THE NEED FOR ONLINE PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION IN JAPAN / Rina Obata 

Have you ever heard of the word “futōkō”? This word is very distinctive to the Japanese culture and education system. It is defined as “a student who does not go to school for more than 30 days due to several personal reasons that are not related to health or financial problems” (MEXT). Personal reasons include being a target of bullying, difficult human relationships with people at school, having social anxiety, and many more reasons that trigger high anxiety by the very act of going to school. The number of futōkō students in Japan is rising every year, and yet, there has not been much change to this situation. “Homeschooling,” or to be more descriptive, “online public school at home,” should be implemented. Online public school is a type of education system that allows one to finish their education just like a regular public-school student would. The tuition fee, textbooks, and other educational materials will be funded by the school districts and, therefore, free. There will even be government-certified teachers that teach you virtually or with whom you can have face to face communications. I received this kind of education during my time in the U.S., and my own experience made me realize the need for an alternative education system in my home country, Japan. As the number of futōkō students increases every year, there has never been a better time to demand a new style of education in Japan, and online public schools should be the solution to this problem.

The number of “futōkō students continues to increase every year, yet there have not been many debates about how to fix this issue. In 2018, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) announced that the number of futōkō students in elementary and junior high school rose to 164,528, which was 14.2% more than the previous year (p. 70). The same data also showed that the number of futōkō students rose for six years in a row (p. 70). As such, this issue is rapidly becoming very crucial, and yet there have been no major debates or change about how to deal with this problem. In 2017, The Japanese All-Party Parliamentary Group suggested to MEXT that something called “free school,” which is a school dedicated especially to futōkō students should be a part of the compulsory education system. However, this idea received much backlash from other parties, saying, “free schools are only going to increase futōkōstudents” or “it’s just too early.” Therefore, the All-Parliamentary Group had no choice but to give up this idea. This does not make sense. Regrettably, there are more than 160,000 futōkō students who are suffering to go to school every day due to their unwell physical or mental issues or uniqueness, and there are no ongoing movements to fix the issue.

One of the most significant benefits of online public education is its high-quality education. With online public education, students would have more opportunities to explore their interests outside of the pre-decided curriculum, enabling them to deepen their understanding of a subject. When parents consider online public education, many worry that education at home is unproductive or ineffective. However, this is not necessarily true. A 2015 research conducted by Brian Ray, a member of the National Home Education Research Institute, concluded that kids educated at home “typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests.” This is likely because education at home gives one the flexibility to study according to their schedule in the way they want to. There is a rigid schedule at a regular public school that determines exactly “when” to study “what.” This is especially true in the Japanese school system. Since the entire curriculum is controlled by the Japanese government and is mainly focused on students being able to pass university entrance exams, it is strictly regulated. It has no space for extra education outside of the curriculum. This is detrimental to students because it does not allow them to broaden their knowledge about what is outside of the pre-determined education curriculum. With public online education, this can be changed. Students will be able to have the flexibility of choosing how to study what, at the time that they want to. For example, when a student is learning about a specific topic and is curious to know more, it is easier for online public-school students to look up more information and further their understanding at the exact time that they have learned about a subject. With online public education, students will be able to get a quality education thanks to the flexibility that it provides.

The introduction of online public education in Japan will allow every student to receive an education. Currently, many futōkōstudents are not able to go to school. It is not because they don’t want to, but because they cannot, due to their mental or physical health. When I was seven years old, I moved to the U.S. from Japan and became a futōkō student myself, caused by several factors such as social anxiety and culture shock. I remember being so ashamed of myself because I could not go to school on account of my poor mental health. The option of online public education saved me from the dark tunnel that I thought would be impossible to get out of. When I came back to Japan a few years later, I could not believe that there was no education system equipped for futōkō students. It seemed bizarre that there was no other option for them. Recently, this problem has resurfaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Asahi Shimbun reported in June 2020 that with the start of online classes due to the pandemic, futōkō students could attend classes and get their schoolwork done (Miyasaka and Nishimura). It also reported children not wanting to return to regular public schools even after the pandemic. They would have to face problems like bullying or difficult human relationships at the actual school (Yamane, 2020). It is unfair that students who want to go to school but are unable to because of their mental or physical condition, cannot receive a proper education. Their health conditions shouldn’t take away students’ rights to receive an appropriate education.

One major argument that may surface is how online public schools could make matters worse for futōkō students because it does not fix the problem, and the students may “give up” trying. However, this time could also be used as a mental health break from futōkō students’ tiring daily lives. In fact, according to MEXT, 36.2% of elementary and junior high school students accredited their futōkō to “problems with school life,” such as difficult relationships with classmates or teachers. This kind of problem can be avoided with online public education. Online public schools can be a haven for many students who are having “problems with school life.” Also, in the U.S., where online public school is legal, it is possible to return to regular public school anytime. A student can decide to try online public school for a year and return to traditional public school the following year. This kind of flexibility allows students to be freed from the social pressure of going to regular public school every day. Students can receive a proper education at home while also taking a mental health break without feeling ashamed.

In conclusion, many students need an alternative education system because of their personal issues, and online public schools should be one of the answers to this problem. However, currently, there are not many movements towards making such systems available, and the rising number of futōkō students are falling out of the current education system. This situation must be changed. Futōkō students should be able to receive a proper education, just like a regular student would. Being futōkō should not mean that the student has no bright future or potential. All students, including those with physical or mental health issues, should be given an equal opportunity for education, and the Japanese government must act now to implement these new systems. I strongly believe that if this kind of education system is introduced in Japan, more students will exhibit their full potential and that Japan will have a brighter future.

References

Kugai, T. Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Home Learning 

(Homeschooling) in Japan. Homeschooling in Japan. Retrieved from https://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~ja8i-brtl/faq.html

Miyasaka and Nishimura. (2020, June 8). オンライン授業、不登校の生
徒も参加 思わぬメリット(Online jugyo, futōkō no seito mo sanka. Omowanu meritto). Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved fromhttps://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S14504912.html

Ray, B.D. (2020, March 23). HOMESCHOOLING: THE RESEARCH -Research Facts on Homeschooling, Homeschool Fast Facts-. National Home Education Research Institute. Retrieved from https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/

Yamane, K. (2020, June 8). 夢への道子どもと学校と話して(Yume eno 
michi kodomo to gakko to hanashite). Asahi Shimbun, p.17

フリースクールに理解を 文科省が基本指針 (Free School ni rikai wo. 
Monka-sho ga kihon shishin). The Nikkei, April 4, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.nikkei.com/article/ DGXLASDG04H0R_U7A400C1000000

フリースクール容認断念…慎重論多く(Free school younin dannen…
shinchouron ooku). The Mainichi Shimbun, March 14, 2016.
Retrieved from https://mainichi.jp/articles/20160315 /k00/00m/040/027000c

不登校の現状に関する認識 (Futōkō no genjou ni kansuru chishiki). 
MEXT. Retrieved from https://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/shotou /futoukou/03070701/002.pdf

平成 30 年度 児童生徒の問題行動・不登校等生徒指導上の諸課題に
関する調査結果について (Heisei 30 nendo jidouseito no mondaikoudou・futōkōtou seitoshidoujou no shokadai ni kansuru chousakekka ni tsuite). MEXT, p.70, October 17, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.mext.go.jp/component/a_menu/ education/detail/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2019/10/25/1412082-30.pdf

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