Japan Takes Steps Towards Alleviating Education Inequality

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TOKYO — Japan’s education system ranks fourth according to the the Economist Intelligence Unit, yet one in six children are trapped in a cycle of poverty because of education inequality. Japan’s education system is unfortunately one of the factors to blame for the phenomenon of a poverty rate higher than the average OECD poverty rate of 12.4 percent.

According to the OECD, one in twenty Japanese children “lack a key set of educational possessions.” Many students living above the poverty line may take educational tools, such as a quiet study space, computer or textbook for granted.

But unlike their affluent counterparts, numerous Japanese students lack those “basics” in addition to paying a steep price to attend school. Even public schools in Japan require a hefty financial expenditure from the parents–up to ¥400,000 per year (roughly 3,800 USD). Over the years, these expenses can take a toll on families and accumulate over time, causing a lower graduation rate among poor families in Japan.

A study conducted by Professor Ryu Michinaka of Kansai University revealed that among the general population, 98.4 percent of students attend high school, but only 90 percent are children from poor families. Two-thirds of Japanese students attend “cram” schools, or juku, to prepare for entrance examinations for competitive high schools and universities. These supplementary after-school programs, which can cost $3000 per year, widen the gap between poor and middle-class students.

With the constant obstacles impoverished Japanese students face—from noise pollution to impossible tuition fees—it is no wonder many students leave school at age 15 to work rather than compete against their privileged peers for a coveted spot in a top university.

As a result of this ongoing education inequality, impoverished youths go on to earn less money than their peers, which equates to less money to spend on their own children’s education. Additionally, “a 2007 study in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, found 25 percent of those who grow up in households that rely on government welfare payments also find themselves on social security later in life.” In other words, poverty now equates to poverty later, which becomes a burden on the future generation.

Equal access to higher education could eliminate the cyclical nature of poverty in Japan and improve the nation’s economy overall. Moreover, Japan is a major trade partner to the U.S., and it benefits us to have a higher amount of educated people there to conduct business with our future generation. More middle-class citizens equals more middle-class consumers to help bolster our economy from across the Pacific.

In 2013, the Japanese government passed a law which placed more social workers in schools and provided more free after-school tutoring for struggling students who do not possess the financial means to attend juku. Japan is moving in the right direction to improve its economy and ours, as well as improve the lives of impoverished children and eliminate education inequality.

Sabrina Yates

Photo: Flickr

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