Social Resources and Challenges Related to the Schooling and Education of Immigrant Children at High Schools in Japan

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Japan has recently seen an increase in the number of immigrant children, many of whom face difficulties at school. The country’s educational policies have failed to address the needs of these children. As a result, the schools and local municipalities in which these children are educated bear the burden of this problem. This study examines how the social resources and home lives of these immigrant families affect children’s schooling and education at high schools. First, the authors describe the problems of the education system in relation to the children of foreign workers and low-wage immigrants in the context of Japan’s stringent immigration policy. Then, in a case study, they highlight the ways in which family-related factors, local resources, and an innovative quota system combined with special programs at a local high school affect the schooling and educational success of immigrant students. The results indicated that most foreign children newly arrived in Japan due to the transnational movement of their parents had limited family resources and limited Japanese language skills and that external networks helped such children continue on to high school. The paper concludes by suggesting that integrated measures, including institutional admission arrangements and social supports, are needed to provide immigrant children of low socioeconomic status with adequate educational opportunities.

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  1. 1.

    In response to the demand from industries that face a severe shortage of low-skilled workers, the Japanese government revised the immigration law that increased the number of unskilled workers, starting in April of 2019. However, the law does not officially allow foreign workers to live in Japan with their families for a period of time.

  2. 2.

    According to the Japanese Constitution and the country’s education laws, the first nine years of schooling are obligatory; however, this obligation does not apply to immigrant children because they do not have Japanese nationality. According to a recent survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), approximately 20,000 of 124,000 (16%) foreign children of mandatory schooling age were not enrolled in school (MEXT 2019).

  3. 3.

    According to a survey on the nationwide status of high school entrance exams and admission criteria for foreign children, 13 of the 39 prefectures that responded to the survey implemented a quota system in public high schools, though the details are unknown. The number of prefectures in Japan is 47. The survey was conducted between November 2011 and March 2012 by a researcher (Kojima 2016: 98–109).

  4. 4.

    This figure indicates the proportion of those who entered universities and junior colleges out of the total number of students who graduated from high school. (MEXT 2018).

  5. 5.

    This number includes not only public schools but also private ones.

  6. 6.

    Ota (2000) estimated that the high school entry rate among Brazilian children was 33%, while Kaji (2000) estimated that figure to be 50–60% among students from the second and third generations of returnees from China. Inui (2008) reported that the figure was 11% among Laotian refugees.

  7. 7.

    Article 26 of the Japanese Constitution specifies that all people have the right to an education and all guardians are obligated to send their children to school. Following this provision, Article 16 of the School Education Act (gakko kyoiku ho) stipulates that all guardians must ensure their children complete nine years of universal education. Article 17 states that all guardians must ensure that children between the ages of 6 and 12 attend elementary school and that those who finish elementary school must be enrolled in junior high schools.

  8. 8.

    A predecessor high school of X high school started its own admission criteria for students whose first language was not Japanese in the mid-1990s (Tsuboya and Kobayashi 2013: 54–72).

  9. 9.

    X high school’s past competition rate was 1.60 in 2012, 1.27 in 2013, 2.20 in 2014, 1.25 in 2015, and 1.75 in 2016.

  10. 10.

    The composition of foreigners in 2018 was as follows: Chinese, 37%; Korean, 13%; Filipino, 11%; Brazilian, 9%; Peruvian, 3%; and other, 26%. The proportion of nikkeijin (Japanese emigrants to Latin America and their descendants) was once larger than in other areas. Recently, however, the population of Chinese and southeast Asian immigrants, from, for example, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Nepal, has been increasing in line with national trends (Tsurumi Ward 2018).

  11. 11.

    The quota system in Kanagawa Prefecture has imposed a minimum number of subject exams (English, Japanese, and mathematics) and interviews, so it is more advantageous for those who are familiar with the Japanese language, such as Chinese students (Tsuboya and Kobayashi 2013: 54–72).

  12. 12.

    Although the total number of study participants was 95, the number of persons who answered each question was often smaller because some of the questions were not asked due to irrelevance or were not responded to by students for various reasons.

  13. 13.

    All informants’ names have been replaced with pseudonyms to protect their privacy.


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The authors would like to thank the study participants and teachers at X high school in Yokohama. The authors would also like to thank Drs. Jacqueline Adams, John Hayakawa Torok, and members of ISSI at the University of California, Berkeley, for their valuable comments and editors in American Journal Experts for their editorial services. This study was supported in part by a grant of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (No. 26380693).

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This study was funded in part by a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (No. 26380693).

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Correspondence to Hiromi Kobayashi.

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Kobayashi, H., Tsuboya, M. Social Resources and Challenges Related to the Schooling and Education of Immigrant Children at High Schools in Japan. Int. Migration & Integration (2020) doi:10.1007/s12134-019-00752-2

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  • Immigrant children
  • Japan
  • High school education
  • Quota system
  • Social resources
  • Immigrant families