Sponsored by the Tsukuba International Network (TIN), a symposium was held on Dec. 2 at the Oho Public Hall to discuss the various issues involved in educating international children and to plan for a major event next summer on this same subject. The participants included representatives from the University of Tsukuba Department of Education, members of the local Board of Education, teacher representatives of the local public elementary and middle schools, members of various volunteer groups helping with the education of international and Japanese returnee children and, of course, representatives of Tsukuba International School. The purpose of the discussion was to share various perspectives on the problems faced in dealing with the special needs of such children and potential solutions to the various problems that exist. Roughly 100 individuals participated in the spirited discussions.
Tokio Ohska, of the High Energy Physics Laboratory, is the convenor of TIN, and he has spearheaded the effort to get such a meeting off the ground. The purpose of this meeting was basically to get representatives of all of the various groups and entities involved in the education of international children to sit down together and share their experiences so that the various issues involved could be clarified. There are no easy solutions to meeting the special needs of such children, and so the first step is to increase awareness on the part of all involved as to the problems that need solving.
The number of school-aged foreign children continues to grow in many areas of Japan, and numerous other school districts are likewise facing similar issues of how to meet the educational needs of these children. It is hoped that this symposium will provide the impetus to begin devising creative solutions to these new challenges facing public education in Japan. A major conference of educators is being planned for next summer in Tsukuba on this same subject. The goal is to bring together educators from other areas of Japan who are dealing with the same issues along with policy makers and other influential people so that concrete proposals for the future can be considered.
It is clear to all that the present public education system in Japan is not designed to meet the realities of the rapidly changing society. Not only are large numbers of non-Japanese children entering into the system, but there is also an urgent need to internationalize the education of the Japanese children as well. The city of Tsukuba is perhaps uniquely suited for pilot projects designed to renovate public education to meet the needs of the 21st Century.
One suggestion made was to develop international education classes within a few schools in Tsukuba where international children could receive some of their education in their native languages while at the same time learning together with Japanese children for part of the day. Such a situation as that would, of course, require considerable changes in the mindset and policies of the Ministry of Education, as such an innovative program is not possible under current policies. While an ideal solution in the abstract, many practical problems would have to first be worked out, and thus more realistic solutions may be the way to go in the short-term. Finding such realistic solutions is the goal of this effort.
Also making a presentation at this symposium was Barry Green, a member of the International Team of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which is involved in the design of an experimental fusion device. He works at the ITER Joint Work Site located on the site of the fusion establishment of the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI) at Mukouyama in Naka-machi, about 12 km north of Mito. He described the small school that did exist there for several years for the children of researchers working on ITER. JAERI contracted with St. Mary's International School in Tokyo to operate the school, and it operated for several years before closing down last year.
The ITER project is a major international effort to develop nuclear fusion reactors to power the next generation of power stations. Two sites are vying for the location of the project, and the final decision is to be made next year between the Naka site and one in Aomori. The Project is scheduled to have a duration of at least 30 years, and its operation will involve more than 100 non-Japanese staff from many different countries. For the construction period (the first 10 years, once construction and regulatory approval are given), this number of non-Japanese personnel on site will be even higher. It is assumed that the number of children involved could be significant - certainly more than 100.
Assuming the Ibaraki site is chosen (and from the standpoint of not being in such an isolated location, the researchers are rooting for Naka!), it would mean there is a good possibility for developing an international school to serve both communities. Ideally, it would be located near an exit on the Joban expressway midway between Tsukuba and Naka, so that buses could easily reach it in a reasonable time. Once the commitment is made, the development of such a school could take place rather quickly. But certainly, it is at least a couple of years in the future. So in the meantime, maintaining the viability of the present Tsukuba International School is critical.
Due to a number of factors that are all conspiring together at once, TIS is at a critical juncture in its existence. Student numbers fluctuate from year to year and the make-up of students varies as well. As TIS is entirely dependent for funding on the tuition that parents pay together with a few corporate and individual donations that come in, the financial base has always been unsteady. Corporate sponsored students contribute into the operational budget at a higher rate than do those paying out of their own pockets. This year, TIS's total student enrolment is down and none of the students happens to be corporate sponsored. The basic costs of running the school (teachers' salaries, rent, etc.) are, however, little effected by enrolment. Thus, TIS does not have enough funds available to meet its operational budget commitments through the end of the school year. In fact, projected income significantly short of basic needs. Thus, a major effort is underway to raise additional funds through corporate and individual donations as well as trying to procure some form of official public funding.
On top of this, TIS has to look for new facilities after the school year ends in June. Shuei High School has been providing TIS with 2 rooms since 1997, but it will no longer be able to do that, and so efforts are being made to locate new facilities as soon as possible.
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