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Monday, Dec. 20, 2010


Preschoolers in one place

Japan has two kinds of preschool institutions. One is yochi-en (kindergartens) and the other is hoiku-jo (child day-care facilities). Yochi-en, for the education of preschool children, are under the jurisdiction of the education ministry. Children stay at yochi-en for four hours a day.

Hoiku-jo are under the jurisdiction of the welfare ministry. They help working parents, mostly mothers, by taking care of children — in some cases for more than 10 hours a day. Hoiku-jo, equipped with kitchens, can provide meals to children while yochi-en do not have kitchens.

The Democratic Party of Japan government plans to integrate yochi-en and hoiku-jo into a new institution called kodomo-en, which literally means gardens of children.

As an increasing number of mothers opt to work, there are fewer and fewer vacancies for children in hoiku-jo. At the same time, some yochi-en are operating below acceptance quotas or have been closed as Japan's population of children continues to decrease. The government's basic idea is to utilize available rooms at yochi-en to take care of the children of working mothers. The government plans to gradually start introducing kodomo-en in fiscal 2013.

It aims for total integration of existing yochi-en and hoiku-jo facilities after a 10-year transition period. But the government appears too hasty in pushing the plan.

Yochi-en and hoiku-jo operate under completely different laws, and employees have different licenses. The government must tackle such questions as how to integrate the licenses of yochi-en teachers and hoiku-jo workers, and how to integrate the fee systems for the two different institutions.

The government must explain the basic ideas under which kodomo-en will operate, the physical structure and equipment of kodomo-en, and the process of integrating the factors related to yochi-en and hoiku-jo.

Without clear explanations and direction, operators, teachers and workers at yochi-en and hoiku-jo as well as parents will remain confused and kodomo-en won't take root.

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