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Letter To The Editor: International Education

Author: Etienne Forest, Issue: February 1996, Topic: Letters to or from the Editor

Letter to the Editor:

I have read with interest the article by Mr. Mohri (Dec. '95 issue) on the issue of education for foreign children. There is a different way to look at the problem of long-term stay which leads to a diametrically opposed conclusion.

Take my case, I am an associate professor with two children (5 and 8 years old). My job in Japan is for life if I so desire. If I do stay in Japan it is imperative that my children receive a degree which is acceptable to the Japanese ministry of education (Monbusho). It is irresponsible, in my view, to isolate children in a foreign ghetto, which will not even provide a valid degree, thus forcing them out of Japan at the age of 20. How many Tsukuba natives will be in this school? Close to none. Is that the internalization of Tsukuba?

The solution hinted by Mr. Mohri can only be a valid solution for people with definite short term stay or for people coming from countries such as the USA with no national standard for high school graduation. Can a German from this international school graduate without an Arbitur and return to Germany? Can a French return to France without his Baccalaureate? In fact, a German is better off with a Japanese high school degree (and some remedial German classes) because last year Monbusho and the German ministry have signed an accord recognizing each others' degree.

In conclusion, what is needed is a western school which provides a degree acceptable to Monbusho and teaches Japanese (and Japanese topics) at the native level. Such a school would then attract not only foreigners, but also natives who would like a broader education. Typically this is done by asking a foreign government or foreign cultural association to set up a school in the host country: presumably a German school would meet these requirements under present law. The establishment of a foreign school receiving the blessing of a foreign government and thus providing a foreign degree is not an oddity; the French do it all the time. For example the French-American school of Berkeley, a city where I once worked, provides a valid French degree while teaching English at the native level. They also give American math classes since French math tends to be too abstract (not to mention US history, etc.). As a result, the American pupils count for more than 80 percent of the school registration. How nice that would be in Tsukuba to have a large number of Japanese being exposed to foreign ideas while our children could still study "western" and Japanese ways! That is a true internalization!

Finally there is a certain asymmetry in Mr. Mohri argument. While it is true that most foreign workers speak English, it is even more true that virtually all Japanese workers in the USA speak English. Why was then a need for Japanese classes for Mr. Mohri's children while we, who are not anglophones, should be content with English schools in Japan? Are we being served the usual "We Japanese are different"? In reality, the real need for Japanese education in the USA is not based on sentimental secondary reasons such as the grand-parents inability or unwillingness to read English, but on the prospect that upon returning to Japan the children will be culturally and bureaucratically out of the system.

I, for one, would not send my children full time in a school whose premise is the permanent exclusion of foreigners from Japanese society (and vice versa) and the belief that passing the "SAT" is an acceptable norm for entrance into all foreign school of higher education. The paramount principle must be the welfare and interests of the children and not the sentimental attachment of the parents to their country of origin.

Etienne Forest KEK


Editor's note:

We appreciate Mr. Forest's candid article on international education. He certainly raises some important issues that need to be addressed when considering the best format for international education in Tsukuba. The issue of recognition by Monbusho of international schools in Japan is one that all of the schools in the Japan Association of International Schools are concerned about. At present, students graduating from international schools in Japan who want to remain in Japan for college are basically limited to a few private colleges, such as Sophia and ICU. Recently, progress has been made towards allowing students graduating from such schools to take entrance examinations at Japanese Universities if they so desire, though that option is not yet been actualized. Hopefully, that will have long since ceased to be an issue by the time Tsukuba International School would be graduating high school seniors.

As for Mr. Forest's perception that the school is to be one "whose premise is the permanent exclusion of foreigners from Japanese society (and vice versa)", that is hardly the case. One look at the international schools in Tokyo and elsewhere, some of which have large percentages of the student body being Japanese children whose parents desire to have an English-based education, will show that's not the case. With the large numbers of Japanese in Tsukuba who have spent long periods of time with their families overseas, we can expect that there will be significant numbers of them who will opt for an English language education if they have the choice.

Also, from the standpoint of the "ideal" situation for even short-term foreign students, having daily association with Japanese children in some sort of common setting would be of great value, and avoid the "foreign ghetto" mentality that nobody wants. Several years ago, when the Alien Times was commissioned by AIST to survey foreign scientists on their needs, one of the areas addressed was, of course, that of children's education. Concerning what type of school they would desire, the overwhelming majority wanted an international school right within a Japanese public school in which the children could interact with each other during play times, etc.

Unfortunately, the very conservative Monbusho appears to be closed to that sort of idea, leaving little option but to have a separate facility. As plans develop for an at least partially publicly funded international school in Tsukuba, the issue of how to maximize interchange between foreign and Japanese students certainly needs to be addressed. Likewise, every effort needs to be made to insure that students from as many situations as possible will be able to return to their respective countries with whatever requirements are necessary.

Plans are in the works for setting up a study group on international education within Tsukuba where these issues can be discussed. We would certainly encourage all who are interested to get involved. Look for further details in future issues of the Alien Times.

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