Japan Teachers Union celebrated 70th anniversary this year. We have worked to improve the working conditions of educators as well as rights to education for children.
For WTD in 2017, I would like to introduce on the 4 pillars of JTU’s activities.
1.Threats against Japanese Constitution
From our establishment, JTU has kept a slogan “Never send our children to battlefields”. During World WarⅡ, Japan invaded Asian countries and educators were willing to send them to the military. We regretted it so deeply and declared we would never make the same mistake again. Japanese people welcomed the new Constitution which abandoned the military.
For these 70 years, Japan has kept a peaceful Constitution and has not been to war. But the current Prime Minister Abe is eager to have military power and tries to amend the Constitution. For that aim, the administration steamrollered the conspiracy bill, the national security act bill and others so that Japan could be ready for fighting abroad.
JTU shares the threat of war with the community to stop its amendment for the sake of peace in Asia and in the world.
2.Education Reform from Educators and Privatization/Commercialization of Education
JTU aims to reform education by reflecting educators’ voices and the ideas and content of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and sets November as Education Reform Campaign Month. JTU annually holds assemblies and symposiums in November in which university students, children, parents, NPO workers, researchers and administrative officials participate. These events that are spread through media and social dialogue have been more intensive.
In Japan, privatization/commercialization of education has been moving on. National Standardized Test is obligatory for 6th graders of elementary school and 3rd graders of junior high school. The purpose is to evaluate their achievement as a whole. JTU insists that it is not necessary for all the students to take it. The budget is approximately 6 thousand million yen (USD 50 million). Also, the Ministry of Education has decided to change the university examination scheme and some education companies will be concerned by its funding for English tests. JTU believes that there could be a more useful way of using public funding and that those budgets be used to increase the number of teachers, not for paying to education companies.
A 2015 survey report released by Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) found that 13.9 percent of children under the age of 18, or 1 in every 7 children, were from families living on less than half of the national median household disposable income. The relative poverty rate was 2.4 percentage points lower than in the previous survey for 2012, when it was the worst ever, at 16.3 percent. The 2015 poll reversed the trend, marking the first improvement in 12 years. But the latest figure is still higher than the 13.3 percent average among 36 countries, including OECD members. Especially, the poverty rate among single-parent households was as high as 50.8 percent.
Alarmed by this situation, JTU advocates that budgets for education and social welfare should be increased to ensure the unprivileged children’s rights to education, especially in pre-school and university educations. 90% of pre-school education is run by private institutes, whose fees depend on the incomes of households. It means that the economic gap tends to cause a similar gap in the academic achievement of children. Even national universities cost 2,500,000 yen (21,000 USD) for 4 years but benefit scholarship is poor. More than a half of university students who use scholarships who will have a debt of a few million yen when they start
work. According to Ministry of General Affairs, around 49% of 20~24 year old people work as temporary who have difficulty in paying back the debt. As a result of JTU’s advocacy, the Japanese government has decided to offer more beneficial scholarships for the students in need but it is not enough.
In Japan it seems that SDG4 is an issue in developing countries, but it is also a domestic one. To ensure access to quality education for all the children in Japan, JTU shares the reality of parents, advocates for improvement and will make a difference.
4.Campaign for adjusting working hours of teachers
JTU held a survey the ‘Reality of workload and working hours of teachers’ in 2016. It found out that 72.9% of elementary school teachers and 86.9% of junior high school ones work more than 60 hours per week. MHLW says workers who work more than 60 hours per week have a high risk of death by overwork, ‘karoshi’. Alarmed by the survey result, JTU issued emergency suggestions:
--- Now that the government discusses a regulation on overwork, teachers should be included.
--- Teachers are not paid an overwork allowance, but monthly receive an additional 4% of salary for their professionality. The rate was decided according to their working hours in 1966 and should be reviewed.
--- Education boards of municipalities should fix ‘No activities after the school day’ or ‘No meeting day’ and encourage teachers to leave schools on time.
--- Education boards should increase the number of teachers and downsize class-size.
With these suggestions JTU will suggest political and practical solutions and ask for legal improvements.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.