response to the growing number of futoko. They’re alternative schools that operate on principles of freedom and individuality.

They’re an accepted alternative to compulsory education, along with home -schooling, but won’t give children a recognized qualification.

The number of students attending free or alternative schools instead of regular schools has shot up over the years,from 7, (in to 031, (in****************************.

Dropping out of school can have long-term consequences, and there is a high risk that young people can withdraw from society entirely and shut themselves away in their rooms – a phenomenon known as hikikomori.

More worrying still is the number of pupils who take their own lives. In (******************************************, thenumber of school suicides was the highest in years, with cases.

(In) the rising number of student suicides led the Japanese government to pass a suicide prevention act with special recommendations for schools.

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                             

                         

Image caption                                    Free schools set their own rules                             
So why are so many children avoiding school in Japan?

Family circumstances, personal issues with friends, and bullying are among the main causes, according to a survey by the ministry of education.

In general, the dropouts reported that they did not get along with other students, or sometimes with the teachers.

That was also the case for Tomoe Morihashi.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with many people,” says the – year-old. “School life was painful.”

Tomoe suffers from selective mutism, which affected her whenever she was out in public.

“I couldn’t speak outside my home or away from my family,” she says.

And she found it hard to obey the rigid set of rules that govern Japanese schools.

“Tights must not be colored, hair must not be dyed, the color of hair elastics is fixed, and they must not be worn on the wrist,” she says.

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Getty Images                                                  

Many schools in Japan control every aspect of their pupils’ appearance, forcing pupils to dye their brown hair black, or not allowing pupils to wear tights or coats, even in cold weather. In some cases they even decide on the color of pupils’ underwear.

Strict school rules were introduced in the s and s in response to violence and bullying. They relaxed in the 1990 s but have become more severe recently.

These regulations are known as “black school rules”, reflecting a popular term used todescribe companies that exploit their workers.

Now Tomoe, like Yuta, attends Tamagawa Free School in Tokyo where students don’t need to wear a uniform and are free to choose their own activities, according to a plan agreed between the school, parents and pupils. They are encouraged to follow their individual skills and interests.

There are rooms with computers for Japanese and maths classes and a library with books and mangas (Japanese comic books).

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                                                      
Image caption                                    Students can choose what to activities they want to do in free schools                             

The atmosphere is very informal, like a big family. Students meet in common spaces to chat and play together.

“The purpose of this school is to develop people’s social skills,” says Takashi Yoshikawa, the head of the school.

Whether it’s through exercising, playing games or studying, the important thing is to learn not to panic when they’re in a large group .

The school recently moved to a larger space, and about children attend every day.

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                                                      

Image caption                                    About 15 Children attend Tamagawa Free School every day                             
Mr Yoshikawa opened his first free school in 2017, in a three-storey apartment in Tokyo’s residential neighborhood of Fuchu.“I expected students over years old, but actually those who came were only seven or eight years old, “he says. “Most were silent with selective mutism, and at school they did do anything.”Mr Yoshikawa believes that communication problems are at the root of most students’ school refusal.                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                                                      
Image caption                                    Takashi Yoshikawa first opened a free school in 2010                             
His own journey into education was unusual. He quit his job as a “salary man” in a Japanese company in his early s, when he decided he was not interested in climbing the career ladder. His father was a doctor, and like him, he wanted to serve his community, so he became a social worker and foster father.

The experience opened his eyes to the problems children face. He realized how many students suffered because they were poor, or victims of domestic abuse, and how much this affected their performance at school.

Part of the challenge pupils face is the big class sizes, says Prof Ryo Uchida, an education expert at Nagoya University.

“In classrooms with about 45 students who have to spend a year together, many things can happen, “he says.

Prof Uchida says comradeship is the key ingredient to surviving life in Japan because the population density is so high – if you don’t get along and co-ordinate with others, you won’t survive. This not only applies to schools, but also to public transport and other public spaces, all of which are overcrowded.

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Getty Images                                                      
Image caption                                    Comradeship is key to surviving school                             
*** for many students this need to conform is a problem. They don’t feel comfortable in overcrowded classrooms where they have to do everything together with their classmates in a small space.

“Feeling uncomfortable in such a situation is normal, “says Prof Uchida.

What’s more, in Japan, children stay in the same class from year to year, so if problems occur, going to school can become painful.

“In that sense, the support provided for example by free schools is very meaningful,” Prof Uchida says. “In free schools, they care less about the group and they tend to value the thoughts and feelings of each single student.”

                                                                                                      Image copyright                 Stephane Bureau du Colombier                                                      

Image caption                                    Children playing in Tamagawa Free School                             

But although free schools are providing an alternative, the problems within the education system itself remain an issue. For Prof Uchida, not developing students’ diversity is a violation of their human rights – and many agree.

Criticism of “black school rules “and the Japanese school environment is increasing nationwide. In a recent column the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper described them as a violation of human rights and an obstacle to student diversity.

In August, the campaign group “Black kosoku o nakuso! Project” [Let’s get rid of black school rules!] submitted an online petition to the education ministry signed by more than 144, (0 people, asking for an

investigation into unreasonable school rules. Osaka Prefecture ordered all of its high schools to review their rules, with about (**********************************************************************% of schools making changes.

Prof Uchida says the education ministry now appears to accept absenteeism not as an anomaly, but a trend. He sees this as a tacit admission that futoko children are not the problem but that they are reacting to an education system that is failing to provide a welcoming environment.

(                                                                                                                      

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Media captionThe women trying to coax Japan’s reclusive young men out of their bedrooms.

At least half a million young men in Japan are thought to have withdrawn from society, and refuse to leave their bedrooms. They’re known as hikikomori.

Their families often don’t know what to do, but one organization is offering “sisters for hire “to help coax these young men out of their isolation.

*********** Rent-a-sister: Coaxing Japan’s hikikomori out of their rooms

            
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