Tokyo school leads the way in supporting foreign students Tokyo school leads the way in supporting foreign students
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Tokyo school leads the way in supporting foreign students

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Japan's education system is often a daunting prospect for children of foreign descent. The language barrier can be an insurmountable hurdle for those wishing to enter high school or university. It's a problem the government has recognized and resolved to address, but one pioneering school in Tokyo is already ahead of the curve.

    "I didn't know how to communicate with my classmates and teachers," says Neha K.C., who entered a junior high school in Japan after moving from Nepal five years ago to join her father, who works at a restaurant. "My confidence was so low that I rarely spoke to anyone."

    Neha found there was little support for students who struggle with Japanese.

    Neha says she received no official support, and she is far from the only example in Japan's junior high schools: An education ministry survey suggests that more than 51,000 students across the country needed help with the Japanese language in 2018.

    It also suggests that nearly 10 percent of those in high school dropped out. That's seven times more than among students of Japanese origin.

    The number of children requiring help with the Japanese language has more than doubled in that past 10 years.
    About 10 percent of high school students of foreign descent quit because of difficulties with the language and for other reasons.

    NPOs seen as crucial

    Neha's life changed for the better when she began taking evening classes at the Tokyo Metropolitan Asuka High School, which included Japanese-language tuition. It proved to be transformational, and helped give her the confidence to aim for university.

    The education ministry wants to support such activities, and its FY2021 budget earmarked more than $8 million to help prepare students of foreign descent for a life in Japan. That represents an almost 20 percent jump on the figure from a year earlier.

    The ministry is also encouraging schools to work with local nonprofit organizations to address the issues faced by students of foreign descent.

    Asuka High School offers classes with a focus on support for foreign students. Roughly half of the students in the evening classes have a foreign background.

    Again, Asuka High has a head start. The school works with Katariba, a non-profit organization that aims to close what it calls "opportunity gaps" among teenagers. Katariba helped Neha prepare for a university entrance exam and taught her skills to help get and pass interviews, write essays, fill in forms and apply for scholarships.

    In December, Neha passed the exam for the university she wanted to enter. She says that she wants to study hard to become an IT specialist and help other people who need support.

    The NPO Katariba helped Neha pass her university entrance exam.

    Former students give back

    Neha's school days are nearly over, but she could be back at Asuka High one day soon. The school runs another program in which former students help current students plot their futures. Discussions cover all sorts of topics, including the level of Japanese required to enter college or vocational school.

    Students hear from former pupils about career paths in Japan.

    Azuma Michiyoshi, the deputy head of Asuka High's night program, is looking at the bigger picture. "Allowing foreign students to realize their potential is very important for Japanese society. We're responsible for helping them develop their language skills before entering the workforce."