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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

No-tuition plan fails poor students

Staff writer

Intended to help give children from less-advantaged economic backgrounds a shot at higher education, the government's plan to do away with tuition at public high schools falls short of the goal when it comes to single-parent households, according to a survey last month by the nonprofit group Ashinaga.

Starting in April, the government will eliminate tuition at public high schools in a bid to provide equal educational opportunities to all students, even those from poorer families.

However, the survey showed that 58.6 percent of 308 high school students who have lost a parent already have scholarships that fully or partly cover high school fees, leading many single mothers to consider the new plan inadequate to ensure their children get a good education.

"People don't seem to understand that the issue of education for children in a single-parent household isn't solved by the free tuition," Toshihiko Kudo, the director of the NPO, which supports students who have lost a parent, said at a news conference Wednesday.

"Students also need financial support to cover other educational expenses," including school trips, school supplies, cram school fees and books, he said.

Excluding tuition, parents spend on average ¥400,000 a year on educational expenses for a public high school student and ¥710,000 for one at a private school, according to statistics. These figures drop to ¥265,000 and ¥350,000, respectively, for high school students from single-parent households, the group said, quoting data from its own survey.

Kudo said many high school students from single-mother households, which have an average annual income of ¥2.46 million, are giving up hope of going to university although "higher education is the only way for those children to break the vicious circle of poverty," Kudo said.

More high school students are opting to get a job after graduation because of financial circumstances, rising to 53.9 percent of survey respondents last month from 40.1 percent last December, he said.

Saki Morimoto, a senior at Komazawa Women's University who receives an Ashinaga scholarship, said the life of a single-parent household is "very tough." She was 6 when she lost her father, and her mother took care of her and her sick grandparents while working full time, she said.

"I feel like (we) don't even have the right to live," she said, adding she wants society to become more supportive of impoverished single-parent households.

The NPO surveyed 385 single mothers and 433 high school students in single-parent households.

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The Japan Times

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