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Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007

Falling off the educational ladder

Brazilian schools have it all for students -- except accreditation


Staff writer

KAMISATO, Saitama Pref. -- Toshio Saito's school for Japanese-Brazilian children in Kamisato, Saitama Prefecture, is equipped with a computer room, wall-size projection screens to aid lecturers and an 80 million yen gym with indoor soccer field and two basketball courts.

News photo
Toshio Saito, founder of Instituto Educacional TS Recreacao, stands inside his 80 million yen school gym in Kamisato, Saitama Prefecture. JUN HONGO PHOTO

But lacking state accreditation as an educational institution, none of its 150 students can get student discounts for commuter passes, let alone be recognized as having received an elementary and junior high school education upon graduation.

None of the five ninth-graders at the school was eligible to take public high school entrance exams given this month.

"I can't tell if we are a (proper) school or just a private cram school. I don't know what we are," said Saito, a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian.

A change in immigration policy in 1990 enabled second- and third-generation Japanese-Brazilians to obtain long-term resident visas to work in Japan. That led to an influx of Japanese-Brazilian workers and the population of children accompanying their parents and those born in Japan increased accordingly.

But many, like those in Saito's school, face difficulties getting an education, which some claim is the root of the problems of illegal labor and rising crime involving Brazilian children in Japan.

According to a national survey conducted in 2005 by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the number of Brazilians residing in Japan reached 214,049 and ranked third in foreign national population following 466,637 Korean residents and 346,877 Chinese. Approximately 35,000 Brazilians in Japan were aged between 5 and 19, the survey revealed.

The town of Kamisato is an archetype of the rapid emergence of Brazilian residents in the last two decades. The number of foreigners registered in the town, which has a population of around 30,000, was a mere 34 in 1987. In the two decades that followed, the number increased to 1,180, with 821 of them being Brazilians, according to the town office.

Saito, 39, arrived in Japan as an immigrant in 1990 and launched his company, which supplies Japanese-Brazilian laborers as temporary workers to local factories.

In 1998, he established Instituto Educacional TS Recreacao, a school for Japanese-Brazilian children living in the area. His initial intent was to run a nursery for infants, many of them children of his clients, to help them adjust to Japanese society and prepare for enrollment in public schools when they reached school age.

"There is so much cultural difference. It would be difficult for kids to head straight from a Brazilian environment into Japanese public schools," Saito explained.

Children from neighboring prefectures soon began enrolling at TS Recreacao and the school grew quickly. Today there are 150 children, from age 6 months to ninth-graders, and 17 teachers. Classes are taught in Portuguese and the school also offers Japanese- and English-language lessons.

In 2001, the school was accredited as an educational institution by Brazil's education ministry, clearing the way for graduates to return to Brazil with a recognized elementary to junior high school education.

But things haven't gone as smoothly with the Japanese government.

"They just kept saying it's difficult," Saito said, explaining that for his school to be an accredited institution, it must teach according to state standards. Abiding by the government-set curriculum would inevitably force the school to stop teaching in Portuguese and depend on Japanese teachers to handle Brazilian students, he said.

According to the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo, 50 of the approximately 100 Brazilian schools in Japan have been accredited by the Brazilian government.

But none of them is given official school status in Japan, and only two Brazilian schools -- one in Aichi Prefecture and another in Gifu Prefecture -- are granted "miscellaneous school" status, which is given to international schools that satisfy a number of conditions.

Miscellaneous schools receive tax deductions and their students are entitled to student discounts, but their graduates are not considered to have completed Japanese compulsory education.

Most American and European international schools in Japan fall under the miscellaneous school category. Among them, those approved by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the European Council of International Schools or the Association of Christian Schools International enjoy special status, which enables their graduates to take public school entrance exams.

But annual tuition at these schools can easily surpass 2 million yen.

Educational institutions without miscellaneous school status, such as TS Recreacao, are ranked as privately run cram schools. Although an average male temp worker Saito provides to local factories makes about 250,000 yen per month, his school, without eligibility for tax deductions, must ask guardians for 25,000 yen per month to cover expenses and tuition.

And those unable to pay have no choice but to enroll in Japanese public schools.

Education ministry statistics show that as of September 2005, a record-high 20,692 foreign students were being taught in public schools from elementary level through high school. Of them, 7,562 spoke Portuguese as their native language.

Julietta Yoshimura, president of the Associacao das Escolas Brasileiras no Japao (Association of Brazilian Schools in Japan), explained that there are some 9,000 Brazilian students who attend Brazilian schools and 10,000 others who are enrolled in Japanese public schools.

But facing language and cultural barriers, those in public schools often experience difficulties adjusting to classes and end up dropping out. The Foreign Ministry in 2004 estimated that roughly 15,000 Brazilians of school age are not enrolled in any educational institutions.

Educators blame the high number of dropouts as the reason for young Brazilians committing crimes.

When 12 Japanese-Brazilian children aged 13 to 15 were found working in a factory in Gifu Prefecture last month, they told authorities that attending school wasn't an option for them because of the language barrier.

"Education is the best way to prevent crime. It's not because we are here that the crime rate has grown, it's because the government hasn't given any assistance to the Japanese-Brazilian children," Saito said.

Japan in 1994 ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges signatory states to "make primary education compulsory and available free to all." While the Basic Law on Education stipulates that all children aged 6 to 15 must enroll in school, those without Japanese nationality remain exempt from compulsory education.

Efforts by the Japanese and Brazilian governments to provide a better educational environment for Brazilians in Japan have been making progress. But their time-consuming efforts have yet to bear fruit.

In preparation for the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil in 2008, the two governments established the Japan-Brazil Council for the 21st Century three years ago to deepen mutual relationships and resolve issues that face the two countries.

The council, made up of lawmakers and businesspeople, proposed last July that the two governments support Brazilian schools in Japan, improve the educational environment for Brazilians studying in Japanese public schools and establish a scholarship fund for Japanese-Brazilian children.

In addition, a panel on education reform under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a report last month that it should further discuss making education for foreign children living in Japan compulsory.

Watching all of his ninth-graders apply for jobs instead of high school, Saito sincerely hopes change will come swiftly.

"While negotiating with the government for approval as an accredited school, I was told that we Brazilians came to Japan of our own will and therefore should abide by Japanese rules," Saito said.

"I think they are right, but it's clear that in the very near future, Japan will have to depend more on foreign laborers," he said. "They should seriously start preparing for that change."



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