The Not-So-Hidden Curriculum: Immigrant and migrant students in Japanese public schools

Year: 2012

Author: King, Kelly

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: The purpose of this presentation is to discuss factors determining language minority students' quality of education and access to additive bilingualism in Japanese public schools. A variety of factors are responsible for the abysmal quality of public education for many children of recent immigrants and migrant workers, but these factors may best be understood within the framework of Bell's (1980) interest-convergence theory. Educational change benefitting immigrant and migrant students will only occur when mainstream Japanese nationals, local governments and the central government find it in their best interest to make these changes.

Method: This presentation discusses findings from a qualitative study conducted by the author. The data includes surveys and in-depth interviews conducted with Japanese middle school teachers working with Japanese as second language (JSL) students in 2009, and also information taken from public documents. The findings are discussed through a lens of conflict theory and critical race theory.

Results: The discussion centers on the findings of the author's study with reference to research undertaken in Japanese public schools by Tsuneyoshi (2004, 2011), Kanno (2003, 2008) and others. The author finds that the following factors relate to the low expectations of education for language minority students: lack of central government support for JSL students; a lack of communication between Japanese research institutions, local governments and schools; a school culture which states that differences in instruction or support should be avoided, including a history of assimilating "difference"; a lack of support for teachers who work with JSL students; a lack of understanding of the difficulties faced by migrant children; and ultimately, a political and social disinterest in social justice for immigrants, migrant workers and their families.

Conclusion: Currently local governments in Japan and NGOs are taking on the challenges of educating the "newcomer" language minority students. There are local communities which undertake to support language minority students to develop Japanese literacy, for survival and academic purposes and to maintain their L1s. But support for JSL students is uneven and arbitrary: There is no political interest in improving educational or social opportunities for migrants in Japan. Notwithstanding the political and social agency of some teachers as well as that of immigrants, migrant workers and their children, real improvement in Japanese public education for language minority children will only come about when and if mainstream Japanese people believe it is in their best interest to do so.