Providing children from foreign countries with a place to learn and a home for their heart:
Multicultural Center Tokyo
Tomohiro Aoki,
Represetation Secretary General
This month’s Close UP features the Multicultural Center Tokyo, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote a multicultural society through various projects, mainly educational projects for children who have roots in foreign countries. For this interview, we focused our questions on the center’s Multicultural Free School, which is designed to support foreign children who wish to enter high school in Japan.

Viewing the office from the schoolyard
We visited the office of the Multicultural Center Tokyo, which is located in a building of a closed elementary school near JR Mikawashima Station. Classes for the Multicultural Free School are also held there, and two Japanese language classes were in session when we visited the school. We were impressed to see students reading their textbooks in very clear Japanese, even though they have been studying Japanese for only a few months. Before and after observing the classroom, we were able to talk to Tomohiro Aoki, Represetation Secretary General; Noriko Hazeki, Director; and Chiaki Kato, an instructor.
Please tell us about your activities at the Multicultural Center Tokyo.

A bulletin board at the school

Mr. Aoki: Currently, our work mainly focuses on projects which support foreign children who want to go to high school in Japan. In addition to the Multicultural Free School where we teach them Japanese and other subjects required for high school entrance exams, we also provide consultation services for those who have educational concerns. For our Kodomo Project, our volunteer members help children with their schoolwork and provide other activities. We also conduct research on the educational environment for foreign-born children living in Tokyo, offer Japanese language classes targeting foreign families who are raising children in Japan, and provide various trainings and information regarding the promotion of a multicultural society.

How is the Multicultural Free School operated?
Mr. Aoki: We have both daytime and evening programs four days a week, from Tuesday through Friday. For the daytime program, we teach children who have come to Japan after they have turned fifteen and therefore are too old to be admitted to junior high school in Japan. For the evening program, we provide follow-up classes for those who are younger and go to elementary or junior high school during the day. The classes are organized according to students’ learning levels, and each class usually has a maximum of eight students. We run the programs on a four-month cycle, and each cycle starts with Japanese immersion lessons, followed by subject lessons for English and math, and then science and social studies. We accept new students anytime during the year. Many students, however, come to Japan after they finish school in their country in June, so we usually have a doubled number of students in fall.
Japanese language classes
Is tuition required to attend the school?

Mr. Aoki: Our standard tuition is 30,000 yen for the daytime program and 20,000 yen for the evening program. However, some students are eligible for financial aid by the City of Arakawa or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. We strive to help students from families with financial difficulties by covering part of their tuition and transportation with donations from businesses who support our activities.

What are some things that the school does to make its programs effective?

Chatting with the graduate visiting
the office after school

Mr. Aoki: Regarding students’ learning environment, we require new students to take a placement test before they start our program so that they are assigned to the classes for Japanese and other subjects with students of similar skill levels. Because currently available Japanese textbooks do not perfectly match the needs of the students, our teachers create and provide additional study materials to teach areas that are not covered by the textbooks. For career counseling, we assign a homeroom teacher to each student, who will help the students to choose an appropriate high school and visit the schools of their choice with them. Since our free school does not offer gym classes or afterschool club activities, we encourage students to join sport festivals and other local events while offering various field trips. Our goal is to make our school a place in which children, who have just moved to Japan and are likely to feel isolated, look forward to coming not only to learn but also to have fun. Many students still come to see us occasionally after they graduate from our school and become high school students.

What are some things to which you pay most attention when working with the students?

Noriko Hazeki (left) and Chiaki Kato (right)

Mr. Aoki: The first thing we care about is how to support the students in keeping their motivation to study. Studying for high school entrance exams is so hard that students are often discouraged and come close to give up saying that they will find a job and work instead. In addition to keeping them encouraged with patience, we try to inspire them at every occasion to have a future dream and guide them to work toward that dream. As part of the entrance exam, they are often asked to speak about their future goal at an interview. It makes it difficult for the students to pass the exam if they cannot show their passion and willingness to pursue their dream.

Ms. Hazeki: Students in our evening program go to regular school during the day. In the first months of their transition to new school life, however, they are basically just sitting in a classroom for hours listening to an unknown language in an unfamiliar environment. It is not always easy to make Japanese friends, and they tend to be left alone during the recess. Many students complain about how painful it is to be isolated in the classroom, which is often amplified by the feeling of insecurity common for teenagers. We are aware of the limits of our assistance because we cannot speak their native languages. However, our goal is to continue to work as closely as possible with these students so that we can build a trusting relationship in which they feel comfortable to talk to us about any of their concerns.

Ms. Kato: I feel the same way as Ms. Hazeki. As a homeroom teacher, I also try to make myself available for my students as much as possible to help them choose a high school, to visit schools together, and to tell them about the life at a Japanese high school. I have found that for some students, especially those from major cities of China where people’s interest in education is high, it is often surprising to see Japanese high school students falling asleep during the class.

Please tell us about some of the achievements that the Multicultural Free School has made.
Mr. Aoki: In the five years since the school’s opening until the end of March 2010, we have accepted over 300 students. Some students improve their Japanese ability so quickly that they don’t stay with us very long. As for students who come to us as a senior student at junior high school or being older than fifteen, almost all of them (not counting those who returned to their home country), which adds up to 178 students so far, have successfully made their way to high school, including those who passed exams for part-time schools and second admission tests. Our school has gradually gained recognition, and we now receive cooperation and support from local communities including the City of Arakawa, as well as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and various private businesses. Thanks to their support, the center is able to offer more diverse classes and programs today.
Students’ works on the bulletin board
Can you explain the “Guidance of Senior High School Entrance for Parents/Children Whose Mother Language is not Japanese”?

A guidebook for high school education
in Japan

Mr. Aoki: Marking its 10th year, this guidance session is offered by its executive committee that includes our center and other organizations. For each session, interpreters in various languages are provided. Five sessions are scheduled this year, and 105 people from 47 families attended the most recent one held on July 4. The session begins by providing basic information regarding Japanese high school and its entrance exam system, such as what Japanese high schools are like, how to be admitted, what is asked at a parent-teacher-student interview for admission, what is written in a naishinsho (grade report), and so on. The session also invites current high school students to speak about their experiences, and a personal consultation is offered to the participants as well. Since people come from different countries where educational systems and cultures vary, their first step in preparing for high school admission is to understand current circumstances surrounding Japanese high schools today. We send invitations to almost all public junior high schools in Tokyo asking them to take advantage of our guidance, because we want as many children as possible to attend it.

Lastly, tell us if you have a message you would like to share with our readers.

Ms. Hazeki: While many foreign children wish to go to high school in Japan, there is only one public high school in Tokyo that accepts foreign students, and it only admits 25 students per year. The situation is similar in other prefectures as well. I hope that public schools in Japan make more efforts to open their schools to foreign students.

Ms. Kato: I have seen students who were at the height of their happiness when they passed the admission exam but fell behind the schoolwork after they started the high school, troubled with test scores and worrying about not being able to move up to the next grade. I think the high schools need to establish a better system to follow up on and support their foreign students.

Mr. Aoki: Many of our students are brought to Japan because of their parents’ businesses and not because of their willingness. However, once their parents decide to live in Japan, they need to acclimate themselves to Japanese society, which makes it inevitable for them to get high school education in Japan. The Multicultural Center Tokyo makes our best efforts to support these young people from foreign countries. We continue to give our support to the students after they graduate from our school with a goal to help improve their social statues. We would also like to ask as many people as possible to support us and our students so that they can live a fulfilling life with less barriers in Japanese society.

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